I HAD to pick up the Royal Enfield Interceptor from Surfside Motorcycles in Brookvale on Sydney’s North Shore. I had been working all day, and by the time I set off for Surfside, the afternoon traffic was getting heavy with the usual unaware tin-top pilots blocking the road and generally putting my life at risk while they text each other, can lead to me adopting a somewhat aggressive riding style.
Thankfully, it was easy to unwind once I got to Surfside — they have a café where you can relax with a cold beer.
Peter Weste from Surfside gave me a guided tour of the garage. They have some really interesting machines on display many of which are for sale. There was everything from an immaculate pre-unit T100 to a turbo-charged flying brick. I particularly liked Surfside mechanic’s supercharged SR500 with a fantastic custom built pipe that exits high behind the seat.
Peter showed me around Royal Enfield’s new 650 Interceptor. It is a very good looking bike in the flesh with lots of polished rather than painted alloy. The demo bike came in Orange Crush which looks great but you can order it in six different colours including two tone paint schemes and chrome. I personally really like Ravishing Red…
The first thing you notice about the Interceptor is how easy it is to ride. The handling is light and incredibly intuitive. The engine makes good torque from as low as 2500 rpm. The slip-assist clutch is very light and the gearbox is really slick. Speaking of gears, there are six of them and the plucky little Interceptor will happily sit on 50 km/h in top gear and still pull away such is the flexible nature of the air/oil cooled 648 cc parallel twin.
During the short 30-minute ride home I felt totally at ease on the Interceptor. Often when you jump on a new bike there is a period of getting to know it and this varies quite a bit from bike to bike. Some bikes it can take a long day’s ride to get comfortable with; others a whole week; but I cannot remember another bike that I felt so comfortable on, so quickly, as the Royal Enfield Interceptor.
It is also worth pointing out how good the Interceptor is at cutting through traffic. It has a generous steering lock and good brakes equipped with ABS. The rear brake in particular is very strong with great feel. I was also surprised by how little the heat from the motor affects the rider. I realise it is a small thing but not having your leg cooked at every traffic light does make for a pleasant ride. Add in a traditional sit-up-and-beg riding position and it all works a treat.
By the time I had ridden home I was feeling very chilled. Such are the charms of Royal Enfield’s Interceptor.
The new bike brought both my daughters out for a look and a quick spin. The Interceptor proved an accommodating pillion machine. It has a broad, flat seat and the extra weight doesn’t affect the handling. It is a very easy bike to ride smoothly which adds to its pillion carrying appeal. Both daughters thought it looked pretty cool. The youngest was not sure about the orange colour. I told her you can get it in Ravishing Red but I think she thought I was joking. That is the problem with being a dad — you do not get taken seriously by your daughters. The older one commented on the fact that it looked just like a motorcycle a child would draw. Therein is one of the Interceptor’s charms — it does look like a universal motorcycle.
As work was pretty crazy I spent the first week with the Interceptor just commuting with a few late afternoon rides. One morning while I was grabbing a coffee on the way to work I bumped into John, a 76-years-old who still rides in all weathers.
“Proper bike, that is, Paul,” he said.
I realised then that Royal Enfield really had got their design right if it appeals to both a 76-years-old man and a 15-year-old girl. I then got into a long debate with John about whether the Interceptor was a retro bike or not. He does love a chat. I was late for work but he had an interesting point. If you look at Royal Enfield’s previous best selling bike, the Bullet, which has remained in production since 1948 pretty much unchanged, it is hard to argue that the new 650 Interceptor (and its sister bike the Continental GT) is not a bang up-to-date design.
Whether you want to label it retro or not you cannot argue that Royal Enfield have put some serious resources into developing their new twin. In 2015, Royal Enfield bought Harris Performance, the chassis designers and makers in the UK. In 2017, they opened their Technology Centre at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground near Leicester again in the UK. So confident are Royal Enfield of their new twin that it comes with a three-year warranty and three years roadside assistance. The service intervals are an impressive 10,000 km.
“So which pub shall we go to for lunch tomorrow?” asked Skol (Ozbike Editor). By which he really means, pick a pub at least an hour out of Sydney at the end of some pretty good windy roads. I chose the Settlers Arms Inn at Saint Albans on the MacDonald River. This would allow us to ride on some great roads not that far out of Sydney.
I rocked up to Skol’s place early the next morning. Already there where Simon on his new Ducati Scrambler and Skol’s son Giulian who was going to ride Skol’s Softail Slim S (that’s a lot of S’s). While Skol as usual would be riding his Harley Softail outfit accompanied by his trusty dog.
