Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Riding the new Royal Enfield Interceptor 650

That's me, trying to look intrepid on the new Royal Enfield Interceptor 650.
The world's press rolled out of Santa Cruz, Calif. Monday morning, mounted on almost 100 of the new Royal Enfield Interceptor 650s and Continental GT 650s. So what did they think of the motorcycles?

One Colombian journalist thought he noticed a "lightness" in the front suspension of the Interceptor 650 that came on "at 105 miles per hours." His compatriot, riding the Continental GT 650, said he felt nothing like that, even at "110."

I leaned into the conversation to verify that they were talking about miles per hour, not kilometers per hour. They were.

Royal Enfield, of course, had cautioned us to obey California speed limits. But the moto journalists seemed to regard posted signs and placards are more just suggested starting points.

The Interceptor 650 at, yes, THAT Alice's restaurant.
The ride up here was twisty, no problem for the bike.
I'm enormously impressed by these guys (and two girls, in this group) who fly to a foreign city, get on an unfamiliar motorcycle, immediately head into traffic on a previously unseen road and take off running. Along with the professionals — including test riders with many miles on these bikes — they fling the motorcycles around as though they had been born on two wheels.

The group of riders I was with Monday included riders accustomed to riding on the other side of the street, and even a very game vintage rider accustomed to shifting on the other side of the motorcycle. Tellingly, I thought, he seemed to be having more fun than anyone. I gather the new Interceptor 650 pleased him — and he owns one of the originals.

My opinions are suspect, as my only real familiarity with any other motorcycle is with my own 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet, a beast literally from another century. Of course I was impressed with the new Interceptor 650.

The Interceptor 650 visits Pescadero, Calif., a cool small town
just off the Pacific Coast Highway.
The gearbox never served up a false neutral. With six speeds, you never need to be "between gears" and that's probably because the motor is so uncomplaining. It just pulls, hungrily swallowing uphill stretches as though it has never had so much fun.

We were told the new 650 twins have a "slipper clutch" that makes moving off easier while protecting the motor from sudden jerks. Certainly the clutch was worry free for me. The brakes were superb, by my judgment. The Interceptor 650's mirrors are well positioned and large.

I thought the throttle return spring was too strong for my wrist, but other riders told me it's just typical. (Probably the throttle spring on my Bullet is just worn to the point I like it.) The gearshift lever is petite. Perhaps it should be larger for a more relaxed ride.

The new 650 twins have sturdy center stands, as Royal Enfields should.
The 650 twins have center stands and my Interceptor 650 went up on its easily. The side kick stand has an ignition interlock; you can't start if the stand is down. But the motor will run with the bike on the center stand.

No kick start levers on these bikes: it's the 21st Century. Yes, I had to ask where the starter button was. I also had to ask how to cancel the turn signals after use. The trick is to push in on the left/right lever. Duh.

The handlebars of the Interceptor are comfortably placed for me but they are well forward, based on where I wanted to sit, so they did bring me into a leaned-forward posture. One rider had his adjusted to suit him. I could sense no vibration through the handlebars.

Royal Enfield crew prepares Continental GT 650s for the press.
I hope to ride one of these today.
Mind you, these opinions come to you from probably the ride's slowest, most cautious rider. I'm not used to California's hills, not used to curves. I wasn't ahead of anybody but the "sweep" rider and the crash van (perhaps someone ought to think of a nicer name for that thing).

But the Interceptor 650 seemed flexible and patient enough to let me concentrate on the road while it provided everything else.

Where it began: Royal Enfield displayed an original 1960s VAX 700 twin at the press dinner.
This "desert sled" inspired Royal Enfield to make the 750 Interceptor roadster from 1962 to 1970.
Now, at last, there is the new Interceptor 650.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The whys and hows of the new Royal Enfield 650 twins

The new Royal Enfield Interceptor 650, with the 1960s original in the background.
Careful, even cautious design, powered by enormous passion. That was the message Royal Enfield delivered to writers gathered in Santa Cruz, Calif. Sunday for the press launch of the new Royal Enfield 650 twin-cylinder motorcycles.

The Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 and Continental GT 650 are new, modern, capable motorcycles with the style and spirit of the great Royal Enfields of the past, we were told.

Author and historian Gordon May with an original 1960s Interceptor.
Historian Gordon May stood next to an original Royal Enfield Interceptor of the 1960s to explain the importance that motorcycling icon had in North America — especially in California.

California had the greatest number of registered motorcycles in America, at the time. It was a hotbed of the youth culture, surfing, hippies, bikers, desert racing. In 1960 Royal Enfield took its powerful but somewhat chubby home-market Constellation, stripped it down, gave it a scrambler look for California.

To Royal Enfield's surprise, the bike sold better with street equipment than without and, in 1962, the company introduced "a proper Interceptor," Gordon said. It was a "road scrambler" and America fell in love with it.

Fly screen, low bars and hump on the back defined this original 1966 Continental GT.
The original Continental GT 250 of 1964 was the inspiration for the Continental GT 650. The first "factory" cafe racer, this slim and sleek little motorcycle had been designed with the input of the factory apprentices.

They wanted low racing handlebars, a streamlined fly screen, and a hump on the back of the seat to complete the tucked-in look. The first production five-speed gearbox came with the package. This was the bike Britain liked.

Bulletin board of past high points and possible future looks guided designers of the new bikes.
But Royal Enfield production in Britain ended in 1970 as the entire motorcycle industry there faded. Royal Enfield of India continued on for half a century, making its version of the Bullet — lately to roaring success in its home market.

Royal Enfield is on track to make not much short of a million motorcycles this year. It plans to make even more next year, with new factories in India and design centers in England and India.

Yes, THIS. Royal Enfield wanted to recapture spirit of the 1960s.
Its newest products will be the 650 twins, with the same new parallel twin motor and laser designed frame. Two different flavors of motorcycle — roadster and cafe racer — with the same baked in goodness. At least, that is the recipe.

And it has been carefully cooked up. We were told that Royal Enfield tested the motor with three different cranks, choosing the one that made the best sound and torque, the brand's signature characteristics.

Royal Enfield's Mark Wells, center, with clay mock-up of the new Continental GT 650.
The new Royal Enfields could have been made even more powerful, with the accompanying penalty of weight and price, but the goal was to keep them accessible to customers. Not only within their price range, but within their comfort zone.

"A motorcycle is a personal product," Royal Enfield's Mark Wells told us. "You wrap your body around it."

Royal Enfield boss Siddhartha Lal tells the press about the laser focus
that accompanies laser design: accessibility.
Something as simple as keeping the frame slim so the rider can get his or her feet on the ground was not overlooked. Extra care was taken to make the parts in the rider's view — the top yoke for instance — convey an appearance of perceived quality.

We haven't yet been told what the new motorcycles will cost. But I liked this statement:

"It's no good making a motorcycle that everybody desires but nobody one can have."

And not just new motorcycles. Royal Enfield plans to provide
the accessories, gear and fashions riders want.

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