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Resilient is not a word often used to describe a motorcycle. And yet, it is befitting the Royal Enfield Bullet 500. A marque that has lived through two World Wars and numerous bankruptcies, the Bullet 500 continues to prevail in both emerging and used-bike markets. In this article, let’s look at this iconic two-wheeler.
Produced from 1948 to 2020, the Royal Enfield Bullet 500 is a mid-weight cruiser considered one of the best retro-styled motorcycles in the market. Sleek and nostalgic, the 498-cc sportbike features a pushrod OHV engine, a hybrid starting system, lots of torque, and a chrome-heavy aesthetic.
Despite a 40-year hiatus, the Royal Enfield Bullet 500 was well-received when it made its comeback in 2002. Even now that production has ceased for good (due to BS-VI limitations), consumers are still hopeful for the continuation of the label. Only time will tell if the manufacturer will re-consider putting it back in its lineup. For now, read on and learn more about this middleweight champ.
About the Royal Enfield Bullet 500
The Royal Enfield Bullet 500 is part of the historic Royal Enfield series that dates back to as early as 1931. During this time, 350-cc and 500-cc displacements of the said marque were already produced. It was not until 1948 – after the British Army bought thousands of units for its dispatch riders and the Royal Air Force – that consumers clamored for the 500-cc iteration of the bike.
And so, a refresh of the existing 500-class Bullet happened in the same year. This prototype went on to win the 1948 International Six Days Trial and the 1952 Scottish Six Days Trial before making its official debut in 1953. For the most part, the refreshed version had similar features as the 1930-ish original – non-adjustable hydraulic rear shocks, an aluminum cylinder head, and a fully sprung frame. It also had a 4-speed Albion gearbox with a neutral-finder lever that can be activated from gears 2 to 4.
Further improvements were made to the two-wheeler a few years hence. In 1956, the bike received retooling, redesign upgrades, and some gear ratio changes. But what seemed like a long production run for the Royal Enfield Bullet 500 halted in 1961. The label was discontinued in preparation for the company’s buyout by Velocette and Norton Villiers in 1962.
Eicher Motors revived the prestige of the Bullet 500 by buying Enfield India Ltd. in 1995 and winning a trademark lawsuit in favor of the Royal Enfield brand. The firm also spawned the beginning of change for the unaltered motorcycle.
As part of its revival strategy, the label was split into two offerings – the high-quality but conventionally styled Bullet Standard 350 and the chrome-heavy, best-selling Electra 350. The current Bullet 500 trim packages are spin-offs of these two motorcycles.
Royal Enfield Bullet 500 EFI Specs & Features (C5 & G5 Models)
The Royal Enfield Bullet Classic and Electra 500 models are powered by an air-cooled, single-cylinder 4-stroke OHV engine with a Keihin Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI). Bore-stroke ratio is a near-square 84 x 90 mm (3.31 x 3.54 inches), comparable to its successor, the Royal Enfield Bullet 350. Piston displacement is 499 cm³ (30.4 in³), while the compression ratio is 8.5:1. Air filtration is a paper-element type.
The above configuration lends to a Royal Enfield Bullet 500 hp of 20.3 kW (27.2 bhp, 27.6 PS) @ 5,250 RPM and a maximum torque of 41.3 Nm (4.21 kgf-m, 30.46 ft-Ibf) @ 4,500 RPM.
The top speed rating for the cruiser is 83 mph (132 km/h, per manual) and up to 87 mph (140 km/h, per forums and online publications). Pre-1962 British production models spewed up to 25 bhp (18.6 kW) @ 5,750 RPM and topped out at 78 mph (125.5 km/h), while U.S. releases renamed as “Indian Woodsman” reportedly had a power output of 40 bhp (29.8 kW).
All trims under the Bullet 500 series have been BS-IV/Euro 4-compliant since 2017, with EFI controlled by the two-wheeler’s Intelligent Engine Management System.
Fuel & Lubrication
Tank capacity is 14.5 ± 1 L/3.8 USgal of unleaded gasoline (including 2.75 L/0.73 USgal of reserve). The octane rating should be at least PON 87/RON 91, although some owners claim to have used RON 95-rated speed-type gasoline with no engine issues.
