2018 Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 road test review
Royal Enfield and I are both on a dream run. The Chennai-based company is about to enter the world's largest two-wheeler market with their first-ever all-new multi-cylinder motorcycle with the Interceptor 650 and the Continental GT 650. The prices start at Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 2.65 lakh ex-showroom. It's a massively important project for Royal Enfield. One that I believe will power them to their goal as the world's largest motorcycle maker. And for me, I've always wanted to ride a motorcycle to its launch - that would a be a great story, right?
And that's how it turned out. Royal Enfield offered me the privilege of riding the Interceptor 650 to the launch. From Mumbai to the event venue at the Royal Enfield Garage Cafe in Goa. I said yes so fast, the lady on the phone had to ask me to let her finish what she was saying.
But let's take a quick look at the motorcycle before we get into the ride, shall we?
Royal Enfield Interceptor technical brief
The Royal Enfield Interceptor is a very simple motorcycle. The engine is an all-new 649cc twin-cylinder unit with a counterbalancer for smoothness, a 270 degree firing order for a lovely twin-cylinder thrum. It has fuel injection and is oil-cooled. At 47PS and 53Nm, it isn't an outrageously powerful motor but as we discovered in California, it's a beautifully torquey motor with over 80 per cent of the torque arriving before 3,000rpm. We saw speeds over 180kmph (indicated) with ease and a steady 130kmph cruise was smooth, stress-free and the engine feels stunning in the feel, sound and the mechanical harmony. Royal Enfield also has a new six-speed gearbox with a slip-assist clutch.
The engine is mounted on an all-new double cradle frame that looks similar to the Continental GT 535's chassis. Suspension is basic too - right-side up forks and twin gas-charged rear shocks. Disc brakes at both ends handle braking and dual-channel ABS is standard. The wheels are aluminium spoked rims running tubed Pirelli Phantom SportComp tyres. Tubeless rims would have pushed the price up, says Royal Enfield, although the tyres are very much tubeless by design.
And we are done! Royal Enfield says the UK and Chennai teams worked together on the motorcycle which will be made in Chennai for India, and the world. For simplicity's sake, Royal Enfield is only manufacturing one spec for all markets, the only difference being the regulatory requirements' hardware - number plates, saree guards and what have you.
And it is pretty clear that the motorcycle was designed from the beginning for this stunning price point. Siddartha Lal, CEO Eicher Motors reiterated that the project was expected to deliver a thoroughly modern riding experience, the Royal Enfield design and feel ethos at that price. The price is crucial because Royal Enfield wants to see chart-busting volumes from the motorcycle, not the sort of inconsequential numbers that bikes approaching even the Rs 4 lakh mark in India currently manage.
Design, build and finish
The Interceptor is a simple, retro-cool roadster by intent. And it's a good looking motorcycle. The simple lines of the tank, the almost spartan neatness of a chrome handlebar with a twin-pod analog instrument cluster is very likeable. The simple flat seat, a decidedly old-school bulb-type tail light completes a clean, classy looking machine. People take notice when you come by.
And the best part is that while the price is low, the motorcycle feels well-made and the attention to detail is thorough. I managed to use my amazing intelligence to pick the worst route possible into Goa. This included a 65km ghat section that was so bad that I couldn't even sit down for more than five minutes at a time. This failed to rattle the motorcycle, loosen or damage anything. The Interceptor stayed resolutely smooth and that, to me, is a sign of how much effort RE has put into ensuring that the Interceptor is as close to flawless as possible. Finish is excellent too, although I think there is some room to improve the finish - the meters could have been designed to look more upmarket to be sure. Royal Enfield also uses an old-school dispersion-style headlight and I suspect that a clear, perhaps even LED headlamp might have made the Interceptor looks even smarter.
Performance and economy
The Royal Enfield's is not very quick on the numbers front. 100kmph takes 6.28 seconds, which is about half a second slower than the KTM 390 Duke. Top speed is north of 170kmph and I have seen over 180kmph without any major signs of worry or mechanical distress.
On the flip side, economy is in the 23kmpl region for city riding and it rises to 27kmpl at a reasonable highway clip. However, the bike is sensitive to high speeds and economy can drop to 21kmpl at sustained speeds over a 110kmph - not that you'd be able to do this consistently for a while.
The engine feels composed and unstressed at all speeds and the bike runs a lovely smooth rhythm at any speed. The gearbox shifts neatly too and the experience overall is very satisfying.
The quality of the feel is excellent and there's very few nits to pick if any.
Ride, handling and braking
Ever landed in a pillow? The Interceptor, for the most part, feels like that to ride. The suspension - especially considering how similar it is to the Continental GT 650 - is extremely plush. At moderate speeds - the speeds most of us do, most of the time, the Interceptor feels soft and gentle and it's rather nice on good roads. On bad roads, there's a speed range between 40 and 60kmph where almost every bump disappears completely. It's bloody brilliant.
However, something interesting happens when you raise the speed. Then the suspension starts to loose its grip a little. Undulations will eventually bottom the rear shocks and the bike begins to feel a bit looser. This is a little unsettlling to start with. But then you realise that the feel itself is a constant. It doesn't change and it certainly never worsens. Which is excellent because you learn to trust it and carry on with life. It is something I think Royal Enfield can improve. But on the whole, this is an extremely comfortable machine.
There is also the matter of the seat. I find the stock seat to be a little too soft for my liking but long durations in the saddle are definitely worth it because the Interceptor is beautiful.
In the corners, again, the handling is direct and simple. It isn't the most accurate motorcycle you will ride, neither is it lazy. It's alert enough, handles itself well and elevated speeds around the corners are a lot of fun once you tune in to the Interceptor's frequency.
The Royal Enfield Interceptor, in a word, is desirable. It's simple design, classy execution, marvellous engine are all things that will easily endear it to you. Take a test ride and it's hard not to start thinking about buying one, a process made ridiculously easy thanks to the stunning, stunning price. It isn't perfect though - faster riders will want more sophisticated suspension. Some new riders will not like the hardcore old-school details - the old-looking headlight, the simple meters and all of those parts of the motorcycle.
But here is the thing. It works in India. No, wait, that's not accurate. It thrives in Indian conditions. I enjoyed an extremely hard ride into Goa, on a circuitous 850km route that resolutely decided to throw ever worse roads under the wheels of my orange Royal Enfield. On one stretch, I had to manage a 65km ghat. All broken roads - I stood on the pegs and rode the whole of it because I couldn't slow down en route to a sunset shot. And I failed entirely to break anything, rattle anything or have any kind of hiccup at all. In fact, it revealed to me the idea that the Interceptor will make a rather nice desert sled or scrambler style custom.
I would say that the Royal Enfield Interceptor changes every known paradigm for Indian motorcycles on the market today. A twin at this price? This kind of smoothness at this price bracket? This kind of engineering at Royal Enfield? You name, and it changes it. I looked askance at the company when they announced that they wanted to be the world's largest maker of middleweight motorcycles. Today, I'm a convert. Because they're off to a superb, superb start. Go take a test ride, I think you'll find yourself reaching for a cheque book almost by reflex. The Royal Enfield Interceptor is just that good.
Also see: Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 & Continental GT 650 | First Ride