Few years ago if someone told me that RE would come up with a parallel twin 650 with the vibrations absent, I’d strike that down as fantasy, since none of their engines back then were balanced and had enough vibrations to compact concrete at a construction site.
Circa late 2018, a year after showcasing the 650 twins at the EICMA here they are for the masses, open for booking and test rides. The following article below is the complete experience when you go as a customer to a RE showroom, not as a media representative.
The Dealership Impression – I went over to Royal Enfield Karnavati at S.G highway, Ahmedabad for the test ride of the 650. They had only the interceptor for TD, fair enough. The RE showroom has the same premium feel and exclusivity of bigger brands like Triumph or Ducati and they really make even a standard 350 appealing enough to buy.
Japanese manufacturers need to take a note of this, e.g selling a CBR 650F next to an Activa does take the initial charm away from purchasing one, letting themselves down despite the product itself being quite complete on its own.
The sales assistant Mr. Mihir was courteous and showed me around the Continental GT 650 which they had only for display, explaining the new features and colour options while we waited for the TD Interceptor 650 to come back.
Continental GT 650 Observations – So during this time I had all the time to observe the Continental GT, and there are some good things apparent about it even while standing still. The showroom had the continental GT in the ‘Ice Queen’ paint theme.
The 650 looks a bit beefier than the older Conti due to the sheer size of the engine. The finish of the paintwork is definitely much better than the older continental GT, it has a deep luster to it, and the orange peel effect is absent, at least on this example. Although this does come at an additional cost and there’s a good difference in the ex showroom prices depending on which paint scheme you opt for.
A sore point of Enfields till date including the Himalayan, the pleasant surprise comes from when you see the finishing of the welding on the frame of either 650. The welds are neat, complete and trimmed down. The trimming may not be important enough but it shows RE cared enough about the welds this time. Himalayan owners control your emotions on seeing this picture.
The Himalayan (image below) suffers from lack of QC due to which you see units leaving the factory with such welding work done on critical areas.
Speaking of welds, the 2019 BMW S1000RR (image below) has some rather ugly looking welds all over its exposed trellis frame.
The moment you sit on the GT you realise that the seat is much more comfortable and the clip-on handlebars are slightly higher than on the Continental GT 535, therefore you don’t have to slouch down as much and the posture is relatively comfortable for a cafe racer. The handlebar is mounted below the upper T-clamp and that is an unique setup. Only time will tell if the quality of the handlebar is as good as the finishing on it or not.
I don’t expect the GT to sell even half as much as the Interceptor, as the cafe racer is definitely amongst the niche tastes in the Indian motorcycling scenario.
The meter console is similar to the GT535, however the speedometer now has a simple clean dial which only shows kph instead of both kph and mph markings on the GT535, which looked quite cramped in the limited space. The rev counter pod has some additional warning lights like the ABS which wasn’t available on the GT535. Overall the console looks its part of a retro modern motorcycle, incorporating both analog and digital parts in simple manner. Additionally the dials are incredibly easy to read in the bright sunlight as there is no excessive glare reflected back.
The Interceptor 650 Test Ride – While I was able to observe all this, the Interceptor TD vehicle came back. To my pleasant surprise the TD vehicle was filled nearly full with fuel and then the supposed route explained by the sales rep was a rather decent 15 kilometer roundtrip. Usually test rides are stingy on the distance, so this came as a pleasant surprise. Not sure if this is a standard protocol for RE showrooms now but this is how you make the small differences count.
The moment I sat on the Interceptor it was immediately spot on riding position for me, coming from my Ninja 650 (with handlebar raisers). I pull the clutch lever which is light, slot into the first gear. The gearshift is quite precise and engages perfectly.
I am astounded. The last time I rode another Enfield, the clutch felt like a hand grip exercise and the gear operation felt like the gearbox would resign and leave the engine itself. This was quite the shocker and I slowly proceed ahead to take a U turn on the main S.G highway. Even while pottering slowly the 650 doesn’t need much throttle input to keep it going. There’s plenty of torque to keep it rolling comfortably without lugging the engine. Even in 2nd or 3rd gear you barely need to throttle up. The throttle itself has a nice delay and you won’t be rear ending someone that easily due to an accidental eager twist of the throttle. The interceptor already starts to look as a daily driver.
