The Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 is the most-anticipated motorcycle of the year. And if you're reading this, you're interested in knowing how the bike is, and what the new 650 cc parallel-twin engine is like. We got to spend a day riding the RE Interceptor 650 in California, along the Pacific Coast Highway, and then further inland and into the twisty mountain roads and redwood forests. On smooth tarmac, respecting the local speed limits as much as we could, we were led out on a full day's ride to experience the Interceptor 650, and we're happy to report that the new 650 Twin is possibly the smoothest and most powerful Royal Enfield engine we have ever experienced.
Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 First Ride Review
The 650 cc Twin development story
The 650 cc, parallel-twin engine has been in the making since 2015. And this engine has a lot of inputs from the engineering and design team based at Royal Enfield's UK Technology Centre, in collaboration with Royal Enfield's team based in Chennai. The result is an air-cooled, 649 cc, four-valve per cylinder, single overhead cam (SOHC) engine with an oil cooler, which puts out 47 bhp of power at 7,100 rpm and 52 Nm of peak torque at 5,200 rpm. The engine has a 270-degree firing interval, and the decision to have such architecture was apparently taken to have a unique sound - something Royal Enfield's single-cylinder engines were loved for. Although a parallel-twin could not have had similar sound as the singles, the 270-degree firing interval ensured that the engine did have a nice burbly rumble, if not a thump. Also included is a balancer shaft, to make the engine smooth and refined, keeping vibrations in check.
But it's more than just the engine. The idea was to create a platform that will be launched with models targeted not just the home market, but which will offer global acceptability, particularly in markets like Europe, and even Latin America and parts of Southeast Asia. Of course, India will be the main market, since there's a gap in the market above 500 cc, other than imported or foreign brands, which are, well, expensive. The new Royal Enfield Twins are to be accessible, not just in terms of performance, but also in pricing. And that's what Royal Enfield intends to do - disrupt the market with well-engineered and well-designed products which will be accessible for the average buyer who is not looking to spend the kind of money any Japanese or European brand commands. And as for reliability, Royal Enfield is offering a three-year, or 40,000 km on both the Interceptor 650 and the Continental GT 650, so then, there's the 'official' confidence in the products.
Performance and Handling
Rolling out of Santa Cruz on a foggy morning astride the Interceptor 650, it became clear within minutes that this was unlike any Royal Enfield that we have seen, ridden or experienced ever before. As the rev counter climbs, there's no petering out of performance, or refinement. Royal Enfield says as much as 80 per cent of the peak torque is available from as low as 2500 rpm; and before you hit 3,000 revs, the engine pulls with urgency, all the way to around 6,000 rpm, and goes even beyond, to the red line of 7,500 rpm. And surprise, surprise! There's no strain, no protest, from the engine, and no rattling from anywhere.
Just out of Santa Cruz, we hit the Pacific Coast Highway, a stretch of road along the California shoreline hugging the coast. The six-speed gearbox on the Interceptor 650 is slick, shifts are precise and smooth, and not once did we encounter any misses or false shifts, and finding neutral is just a matter of a light tap with the toe, without any drama. As the speedo needle climbs, things begin to become even clearer; there has been a lot of thought, effort and passion involved in making a truly good motorcycle. And the years of development, testing, and making prototypes has not gone in vain. This is easily the best Royal Enfield that I have ever ridden, and that comes from ownership experience of a few in the family, and still a couple left in the garage. The Interceptor 650 looks and performs like any true-blue modern classic and can easily rub shoulders with the best motorcycles in that genre.
Getting off the Pacific Coast Highway, it's time to head inland into twisty heaven shaded by tall Redwood trees. The single lane track going up the hills have tight corners, interspersed with dips and sweeping bends. And not once did the Interceptor 650 feel skittish or leave the rider doubtful of its handling or road manners. It may not be sportbike sharp, but it has more than enough capability to hold a corner without letting you feel nervous. The Interceptor 650 rides on 18-inch spoked wheels, shod in Pirelli rubber. The tyres aren't tubeless, but the compound has been developed specifically for the RE Interceptor 650, to offer great grip, as well as durability.
Ride and Braking
The wheels of course, get discs at both ends - a 320 mm disc at the front, and a 240 mm at the rear with standard dual-channel ABS. The brakes offer good bite and inspire confidence to shave speed in a hurry, and it should be noted that the Interceptor 650's easily accessible personality is complemented by brakes which we have no reason to complain about. They may not be sharp or as focused as a proper naked sportbike, but they do the job fairly well, and to satisfaction.
The test route through Highway 1 and then on to California's state backroads, offered us hardly any options to test the Interceptor 650's ride quality. For most part, we were on silky smooth tarmac, and even the "loose gravel" sections we were warned about had no broken tarmac or any kind of potholes. A couple of road undulations and twisted asphalt that we did encounter, and introduced the Interceptor to, the ride felt slightly on the stiffer side, possibly a compromise to improve handling. How the bike performs on actual, real world conditions back home in India will be known only once we subject it to a proper road test. For our extremely focused readers who may be thinking, "can it go to Ladakh?" Yes, it certainly can, and will without a whimper, but we'll still reserve our comments about ride quality over broken roads, till we actually do get to test the bike on such terrain.
It's built well, looks great, sounds great, performs great and has a very likeable personality. The only negatives that we could think about are cosmetic - lack of LED headlights, and a clock on the instrument panel, as well as a gear position indicator. But then, those could still come in the next facelift. And with a choice of different colours, and different badges, the RE Interceptor 650 will offer distinctive cosmetic flavours to suit buyers with different tastes.
The Interceptor 650 will likely be launched sometime in the next few months, possibly late October or early November. Our estimate on prices is between ₹ 3 to 3.5 lakh, but Royal Enfield intends to position the new 650 Twins as a motorcycle which will be the natural upgrade for the existing Classic 350 and Classic 500 owners, so it's certainly intended to be a large volumes product. And that could well mean, the Interceptor 650's price may be even lower, possibly somewhere around the ₹ 3 lakh mark. If that happens, expect to see long waiting periods at Royal Enfield dealerships, and a whole new tribe of Interceptor 650 owners. But this time, it could well be a push into newer global markets for Royal Enfield.
The Interceptor 650 certainly is the best motorcycle to come out of the Royal Enfield stable in modern history. On our test route, we easily saw the speedometer nudging 90 miles per hour (that's over 140 kmph) on several occasions, and that too, without the engine feeling strained, or any part of the motorcycle's body rattling in vibration. This is a Royal Enfield motorcycle which can comfortably cruise at 130 kmph, with some more power and performance on tap to go even faster. You do feel a small buzz, particularly on the footpegs at over 5,500 rpm, but it's not something which will likely irritate you, or make you complain. There's little to criticise the new Royal Enfield Interceptor 650, and to sum it up, it's just too good a motorcycle for us to be stingy with praise. Take a bow, Royal Enfield.
Photography: Pawan Dagia