India’s TIME:CYCLES Garage Cafe builds an Enfield bobber with a 500cc Greaves-Lombardini diesel!
Diesel motorcycles are fairly uncommon, mostly reserved for military use, where power-to-weight ratio often takes a back seat to range, fuel availability, and reliability. Probably the best-known diesel-powered motorcycle of modern times is the Hayes M1030, a militarized version of the Kawasaki KLR650 packing a 611cc, 30-hp engine that gets 96 mpg, has a 400-mile range, and can run on both diesel and JP8 jet fuel. Originally developed for the US Marine Corps, the bike has also been used in USAF Pararescue and Special Operations roles.
In India, however, there’s a deeper history of diesel-powered bikes, with rural and street mechanics mounting diesel engines in older Royal Enfield Bullets. Starting in the late 1980s, Enfield themselves hopped on the trend, offering a Bullet-based diesel called the Taurus, but pollution laws ended production by the year 2000.
Enter our new friends at TIME:CYCLES garage cafe of Mhow, India, who have one of our favorite mottos:
“It takes 37 muscles to frown, 17 to smile, and 7 to twist the throttle.”
The team got hold of a 1959 Enfield Bullet 350 with a G2 chassis, whose previous owner had already swapped in a diesel engine in a jugaad manner — read: jerry-rigged. However, that just wouldn’t do for the small shop, who pride themselves on quality:
“We endeavour to surpass manufacturer quality standards, making our custom motorcycles as thorough and complete as possible.”
So the team decided to rebuild and customize this diesel Royal Enfield to its full potential, aptly nicknaming the bike “Navilu” — the Kannada word for “peacock,” the national bird, owing to the bike’s ability to make jaws drop. They tore the bike down to the bare frame and restored the chassis to OEM specs on their jig, then had it hydrochromed.
The bike already had a bit of bobber style, so they continued in that vein, outfitting the bike with a bicycle-style springer saddle (“bloody comfortable!”) and The TripMachine Company leather grips. In keeping withe peacock style, many parts were hand-painted gold or sent off for electroplating and powder coating. They even added an actual peacock feather delicately placed on the face of the speedometer dial. The mudguards were hand-fabricated and bike converted to a 12-volt system with most of the wiring hidden.
They rebuilt the Greaves-Lombardini engine — a 500cc, air-cooled, mechanical fuel injection diesel originally intended for agricultural applications. Originally, the air filter was at the rear, sucking in diesel exhaust, so they went about swapping the valves, the pushrods, and lapping the head to their own spec, so the air filter would be at the front of the engine and the exhaust at the rear.
“We also kept in mind our theme and carefully fabricated the exhaust to replicate the sound of thunder at certain revs.”
They upgraded the clutch with additional plates, tended to the gearbox, and did away with the engine cover, letting the flywheel stay exposed as on some American bobbers. The first ride was an experience like no other:
“We turned a petrol-chugging 1959 Enfield 350, G2 into an OEM-style 500cc air-cooled diesel-powered bobber while maintaining the Enfield essence, but with modern touches; think of it as an Enfield Diesel reimagined by us.”
Below, we get the full details on this diesel bobber, as well as more photos from Vektor Motion.
“Navilu” Royal Enfield Diesel: In the Builder’s Words
At the start of our journey, we had a 1959 registered Enfield Bullet 350 Standard with G2 chassis on our hands. The previous owner longed for good fuel economy, thus converting the motorcycle to a diesel-powered one. This was achieved by using a stationary engine built by Greaves-Lombardini, intended for agricultural applications. This is a very common engine swap in rural India; they use it in everything from sugarcane juicers, commercial three wheeled people carriers to a complete “jugaad” vehicles for some hauling around. Power, you ask? A meagre 6.3 HP delivered at 3600 rpm; but it does make around 20 Nm of torque at 1600ish rpm. If you ride it wisely, it sips about 1.3 litres of diesel per 100 kilometers. Not the ideal choice of motorcycle if you were in a hurry, though.
These makeshift changes don’t usually mix well with reliability. Looking at the motorcycle, one couldn’t help but realise that, it was clearly in need of a LOT of work. A complete nut and bolt restoration was on the cards and we were working with the authorities to endorse the diesel engine to a petrol registered Enfield. After having assessed the condition of the donor, we tried for it to be a bobber while maintaining Enfield essence, but with modern touches, think of it as an Enfield Diesel re-imagined by us. Resto-modded bobber, is that a thing?
So it only made sense to take off the extra weight – airbox, battery box, mudguards, chain guard had to go. We then went by getting the stance right. Shock absorbers were replaced by OEM gas charged shocks, and we used shorter springs with altered compression rates. We lowered the front as well by around 2 inches and altered the damping to make it more compliant. Stock 3.25-19″ were replaced with Shinko’s 4.00-19″; the new tyres are taller and considerably wider. We were contemplating whether we should go for 18″ or maybe even 16″ in the rear but ride feel with a 19″ in a British frame is something else!
