Royal Enfield First ride - 2019 Royal Enfield 650 twins ridden

Continental GT and Interceptor 650 models point to bright future for Indian firm

Details
Manufacturer:
Royal Enfield
Category:
Modern Classics
Price:
£ 4895
Overall
Not rated

DAY TWO, then, and we head out on the Interceptors for more of the same. I felt more at home with the upright riding position straight away, and if I was picking one, I think I’d go for this. There’s no real downside – there’s no wind protection on either bike really, and while some journos preferred the handling of the GT, with its weight transfer over the front, I didn’t think there was much in it. The sportiness of a 47bhp, 202kg roadster is fairly moot when you get down to it, and the comfort compromise didn’t seem worth it to my creaking old bones.

What has changed today is our lead rider – I’m following an old mate, Paul Young, who’s one of the Royal Enfield development riders, and a top bloke. Race fans will no doubt remember him in his BSB support racing days, when he won the Superstock 1000 series in 2001 and he also ran a Triumph Daytona 675 in British Supersport. He raced in the 1996 500 Grands Prix world championship on a Harris Yamaha, and has also competed at Suzuka in the Endurance world series, so he’s definitely got the skillz.

Trying to keep up with him on a bike he knows inside out, and on roads he’s been riding for a while now isn’t easy, but it is top, top fun. We’re probably not riding at the typical pace for the target customer here, but it’s impressive how much the Interceptor can take. The ground clearance is very decent indeed, with only the odd scrawp of the footpegs for me (not a featherweight sadly), that handling continues to impress, and the Pirellis continue to do sterling work.

The twisty backroads round here are generally surrounded by giant redwood trees, which would be akin to hitting a Chieftain tank were you to come off, but there’s not a hint of anything going wrong. The suspension is still really bouncy, but rarely gets in the way. I only have one moment when the ABS gets confused by the front wheel skipping on a bump, but by and large, you can just ride round the basic damping.

We go down one road which really takes the biscuit though. Called the ‘Alpine Road’, near Pescadero, it’s a wildly undulating, hilariously-badly surfaced gravel road. If there was a Nobel Prize for shitty asphalting, this one would sweep the board every year. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a road so borderline-dangerous. And now I’m chasing a former 500GP rider who’s keen to prove a point about how his bike goes down it. Erk.

I soon lose sight of Youngy, but I’ve got no time to worry about that, and am just concentrating on staying on what asphalt there is left here. At one point, the road is so misshapen and collapsed on one side, that there’s a mini-Karussel on one bend… The Enfield suspension is doing its best down below, but you’d need a proper supermoto and a day of practice to get anything like a good setup down this road.

Youngy’s waiting at the bottom, grinning, and I congratulate him on his bike development skillz, riding technique, and ability to shut up moaning journos… Then we head back to the hotel, at a slightly gentler pace, for dinner and a lite American beer. Smart.

VERDICT

Watching the Enfield folks packing up next morning, I’m impressed by what they’ve done here. The two 650s are good, and for a first attempt to overhaul the firm’s output, they should do the job. They’re not perfect though – the suspension and brakes could do with some effort for the European markets, and a soupcon more tech wouldn’t go amiss (a clock, come on now, get a clock into that little LCD display!)

Indeed, a little bit of tweaking – an extra front disc, some cast wheels for tubeless tyre use, maybe an optional fork/shock upgrade would be simple enough, and a definite boon for the UK sector at least I’d think. Easy for me to say of course, but a UK ‘R’ version would be an intriguing possibility – and would make a better match for the very decent engine.

Speaking of the new lump, it’s very much the start of a project than the end it seems. The bottom end looks super-strong, with nice wide main bearings on the crank, and loads of them. The camchain is in the centre of the crank, so there’s an extra bearing, meaning a lot of headspace in performance terms. The cases are also physically large, and look like there’s loads of room for expansion. A larger capacity motor in the future? With more efficient double overhead cams? It would be mad to rule that out I’d think.

All of my plans would increase the price of course, which is a big part of these bikes. There’s no UK pricing as yet, but the Americans will be charged under $6,000. You have to add sales tax of course, and the Pound Sterling might be worth less than a dollar after next March, ha. But even with that in mind, there seems to be a chance of the new bikes costing around the £6k mark – maybe even less. A Yamaha MT-07 is £6,349, and offers much more performance and tech, but much less in the way of cool retro design. Triumph’s Street Twin is much pricier at almost £8k, and gives more tech, but maybe not so much more in added performance terms.

However the pricing ends up, it’s definitely an interesting entry to the market – and one that deserves to do well I think. Royal Enfield has taken that big step it badly needed – and it’s the first of several I think. Good luck to them!

SPECS

Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 (Continental GT 650)

Engine: 8v parallel twin, SOHC, oil/air cooled, 648cc

Bore x stroke: 78x67.8

Compression ratio: 9.5:1

Max power (claimed) 47bhp@7,250rpm

Max Torque (claimed) 38ft lb@5,250rpm

Transmission: six speed gearbox, slipper clutch, chain drive

Frame: double cradle steel tube frame

Front suspension: 41mm non-adjustable forks

Rear suspension: twin shocks, preload adjustable

Brakes: single 320mm disc, two-piston ByBre caliper (front), 240mm disc, two-piston caliper (rear), Bosch ABS

Wheels/tyres: tube-type wire spoked/Pirelli Phantom SportComp, 100/90 18 front, 130/70 18 rear

Rake/trail: 24°/106mm (105mm)

Wheelbase: 1,400mm (1,398mm)

Kerb weight (claimed, without fuel): 202kg (198kg)

Fuel capacity: 13.7 litres (12.5 litres)

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