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Chris Smith, owner of San Clemente Scooter and Cycle Supply, sits on one of the Royal Enfield motorcycles being sold at his store.
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Vintage motorcycle makes O.C. comeback in San Clemente

Vintage motorcycle makes O.C. comeback


Royal Enfield says its motorcycles are caught in a bizarre time warp. The company has been continuously producing the same bike, the kind James Dean rode in the 1950s, for decades.

The vintage bikes haven't been available in California for years due to tough emission standards, which are about three times stricter than federal rules. That changed this month when seven specialty retailers statewide, including one in San Clemente, began selling a new model tailored to California rules.

Royal Enfield is calling its California comeback a necessary triumph.

"California is the biggest motorcycle market in the U.S.," said Kevin Mahoney, president of Royal Enfield's USA division. "Thirty percent of bikes sold in the country are sold in California."

Royal Enfield's story stretches to 1901, when the then-British company started making motorcycles. In the 1950s, the Indian military increased demand so much that the company opened a factory in India.

In the 1970s, cheap, high-quality Asian motorcycles decimated the British motorcycle industry, forcing Royal Enfield to shut its British factory. It kept its Indian factory open, as that market was still faring well, but stopped exporting to the United States. In 1995, it started to export again to all parts of the United States except California.

"They were literally the 1955 models sold as new," Mahoney said. "It was old technology. On one hand, that's what really appealed to people, but they weren't clean enough to be sold in California."

The new motorcycle has about a third of the California standard for carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions and has 85 miles per gallon fuel economy. Most motorcycles get about 50 mpg. It's still the 1955 motorcycle but now has updated technology to meet the emission standards.

Chris Smith, owner of San Clemente Scooter and Cycle Supply, the only Orange County shop selling Royal Enfields, has been following the brand for years. When he heard a few years ago that it was working on breaking into California, he started talking to the company to get in early. Royal Enfield works only with specialty retailers, typically one per county, Smith said.

The logic is that specialty retailers love the brands they sell, and that's who the company wants representing its product, Mahoney said.

"It's just a magnet," Smith said. Shoppers range from age 16 to 75, with the older ones coming in to reminisce about the bike they remember and the younger ones attracted by the style.

The motorcycle weighs about 400 pounds, reaches about 90 mph and costs about $6,500. It comes in maroon, green or black.

"For the price of a Vespa scooter you can get a 1955 vintage motorcycle," Smith said.

Smith plans to open another shop in Huntington Beach in a few months that also may sell Royal Enfields. The closest retailers to Orange County are in Lomita, San Diego, North Hollywood and San Bernardino, according to Royal Enfield's U.S. website, www.enfieldmotorcycles.com.

California is an important state for Royal Enfield, not only because the market is here but also because the state is viewed as a trend-setter, said David Blasco, who runs the blog royalenfields.com but is not affiliated with the company.

"If it's cool in California, that's all the stamp of approval most people need," said Blasco, a retired Miami Herald copy editor who grew up in Van Nuys but now lives in Florida. Since the California announcement was made, visits to his blog from California have outnumbered other states, he said. His blog gets about 32,000 page views a month.

This summer, Royal Enfield sponsored a motorcycle rally hosted by Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club. It also flew some of its Indian engineers to Los Angeles to hold a focus group with some of the riders, said Brady Walker, a club member who organized the rally.

He said there are three types of bikers: those who like aggressive-riding sport bikes, cruiser fans and retro lovers. In the past few years, several motorcycle makers, such as Triumph and Ducati, have been churning out vintage-looking bikes to capture the retro market, Brady said.

"A lot of companies right now are trying to throw out retro models," Mahoney said. "We've never changed. Our retro model is what we are."



Address: 707 N. El Camino Real

Phone: 949-492-4360

Web: www.sanclementescooters.com

Contact the writer: blevine@ocregister.com, twitter.com/newssanclemente or 949-492-5135

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