I flew to Goa for the 650 ride with a lot of questions and apprehensions in my mind. Being a not so happy ex-Himalayan owner, I was sure Royal Enfield would never be able to pull off a near perfect motorcycle at all. Never. Ten minutes into the ride however and I was laughing inside my helmet, shaking my head in disbelief.
Most of you reading the article right now probably know about the pricing. Its smashes the competition out of the picture completely. And you get a warranty for three years as well as RSA (road-side assistance) support for the same time period. But does this fantastically incredible pricing come at the cost of shortcomings? Read on…
The new 650s, both Interceptor and Continental GT are made with a pure design in mind. These are modern day retro classics that ape the era gone by. They are meant to look uber cool without any flashy elements and the essence of the entire package is the meaty engine. It looks massive, wrapped around by minimal body work with the twin pipes announcing their presence in chrome. Both the bikes get identical spoke wheels, tyres, brakes and suspension set-up. The biggest difference comes in the form of three changes – the fuel tank, handle bar and positioning of the foot pegs. I personally love the Interceptor over the GT but I am sure a lot of you out there would prefer the latter.
Its a good move that Royal Enfield is playing with colors on both the bikes. And will be offering 40 accessories to further make these bikes stand out. The company has worked hard to improve on their fit n finish (newer Himalayan, 500x are perfect examples) but the 650s set a new benchmark. Paint quality is superb and the bikes feel solid, very well put together indeed. While some may argue on the thin grab rail or exposed pipes / lines and stuff but my friend, one look at the pricing and these shortcomings are dismissed off.
The bikes also come with decent kit. While the twin pod speedometer console has a rather small LCD display, it looks retro. But I would have definitely wanted a clock, gear indicator and a fuel economy display in there. ABS is standard and both the bikes also get a slipper clutch. There are no fancy items like USD (up-side down) forks up front or a mono-shock at the rear but the current set up looks just fine. The front forks are beefy and the rear ones are gas charged and the spoke wheels carry Pirelli tube tyres – yes, not tubeless yet but while speaking to Rudratej (President at RE), he did confirm the likelihood next year as volumes for such materials are definitely there!
The bikes get an all-new 650cc engine with twin cylinders. Its an air-cooled motor (gets an oil cooler though) and puts out 47 bhp of power with 54 Nm of torque. At this price, no other motorcycle delivers such numbers (not even the KTM 390s) and the 650s are seriously quick for an Enfield. Naught to 100 comes up in less than 6.5 seconds and given the road, you will even see 170+ on the speedometer with 140 coming up rather easily. As we rode out of our hotel in North Goa, the grin on my face was a testimony to the fact that I was enjoying the bike. I rode the GT first and within minutes was hitting the rev limiter in the first two gears – had to back off and upshift early. Never had I imagined an Enfield to rev the way this bike was. Talking of which, 1st cog is good for 70, 2nd for 100 and 3rd for 120. At highway clip, the tachometer showed 4000rpm at 100km/h which means ample poke in reserve to overtake faster moving traffic. This thing can stay at 120 all day long. Plus, given the amount of torque on offer, unlike other bikes in the price band, you dont have to downshift every time you want to close in on a gap in traffic. Its fun!
With a counterbalancer and a 270 degree firing order, not only is the heart of the new 650s smooth, it sounds too good to be true. We rode in a group through out the day and the sound from multiple bikes riding together was pure music to ears. Throttling hard through the gears through narrow Goan roads was fun enough and I can’t wait enough for the SnS performance exhausts to arrive somewhere next year. That would be orgasmic. I can already hear the popcorns loud and clear. Damn!
Post lunch, I took over the Interceptor and couldn’t have been happier. Being awake since morning and a bit tired, I felt at home on the Interceptor and changed my riding behaviour to a more sedate pattern. 4th and 5th were used for most part which meant using all that torque between 2000-4000rpm. Infact, this engine makes 80% of its torque under 3000rpm which meant no downshifts, even on inclines. The engine continues to sound good at lower revs, with a deep growl from the twin exhausts. Ridden this way, I am sure the bikes will deliver a good 22-25 kmpl which means a real world riding range of about 300km.
