When you’re an OEM with a storied past, it’s a completely understandable impulse to want to preserve your history, as much as possible. The impulse to dive into your history—be it personal or otherwise—is something most humans share. So, what if you try to find a particularly important building block, only to discover that it isn’t anywhere to be found?
If you’re Royal Enfield, you gather as much information as you can, and then you get the best people on the case to recreate that thing in the modern era. That’s exactly what the company did with Project Origin, its quest to build as faithful a replica of its missing 1901 motor-bicycle as it possibly could. The original was developed by a Frenchman named Jules Gobiet, and developed alongside Enfield co-founder and chief designer Bob Walker Smith.
A lot can happen in 120 years, though—and somewhere along the way, that 1901 machine seems to have been lost to the sands of time. So far, no one has been able to locate either that machine, its pieces, or even any design blueprints or technical drawings. All Enfield’s 2020s-era detective team had to rely on were some promotional advertisements, period photographs, and some illustrated news articles from the time of the original bike’s release. So, naturally, they took what they had and decided to build as faithful a recreation as they possibly could.
That motor-bicycle was, of course, worlds away from a modern motorcycle—even one with the kind of classic, traditional ethos of a modern Enfield. The engine on the original, which made a stonking one and three-quarter horsepower, sat clamped to the steering head, over the front wheel. From that lofty perch, it used a crossover rawhide belt to drive the rear wheel.
In 1901, Enfield had the foresight to split its crankcase horizontally, so as to avoid the problem of oil dripping onto the front wheel that was often experienced with the much more common vertically-split crankcases found on other machines—but it was 1901, and we’re still talking about total loss lubrication systems as state-of-the-art. Riders of the time had to use a hand-oil pump every 10 to 15 miles or so to keep the engine in good working order. In 2022, drum brakes are seen as being a bit outmoded in most cases, but in 1901, band brakes were how this motor-bicycle stopped in its tracks. Sometimes, history is like landing on a completely different planet.
Still, after gathering as much information as they could, the modern-day Enfield team set to work recreating that 1901 machine. From the folded brass tank, through to the brass-brazed tubular frame and hand-machined brass levers and switches, Enfield and Harris Performance worked hard on all the intricacies needed to pull the project together.
Some turn-of-the-century parts, they were able to source, recondition, and nickel-plate where necessary. These included the paraffin lamp, horn, leather saddle, and even the wheels. Other things—the tank, frame, engine, and carburetor, to name a few—had to be built from scratch, as one-off pieces. It was a labor of love, to be sure but one the team was glad to undertake, and seem quite pleased with the result.
While this video is cool to see, we echo the thoughts of more than one commenter on YouTube, who fervently wished that Enfield would do an entire documentary on the build process of this machine. A series would be great, too—just something that dives a bit deeper into the process would be totally fabulous for anyone who loves moto history.