Moto Anatomy X Royal Enfield: A Winning Combination

“This is the first time our company has ever really done something like this in 100 years.”

Adrian Sellers, the head of Royal Enfield’s Industrial Design team, exaggerated to make his point when bringing up RE’s relatively scant racing history, but only just.

Prior to the 2020 Progressive American Flat Track season, Royal Enfield had a few racing icons to call its own -- like ISDT hero Johnny Brittain and seven-time Isle of Man podium finisher Steve Linsdell -- along with a small handful of fondly remembered racing machines, such as the slick little GP5 250 from the ‘60s.

But for the manufacturer that boasts the claim of being “the oldest global motorcycle brand in continuous production,” tracing its roots back to 1901 in Redditch, Worcestershire, there was not much of a trophy case to speak of.

That’s doubly true when you realize just how immense of an operation the modern-day Royal Enfield actually is.

Bree Poland, Lead Marketing Americas/Global Brand Manager Continental GT Platform for Royal Enfield North America, continues pulls double duty while working at the racetrack.
Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

Johnny Lewis and team participating in the 2020 Dunlop Tire Test in early December.
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

Having existed the past six-plus decades as an Indian manufacturer, RE has exploded alongside its domestic market. Consider this: If you were to add up the combined annual global sales of AFT powers Harley-Davidson, KTM, Husqvarna, and Indian Motorcycle -- and then threw another year’s worth of Harley-Davidson sales on top of that for good measure -- you’d still fall around 100,000 units short of Royal Enfield’s annual numbers.

Admittedly, the bulk of those have been in the Indian market, which is nearly 50(!) times larger than the United States’ in terms of unit sales. Now in the midst of a concentrated push to expand its reach, Royal Enfield has pushed its line of retro-flavored mid-sized machines into dealerships all over the globe while simultaneously pouring tens of millions of dollars into technology centers.

In an effort to build up its brand awareness (and cool factor), Royal Enfield introduced the RE Factory Custom program, which produces one-off custom machines based around its production motors.

These design exercises have done much to grab enthusiasts’ attention and flex the firm’s engineering capabilities… In other words, the same sorts of things that generally spur manufacturers to go racing.

And while a handful of these custom projects were, at the very least, racing adjacent in design and intent, none had been so ambitious or focused as the Twins FT flat tracker unveiled to much acclaim at the 2019 EICMA Motorcycle Show in Milan, Italy.

While its stunning appearance certainly captured imaginations, it was initially assumed that looking awesome was pretty much the entire point of the exercise. And creating a winning bike for the .jpg category is a whole lot easier than taking on the best racers in the world at real-world racetracks that care nothing for aesthetics.

Royal Enfield disproved any conspiracy theories to those ends, however, when it announced it would, in fact, prove the Twins FT up in AFT Production Twins competition.

Sellers said, “We wanted to take an approach where it would still be very fun. Flat track is that. Of course, it's serious competition and there's a lot of money involved and everything, but somehow it keeps this casual grassroots-ness to it. We really like that. If there was a form of racing we would go into, it was pretty much that.

“So yeah, we just sort of went for it.”

To design a racebike that could reasonably expect to be competitive in Progressive American Flat Track, form (as head-turning as that form may be) was forced to follow function and not the other way around. And to pull that off, RE turned to the famed frame-builders at Harris Performance (which it acquired in 2015) to develop its chassis.

With a silhouette unlike any other, the motorcycle consistently turns heads as it is offloaded each weekend.
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

Form and functionality meet aesthetics with the Royal Enfield Twins FT.
Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

“When we went into this project, we were very clear with the Harris guys,” Sellers said. “We told them, 'Look, we're not going to put anything on this from a design side until you have a chassis you're happy with.’

“So they developed the chassis and then we started styling around it to get something that'd look cool. The idea was to get something that said 'flat track' but also had its own identity. You know, a lot of the flat track bikes look the same and in fact, in the AFT rules it says it has to look like a flat track bike, which is an interesting thing.

“It had to look like a flat track bike, but yeah, we wanted to have a bit of our own approach to it. There are some aspects of a chassis that you can change to suit styling without affecting the performance and we've negotiated with the Harris boys to how we can do that. But, yeah, it's definitely function-led.”

