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The Largest Selling “Big Bike” In The World? Royal Enfield, of Course

An article on the New Atlas website explores in depth the incredible Indian motorcycle market, and is worth a read. According to the story, while the United States sells roughly 500,000 motorcycles each year, and 125,000 are sold annually in the UK, sales in India have reached 17.6 million units in the most recent year!

Worldwide sales figures for brands that primarily sell large-displacement motorcycles (defined in the article as 250 cc plus) are also rather startling. New Atlas states that, while Harley-Davidson sells 250,000 units annually around the globe, Royal Enfield sells more than 700,000 units. Royal Enfield benefits from a “perfect storm”, of sorts. Its home market in India is massive (and still growing), and its iconic, retro style has become extraordinarily fashionable. Apparently, Royal Enfield enthusiasts display a brand loyalty more fierce than that of Harley-Davidson enthusiasts.

The lengthy article also discusses several current European/Indian joint ventures, such as Bajaj and KTM, Bajaj and Triumph and TVS and BMW Motorrad.


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50 Comments

  1. Jeremy in TX says:

    That is an interesting tidbit.

    I really liked the Continental GT when it came out. It is a beautiful bike from about 20 ft away. It is much less impressive up close. Then you ride it, and the disappointment is complete.

  2. Ricardo says:

    I just scored a 1982 Honda Silverwing for $1500 bucks in mint condition with 2,400 original miles, great bike, reliable and plenty of power, why would I bother buying a $5 to $6k Royal Enfield? style maybe but performance? I don’t think so.

    • paul246 says:

      I always liked the CX bikes, function ahead of style but not too bad looking either.
      You did well.

  3. bill engstrom says:

    test road one, what a POS. i then test road a Suzuki 200 Burgman. faster, smoother, better brakes, and better mileage!

  4. Tank says:

    Polaris(Indian) should build something like this. I like the SR400, but some things from the past should stay in the past- drum brakes, kick starters, tube tires…. Americans can put a man on the moon, but they can’t make a thumper that doesn’t end up looking like a cube. Come on Polaris, show the world you’re not just a Harley wannabe company.

  5. Doc says:

    Thought about giving an Enfield a look but the nearest dealer is 250 miles south of me in Springfield MO! Owned 32 bikes and 4 atv’s in my almost 43 years riding. And the biggest POS? A 1978 Suzuki GS1000. The crankshaft twisted(roller bearing crank) and had to be removed and welded. The mechanic thought it was funny when the right outboard piston was about 1/8″ lower in the cylinder than its left counterpart. It was soon replaced with an ’81 900F. Anybody want a Clymer manual for a GS1000? You can have it for cost of postage. And by the way, have had 7 Harley big twins and not a problem with any of them.

    • Cyclemotorist says:

      I owned one, a 78 GS1000. They claim the crank problem you describe is a result of “power shifting”. Z-1, KZ900 and KZ1000 Kawasakis were prone to the same internal malady. The fix is welding up the crank’s rod journal perimeters. This was routine and considered a must do for competition engines.

  6. Artem says:

    They shit on streets. Mostly

  7. Randy D. says:

    These Indian displacement sizes remind me of the USA in the early `60s when I bought my first MC, a Yamaha 250 twin 2 stroke w/20 hp, 4 spd., 85 mph top speed. Back then a 650cc 4 stroke twin was your biggest bike (unless a Harley). A 350 or 500 was a mid size bike. Back to the future. Guess in India still most the roads are dirt.

    When I was in Japan(`68) during Vietnam I saw most the roads outside of cities were dirt too.

  8. rider33 says:

    ‘nice to see a healthy market anywhere but whenever you start talking unit sales you need to keep displacement class in mind. For instance, from that same piece:
    “India’s domestic motorcycle marketplace is currently comprised almost entirely of sub-125cc scooters and motorcycles”
    In India a 350 is a big motorcycle, in the states it’s barely entry level. ‘Not saying I’m happy about that but you’d need to sell a boatload of 50-100cc bikes to equivalize to a single 1,750 in terms of economic impact. Oh yes, and the Harley’s I’ve own have been quite reliable for what it’s worth, a good deal more so than several other brands I’ve owned, YMMV.

  9. John says:

    They’re super cheap in India, while they’re priced like a SOTA 500cc twin in the US. I can see why someone might pay $2000 for a POS, but not $6000.

    “Returning 80 mpg and with legendary reliability in adverse conditions, Royal Enfield claimed a special place in India’s national psyche. ”

    Just not legendary in a positive way.

