Jeff heads to Santa Cruz, California, to test Royal Enfield's all-new twin-cylinders, the 650 Interceptor & 650 Continental GT at the World Launch... Review: Jeff Ware
The Royal Enfield Interceptor and Continental GT 650 Twins launch held at Santa Cruz, California, was one hell of a big deal. Close to 100 motorcycle journalists from all over the globe were invited to the event that included in-depth technical presentations and interviews with the Royal Enfield team from engineers to designers and test riders…
We also experienced two days of flat-out riding through the mountains and along the coastline with CEO Sid Lal and his development team and it all finished with a giant beach party! More importantly, though, the riding was awesome and varied, from smooth twisties to highway and bumpy country roads, the chosen route had everything required for an in depth evaluation.
Royal Enfield are the global leader in the mid sized bike segment, selling 820,000 bikes in 2017. The first twin arrived in 1948 and was followed by the famous Meteor, Super Meteor and the original Interceptor in 1960. The Interceptor was sold mainly in the USA and became legendary in California, thus the launch of the first twins since 1970, the Continental GT and Interceptor 650s was held at Samta Cruz, California, USA…
You can see the official development video here, and you can also watch Jeff’s full launch report and top speed run Royal Enfield Interceptor & Continental GT 650 Video Review here.
The bikes are Royal Enfield’s first twin-cylinder motorcycles in five decades so we should start with the heart of the matter, a very sweet and engaging 270º firing order parallel twin-cylinder air and oil cooled engine. Air/oil cooling was chosen for ease of maintenance, styling and to keep costs realistic.
Royal Enfield wanted to go with clean lines that would reflect the heritage of the twin and they did not want a radiator. The engine is a four-valve per-cylinder SOHC with screw and locknut valve adjustment via finger followers. It is compact in width and is quite short, with a six-speed gearbox developed on road and racetrack and a slipper clutch that is cable actuated.
Designed to make riding easy in traffic while still being fun in the hills, the twin delivers torque right through the rpm range with 80 per cent of the 52Nm available from 2500rpm and peaking at 5250rpm. Maximum power is 47hp at 7250rpm, which means the bike pulls long gears or responds to sportier shifting and riding. It is a really fun motor that punches above its capacity despite the simple design. Sometimes simple is better.
The single-piece forged dynamically balanced crankshaft has a 270-degree firing order and a gear driven balance shaft, giving a distinct note through the twin pipes. A modest 9.5:1 compression ratio is used to help the bike run on a range of fuel quality globally, while delivery is taken care of by Bosch EFI and the engine meets Euro4 and is Euro5 ready for 2020 in India.
The team, including CEO Sid Lal, tested 180º, 360º and 270º firing orders at Bruntingthorpe and in the end all agreed the 270º was the most fun. Conrod length is 168mm with a 30mm crank pin and a 78mm x 67.8mm bore and stroke. Valve clearances are due every 10,000km. Fuel consumption is claimed at 25km/L WMTC average. The engines in the Interceptor and GT are identical, as is final gearing and the exhaust system and intake.
Both bikes also share identical rolling chassis, the only difference being additional (one step) rear spring preload on the dual shocks and slightly different trail with the Interceptor having 106mm and the GT 105mm. The frame is a tuned tubular steel cradle frame designed with the famous Harris Performance team, a company now owned by Royal Enfield.
The frame was designed to be versatile yet balanced and agile, durable and dynamic. It was tested for one million kilometers through development, with main development rider Aussie legend Paul Young.
Royal Enfield designers wanted 18in stainless-steel (36 spoke) spoked alloy wheels, which presented a challenge to the chassis team as 18in are not ideal. In the end, the head stock was moved back around 20mm very late in development, which meant other components had to be redesigned.
The effort and delays were worth it, as the bike is a sweet steerer for a bike with 18in wheels, wrapped in 100/90-18 and 130/70-18 Pirelli Phantom Sporcomp tyres developed specifically for the bikes.
Both bikes have 24º rake, the Interceptor a 1400mm wheelbase and the GT a 1398mm wheelbase. Both share the ample ground clearance of 174mm and seat heights are 790mm (single) – 793mm (dual) for the GT and 804mm for the Interceptor.
