Royal Enfield loyalists are a hard lot to please. They will not let go of heritage and tradition - two pillars that the brand is known for. Hence, when the company announced it was launching its first twin-cylinder motorcycle in almost four decades, based on the Interceptor and Continental GT styling from the 1960s, it had to meet some lofty expectations.
The good news is these 650 cc twin-cylinder motorcycles deliver on all counts - traditional design with modern-day performance and handling. The Quint was invited along with various auto journalists from around the world to test ride the two bikes in Santa Cruz, California.
The Interceptor 650 and Continental GT 650 have just been launched in the US market at prices starting at $5,799 and 5,999, respectively. (The US pricing is indicative of a very aggressive price likely for the Indian market of between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 3.5 lakh.)
If you want a good look at the tech specs of the two bikes, click the link below.
What We Like About The Royal Enfield Twins
Good fit and finish overall. Retro-styling is an eye-catcher.
Good engine with limited vibrations.
Good ride and handling.
What We Don’t Like About The Royal Enfield Twins
It’s 2018, but no LED lights. They still use regular bulbs.
No tubeless tyres. That’s a safety issue there.
Slight wobble in the front when accelerating out of a corner.
Design & Looks
The Royal Enfield twins, as the Interceptor and Continental GT are called, are almost identical save for four sets of interchangeable parts - the seat, the handlebar, the position of the footpegs, gearshift & rear brake pedal and the design of the fuel tank.
Both the bikes get a common chassis and the same powerplant. The bikes get 41 mm front forks with 110 mm of travel and twin coil-over pre-load adjustable shocks with 88 mm of travel at the rear. The setup is slightly firmer on the Continental GT, while it’s softer on the Interceptor.
The bikes get 320 mm single front disc brakes and a 240 mm single disc at the rear from Bybre with a Bosch dual-channel ABS system. The instrument cluster is a classic two-pod design with an analog tachometer to the right and speedometer to the left. The speedometer also gets an LCD display for the fuel gauge, odometer and two trip meters.
The overall theme is retro - both harking back to their predecessors of the 1960s. The Interceptor borrows its design cues from the Interceptor 750 twin and the Continental GT from the GT 250 of that decade.
The highlight of the new bikes is the 648 cc, parallel-twin, two-cylinder air-oil-cooled engine. It comes with a counter-balancer shaft and a 270-degree crank angle. In layman terms, it means the engine has fairly muted vibrations and you get a distinct burbling sound in place of the expected thump-thump. However, there is a fair bit of mechanical noise when heard up close, because of the aluminium head.
This engine puts out 52 Nm of torque at 5,250 rpm and 47 bhp of power at 7,250 rpm. Royal Enfield claims that nearly 80 percent of torque comes in at 2,500 rpm onwards, which makes it quite manageable at low speeds.
It gets four-valves per cylinder, an overhead cam and oil-cooling. The oil change interval on this engine is 10,000 Km (with the first change at 500 km). Starting duties are with an 0.8Kw starter motor, with a 8AH battery on board. It gets a Bosch closed loop fuel-injection system, which should be virtually maintenance free. And it’s a Euro 5 spec engine.
The gearbox is a six-speed constant mesh box with a slip-assist clutch. What this does is prevent wheel lock-up on sudden downshifts, making for a much smoother ride. Shift action on the gear lever is firm but precise and unlike earlier Royal Enfields, we didn’t get any false neutrals on this one. It has a fairly tall overdrive ratio, holding 120 kmph at slightly below 5,000 rpm.
Royal Enfield claims an overall fuel-efficiency of 25.5 Kmpl with this 650-cc twin.
Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 First Ride
My first stint was on the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650. We were to ride in a group along a 130-mile (208 Km) route that went up the Pacific Coast Highway in California and turned into the mountains at Gazos Creek, winding up to Alice’s Restaurant, down La Honda to Pescadero and back along the coast to Santa Cruz.
Thumbing the starter on a cold morning, the bike burbled to life with the idle a little advanced at 1,500 rpm until it warmed up and settled at 1,000 rpm. We were flagged off and set off along city streets initially, before joining the highway. At slow speeds, the bike is easy to handle - the clutch is a bit firm, but not too heavy.
Once on the open highway, the Interceptor sprints away pretty easily. Throttle response is precise, despite being a cable-operated system (not ride-by-wire). It easily managed to accelerate to about 90 mph (140 kmph) without a fuss. Keep the throttle pinned (given the road) and it crosses 100 mph (160 kmph). That said, it can hold 75 mph (120 kph) all day without complaint. There are hardly any vibrations felt at such speeds.
The seating position on the Interceptor is relaxed and upright - perfectly set up for cruising. The handlebar is wide and tall, isolating any vibes that one may encounter. The quilted seat is fairly soft, but a bit slim. One tends to slide around a bit on it. A slight ridge or groove to support the back would have been useful.
What’s particularly good is the chassis balance. One can lean the bike in sharply and quickly switch direction without upsetting it. Despite weighing about 202 Kg dry, the bike has its weight centered lower down, which aids in its stability. I found the Interceptor easier to deal with on the twisty mountain roads as well, compared to the Continental GT.
One thing I did notice was that the front-end tends to get a little light when you accelerate out of a corner, which induces a slight wobble. Different sized wheels may help with this. I didn’t find that much of a wobble on the GT though.
Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 First Ride
The Royal Enfield Continental GT is for those who are young at heart. It has a more aggressive riding position as the clip-on handlebars are set a few inches lower than on the Interceptor. The footpegs are rear-set, allowing the rider to get a leaning forward stance, typical of a cafe racer.
While the Interceptor gets a seat height of 804 mm, the Continental GT gets a lower set seat at 793 mm. The one I was riding had the optional single seat fitted to it, which I did find a tad on the harder side. Another concern I had was engine heat, but then California had fairly cool temperatures of between 16 and 22 degrees Celsius, so we felt none.
This is one Royal Enfield in which the mirrors are actually useable - as they don’t vibrate as much as they do on the other models. Vibrations are well contained. And the exhaust note has a primal musical tone to it, complete with the pops and crackles when slowing down.
The riding stance on the Continental GT results in less wind blast, which makes it easier to deal with at high speed. While many found the Continental GT more fun to chuck around on mountain roads, I personally thought the Interceptor was a better overall ride. Of course, one can maintain higher speeds and chuck the Continental GT around easier than the Interceptor.
What We Think
By the look and feel of it, we think Royal Enfield has a winner on its hands. The middle-weight motorcycle segment in India is wide open. The closest competitor in terms of price would be the upcoming KTM 390 Adventure. In terms of performance, these bikes are pretty much like the older air-cooled Triumph Bonnevilles, but are expected to cost less than half as much as the Bonnies.
Expect more orders to pour in for the Royal Enfield Interceptor rather than the Continental GT, but with so many customisation options on offer from the company itself (fly screens, crash guards, luggage, panniers and custom colours), there is one for everyone.
The other 650 cc motorcycles in the market like the Kawasaki Vulcan or Versys are far more expensive. The air-cooled twin Harley Davidsons are much more expensive. The Interceptor and the Continental GT will likely be about Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh more than the Royal Enfield Classic 500, giving existing Royal Enfield owners an easy option to upgrade to.
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