Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 & Continental GT 650 review
Double Act. While sharing engines, frames and a number of other parts, Royal Enfield’s long-awaited 650 twins are anything but identical.
In the Bullet, Classic, Continental and Himalayan that Royal Enfield have released here to date, the growth in the model range has reflected the evolution of the brand, but the common thread running through all the “new” Royal Enfields has been the single-cylinder engine.
That’s now changed, with the first twins in the modern, Indian-owned era of Royal Enfield finally released locally after first breaking cover in 2017.
The switch to a multi-cylinder engine, as well as a larger capacity bike in general, is a change Royal Enfield needed to make. Based on my impressions at the recent launch test for the ‘Interceptor 650’ and ‘Continental GT 650’, it’s a change that’s been executed with exceptional success.
OK, brand purists will know that a twin-cylinder bike bearing the Royal Enfield name is nothing new. In fact, a twin dates back to the English company’s very early days. I’m talking 1912 and the Model 180, which admittedly used a brought-in JAP v-twin, but it was a Royal Enfield twin nonetheless.
V-twins of various capacities would continue to be offered through the pre-war years, but like in the post-war years, singles made up the bulk of Royal Enfield production.
After the war, the first all-new Royal Enfield multi-cylinder model was the unimaginatively-named ‘500 Twin’ from 1949, followed by the much catchier ‘700 Meteor’ in 1953. These parallel twins, of 495cc and 692cc, respectively, were Royal Enfield’s hero models of the 1950s, with variations on the theme including the Super Meteor and Constellation, but the brand had another card to play.
Arguably the last great Royal Enfield of the ‘Made in England’ era was the Interceptor. A bored and stroked (to 736cc) version of the Meteor, the Interceptor arrived in 1963 when the brand was about to start what would be its terminal decline in England.
Like its stablemates back then, the Interceptor was far from perfect, but it was nevertheless the biggest, brawniest Royal Enfield you could buy and found a willing audience in the USA, the brand’s prime export market.
When Royal Enfield’s English production sputtered to a halt in 1970, Series II Interceptors were amongst the last motorcycles built, so it’s perhaps appropriate that the revival of a Royal Enfield twin in the Indian era carries the Interceptor name.
Choice of Two
Of course, the Interceptor is one of two new twins offered by Royal Enfield. The other is the Continental GT, which is a derivation of the Continental GT 535 single that’s been the brand’s “sports” model since 2013.
Offering their new twin in two “flavours” is a pretty smart move on Royal Enfield’s part, because, as much as the Continental GT’s café racer styling is on trend, it’s not for everyone. I’d expect the traditional roadster styling of the Interceptor to find just as big, if not bigger, an audience with new bike buyers looking for a classically-styled motorcycle at a reasonable price.
It should be noted here, too, that the Royal Enfield twins are both LAMS-approved and their pricing undercuts similar retro-styled models from other established brands – I’m talking Triumph, Kawasaki and Yamaha, specifically. So, to the styling and appearance of the Interceptor and Continental GT 650.
For me, the styling of the Bullets, Classics and Continental GT was fine, but perhaps a little “off” in that an overall balance to the design was lacking, most notably on the cruiser-styled Rumbler 350.
On the twins, however, the overall presentation is one of harmony. No element looks out of place and the overall packaging has been well thought out. If I was being super picky, I’d say the forks look a little spindly and the single-seat version of the Continental GT isn’t as visually appealing as the dual-seat version, but these are very minor quibbles
It’s that styling that really separates the two models, as both share the exact same 648cc parallel twin 4-stroke engine, as well as the same frame, wheels, brakes, lights and instruments. It’s really only the seat, handlebars and fuel tank that separate the two models, as well as different colour options.
Should the pair offer more than just cosmetic differences, though? I’d say yes. Ideally, the piggyback rear shocks should have remained exclusive to the Continental GT and that model should also offer more power, revised gearing, a freer-flowing exhaust and stronger brakes, while the Interceptor could perhaps have added a lower exhaust, single gauge instrumentation and other modifications with touring in mind. But who knows, maybe these changes and more are coming with a Meteor or Constellation revival?
In stepping up to these twins, Royal Enfield has also upped their game in terms of fit and finish. The build quality of both variants is evident, with little details showing these models have been manufactured with a more discerning international audience in mind. Giving both models a thorough inspection before the launch ride got underway, I struggled to find anything that looked of poor quality.
For the Australian launch of the new twins, Royal Enfield chose iconic Bondi Beach – that was great for me as it’s an area I know well and have ridden many, many times in the past.
Bondi is a classic Aussie destination, so it seemed appropriate for the launch, as Royal Enfield says these classically-styled bikes are all about simple, fun and enjoyable riding – the way motorcycling used to be.
Astride the Interceptor, the simplicity of Royal Enfield’s approach is apparent in the minimal instrumentation, made up of analogue speedo and tacho gauges, with an LCD window in the speedo for fuel level, dual trip meters and warning lights.
Switchgear is similarly uncomplicated, but that’s no surprise, as the only rider-assistance tech offered is ABS which is non-switchable. Lighting is conventional bulb, too – no LEDs. Riding position on the Interceptor was very comfortable for my 5’11” frame, with easy bar reach and comfortable footpeg placement.
Switching to the Continental GT, the flatter seat, longer tank and clip-on bars change the ergonomics, but the clip-ons are the upswept type, so riding position isn’t radically altered. On the launch, though, taller riders had to slide their backsides to the very rear of the seat to get a comfortable riding position, and even then, their knees weren’t slotting into the tank cut-outs.
On both models, seat padding seemed a little on the minimal side for me, so I’d be looking at a seat with deeper padding if I had longer rides planned.
