Many tourists ride up to Nepal from India and sell their bike at the end of the trip. Indian-registered bikes are easy to spot because the number plates are usually black & white, with the characters written in Latin (like English). The good news is that they are cheap to buy (typically €400 to €900). The bad news is that they are limited to Nepal and India, and cannot be ridden to other countries because of a document called a Carnet de Passage.
Nepali citizens cannot ride Indian-registered bikes, and it’s illegal to use them for business in Nepal. Up here, they are exclusively traded between foreigners. As a tourist, the process of buying an Indian-plate bike couldn’t be easier; just swap your money for the bike and registration papers. Foreigners cannot legally register an Indian bike in their name unless they are a resident of India, but holding the papers effectively proves ownership.
Technically, you should pay a daily road tax to ride an Indian-registered bike in Nepal. It costs about €50 per month, with a maximum stay of 3 months. Some people pay this on entry at the border, others just ride through. Crossing the border back into India is easy, and we’ve never heard of people getting checked for tax when leaving Nepal.
In reality, there’s very little Police checking in Nepal unless you have an accident or are stopped for not wearing a helmet. As a result, many long-term tourists (eg volunteers) ride around illegally for years on Indian-plate bikes without paying any taxes. If you buy an Indian-plate bike from us, we’ll give you an official receipt just in case there are any tax disputes.
Nepali-registered bikes have a red & white number plate, with the characters written in Nepali (like Sanskrit). Nepali Bullets are relatively very expensive (normally €2000 to €4000) due to the extremely high import duties. Road tax is around €5 per month. Despite their high price, a major advantage of Nepali-plate bikes is that you can ride around the world with a document called a Carnet de Passage.
It is possible for foreigners to have Nepali bikes registered in their name. It’s appreciated by the Police and locals if we obey the law and pay the same taxes as they do. For that reason, bona fide ex-pats ride Nepali-registered bikes. It is not possible to re-register an Indian bike to a Nepali plate. Imports from India can only be managed by official organisations, not individuals or tourists.
Planning to ride a Royal Enfield around India? A motorcycle is a major purchase, and it’s important to get it right. You can read previous riders’ comments about how we make the process of buying a bike so easy it’s enjoyable. Hearts & Tears has created a hub for Royal Enfield fans in Pokhara; it’s the ideal place to hang out with other enthusiasts. You’ll find our bikes for sale, along with Indian-registered bikes belonging to private owners. The vibrant bar scene and beautiful surroundings also give the perfect starting point for any bike adventure.
Nepal is wonderful for riding. The people are famous for being friendly, honest, and happy. The environment is clean. Roads are much quieter and safer than in India. If it’s your first time in the region, Nepal can offer a gentle introduction for what lies across the border. There’s no problem riding into India; you just need to show your tourist visa and bike papers at the checkpoint.
It’s easy to buy a bad Bullet. There are some great bikes around, and plenty of really awful ones. With simple technology and low power, they can keep on running even when in a shocking state; but the difference in riding pleasure and reliability is enormous. It’s obvious to those in the know, but often a complete mystery to new buyers.
As a general rule, it’s better to spend a little more for a sound Bullet than have problems down the road. However, the quality of a bike is not necessarily reflected in the asking price. Old Bullets are generally better than new ones, but don’t worry too much about the year of manufacture unless it’s a vintage one you’re after.
First, do your homework. Have a look around and get an idea of what your money can buy. Learn as much about Bullets mechanics as you can. Take good advice from people you trust. And set up test rides for as many bikes as possible (ideally back-to-back so that you can make direct comparisons). There are no guarantees. Even a good bike can go wrong but, by getting organised, you can reduce the risks.
The owner has the biggest influence over the condition of any bike, but especially a Bullet. So before you even look at the bike, study the person who’s selling it. You’ll learn a lot by asking some simple, friendly questions:
Some Bullet mechanics have a reputation for building and repairing lovely bikes. Others have a short-term money focus, and are quite prepared to screw tourists who are unlikely to come back and complain. Our search for a mechanic service will help you find a good one. Take care if you’re viewing a bike at a workshop, because the mechanic will probably be earning a commission on the sale. They usually won’t disclose this fact to you, so you may not be getting objective technical advice. They get a kick-back from the old owner for helping to sell a bad bike and, when it breaks down, the new owner usually gives them the repair business as well.
If you get a chance, ask the owner not to start the engine before the test ride. You’ll find out why later. Try to bring an independent Bullet expert (or anyone more knowledgeable than you!) with you. If that’s not possible, bring a sensible friend to the meeting. Ask them to observe what happens, and suggest logical reasons for you not to buy the bike. They may stop you doing something silly.