The suspension and brakes are basic but impressive. The stopping power is identical on both models and is provided by ByBre (By Brembo),with a 320mm floating stainless steel rotor, sintered brake pads and a twin-piston sliding caliper at the front combined with a conventional master-cylinder and a braided line. At the back there is a 240mm rotor, 20mm larger than the norm, while a dual-channel Bosch ABS system helps to keep the bike the right way up when it all goes wrong.
41mm non-adjustable conventional forks have 110mm of travel and the gas charged piggy-back reservoir shocks have five-step spring preload adjustment and 88mm of travel. The swingarm is a conventional steel item.
Ergonomically the bikes are quite different, with the upright nakedbike/roadster riding position of the Interceptor offering a more commanding, relaxed position than the cafe racer styled Continental GT.
The Interceptor ‘bars are wide and tall and the seat higher, with plusher upholstery adding to the comfort of the Interceptor.
The Continental GT has a thinner, narrower and lower seat height, narrower and lower mid-height clip-on style handlebars and matching lower mirrors, the tank also feels thinner between the knees and the thinner seat reduces the legroom. The GT footpegs are also set further back than the Interceptor for a sportier riding position. The front brake and clutch levers are not span adjustable, however I’m sure there will be aftermarket options in no time. The positions suited me but everyone is different.
THE RIDE – ROYAL ENFIELD INTERCEPTOR 650
After a full day learning about the bikes thanks to an extremely useful and comprehensive three hour technical talk with the development team, where we had the opportunity to take a look at components and get a feel for how the bikes arrived at the finished point – plus a history lesson from Royal Enfield historian Gordon May – us journalists were eager to sample the bikes.
In a cool twist and to avoid arguments, we drew key tags out of a hat and we were put in our respective groups. I got the Interceptor 650 for the first full day, so I was happy about that one.
The following morning as us riders gather in the carpark of the Dream Inn, Santa Cruz, I sense the nervousness of the Royal Enfield staff. They have a lot riding on the day, the first group and the first journalists to ride the all-new bikes.
With ample hours the previous two evenings to catch up over an amber liquid or 10, most of us agreed the build quality looks amazing and the fact the key development and design team are known, established ex-Triumph associated can only mean one thing. If Royal Enfield have listened to the feedback of the team, then the bikes are going to be good. We just didn’t know how good…
I sat on the Interceptor, got comfy and fired up the twin. By the time I did my helmet strap up, it was time to leave and I kid you not, within a few miles some of us were giving that knowing nod of approval to each other. The bike is a surprise and one of those machines that I just know is good within the first few minutes.
20-years testing and 23-years racing means I ride a lot of bikes. It’s maybe once per year that a new model sticks out so quickly… Ultra smooth. Balanced. Torquey. Sounds sweet. Fun… and a really, really loud horn!
We stop at our first photo location to get some nice scenic shots overlooking the ocean (which, like 90 per cent of my images and all of my pro shot video, has not arrived, thus the month long delay publishing my test. Luckily I did a back up video myself). Only half an hour into our ride, there are smiles being exchanged but not too many opinions being given away.
It is early on but the experienced among us know we are in for a fun day… Five minutes later and I’m chasing the lead rider, one of the amazing development team riders, like it is the 2018 MotoGP championship final! I said to myself I would take it easy but that went out the door. I was going for it!
The 650 twin engine is so engaging. It pulls incredibly cleanly with an initial throttle opening that is one of the smoothest I’ve felt, so congratulations to the tuners involved. Everything about the bike feels light and precise from the throttle to the clutch lever pull, gearbox selection up and down, with perfect ratios, and even vibrations are virtually non-existent.
The torque on tap for a mid capacity twin is impressive and as I chase the lead rider I find I can either choose to pull a taller gear or dance on the gearlever in the upper rev range, both with equal effect. As a habit I tend to use gears, as there are six available, but I’m still impressed with that motor and the slipper clutch is spot on into turns, giving just the right amount of engine braking while letting the Interceptor roll in with two-stroke corner entry.
There are almost zero vibrations at any rpm and for a very, very rare result I have to say I can’t fault this engine at all. That is rare for me to say… The engine note is so different, it really is sweet. There is not much induction noise, but the stock mufflers make up for it.
With my experience I know within the first few miles of hard riding that the chassis is a sweet one, the racer DNA of the geometry and chassis development team input clearly shining through, combined with the easy riding nature a Royal Enfield needs for the daily rider. This is a motorcycle that does the three things I need, and all riders need, in a bike.
