Royal Enfield’s Project Origin

Royal Enfield’s Project Origin

The company we know today as Royal Enfield began as Enfield Bicycle Company in the U.K. in the 1890s. As the 20th century dawned, Enfield engineers fitted a combustion engine to a bicycle-type frame and sent power to the rear wheel via belts and pulleys.

In an unusual move, the small gas engine was fitted in front of the handlebar rather than in the frame. There was no throttle or gears—just pedals to get it going, a lever controlling belt friction, and a kill switch on the right handlebar.

The year was 1901, and since those humble but quite intentional beginnings, Royal Enfield has made motorcycles for the last 122 years, first in Britain, and then in India. But so far, no surviving examples of the company’s first production motorbikes have been found.

So, Royal Enfield built one—and it runs.

From Scratch

Called Project Origin, the build became a sort of after-hours engineering project at the company, which is now based in India but has design and technical staff in the U.K. Among the people involved was engineer Gordon May, a proper British motorcycle man who heads up the company’s historical preservation efforts, including Project Origin.

Wearing a vintage-style orange helmet and brass-trimmed goggles when riding Royal Enfield’s latest models, he’s easy to spot. May clearly relishes the times he gets to ride the 1901 replica, which is currently on an extensive world tour.