Make sure you bring a pen & paper to make a note of any concerns, issues, or problems. You can then get an estimate for any work needed before entering into negotiations. You may be seeing a lot of bikes, and it’s easy to forget details if you don’t write them down. Decide your upper price limit for the bike in advance, and bring that much cash to the meeting. Don’t bring more; just in case you get excited and rush into a deal you may regret later.
It’s very tempting to swing your leg over a bike and go for a spin. Don’t. A few simple checks will tell you a lot about the bike before you even start the engine. It’s important to look for correct papers first. Make sure the registration number, engine number and chassis number correlate with the documents. Find out if the road tax has been paid, and if there’s any insurance.
Put your hand near (but not on!) the cooling fins to feel the temperature. Sellers will often warm up the engine in advance. It gives the impression of easier starting, and hot parts rattle less than cold ones. Start with the simplest of maintenance checks; stuff that the owner should be doing every day. Take our mechanics lesson if you want to check a bike properly, but just for example:
A nice engine should start with a few kicks from cold, and then effortlessly every time. There should be a smooth, deep sound with no rattling, knocking or slapping. A bad engine sounds like skeletons dancing on a tin roof. The last thing you should do on a test ride is go for a ride. A straight chassis is just as important as a sweet engine. If the frame or forks are bent, the bike will pull to one side if you (carefully!) let go of the bars at 40km/h. For more advanced checks, see the technical section. Even better, take our mechanics lesson first. We’ll show you all the things to investigate; and help you to differentiate between a good bike and a bad one. It’s a wise investment.
If you’ve found your ideal bike, it’s time to strike a deal. The owner will usually talk-up their bike in an attempt to gain a higher price. They often start the conversation with what they paid for the bike, and may make claims about its quality, parts they’ve bought, or work they’ve done. Try to be objective. You don’t know the owner, the true history of the bike, or the integrity of the pile of receipts. What really matters is the specification, condition and price today. Only you can decide if it’s the right bike for you. If it is, tell the owner you’re ready to buy if the price is right. They will often reduce the price for a quick sale, especially if they’re in a hurry to leave at the end of the tourist season.
The owner has already made their offer with the asking price; now it’s your turn. The facts you wrote down on the test ride may help you get a better deal. Don’t feel bad about negotiating, but be realistic. You can point out problems and areas for improvement for the bike, and mention similar (or better) bikes that are available. Your opening shot should make you happy, but don’t make an offer so low that the owner gets angry; you may create the impression you’re not serious and just wasting their time. There will probably be some haggling before the handshake. If possible, get a receipt and a photocopy ID of the previous owner.
If you’re selling at the end of your India/Nepal adventure, the price you get will depend on a number of factors. A common mistake people make when setting the price of their bike is to add up their total expenditure (what they paid for it + mechanics bills + spare parts). It just doesn’t work like that. They may have paid too much in the first place. The extra work done may have been necessary, or they may have been cheated by a mechanic. And Bullets need regular maintenance. What really counts is the specification and condition of the bike today.
Competition and the “wow” factor are very important. Completely original Bullets are very rare, as most have changed beyond recognition over the years. People pay more for exceptional Bullets, but they will compare all the bikes that are on sale at that time. Price is important, but is not usually the number one consideration. It’s also worth pointing out that your dream bike may be someone else’s nightmare. This can be as simple as the as the colour. Black bikes always sell; weird green ones are harder to shift. Low-rider choppers will really appeal to some buyers and command higher prices, but other riders may be put off.
When and where you sell your bike is absolutely critical. Tourism is highly seasonal as the crowds move along the Lonely Planet trail. This book is so powerful, you either catch the wave in different towns or you don’t (the best time to sell in Pokhara is either March or October). If you’re in a hurry for the money you may have to drop the price, so don’t leave selling your bike until the last minute!
We have successfully helped clients to send their bike home, but the process usually ends up being more difficult and expensive than it first seems. Shipping a motorcycle is easy; making sure it arrives safely at the other end can be nail-biting. Getting it out of the docks and legally registered for the road can a major challenge. For some countries, you have to prove legal ownership. If the bike must be registered in your name, a sales receipt may not be enough. Other countries will allow the import of bikes registered to a 3rd party, so check the rules.