  10. Tom R says:

    Can I get a Royal Enfield with a cup holder for my Slushee?

  11. Frank says:

    UK, where bike prices have always been way overpriced, I was told by a dealer that I should consider myself lucky that the manufacturers bothered to sent us any bikes! I went on to annoy him by turning up later on an immaculate nearly new machine that I got from eBay at a what I thought was a reasonable price.

    • Dave says:

      I’m told that insurance in the UK is very high too.

      I was just talking with a colleague about motorcycle volumes and prices and honestly, I can’t understand how something so refined and sophisticated as a modern Japanese motorcycle can cost as little as it does for how few are made.

  12. Willy Leavitt says:

    When Honda opened their plant in India, I think it was 2008 or so, the press release had a fact I will never forget. Honda sells more motorcycles in India in one month then they sell in Europe and North America in a YEAR

  13. Blaine says:

    I owned a Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc for about 4 years. It was one of the 4 speed kick start only ones 1999. It needed constant adjustment, but never stopped running. It gave me over 60mpg at highway speeds. It had a top speed of 80mph, but cruised nicely at 65mph. They have been greatly improved over the last 10 years. They now have fuel injection, electric and kick start, disc brakes, and hydraulic valves. They also have a 5 spd transmission. Don’t spit on them if you don’t really know about them.

  14. JPJ says:

    I’ve always questioned why sales figures of motorcycles are not published. Can anybody answer that ? What’s the manufactures have to hide ? Automobile sales are published monthly. The manufactures take pride in there sales leading vehicles. Motorcycle sales figures will only educate the prospective buyer.

  15. dt 175 says:

    just because there is a (broken-down) Harley on every street corner where I live doesn’t mean Harley is a big manufacturer. Honda has manufactured over 300 million motorcycles in it’s lifetime. there are probably as many enfields stuck above Base Camp one as there are Harleys in india…

    • Geoffrey Hill says:

      My 42 Flathead broke down twice. My 93 Sportster never did. My Honda’s had much more trouble.

      • mickey says:

        Bwahhaahhaaha yea right.. You Harley guys crack me up.

        • beasty says:

          I’ve owned a total of 19 Sportsters in my long motorcycling life. None of them broke down.

          • mickey says:

            Why would you need 18 more if the first one was so reliable?

            2 more? 3 more I might understand, but 18 more?

            My first Sporster was a 59 bought in 1968. Yea it broke down. My second was a 93, bought brand new. Yea, it broke down. Done with them. Rode down to NC with a buddy 2 years ago. I was riding my CB1100, he was riding a newer 1200 Sportster. It broke down, not once, but twice on the 1400 mile ride. He sold it when he got home.

          • Tank says:

            A lot of Harley problems are caused by owners trying to modify engines.

          • todd says:

            My father-in-law’s 2000 something 883 broke down a number of times. Then he modified it because he was so tired of buying garbage OEM parts that would just crap out on him. Then he gave up and bought a BMW.

            I see many low mileage Harleys for sale on Craigslist. Harleys are reliable when they sit in your garage for a few years at a time.

        • beasty says:

          “Why would you need 18 more if the first one was so reliable?”
          When I posted my 19 Sportsters comment, I wrote down what I thought the response would be. Almost word for word was your response. I get it all the time. If they were unreliable, I wouldn’t keep buying them. I made a few bucks off some, others I didn’t like for one reason or another, but none of them were unreliable. Sorry about your experience, but mine has not been the same. Up until today, I still had 5 of them in my garage. I traded 2 of them in on a Z900 about an hour ago. Didn’t think I would like that bike, but it grew on me. Hope it’s as trouble free as the Sporty’s.

          • Dave says:

            I am wondering how one would put enough miles on a single bike to find out how reliable it is if they owned so many/turned over so often. You’ve owned more Sporters than my whole family (parents, sibling, wife) has owned total vehicles, including my motorcycles, in 20 years!

            I don’t have any 1st hand experience with HD unreliability. I’ve rented a couple and they worked, but whenever I see a bike on the side of the road without its rider around, it’s always a HD.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            “but whenever I see a bike on the side of the road without its rider around, it’s always a HD.”

            That observation could be resulting from the overwhelming number of Harley’s on the road.

            That said, I also rented one. And it broke down.

          • Norm G. says:

            re: “That observation could be resulting from the overwhelming number of Harley’s on the road.”

            excellent observation. the Law of Averages. “Texus-Jay” sees the Matrix.

            re: “it broke down.”

            aww man.