To put it in perspective, if you have lived with a Duke 390 as your daily driver, like me, you know how the quickly the engine starts to lug at low speeds if the rpm drops below 4k. The D390 forces you to always stay on throttle which is quite tiring when you have to do it daily for years, a trade off for its insanely quick throttle response.
Engine & Power Delivery – I proceed on the S.G road but a traffic jam forces me to take a detour towards the ring road. Upon reaching the ring road I open up the throttle fully and the revs rise quickly. I shift at 5500 rpm in each gear and the speeds quickly reach 130 kph. However there is one factor missing, the vibrations. The rear view mirrors are 100% usable even at 140 kph. This is unbelievable.
However, a few times I did check out the rev limiter from which I could infer that this engine doesn’t prefer to be redlined, in fact the engine becomes coarse above 6k rpm and by the time you hit the redline at 7500 it feels like you’re torturing the engine. The rev limiter is nasty and the engine cut off is scary as it unsettles the motorcycle. This is alright though, as the 650 has such a good torque spread you don’t lose acceleration even if you shift at 5500 rpm. The 650 isn’t meant to be redlined and even if you use 80% of the available power you’re doing good speed to keep you ahead of the average car on the highway with ease. In fact if you ride the Ninja/ Versys 650, even on these motorcycles you rarely redline as you’re building up good speed right from the lower rpm range. In contrast motorcycles like the Duke 200, 390, CBR 250 (all of which I’ve owned) need to be revved quite high as their torque is concentrated just somewhat below the redline. The riding style completely depends on the engine character and thus some motorcycles need to be revved to perform and some do not. If you’re going to take a TD of the 650, don’t ride it redlined all the way as it wasn’t meant for it in the first place and its also not required to be ridden like that to build good speeds.
Handling & Braking – I rode the 650 at decent speeds while zig zagging through the slower vehicles. One thing is apparent is the weight of the motorcycle which tends to make the softly sprung front end dive a lot while swerving which robs the safety blanket of handling replacing it with a mushy feeling. The abs kicks in really late , that too if you’re riding over broken tarmac where the tyres tend to skip the surface. On good highway tarmac I was able to brake as hard as the lever allowed without the abs kicking in the front. However the rear is a different story. If you stomp of the rear brake the abs kicks in quite often and the motorcycle also tends to fishtail a bit. Existing RE owners do note that the braking on the 650 is much more front biased than the 350/500 RE series. The braking otherwise quite good and the BYBRE calipers cope up with the heavy motorcycle rather decently. The braking feedback however is not as precise as on the GT535 with the brembo brakes, after all you get what you pay for.
Also while my Ninja 650 is heavier, the front end is damped much more and thus it doesn’t dive as much as it does on the Interceptor 650. I can understand that RE has given a suspension that will cope with bad and broken roads easily but that also robs quite a bit of the handling potential. Most of the buyers will prefer this soft suspension setup as it makes daily life riddled with potholes and speedbreakers easier. The older GT535 was better setup with its brembo brakes, a much more firm front suspension, along with the better Pailoli rear shock absorbers. Perhaps the Interceptor 650 could do well with a brake and suspension swap if one leans more towards spirited riding.
From the ring road I head into the city and I take a halt for some photos. The engine by now is properly heat soaked from the earlier TDs by others and this 15 km spirited riding till now by me. As I come to a halt I let the engine idle. The idling is constant and isn’t oscillating. I shut the engine off and then immediately start it up again with a light press of the starter switch. The engine fires and settles to the idle speed in no time and the exhaust note is steady. The fuelling at least for now seems to be sorted.
Fit & Finish – While taking photos I observe the details in bright sunlight where any shoddy job can be easily seen on a motorcycle where most of the components are exposed. Everything right from the covered throttle bodies, the welding on the frame, the stitching on the seat, the finish of the exhausts all seem quite decent and doesn’t make it look like a hastily launched product. There are no dangling wires, cables or hoses, everything is clamped in place, the routing of cables and wires looks alright as well. Also being a sadist I look for oil leaks all over the engine, oil cooler, also including the sump hidden away from view but found none. This TD vehicle had barely 300 kms on it so its too early to conclude.
(exhaust has a great finish and the welding is neat at the end cap)
Throttle Body is fully covered on both sides, not exposing any key components.