Lube-wise, the Bullet 500 has a Forced lubrication (wet-sump) system with a 2.75 L (2.9 US qt) capacity. OEM-prescribed lubrication is SAE 15W-50 Ester Semi-Synthetic Oil with a minimum API certification of SL meeting JASO T903 MA standards. Other noted service manual viscosity grades are permissible following ambient temperatures, altitude, and riding conditions.
A 5-speed constant-mesh transmission (wide-ratio, return shift) and a wet, multi-plate clutch assembly deliver power to the wheels. A #530 non-O-ring chain (101 pitch for G5 and 102 pitch for C5 models) handles wheelspin, mated to a 5/8″ chain-and-sprocket secondary drive and 3/8″ duplex chain-and-sprocket primary drive combo. Had it not been for the Bullet 500’s limited breathing ability, this setup would have given it a competitive powerband and significantly improved performance figures.
Here are stock gear ratios for the G5 and C5 models:
|Description||G5 / C5|
|Primary Reduction Ratio||2.15:1|
|Secondary Reduction Ratio||2.235:1 / 2.11:1|
|Transmission Gear Ratio – I||3.063:1|
|Transmission Gear Ratio – II||2.013:1|
|Transmission Gear Ratio – III||1.522:1|
|Transmission Gear Ratio – IV||1.212:1|
|Transmission Gear Ratio – V||1.000:1|
Ignition & Lighting
It comes to life via Digital Electronic Ignition. A Mico-WR7 DDC4 spark plug with a 0.7–0.8 mm (0.028–0.031 inch) gap is responsible for spark ignition. A 12V DC alternator serves as its charging system, while a 12V 14 Ah/(10 HR) YTX14AHL-BS battery (view on Amazon) with assembled dimensions of 134 x 89 x 166 mm (5.28 x 3.50 x 6.53 inches – L x W x H) aid in powering electronic accessories and providing superior light distribution.
The lighting system wattage is as follows:
|Description||G5 / C5|
|Head Lamp||12V 60/55W|
|Tail/Brake Lamp||12V 5/21W|
|Speedometer Lamp||12V 3.4W|
|Hi-beam, Neutral, Turn Signal Indicators||12V 2W|
|Turn Signals||12V 10W|
Tires & Brakes
Royal Enfield Bullet 500 G5 trims have factory tires that consist of tubed 90×90-19 51V 3.25×19 at the front and 100/90-19 57V (view on Amazon) 3.5×90 at the rear. The C5 trims almost have the same pair – except that the latter’s tires are 18 inches, and the rear measures 100/80-18 with a 58V rating.
Recommended cold-tire pressures are 125 kPa (1.27 Kgf/cm², 18 psi) for the front tire and 195 kPa (1.99 Kgf/cm², 28 psi) for the rear – pressure for each tire needs adjusting by 7–11% for pillion riding.
These bikes have a hand-operated, 280-mm ventilated hydraulic disc and twin-pot caliper at the front and a foot-operated, 153-mm internal expanding drum at the back. Together with 18/19-inch hoops, these brake components complete the Bullet 500’s tire-and-wheel assembly. For post-2017 models, ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) and a rear disc brake are standard features.
Enclosed in a single down-tube frame are front telescopic forks with hydraulic damping and a rear swingarm with dual gas shocks. Each unit (barely classified as long-travel suspension) offers 130 mm (5.1 inches) and 80 mm (3.1 inches) of respective suspension travel. The wheelbase is 1,370 mm (53.9 inches), paired with 140-mm (5.51-inch) ground clearance. No preload or rebound damping adjustment is available on any suspension unit.
Overall dimensions of fuel-injected G5 models are 2,200 x 800 x 1,100 mm (86.6 x 31.5 x 43.3 inches – L x W x H). Meanwhile, C5 EFI trims measure 2,160 x 800 x 1,050 mm (85 x 31.5 x 41.3 inches – L x W x H). Dry weight is approximately 184 Kg (405.6 lbs.), while curb mass is 187 Kg (412 lbs., in running order). Payload capacity and GVWR are 178 Kg (392.4 lbs.) and 365 Kg (804.7 lbs.). Saddle height ranges from 800–820 mm (31.5–32.3 inches), with the G5 models having a taller seat.