          • Dave says:

            I don’t think HD’s numbers are overwhelming. There’s 4 major Japanese brands who’ve been selling into the US market for decades. Combined, I’d bet they outnumber HD.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            That is a good point, but I honestly don’t see many preY2K Japanese bikes on the road. And, prior to moving back to Colorado, I still saw more HDs on the road than any other bike.

          • mickey says:

            On my recent trip to Colorado you couldn’t throw a stick without hitting a GS BMW. You’d think they were the largest selling motorcycle iin the country from that observation.

            Around Ohio though… Harley’s still rule, even if they don’t rule very far lol

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            The GS definitely rules the roost around here for riders that spend most of their time on tarmac, though adventure bikes and dual sports of all makes, shapes, and sizes are frequently sighted, especially off-road. For these parts, the GS is tough to beat as a do-it-all motorcycle so long as you don’t want to get too technical in the rough. They do far more than a bike that big should be able to do.

            You still see a lot of HDs in the large metro areas or along craft beer touring routes.

      • austin zzr 1200 says:

        Having owned over a dozen Honda products (cars, mowers, bikes) I find this hard to believe…

    • chris go says:

      Harleys tend to be modified and modified bikes break down. Japanese bikes (I have owned 24) are less likely to be seriously modified (i.e. the internals modified), although plenty of them have met their end from a millennial bobber builder. Japanese bikes are considered disposable in the US. At some point they get parked outside and just rot away. When was the last time you saw an old shovelhead abandoned outside?

    • Grover says:

      Another comment from a “Harley expert” that has never owned a Harley. All the bikes I own are reliable or I wouldn’t own it. True, a stock bike will be more reliable than a modified bike no matter what the make. I keep all my bikes stock for that reason.

  16. Jdilpkle says:

    Look mommy, a green Indian Triumph!

  17. mickey says:

    17.6 million units sold in one year. That is a crazy number. If I was a manufacturer I know I’d be chasing some of that and not worrying much about a country that only buys a lousy 1/2 million. NO wonder we are getting scraps.

    • MGNorge says:

      If this country ever settles down and Washington gets its act together maybe one day the motorcycle market will open up some and manufacturers will deem it worth their time to produce for this market again? Maybe?

      • austin zzr 1200 says:

        Interesting comment…how does Washington impact this situation?

        • Tank says:

          Remember the talk about tariffs on European bikes to help out the beef industry. That’s just one example of how Washington can have a big impact on motorcycles. Tax reform, health care reform…..The more money people have, the more money they can spend on motorcycles.

          • MGNorge says:

            That’a pretty good Tank, close to my thoughts. I consider most motorcycle purchases as elective, as in, not necessary for most people to get to work or travel with. They’re mostly fun toys, like a boat or Jetski are to others. When people feel good in their lives, have a few extra denaro in their pockets they spend a little more on themselves. When they do manufacturers take notice. We’re not there yet.

        • relic says:

          The emissions testing required for small displacement bikes involves more red tape than certifying a jumbo jet.

  18. Richo says:

    Now that’s funny right there!! HAHA!

  19. Michael Haz says:

    With sales number like that, there’s probably more than a dozen or so Royal Enfields that run.

  20. bmbktmracer says:

    I guess all those call center jobs are paying off.

    • blitz11 says:

      For India, NOT the U.S. They’re on their way up, and we’re on our way down.

      • Half Baked says:

        With that kind of attitude I’m sure everything you do is on the way down.

        • blitz11 says:

          Not really. I have worked on autonomous vehicles for 25 years, have 7 or 8 patents in that area, and that initial work from 25 years ago is now hitting the market. PhD in electrical engineering, and i’ve built some pretty innovative stuff.

          The “on our way down” vs. “on their way up” is a commentary on growth. If you have time, please read

          “Growth in a Time of Debt”

          Carmen M. Reinhart
          Kenneth S. Rogoff
          American Economic Review
          vol. 100, no. 2, May 2010
          (pp. 573-78)

          It explains that when a nation’s debt exceeds GDP, real growth stops or slows considerably. India’ gov’t debt is 70% of GDP; in the U.S. it is 118%. We’re really NOT growing as our debt stifles true growth.

          So, no, not everything i do is on the way down. On the contrary, the research in did in the early 1990s is now being deployed on most new cars sold today.

          I was just stating that the Indian economy is on the way up, and ours is on the way down. Read the article about growth, and you’ll see what i mean.