A classic butterfly style handlebar was added to get the ergonomics spot on and we moved on to installing an old school bicycle style springer saddle to give it a period correct feel which was wrapped in brown leather, sourced from the best. This was handstiched to perfection by artisans who have been doing this for generations. It indeed is bloody comfortable; ideal for long solo trips! We then wrapped the grips in leather grip wraps from The TripMachine Company, which we polished to match our saddle. We fancied the idea of flowy and a minimal handle bar so we added custom made bar end levers in brass and finished them up on chrome, helping us de-clutter the handlebar. Lastly, we carefully hand fabricated the mudguard and stays to fit flawlessly.
We decided to bring the motorcycle up to modern times and started work on the electricals. The motorcycle was originally running a 6V system, but a custom alternator and a hand made wring loom birthed a 12V custom electrical system, capable of running 200W on demand. This meant that the old filament bulb in the headlight had to give way to a Philips H4 LED bulb(which meant changing the entire headlight dome as well), and an additional 100W fog light, 3000K Philips H4 Rally bulb(for riding/ touring in inclement weather and yes, we are using two H4 bulbs). In order to get a clean look, we intended to hide the turn signals/ indicators; we don’t fancy the idea of dangling OEM indicators. What we wanted wasn’t really on the market. In fact we weren’t quite sure of what kind of indicators we wanted or how we were going to achieve this part of the build.
We chose to stick with the OEM headlight assembly instead of the classic bates style light. One look at the headlight and it is almost impossible for anyone to go wrong with the origins of the build. So, we decided to use the pilot lamps as our indicators, in order to minimize the clutter and to ensure road safety. The rear indicator assembly was assembled using different off the shelf parts and custom machined bits. A few wiring tweaks and three wasted chipsets later we had our first completely reliable LED assembly. We used these chips in our front pilot lamp indicators as well. We fabricated a switch box to operate the indicators. For when we would need it, we decided to change the existing horn to the Hella trumpet horn. With deliberate work, we made the air compressor and other electronics to be hidden in one of the tool boxes. Battery, Ignition switch and fog light switch were neatly integrated into the other tool box. Dents from the fuel tank were removed and necessary bodywork was done. We then created recess to fit our badge, flush with the contours of the fuel tank.
During test rides, we realised our motorcycle possessed the characteristics of a peacock – it can make people’s jaw drop as it danced while being aloof all the time. Peacock is also our national bird and being from an Indian armed forced background, all those childhood lessons in patriotism started to make sense. Let’s not forget that the Bullet is our national motorcycle. In addition, peacocks can “sort of” fly and we have 6.3 HP at our disposal, remember? Similarities aren’t uncanny; or are they?
So, the motorcycle was stripped and the chassis was set up in a jig to restore it to it’s original specs. Post that it was sent for a custom hydrochrome paint to VP Designs Custom Paint Shop in Pune. As a part of our re-imagination, we reworked the speedometer and delicately placed an actual peacock feather on the dial. We used the ampere meter casing and a quartz movement was installed by one of the best precision watchmaker in the state. The clock dial was also given the peacock feather treatment to match. The label on the trumpet reads Navilu, a Kannada word which translates to peacock.
We chose the colour that we believe best represents an Indian Peacock, it’s vibrant and rich (it’s one particular swatch from the many we weren’t sure of). the swatch in question was by Axalta so we ordered a complete system. We sent the parts to our local paint shop, a few of them for powder coating and a considerable amount of parts for electroplating. A few other parts like the front brake cam, part of the flywheel, wheel hubs, fog light mount, air filter and a diesel fuel line were carefully hand-painted in gold and detailed to perfection. The painted parts and the custom painted frame were then sent to 3M car care workshop for paint correction and surface protection treatment.
Now it was time to tend to the 500ish cc, Air cooled, mechanical fuel injection, pushrod diesel engine. We took the engine apart, replaced all the bearings, new piston and the usual works. The exhaust was originally routed from the front side of the engine and the air intake behind the engine. So for better (read: cooler) air, we swapped the valves and lapped the head to our spec; the engine was breathing fresh air now. We also kept in mind our theme and carefully fabricated the exhaust to replicate the sound of thunder at certain revs.
We moved to the clutch, upgraded it to accommodate more plates and tended to entire four speed gearbox internals. A larger, custom made, 19T front sprocket was installed to aid to the overall delivery. We also decided to get rid of the engine cover and let the exposed spinning flywheel create some drama, just like the Peacock dancing in the rains. Yes, the flywheel is very dangerous and many may believe we have no regard for safety, but we believe it adds some thrill to the overall leisurely paced riding experience. After all, we have a meagre 6.3 HP at our disposal, remember?
Photographs were captured during the COVID19 lockdown; making the most out of available resources, while staying at home. Our folks at Vektor Motion were kind enough to help us with these images.
Follow the Builder
- Instagram: @timecycles_garagecafe
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- Photography: @vektormotion
I wish I could actually see the darn thing, it looks like it was photographed in the shade using ultraviolet light.
Enjoyed reading but as with the previous comment – besides close up of the engine, there were no photos close enough to appreciate the whole bike.
This is absolutely brilliant, I love it!