Both the bikes get an identical 6-speed gearbox with similar gear ratios. Enfield claims the slip assist clutch does help a lot but in my experience, by evening, given the number of shifts we had to do in traffic, my left hand was beginning to ache. Clutchless shifts though, for both going up and down the gears do work like a charm.
So while the GT brings out the nut in you, the Interceptor is surely more laid back. The upright stance is relaxing and the wide handlebar can be adjusted as per rider preference. This is my pick of the two and filtering through traffic is much easier. Infact, on the way back, we wanted to get back to our hotel fast but had Panjim’s evening traffic for company. This combined with the on-going construction for the new upcoming elevated flyover did slow us considerably and the only way to get going was filtering through traffic at crazy speeds. So while I do not advocate this for you guys, the heavy Interceptor felt at ease. The Himalayan was a revelation in terms of handling and the Interceptor carries that forward. It even scraped the pegs on the twisites of South Goa – this with me sitting upright without shifting my backside in the corner. Superb!
The GT is a different bike all together due to the lower handle bar and rear set pegs. Yes, the riding stance is definitely sportier but not aggressive. We rode 130km to South Goa on the GT through a mix of superb flat out stretches, narrow lanes, traffic and about a hundred odd speed breakers with just a couple of breaks and yet I wasn’t too tired. Yes, crouching in for triple digit speeds does help but for daily driving, but you do sit comfortable (for a GT bike) and this can be used by the corporate crowd for their daily commutes. The GT is of course more enjoyable through corners and will hold speeds better too if you may ask. It involves the rider far more too.
Both the bikes come with similar spec suspension which means beefy front forks and gas filled twin shops absorbers at the back. As I said earlier, no fancy stuff on the bikes to keep the cost low but this set-up works for majority of the riders. The chassis is all new too and a big reason why the bikes feel light once over 20-30km/h. The ride quality is comfortable, definitely not plush but takes care of bad roads for you. We rode through a lot of rough patches in Goa at speeds, and thanks to the underlying firmness, had ample confidence. That said, the rear can bottom out over deep potholes or huge undulations. Likewise, go fast into a corner and you have to give that extra input. Just a bit extra. For everyday ride though, no complaints whatsoever. Even a rider graduating up from a smaller 150-200cc bike will get used to the twins very quickly.
Brakes, they work very well. With a tank full of petrol, my tank bag, riding gear and my weight, the combined number was about 320-330kg and yet dropping the anchors at speeds in excess of a ton had the bikes slowing down quickly without drama. Dual channel ABS does come handy but its the way reduction in speed happens. That is what impresses you so much. The initial brake bite isn’t sharp though but when required, they do the job quite well. Further, hopping down a couple of gears also helps and no drama whatsoever thanks to the slip assist clutch. Much needed and much appreciated at this price point.
At the end of the day’s ride with over 250km done between both the bikes, I was impressed. Quite frankly, I had never thought Royal Enfield could pull this off. Charming looks aside, the bikes ride well and never fail to bring a smile on the rider’s face. And while crossing pedestrians, on their faces as well. The engine is one of the core strengths and whosoever said ‘haathi mat paalo’ would surely be running for cover now. If I was a customer for this bike and was asked the expected price, I would have happily quoted 3 lakh + (ex-showroom) but the folks at RE went two steps ahead and shocked all of us. Rs 2.5 lakh onwards for cities like Delhi and even lower for states of Kerala and Karnataka. In other words, ensuring a price of less than Rs 3 lakh for the Interceptor and slightly more for the GT, no matter which state you live in.
Its very rare for a new motorcycle to come and disrupt a segment in terms of the package and pricing. Enfield was never known to be a pricing champ. Yes there are no tubeless tyres, the LCD screen is too basic, no USD forks and no top spec suspension parts et al but its the pleasure of riding that is not compromised and that seals the deal for us. Well done Royal Enfield, well done!