It goes wherever I look. It gives front tyre feel and confidence (despite 18in wheels). And it is what I call ‘raceable’ and what I mean by that is I can rapidly alter lines into, mid or out of turns even at full lean without running into trouble. With those traits, the Interceptor engages and I’m drawn in by the bike as I push on through the hills, easily finding a comfort zone close to the edge but having a bit of extra margin available for the odd surprise tightening radius turn or debris on the roads. The narrow Pirelli Phantom Sportcomp tyres impress and don’t move all day. They are rock solid.
Suspension at both ends is on the firmer side than one would expect from this type of bike. For me, I welcomed it and much prefer the handling gains than the bump stability or comfort trade off, however, some of the Indian journo’s, who were bloody fast riders I might add, had concerns about the firmness on some of the bad Indian roads… Here in Australia, I think it will be fine.
As we carve through the smooth, hotmix high speed sections, head on the tank, rev limiter in top gear type riding, the Interceptor is impressive. There is a high speed weave that may be an 18in wheel issue, and sharp bumps cause a quick ‘bar shake but it all corrects quickly and never progresses.
I would prefer it wasn’t there but I wasn’t that bothered by it, as the steering is oh so sweet…
On the bumpy snotty narrow roads, I was hitting sharp bumps at warp speed and probably carrying a few extra kilograms thanks to Royal Enfield hospitality at the previous night’s dinner, and aside from an initial ‘bar shake the only complaint I have is a lack of rebound control at the rear.
I would have liked to increase rear preload AND rear rebound but the rebound damping option is not there so I left the shocks alone. Up front, the forks give good support as I brake hard into turns, over bumps, that often tighten up. High and low speed comp feels like a good compromise and there is plenty of spring support. Overall, the suspension is on the sporty side and compliments the chassis well over a wide range of conditions.
Brake feel and power is a topic of conversation at some stops. Personally, I would not want any more than what is available as I don’t think the narrow front tyre could cope. I have no trouble at all pulling the Interceptor up from stupidly high speeds into turns I don’t know, downhill, corner after corner for up to 30-minutes at a time and if that is not a test for a single rotor two-piston caliper set-up then I don’t know what is.
The stainless floating rotor, sintered pads in the ByBre caliper and the braided lines, combined with the oversize rear rotor, give the bike a fabulous brake package, not forgetting Bosch ABS. This is a chassis that thrives on rear brake input through the turns, and I am a rear brake destroyer, so as I carve through the corners I am impressed by the rear brake feel and the way the sweet chassis responds to rear brake input, with a little ‘peg input, just pulling it in tighter into the turns…
The bike feels light on the move and has great chassis balance. Ground clearance is not an issue, I only touch the ‘pegs down a few times all day, and the basic old school clocks and dash are simple to read. A clock would be nice though.
Switchgear is basic but familiar and the mirrors virtually vibe free and give a good view behind.
Finish is top notch on the Interceptor and GT but lights are conventional, no fancy LEDs. It really is a nice bike and as we cruise back into Santa Cruz in some light traffic at the end of a big day, the bikes were all ticking along perfectly despite spending the best part of six-hours on the rev limiter! They also turn plenty of heads as we roll into town, thanks to the gorgeous chrome, polished alloy and deep paintwork.
THE RIDE – ROYAL ENFIELD CONTINENTAL GT 650
The following day it is my turn on the GT and after a night of beers and comparing the two models with the riders who were on the GT yesterday, I was keen to test it out. After being so impressed by the Interceptor, the GT would have to be very special to win me over.
The differences between the two models have been covered but one argument remains and that is which bike looks the best. Most people were going for the GT but I still prefer the Interceptor. The GT route was the reverse of the Interceptor route, meeting the other group in the middle for lunch.
As we roll out of the hotel and head through town, I am surprised at how comfy and upright the GT is. I expected a more head-down-bum-up riding position just looking at the bike but it is not at all like that. The leg room is slightly reduced and the ‘bars are low but still comfy.
The only difference I notice is that there are vibes through the ‘bars, a drawback of having them bolted straight to the forks, while the Interceptor ‘bars are more damped due to their shape and mounting area. The seat on the GT is also thin and hard but doesn’t cause pain all day despite the long hours in the seat and the bad bumps on some sections.