While Harris Performance came into the project with a wealth of knowledge working in its favor as a result of decades of MotoGP and WorldSBK experience, it had never before designed a dirt tracker. As a result, it immediately went out to the local flat tracks, benchmarked what they could, measured everything in sight, and talked shop with anyone willing to discuss the art of dirt track design and feel.

Sellers said, “With their understanding and long history in chassis development, they're really good at translating non-numerical feedback into numbers and then making the adjustments on the chassis accordingly.”

Royal Enfield partnered with another racing giant to bring its stock 648cc parallel twin up to snuff. In this case, however, dirt track-specific knowledge came in spades as AFT dominator S&S Cycle agreed to work its magic to help transform the Twins FT’s mill into an engine that could, for starters, hold its own on Short Tracks and Half-Miles.

Building a chassis and tuning an engine were a good start, albeit well short of actually fielding a Progressive American Flat Track race team.

Royal Enfield still had to find the right people to fill some mission critical roles… At minimum, it needed someone who knew the ins and outs of the series to spearhead the race program, a developmental-minded test rider, and an elite-caliber racer who could push a machine to -- and past -- its limits while doing battle with the best flat track racers in the world

Upon doing its homework, Royal Enfield came to find that the “right people” actually turned out to be the “right person.”

Johnny Lewis studies the racetrack and his competition.
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

Sellers explained, “When we said we were starting this thing and looking for someone who could lead us through a development year, everybody we talked to said ‘Johnny Lewis.’ Literally everybody. There was not a single person who said otherwise.”

Lewis’ résumé was almost a bespoke fit for this particular project. Entrepreneurial in nature, the founder and primary instructor of the Moto Anatomy training facility/school boasted exactly the right skillset for the job.

Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

His outright speed and racecraft were confirmed by a Grand National Championship Main Event victory among his five premier-class podiums.

His versatility was borne out by nearly 20 GNC top fives that span all four disciplines (Mile, Half-Mile, Short Track, and TT) after first being proven as a race-winning factory KTM AMA Supermoto prodigy.

His track record for mastering a wide variety of machines was just that -- a record. No other rider in the sport’s history had qualified for GNC Main Events on so many different racebikes, including the KTM LC8, Ducati 1100, Indian FTR750, Triumph Bonneville, Kawasaki 650, Harley-Davidson XR750, and Suzuki SV650, not to mention Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha singles, plus an H-D XG750 at the X-Games…

Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

His ability to accurately diagnose what a machine is doing underneath a rider, and to suss out the proper techniques required to get the most out of it, had been honed by several years of rider instruction.

Add in the fact that he was just there for the taking -- having racked up the aforementioned achievements despite spending the bulk of his Progressive AFT career as a series part-timer – and the pairing was a no-brainer.

Of course, no one’s 2020 plans -- not in this or any other industry -- unfolded smoothly in the wake of a global pandemic. Like everyone else, they were forced to make the best of it with the hand they were dealt.

Lewis said, “Royal Enfield got me the concept bike two days before the Daytona TT was supposed to run with the intention of just having it on display there. They shipped it over from Europe in pieces and without a motor. I had to go get a stock motor from a dealership for the display.

“This bike wasn't supposed to be ridden. But with everything shut down overseas, they gave me the green light to actually go ahead and build that motor up to just kind of have a relatively okay test motor. That way we could start messing with the chassis to kind of see where things are at.”

Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

After testing the prototype, Lewis worked in concert with Harris Performance to dictate the form of the final chassis as the Twins FT transitioned from concept bike to race bike in time for its official debut.

“Harris are numbers guys,” Lewis said. “So I’m able to tell them what I’m doing on the bike and the reasons behind it, and they're able to figure out the measurements. They kind of develop the theory behind it into actual stats.

“I think it's every racer’s dream -- it’s like a one-off racer built for me. I've always been involved and interested in the development process and how things come together. You know, it's definitely kind of a dream come true kind of operation.”

Dream or not, reality quickly set back in. The finished race bike arrived from India -- in pieces again -- just three days ahead of its maiden race, the Williams Grove Half-Mile I.