Fired up with the electric starter, there’s a nice note to the parallel twin engine, thanks to the 270-degree firing order. Apparently, the Royal Enfield development team tried 180- and 360-degree firing orders before settling on 270, as they described it as the “most fun”!
The engine is exceptionally smooth, due to the gear-driven balance shaft. I was expecting vibrations through the pegs and bars, especially at higher revs, but the twin was liquid-like in its power delivery.
Torque is there in abundance, with 80 per cent of it available from 2500rpm up to the redline. I put some of that ability to the test on the famous Sea Cliff Bridge on Grand Pacific Drive near Wollongong that made up the latter part of the launch, so I’d expect highway overtakes would be easy.
First gear engages easily, but more importantly for the stop-start urban riding on the first part of the launch ride, selecting neutral was also easy – I never found myself clicking back and forth between first and second trying to locate it.
Thanks to the slipper clutch, moving through the six-speed gearbox was effortless, with gearing precise and the clutch action light and smooth, which is just as well, as we were working through the gears a lot during traffic light getaways.
As the two models share the same engine and gearbox, there’s no difference in engine performance, nor the gearing, but I guess the ‘sportier’ nature of the Continental GT encourages you to push a bit more (I certainly did) and makes it feel faster. At a guess, top speed would be around 180km/h for both models, maybe a little more.
Getting a Handle on it
With the same frame and near-identical dimensions, handling was the same on the two twins, but like the engine performance, the sportier, more ‘over-the-tank’ ergonomics of the Continental GT made leaning it deep into corners seem more natural.
The trade off is that the high-speed vibration that’s non-existent on the Interceptor makes its presence felt on the Continental GT due the bars being attached directly to the fork legs. It’s not a major issue, though.
Both bikes felt very balanced and stable when cornering at both slow and high speeds, thanks to very responsive steering input, but the wider bars on the Interceptor would obviously make everyday riding through suburban streets more comfortable.
To add another element to this launch, we also ran some miles with a pillion on board, hitting speeds of up to 80kmh. As you’d expect, slow-speed handling was affected with a pillion, but the disadvantage faded away at higher speeds, further proving the stability of the new twin platform.
My pillion commented on the need to hold on as there was a real sense of ‘coming off the back’, which I was surprised at hearing. If a pillion would be a regular part of your riding, you’d really need rebound adjustability on the rear shocks, though. There’s only pre-load adjustment on both variants, which will make rough roads a challenge for both rider and passenger.
Overall, I found the suspension to be on the soft side for my liking (others on the test thought the opposite), but it would be fine for the majority of riders and the majority of roads they’d ride on. Similarly, braking is a little on the spongey side for my taste, lacking the sort of initial bite I’ve come to expect.
While the braking package is fine as is for the Interceptor, I’d guess that a second front disc would be a welcome addition to the Continental GT. That being said, the 240mm rear disc is pretty hefty for a bike of this capacity and is a real boon in improving the handling through sweeping turns. There’s the assurance of Bosch ABS, too, so maybe I’m being picky.
A Winning Combination
At the end of the Australian launch, I came away with very positive opinions on both the Interceptor and the Continental GT. I thought the Interceptor would be a little on the dull side, but it’s very close to the GT dynamically, can be pushed just as hard and ridden just as quickly.
You don’t need to ride these bikes fast to enjoy them. Sure, you can do licence-losing speeds, but you simply don’t need to. Both would be great for commuting, as they have ample power and are so easy to ride. Both brought a smile to my face, too, which is something that doesn’t happen all that often with me – especially in inner-city riding!
Royal Enfield say that motorcycling enjoyment, motorcycling ‘nirvana’ if you will, can be had at a leisurely pace. With the Royal Enfield Continental GT and Interceptor, they’ve proved just that.
2019 Royal Enfield Continental 650 – specs (Interceptor GT 650 differences in brackets)
Type: SOHC parallel twin, 8-valve, 4-stroke
Bore x Stroke: 78mm x 67.8mm
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Engine Start: Electric
Ignition: TCI digital spark igntion
Induction: EFi, Bosch EMS
Max Power: 35kW @ 7,100rpm
Max Torque: 52Nm @ 4,000rpm
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Final Drive: Chain
Frame: Steel tube, double cradle-type
Front Suspension: 41mm telescopic fork, 110mm travel
Rear Suspension: Dual coil shocks w/adjustable pre-load, 88mm travel
Fr Wheel: 18.0 x 2.50-inch spoked alloy rim
Rr Wheel: 18.0 x 3.50-inch spoked alloy rim
Fr Tyre: 100/90-18 Pirelli Phantom
Rr Tyre: 130/70-18 Pirelli Phantom
Front Brake: 320mm disc, 2-piston ByBre caliper w/ABS
Rear Brake: 240mm disc, single piston ByBre caliper w/ABS
LxWxH: 2122mm x 789mm x 1165mm (2122mm x 744mm x 1024mm)
Wheelbase: 1400mm (1398mm)
Rake: 24 degrees
Trail: 106mm (105mm)
Ground Clearance: 174mm
Seat height: 804mm (790mm – single, 793mm – dual)
Kerb Weight: 202kg (198kg)
Fuel Capacity: 13.7lt (12.5lt)
Solid – Orange Crush, Silver Spectre, Mark Three Black; Custom – Ravishing Red w/black, Baker Express white w/orange; Chrome – Glitter & Dust
(Solid – Ventura Blue; Custom – Ice Queen white w/grey, Black Magic black w/gold, Dr. Mayhem black w/grey; Chrome – Mister Clean)
LAMS APPROVED: Yes
PRICE: from $8,440 + ORCs (from $8,640 + ORCs)
WARRANTY: 3-Year unlimited kms w/3-Year Roadside Assist