Monochrome fork covers and old-fashioned laced rims add to the Bullet 500’s nostalgic vibe. Both fuel tank and side covers are “badged and striped for a more classic appeal,” underscoring the bike’s styling direction. Passenger grab handles double as a tie-down point for strapping down light cargo when riding solo.
EFI models are available in Gun Metal Gray, Stealth (matte black paint job with blacked-out engine and exhaust), and two-tone Chrome/Green or Graphite. Conversely, Classic trims are available in standard and military colors – Black, Lagoon, Battle Green, Desert Storm, and Squadron Blue.
Royal Enfield 500 Bullet Pricing (1948 – 2018)
|Year – Trim||List Price||Retail/Trade-in|
|1949 – 1961 Bullet 500 Single||N/A||$1,185 – $8,900|
|2002 – 2004 Bullet 500 Classic||$3,995 – $3,999||$290 – $3,475|
|2002 Bullet 500 Classic ES||$4,395||$305 – $3,570|
|2002 – 2004 Bullet 500 Deluxe||$4,195 – $4,199||$305 – $3,580|
|2002 – 2004 Bullet 500 Military||$4,195 – $4,199||$305 – $3,580|
|2002 – 2008 Bullet 500 Military ES||$4,395 – $5,195||$305 – $3,570|
|2003 – 2008 Bullet 500 Classic ES||$4,199 – $4,995||$1,180 – $2,255|
|2003 – 2008 Bullet 500 Deluxe ES||$4,399 – $5,095||$1,185 – $2,265|
|2005 – 2007 Bullet 500 Sixty-5||$4,795 – $4,895||$1,320 – $2,155|
|2009 Bullet 500 Classic ES||$5,349||$1,780 – $2,340|
|2009 Bullet 500 Military ES||$5,545||$1,800 – $2,370|
|2009 Bullet 500 Deluxe ES||$5,445||$1,785 – $2,350|
|2009 – 2012 Bullet 500 Classic G5||$5,995 – $6,295||$1,835 – $2,910|
|2009 – 2012 Bullet 500 Deluxe G5||$6,095 – $6,395||$1,845 – $2,965|
|2009 – 2013 Bullet 500 Classic C5||$6,395 – $6,695||$1,850 – $3,150|
|2010 Bullet 500 Military G5||$6,095||$1,970 – $2,590|
|2010 – 2011 Bullet 500 UCE E-5||$5,995 – $6,295||$1,940 – $2,775|
|2011 – 2012 Bullet 500 Military C5||$6,595 – $6,695||$2,115 – $2,965|
|2012 Bullet 500 Classic Black C5||$6,895||$2,290 – $3,015|
|2012 Bullet 500 Classic Desert C5||$6,895||$2,290 – $3,015|
|2012 Bullet 500 Classic Maroon C5||$6,895||$2,290 – $3,015|
|2012 – 2013 Bullet 500 B5||$5,695 – $5,995||$2,145 – $3,025|
|2013 Bullet Electra Standard G5||$6,499||$2,350 – $3,095|
|2013 Bullet Electra Deluxe G5||$6,699||$2,400 – $3,160|
|2013 Bullet Classic Military C5||$6,695||$2,395 – $3,150|
|2013 Bullet Classic Special C5||$6,795||$2,400 – $3,160|
|2013 Bullet Military Special C5||$6,895||$2,420 – $3,185|
|2013 Bullet Classic Chrome C5||$6,895||$2,420 – $3,185|
|2013 Bullet Classic Chrome Special C5||$6,995||$2,425 – $3,190|
|2014 Bullet Electra Deluxe G5||$5,399||$2,520 – $3,315|
|2014 – 2015 Bullet 500 B5||$4,999||$2,470 – $3,460|
|2014 – 2015 Bullet Classic C5||$5,499||$2,550 – $3,560|
|2014 – 2015 Bullet Classic Military C5||$5,499||$2,550 – $3,560|
|2014 – 2015 Bullet Classic Chrome C5||$5,699||$2,575 – $3,585|
|2016 – 2017 Bullet 500||$4,999||$2,785 – $3,885|
|2018 – 2021 Bullet EFI 500||$4,999||$3,110 – $4,975|
Be it the Royal Enfield Bullet Standard 500 or its other aesthetic trims, this iconic wheeler is not without problems. Here are some reliability issues you need to know before seriously considering the bike as your next cruiser:
Sprag Clutch Failure
Considered an archaic technology in motorcycles, one-way clutches have a higher propensity to break after prolonged usage. Be on the lookout for this problem when you are close to hitting 20,000 miles – an early telltale sign of this issue is difficulty in starting.