So how does the Continental GT handle compared to the Interceptor? In short, in the faster flowing sections the GT has the upper hand. It is more stable and the riding position more suited to the high speed stuff. In the tight, twisty mountain roads the Interceptor has it over the GT by quite a margin thanks to the wide ‘bars, ‘peg position and upright riding position.
I did not measure them so can’t confirm it but the GT ‘bars feel quite a bit narrower than the Interceptor and through the tight switchbacks I found myself gripping the ‘bars at the very ends of the balance weights, trying to get the same leverage or flick-in speed as the previous day.
Once I adapted my style to the more flowing, old school fast and high lean angle lines I grew up using, it was like a switch was flicked and suddenly I could ride the GT as fast as I could ride the Interceptor.
Over sharp bumps I found the GT more stable but with the extra notch of rear preload over the Interceptor I found the lack of rebound more pronounced on the GT. Braking stability and feel is up a little, at least for my liking on the more forward inclined GT, and ground clearance I could not tell a difference.
Top speeds? I (allegedly) ran both and got 117mph (188km/h) on the GT an 115mph (185km/h) on the Interceptor, same road, on rev limiter in top slightly downhill. Pretty impressive and they did it easily. I am thinking that with taller gearing the bikes could hit the 200km/h mark with enough distance.
CONCLUSION – CONTINENTAL GT 650 & INTERCEPTOR 650
In all honesty, as I pointed out in my video review (link in opening paragraph), I was genuinely surprised at just how good the 650 Twins are. It is rare that I have to really pick hard to find faults in new models and I have found very few things to be critical about on both the GT and Interceptor, however, credit where credit is due and Royal Enfield have built an amazing couple of bikes that I really hope will present us riders with an even broader range of models based on the platform.
If the price is right then it is up to the motorcycle dealerships to sell these bikes as Royal Enfield have provided two outstanding, fun, basic yet engaging bikes that bring back the fun in motorcycling.
There are other brands out there, one in particular, that should be very concerned!
2019 ROYAL ENFIELD 650 INTERCEPTOR
& 650 CONTINENTAL GT SPECIFICATIONS
Price: $TBC, Estimated between $10,000 and $12,000 AUD Ride Away.
Claimed power: 47hp@7250rpm
Claimed torque: 52Nm@5250rpm
Weight: 202kg wet (INT) 198kg wet (GT)
Fuel capacity: 13.7L (INT) 12.5L (GT)
Colours: TBC Australia
Engine: SOHC air-cooled 648cc parallel twin four-stroke, eight-valve, 78mm x 67.8mm bore x stroke, 9.5:1 compression, 270º firing order crankshaft, Bosch EMS/EFI
Gearbox: Six-speed constant mesh
Clutch: Wet multi-plate slipper clutch, cable actuation
Frame: Double-cradle tuned tubular steel frame
Trail: 106mm (INT), 105mm (GT)
Suspension: 41mm forks, 110mm travel, twin shock, 88mm travel, rear preload adjustment
Brakes: 320mm stainless steel floating rotor (f), ABS, two-piston sliding ByBre caliper, Bosch ABS, conventional master-cylinder, 240mm rotor (r), ByBre caliper.
Wheels & Tyres: 36 spoke alloy rim 2.50 x 18in, 36 spoke alloy rim 3.50 x 18in, Pirelli Phantom 100/90-18, 130/70-18.
Seat height: 804mm (INT), 790mm (single GT), 793mm (dual GT).
Ground clearance: 174mm
Overall width: 789mm (INT), 744mm (GT)
Overall Length: 2122mm
Overall height: 1165mm (INT), 1024mm (GT)
Instruments: Dual clocks, tacho, speedo, dual trip, warning lights/fuel.
Electronics: Bosch Two-Channel ABS, Bosch EMS.
2019 ROYAL ENFIELD 650 INTERCEPTOR
& 650 CONTINENTAL GT GALLERY
The Verdict | Review: Royal Enfield Interceptor & Continental GT 650 Twins
The all-new Royal Enfield 650 Twins come in two models, the upright nakedbike/scrambler styled Interceptor INT and the cafe racer styled Continental GT. The bikes were ground-up builds, developed by a hand picked team of the best in the industry, from designers and engineers to development riders. Testing and development was carried out in India and at the Royal Enfield technical centre in Bruntingthorpe, UK, with development riding taking place in the UK, Spain, India and the USA.
The result of the hard work are two sensational bikes that we recently spent a few days riding flat out around the hills behind Santa Cruz, California…