Once we cleared the outer suburbs of Sydney, I was surprised how well the little 650 twin did in keeping up with a lot larger more powerful bikes. On the more boring sections, the sixth gear and the counter-balancer helps to keep the Interceptor beautifully smooth. On the more interesting roads the handling is surprisingly good. You would expect it to be with a chassis designed by Harris Performance.
The suspension does get a little bouncy when pressing on, especially the 41 mm diameter front forks, but it never gets out of control. The positive side of the softly sprung front forks with their 110 mm of travel are that they do give a very comfortable ride over all but the worst potholes. It should also be mentioned that the Interceptor handles graded dirt roads very easily.
After a great meat pie at the Settlers Arms Inn, we headed back down the St Albans road to catch the ferry. The road twists and turns following the MacDonald River along its valley. It is particularly beautiful in Autumn as many of the European trees leaves turn many shades of red, yellow and orange. Half way along the valley, I swapped bikes with Giulian as he used to own a Royal Enfield Bullet. When we stopped for petrol and swapped back, all he said was, “That is so different to my old bike. It feels like a modern motorcycle.”
One thing I did notice when Giulian was riding the Interceptor is that it sounds a lot better when you are not sitting on it. It does have a really pleasant V-twin like rumble due to its 270-degree crank throw. I realise that might upset a few of the parallel twin enthusiasts but it genuinely does sound good. The twin chromed reverse megaphones are very quiet though and a set of aftermarket pipes would be first on my list.
We stopped off at the Road Warrior’s Café on the old Pacific Highway where I had to answer a lot of questions from the patrons about the Interceptor. Then I said my goodbyes as I took the freeway back to town just to see how the bike coped with a bit of freeway cruising. Its 63 hp and 38 ft-lb of torque might seem a bit light on but it’s amazing how efficient they are especially when they only have to move 202 kg dry. Sure, you can always use more horsepower but do you really need it? Okay, don’t answer that.
The following weekend was the annual Ozbike excursion to Throttle Roll which this year was held in a big old warehouse in Waterloo. The evening before Peter from Surfside motorcycles rang to see if he could get the Interceptor back. Royal Enfield had a big stand at Throttle Roll and needed their demo bike for it. We agreed to swap bikes over at Throttle Roll; the good part of this was that while Skol and everyone else rode around looking for a park, I got to park in the VIP section inside the show for free. I should point out here for those not familiar with Throttle Roll, it is a hipster motorcycle show. You might not like hipsters, but you have to admit, they do make great burgers. They also make some very interesting bikes some of which were on display at Throttle Roll. The Surfside mechanic’s supercharged SR500 was there along with everything from old Knuckleheads to post-apocalyptic Vespas.
Lots of bike manufacturers had stands at the show none of them with any more bikes than Royal Enfield. Which leads me to make two observations. Firstly, they are serious about their new product. Secondly, they are obviously marketing themselves to the younger audience. One look at their clothing line can tell you that.
Obviously the other market open to them is people who grew up riding British twins. People who fondly remember riding one bike that performed all the tasks they asked of it; which brings us to the obvious question, how does Royal Enfield’s Interceptor stack up against Triumph’s parallel twin range? I would point out that the basic T100 Bonneville is $5000 more than the Royal Enfield; the Triumph has more torque but less horsepower; it rolls on steel rims where the Interceptor has alloy ones; the Triumph has a two-year warranty while the Interceptor has three.
Royal Enfield began making motorcycles in Redditch England in 1901. As a useless but interesting fact, in the later half of the 19th century, 90 percent of the world’s needles where manufactured in and around Redditch. In 1955, Royal Enfield entered into a partnership with Madras Motorcycles in India building motorcycles for the Indian army using components manufactured in England. By 1962, all the bike components where manufactured in India. In England, Royal Enfield became part of the Norton Villiers group in 1967 before closing its doors in 1978. Royal Enfield has continued to make bikes in India ever since. Since 2012 its domestic sales have grown from 469,000 units to 856,000 units last year. Think about that. That is just in India alone. One thing is for sure — you will not need to worry about availability of spare parts.
I really enjoyed my time with the Royal Enfield Interceptor; it is a bike that grows on you. It isn’t going to make you giggle with massive horsepower. It isn’t going to turn you into a grand prix rider with its razor-sharp handling. It will not scare old ladies. It will not make you more attractive to the opposite sex. It is, though, entertaining enough for experienced riders and incredibly easy to ride for beginners at the same time.
You could have a lot of fun modifying one. There are already many companies making aftermarket parts for the new 650 twins; just have a look on the web. The Royal Enfield Interceptor will commute, tour, scratch and get dirty. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this bike is that you can buy one brand new for less than $10,000 ride away.
As usual, you don’t need to take my word for it — go and get yourself a test ride.
words by Paul Angus; photos by Brad Miskiewicz