Premature EFI Failure
Earlier model years of the fuel-injected Bullet 500s have fuel pump and fuel injector issues despite having adequate fuel in the tank. While it is unclear whether the cause is the Bullet’s fuel system design or its poor build quality, constant fuel filter change, and fuel line checks have proven effective in keeping the issue at bay.
Nightmarish Wiring Harness
Poor wiring insulation and placement are issues tied to almost all Royal Enfield motorcycles. As a result, several Bullet 500 owners have reported electronics-related problems such as inexplicable battery drain and weak lighting. The wiring’s proximity to the motor subjects it to excessive heat, which hastens its deterioration.
Starter Motor Tantrums
Apart from bad wiring, its motor is known to act up, especially in the mornings. Ironically, the Bullet 500’s motor is considered superior to the Classic 350 (I can only imagine the starting issues owners encounter with the latter). The good news is that this nuisance occurs only occasionally. The bad news is that when it does, it is accompanied by irritating grinding noises and freewheeling.
This issue is almost a given with Royal Enfield motorcycles and any other make with a long stroke. Because of its 84 x 90 mm bore-stroke ratio, the Bullet 500 has high vibrations – a potential deal-breaker for those who are into touring and looking for a plush, comfortable ride.
Shuddering handlebars, footpegs, and mirrors are nothing compared to the possible loosening of engine components due to too much rattling. Aftermarket vibration reduction plates are available to help keep the crankshaft in place. Stabilizer bars, bar-end weights, and rubber mounts are other ways to reduce engine vibration.
High Tappet Noise
The Bullet 500’s pushrod motor design has one annoying flaw – a ticking noise that is exacerbated when the “oil reaches optimum running temperature.” It is not without solutions, though. Using high-quality, fully synthetic engine oil, doing regular oil filter changes, and switching to manually adjustable tappets have proven helpful. However, they only keep the tappet noise away temporarily.
Although better than the vast-iron engines in older Royal Enfield models, the Bullet 500’s power mill is still prone to oil leaks. The reason behind this is poor-quality gaskets and seals, speculated to be a result of the OEM’s low spending on the motorcycle’s build. Areas to inspect (especially when buying secondhand units) include brake lines, bottom oil drain screw, side engine covers, and brake master cylinder.
One downside to chrome-heavy bodywork is its propensity to rust. And unfortunately, this is the case for some Bullet 500s. Parts prone to corrosion include fuse boxes, the air filter, spoked wheels, and frame. Applying WD-40 and Teflon coating on exposed metal parts can reduce rusting – but not much if you live or ride inshore.
Short-Lived Chain and Sprockets
Even when stringently lubed and maintained, the factory chain and sprockets are unmeant to last more than 10,000 miles. A good alternative to the stock chain is the Rolon brass chain and chain sprocket (18/38T). It is not as susceptible to rust because of its composition but is hard to come by in the U.S.
While most people think that easily-peeled chrome plating is more of a cosmetic issue, it is not. For the Royal Enfield Bullet 500, this predicament translates into a rusted bend pipe and exhaust, consequently reducing power and acceleration. The only solution is to replace the exhaust and re-chrome the affected casings – sadly, both are not cheap fixes.
Conclusion – Royal Enfield Bullet 500 Review
Even without the 500-cc Royal Enfield Bullet in the lineup, the marque carries on with being resilient. The 350-cc iterations of the bike share a lot in common with the middleweight, with a few extras to boot. Perhaps, the only downside is the smaller piston displacement. But then again, you still get that classic bobber look you are aiming for!
But who knows? We might see a brand-new Bullet 500 in our local dealer showrooms one of these days. No one anticipated the 500-cc to come back after close to 50 years of being defunct – and yet, it did. Personally, the chapter on the middleweight RE Bullet 500 is not yet over. We will have to see what exciting new offers this well-loved thumper will bring.