Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A 750 Interceptor owner rides the new INT650

Royal Enfield Interceptor motorcycle with chrome tank.
Jeremy Pendergast's 1969 Series II Royal Enfield Interceptor was the iconic Brit bike of its day.
For just a few years in the 1960s Royal Enfield produced a motorcycle that was among the most powerful, most beautiful, most desired of British bikes: the Interceptor. Its terrific reputation has survived its production years by half a century.

Now Royal Enfield has created a new Interceptor, with a parallel-twin motor, wire wheels, and classic seating position, as on the original. You can even get it with a chrome tank.

There are plenty of differences, too. For one thing, the new Interceptor 650 is a thoroughly modern motorcycle with — zounds — electric start. It also has front and rear disc brakes with ABS, a six-speed transmission and state-of-the-art tires.

Also different: it has a ready-made cafe racer variant, the Continental GT 650. Same motorcycle, different style and seating posture. The 650 twins are attractively priced and will come with three-year warranties and a year of roadside assistance.

Two men and two motorcycles on the beach near a pier.
Chris Kimball, left, and Jeremy Pendergast discuss the Interceptors of 2019 and 1969.
But how does the experience of actually riding the new Interceptor 650 measure up to the original?

Royal Enfield sought to answer that in the video Easy Got Back with racer Chris Kimball and Interceptor owner Jeremy Pendergast.

I asked Jeremy to expand on the experience. He is general manager at Baxter Cycle, the British motorcycle superstore in Marne, Iowa. Baxter has been a Royal Enfield dealer since 1995 and has been buying, selling and restoring vintage Royal Enfields since 1977.

Jeremy's personal collection of Royal Enfields includes 1960 and '61 700cc VAX Interceptors, 1962 through '64 750cc Interceptors, and 1968 and '69 Series 2 Interceptors. The 1969 Interceptor in the video belongs to him.

Two motorcycles on a mountain road. One is in the lead.
The new Royal Enfield Interceptor 650, foreground, on the road with an original 750.
Here's what he wrote, in an email:

"Having now ridden both the original Interceptors (in 700 and various 750 guises) as well as the pre-production 650, and, now finally, the full production-ready 650, I can honestly say that the newest, production-ready version is the best of them all (though I still like the raw 'I'm going to explode any minute' feel of the 700 VAX Interceptor).

"I think the ergonomics are really good — obviously, the  Interceptor is a closer match than the GT. The original Interceptors are actually a bit awkward in so far as 'ergonomics' had not been invented yet (the footpegs were too far forward and probably too wide, the handlebars were too high with a sort of awkward pull back, the kick start lever rests on your right calf, the seat locks you into a single position with its pronounced dip)... I sit more naturally on the new bikes.

"The feeling is very much the same 'sit up and beg' position, but just tweaked enough to feel suitably more modern, or, at least, refined.

"I like that the handlebars on the new Interceptor still have that relatively 'high and wide' feeling, but not as dramatically awkward as the original.

Two motorcycles lean into a curve on a mountain road.
And away they go, taking on the mountain curves near Santa Cruz, Calif.
"It feels to me that the engineers did an excellent job of styling a concept of what a modern version of the Interceptor should be, then went back and fixed things to make a better bike (the Continental GT). That's not to say the GT is superior; I just think the body posture and overall ergos on the GT are suited better for the performance potential of that beautiful motor.

"HOWEVER, it's not all about speed, and if I were to choose just one to have, it would be the Interceptor, if for no other reason than the name alone. But I do also like the slightly more upright, laid-back feeling. 'Easy Got Back' sounds about right.

"When riding with Chris in the mountains around Ojai, Calif., I was stunned at the relative 'puny-ness' of the original 750 motor. It was a fast bike for its day, but the modern 650 didn't really seem to care about things like altitude, lean angle, or grade, and (despite the temperatures climbing to over 100 degrees), it certainly didn't exhibit things like brake fade and clutch drag like the 750.

Two motorcycles on mountain road.
Two capable riders on two capable motorcycles designed 50 years apart.
"Chris was able to go into and exit corners much faster, climb steep hills easier, and pitch the (new) bike over without grinding anything off. And he never once had to adjust a carburetor...

"The newer bike with its slip-assist clutch makes gear changes effortless, both in terms of effort and planning. The old bike doesn't have the heaviest of clutch levers, but it would still get tiring filming a scene over and over again. And anyone familiar with an iron barrel Bullet's gearbox — well, all I can say is the original Interceptor's is no different or better. Awkward and imprecise. More of a mallet than a scalpel.

"We did both agree (as did the film crew) that the '69 Interceptor sounded much better. I certainly look forward to the official release of the accessory S&S mufflers for the 2019 models.

"I would also venture to say there is and always will be something inherently cool and attractive about antique motorcycles. The old bike would get thumbs up from people of all different backgrounds, instantly recognizing it as something out of the ordinary. The new 650 would gather a small crowd when parked, but it was exclusively curious motorcyclists who had an inkling that Royal Enfield was up to something...

"No one mistook it for a vintage bike, but many appreciated the overt stylistic compliments it was paying to its elder sibling.

"All in all, I would say Enfield has every right to be extremely proud of their new twins. The original Interceptor was a true muscle bike in its day. I think you would struggle to find anyone today who would call the new 650s anything of the sort.

"BUT, compared to their antiquated (though still cherished) predecessors (the EFI Bullets, Classics, and GTs), the new bikes are truly state-of-the art and extremely capable. I would venture to say the new bike is more of a super bike and less of a superbike."

Watch the video to see the two Interceptors in action. Interestingly, it wasn't scripted, Jeremy wrote me.

"As a result, we weren't really sure what (was expected). Do we talk about old vs. new, do we talk about performance, looks, coolness, price? We settled on just talking about what we were there to do: have fun."


  1. clarkthespark10/11/2018

    I liked that video. Thanks for posting!

  2. Very engaging and interesting article. It answered the question: Does the 2019 Interceptor pick up where the 1970 model left off? The answer would be: yes, and then some. I still wish it had a kick starter. However, I'll settle for what's there as long as it's a quality product.


Follow royalenfields on Twitter