Urban Traffic – As I head back into the city, there’s still a free stretch of road so I try out clutchless upshifting. The 650 at speed doesn’t need clutch input to shift gears. I was able to go from 2nd all the way to 6th without touching the clutch lever. This is such a delight I cannot even describe how pleasing it is to finally see a RE which can do this consistently without hiccups. (if you want to know what is clutchless shifting, google “sport rider clutchless shifting”, it comes in very handy while doing long distances.)
I finally hit city traffic where speeds above 40 kph wasn’t possible. At low speeds the weight of the motorcycle doesn’t affect the suspension much and allows for easy manoeuvring with all the torque available. The 2nd and 3rd are such usable gears, that you’ll rarely need to shift down to 1st in traffic. After a while I was caught in absolute standstill traffic, I deliberately did not switch off the engine and let the Interceptor heat up as much as possible.
Even after 15 minutes the engine has not overheated nor does it sound worse than I first started it on this TD. Neither the idle is fluctuating. So far the engine seems to be thermally stable as that’s one of the benefits of having a large displacement engine not having a whole lot of bhps but ample torque. The 650 twins do not need liquid cooling as they aren’t even pushing out power output to need one. The large oil cooler hopefully is doing is job well and only later we’ll get to know how long the engine oil stays usable in the motorcycle.
I remember back when the Himalayan was launched, a short test ride had the tappets clattering like a haunted skeleton which immediately raised the concern of anyone who rode it. There were leaks from the cylinder head and this completely put me off from even considering it further.
Feedback – The TD comes to an end with me clocking 30 odd kilometers without a single hiccup. No hot starting, idle, braking, vibrations, unexpected. I meet the sales rep Mr Mihir who then asked me a lot of questions for any feedback or complaints. After this he hands me a smartphone with an feedback app especially for the 650 Twins. The feedback is asked in detail and every aspect of the motorcycle, right from the engine, braking, seating comfort, handling, sales rep attitude, condition of the td vehicle all are asked and there’s an option in almost every question to give your own observation on the matter. I gave the feedback in earnest. Before leaving I was given the product brochure in a neat envelope.
Conclusion – Once I reached home I still had the pleasant feeling from the overall experience. RE has come a long way ahead from their rickety dainty showrooms to this level of attention to detail coupled with a motorcycle that actually is refined.
I still haven’t been won over yet as the Himalayan was supposed to deliver the sweets but it literally poisoned the first batch owners and even till date their BS4 models have annoying niggles left to be sorted out. I am not considering an interceptor anytime soon, but after an year or two when all its testing has been done by prospective owners all across India. If by then there are no dealbreaking issues this might be the motorcycle I would want to base a custom project bike build on.
I really have to clap in applause for RE, not only they’ve made something that doesn’t require a small loan of a million dollars, but the motorcycle can be your daily driver as well while being a great touring machine. On top of that the 650 Twins feel like a slightly crude clone of the older Bonnieville A3 and thus has a character unlike the new Street Twin from Triumph.
Also let’s not forget that buying a motorcycle of such a displacement and performance segment would mean exponentially expensive maintenance costs. Try asking a Ninja 300 owner how much their part costs are. The 650 Twins will have cheap parts as most of the parts are similar to the GT650. The only expensive part remains is the engine and I hope it doesn’t have any issues down the road.
So what should you do ? Well if the either of the 650 will be your only motorcycle after selling off your existing one, then wait at least till end of 2019 when all these twins will be tested by users themselves, like going to Ladakh, Spiti, attempting a K2K or Saddlesore run. Let them do the risk taking for you so that you are able to make an uninfluenced decision. Do go and TD these motorcycles without bias, so that you know whether it suits your riding style or not.
RE till date has a history of having some serious issues with its first gen products. In fact not buying a first gen product is quite a safe bet when there’s a completely new engine platform being brought out. Even I had niggles with my first batch Duke 390 and after that I’ve sworn never to get the very first of anything as its as pointless to brag about as being first to comment on a fb post.
Or perhaps just go for it. Every year that you haven’t ridden waiting for your perfect motorcycle is an year you won’t get back as you hobble towards old age. In fact I laugh sadistically that the promised 390 Adv still remains a mythological motorcycle, Honda stubbornly will not launch their 500X, neither will Kawasaki ever sell the KLR650 (and now they’ll just stop making it). So honestly speaking again like the Himalayan, only RE is giving you an option of riding a touring motorcycle that’s probably cheap to run daily while also fulfilling your mountains are calling needs.
Only time will tell, and if RE has got their QC in place then other manufacturers are in danger of handing over yet another premium segment to RE.