It took a round-the-clock effort from the Moto Anatomy powered by Royal Enfield crew to get the bike track-ready, which meant that Lewis’ very first ride on the all-new Royal Enfield Twins FT took place in the opening practice session that Friday night.

Somehow, someway, he was able to demonstrate its potential from the very start, guiding the still raw machine to a remarkable sixth-place Main Event debut.

It was immediately apparent the chassis was a definite strength of the overall package. And the extreme adjustability Harris built into it also meant it was likely to become even more so as Lewis got more seat time and had the opportunity to properly dial the new package in.

Not surprisingly, however, the engine still required considerable development, both in terms of durability and performance. Royal Enfield recognized from the start it was embarking upon an uphill climb in that regard; the INT650’s stock mill from which the Twins FT inherited its power plant started its life as a 47-horsepower air-and-oil cooled design that was never intended to be raced.

While running near the front of the Semi in the following day’s Williams Grove Half-Mile II, the bike’s head gasket failed. With UK-based RE engineers assisting virtually, the team successfully identified the issue, tore down the motor, replaced the gasket, and got Lewis back on track in time for the Main Event. The night’s whirlwind was a fitting way to end a week-long whirlwind -- one repaid by a charging seventh-place result.

After an impressive run on its maiden voyage, the Twins FT found its limit at Williams Grove HM I.
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

It took hours of painstaking work from the entire time to put the Twins FT back on the racetrack for the Williams Grove HM I Main.
Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

The bike’s strengths and weaknesses were naked for the world to see as Royal Enfield developed the Twins FT at the track in season. Despite its stirring start, the compact post-pandemic schedule soon took its toll.

The calendar saw the next six Progressive AFT events play out over a 16-day span, strung together by interstate travel.

A valve issue brought the Dallas Half-Mile doubleheader to an early end for the team, and ultimately forced the team out of the following weekend’s Atlanta Short Track doubleheader as well.

Lewis’ Moto Anatomy powered by Royal Enfield squad managed to get the Twins FT back on track at the Charlotte Half-Mile I following a 15-hour Thursday fitting new pieces to the racebike. Unfortunately, they only had a DNF to show for it the next day, which was backed up by a rain out in Saturday’s Charlotte Half-Mile II.

For most racers, that consecutive string of disappointments would have been more than enough to make the Twins FT’s spectacular debut weekend feel awfully distant, even if it had come just a few weeks earlier.

Far from beat down, Lewis remained as upbeat and optimistic as ever heading into the Progressive AFT Finale at DAYTONA.

At the time, he said, “We have had a lot of challenges, but the one thing I’m always preaching to all my students -- and I think it’s something I’ve developed over the years -- is trying to move forward. Get to that next day and be better than you were the day before. That’s something that’s allowed me in this project to move forward. I’m going into DAYTONA with a whole new mindset. I’m ready.”

He was ready.

Lewis was not just a factor at the DAYTONA Short Track I, he and the Twins FT established themselves an unstoppable combo. Lewis scored an easy win in his Semi, took top qualifier honors, and then went wire-to-wire in the AFT Production Twins Main to earn Royal Enfield its maiden Progressive American Flat Track victory barely over a month after the brand’s series debut.

Lewis is known for his aggressive and fearless riding style, giving him an edge when hopping on new machinery.
Photo: Scott Hunter, American Flat Track

                    The race to the checkered flag ignited a fervor of excitement and tears.
                                          Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track

Adrian Sellers said, “Just over a year ago we decided to go flat track racing in AFT. The goal for our first year was to learn and work towards competitive results. We couldn’t have imagined that we would win a race, and the result at Daytona I is overwhelming. We’ve had an incredible season of development, and the team has given its all to finding the solutions that got us over the line.”

Lewis said, “It’s been a process, obviously. We had a lot of things thrown at us this season. This is just the beginning for this team and this program. I’m excited to be on this bike, on this track. It worked out perfect.

“Everybody’s support for this program has been awesome. We’ve been busting our butts all season, and it feels good to not only get to the podium, but actually win a race.

“I’m excited to continue this effort with Royal Enfield.”

Photo: Kristen Lassen, American Flat Track