Motorcycles usually have to pass technical tests to be allowed on the roads back home. The tests get stricter each year, especially for emissions. Every country has different rules, so find out the facts. For example, bikes imported to Europe after June 2003 must have a Certificate of Conformity from the manufacturer, Whole Vehicle Type Approval (WVTA) and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plates.
Royal Enfield makes different bikes for the Indian (domestic) and foreign (export) markets. Models made for the Indian market do not meet the WVTA standards for Europe and so cannot be ridden on public roads. Export model Bullets are not sold in India; they can only be bought through official dealers abroad. In this way, Royal Enfield controls the market. You could upgrade a domestic model bike to export standards but, in practice, it’s difficult and expensive. If you ride a motorcycle in Europe without WVTA and VIN plates, your insurance may be invalid. If the bike is involved in an accident, the insurance company may refuse to pay out. Check the small print.
Old bikes can be exempt from technical regulations and some of the rules about paperwork. Typically, this is for motorcycles over 20 years old. The rules are different for each country, so do your homework. Genuine old bikes attract higher prices as a result. There are some honest dealers who will ship you a nice classic bike. Others will provide fake papers to make the bike seem older than it really is. Be careful, because the authorities are well aware of the scams. It is possible for you (or the police) to verify the year of manufacture of your bike from the frame and engine numbers. Some owners’ clubs and specialist websites offer this service. Of course, this assumes that the numbers are original!
You’ll find a classic bike scene in most countries, and chances are there’ll be a Royal Enfield Owners’ Club too. You’ll be in good company; bike enthusiasts are usually a very friendly, welcoming bunch. There are also official Royal Enfield dealers in many countries who will sell you a new or used Bullet.
If you really want a Bullet in Europe but don’t want the hassle of importing, an interesting alternative is to get a cheap flight to the UK and buy a British-made original. Pick up a classic bike magazine or Motorcycle News at the airport, or get in touch with Hitchcock’s Motorcycles. Vintage bikes are usually well maintained by enthusiasts and will already have all the relevant documents for export to your home country.
Riding in India and Nepal is easy. There’s not much checking of licenses, driving standards are poor, vehicles are low-powered, and road speeds are incredibly slow. The Bullet’s actually considered a big, powerful bike out here! In the west, it’s a very different story. If you are thinking of shipping your bike home, or buying one when you get back, you may want to consider the complicated and expensive issue of getting a bike license.
The rules about the different classes of bike, and the steps to get a license, vary from country to country. Do some research but, just for illustration, European laws are roughly like this: the youngest riders (16 years old) are limited to 50cc machines that cannot go faster than 50km/h. They will usually be required to take some kind of basic training. Light motorcycles for beginners (over 17 years old) are under 125cc, with a maximum power of 15bhp. There will be various restrictions and limitations, but you may be able to ride one with a car license.
Modern sports bikes have insane amounts of power, and are incredibly light weight. In terms of the power to weight ratio, a standard bike has twice the oomph of a Ferrari. They accelerate like lightning, hitting 150km/h in about 5 seconds - in 1st gear! The authorities insist that you must be well trained to ride one of these monsters, and they ask manufacturers to electronically limit the top speed to 300km/h. Whether you ride a ferocious superbike or the humble Bullet, you need a big bike license.
In Europe, most riders must train on a bike that produces at least 47hp (35kW). Riding schools usually have a fleet of Honda CB500 or Suzuki GS500 bikes. Royal Enfield claim the Bullet produces 18hp, but that’s measured at the crank. In reality, the power reaching the back wheel is only about 12hp. Whatever the real number, the Bullet is nowhere near powerful enough to count as a proper motorcycle, and so you cannot take your test on it. Our riding lessons can help you pass quicker and easier and cheaper, but it could cost €1000 to get your license with a decent western bike school. That’s more than the price of an Indian-registered Bullet.
Much as we love the Royal Enfield, it is a very old, slow, low-tech, shaky motorcycle. They don’t really accelerate; it’s more like gathering momentum. Flat-out top speed is about 110km/h, but realistic cruising speeds are around the 70km/h mark. Rick’s mum drives faster than that. A Bullet may be gorgeous for a gentle weekend run on country back roads, but it can be dangerously slow in normal traffic.
Bullets always have something wrong with them. Ownership is very involving, and riders build a special relationship with their bike. Parts are available everywhere in Nepal & India, and mechanics are generally cheap, so most people can afford to ride a motorcycle. It’s not the same in the west. You’ll be paying more for even the most basic spares. Labour charges, at €50 per hour, can soon turn a simple job into a very expensive bill if you can’t do the work yourself.