Words & Images Chris Nelson & Jon Gaffney
Royal Enfield recently introduced its Continental GT 650 and Interceptor INT 650 with an aim to grow the brand’s global audience by offering bigger displacement bikes. At the heart of both the Continental GT and Interceptor is an all-new, fuel-injected, air- and oil-cooled, 648cc parallel-twin engine that produces 47 horsepower and 38 lb-ft of torque. It took years for Royal Enfield to create the new “Twin,” because the India-based company has built only single-cylinder engines since 1970, which was the last year for the original, twin-powered Interceptor.
The middleweight Continental GT 650 and Interceptor INT 650 are two of the all-time, most important motorcycles for Royal Enfield, because these bikes mark the beginning of a “new phase” for Royal Enfield. CEO Siddhartha Lal has said, "These are the first bikes from Royal Enfield to be designed and developed for global markets, and it is really the starting point for Royal Enfield to become a global brand.”We sent our director of business development & partnerships, Jon Gaffney, to northern California to try out the café-style Continental GT, and executive editor Chris Nelson explored Southern California on the standard-style Interceptor.
The Continental GT has clip-on handlebars, rear sets, and a knee-friendly fuel tank, which makes it easily distinguishable from its fraternal, double-cradle twin. Gaffney says, “Throughout my trip, two words kept coming up over and over again: accessible and fun. Riding through Redwood State Park on the Continental GT — light filtering in through the trees, leaning into turns — I felt like I was on a speeder on Endor, albeit with a much throatier exhaust note ... nerdy, I know, but fun as hell.”
A one-piece, 270-degree forged crankshaft gives the parallel-twin its rumbling idle and assertive exhaust note. A single overhead camshaft controls the eight valves, and the engine is tuned to deliver the best possible low- to mid-range power. Any respectable café racer can “do the ton,” or go over 100 mph, which caused concern during development of the Twins; Royal Enfield started building the parallel-twin with a 600cc displacement, but soon realized it would need to punch out the engine so the Continental GT could be a true ton-up. Gaffney confirmed the bike can reach triple-digit speeds, and said Royal Enfield's first-ever six-speed transmission is “really nice, with clean shifts and perfect spacing between gears.”
Gaffney enjoyed the engine’s flat, steady torque curve, and said the motorcycle reacted predictably and forgivingly throughout his weekend in NorCal. He says, “With the Continental GT, Royal Enfield has a bike that’s both approachable for a new rider yet has enough depth to keep an advanced rider interested. And they've done it at a price to rival many used bikes while pairing it with a warranty that no used bike can offer.” Both the Continental GT and Interceptor have a three-year unlimited warranty that comes with roadside assistance, which is a phenomenal value when you consider that the Continental GT starts at $5,999 and the Interceptor starts at $200 less.
“Two reasons I prefer the Interceptor to the Continental GT: clip-ons ruin my lower back, and I’m a miserly cheapskate who will pocket a couple hundred bucks any chance I get,” admits executive editor Chris Nelson, who rode the Interceptor 650 miles over two weeks. Like Gaffney, he couldn’t fault the new Twin engine: “It’s smooth, makes an incredible noise, has great bottom-end power, and doesn’t feel overburdened when you’re riding two-up.” The anti-lock Bybre disc brakes inspired confidence on the 444-lb Interceptor, but Nelson felt the comfortable-but-soft suspension left room for improvement. He says, “While it’s great the dual ‘piggyback’ rear shocks are six-step preload adjustable, the fork would benefit from reworked damping ... being under damped, small bumps in the road uncomfortably jolt the front end. A grumble, though, because soon the aftermarket will offer all sorts of suspension solutions for this affordable, classically handsome motorcycle. And truly, this bike is all about style; every day I got at least one compliment from a stranger, and only one of them had ever heard of Royal Enfield.”
Really, we can’t contain our excitement around Royal Enfield and its newest offerings. The Continental GT 650 and Interceptor 650 are well-built, characterful, reasonably priced bikes that beautifully emphasize the simplest delights of motorcycling. Even more exciting is the fact that over the next five years, Royal Enfield is supposed to release another dozen motorcycles with a few new engines. Gaffney says, “All moto brands are trying mightily to attract new riders to an activity that is, at its core, an emotional decision and a discretionary purchase, and I’m glad to see Royal Enfield gets it.” Both the Continental GT 650 and Interceptor INT 650 are “accessible” and “fun,” and Royal Enfield is sure to find the success its looking for if it keeps those priorities straight.
The technical briefing couldn't be described as short. Not in detail, not in history, not in expertise, and also not in time. While my knees may have been ready to get off the hardwood floor in the conference room, it was clear that Royal Enfield was and is excited. They've got reason to be. After years of development, their 650 twin engine is launching and bookending it are relaunches of two of the most important bikes in their history, the Interceptor and the Continental GT. I was lucky enough to get to ride both of them during my time in Northern California for the launch.
Throughout the trip, two words that keep coming up over and over again in presentations and conversations with the team members from any of Royal Enfield's offices around the world: Accessible and Fun. It's not a new phenomenon to have a brand team sticking to a playbook, but what's unique here is that the product matches the message and so does their passion about it.
The original Continental GT helped Royal Enfield be an early front runner in the cafe racer days of post-war Britain. A stunt riding one as fast as they could from southern to northern terminus in the UK made a splash in helping launch it. The relaunch may borrow its moniker and some lines from the 1960's Continental GT, but the rest of the bike it thoroughly modern and aimed at a modern rider.
In riding, the 650 Twin engine provides a nice flat torque curve that makes riding in any gear enjoyable with easy pick up. Royal Enfield's first ever 6 speed transmission was nice as well, with clean shifts, and a Neutral easier to find than many of its competition.
Riding through Redwood State Park on the Continental GT, light filtering in through the trees, leaning into turns it was easy to feel a bit like a speeder on Endor. Albeit with a much throatier exhaust note. Nerdy yes, but fun as hell. It reacts predictably and forgiving throughout the weekend. I'm left very impressed.
With a fuel injected 650 air-cooled twin, ABS, Brembo's front and rear, 3-year unlimited warranty, there's a lot to like. At $5,999 as a starting price, it's tough not to feel like Royal Enfield is being very very smart about playing the current moto field. All moto brands are trying mightily to attract new riders to an activity that's at its core an emotional decision and a discretionary purchase. With the Continental GT Royal Enfield has established their largest bike, but one that's both approachable for a new rider yet has enough depth to keep an advanced rider interested...no easy task. Almost more importantly they've done it at a price to rival many used bikes while pairing it with warranty and roadside service that no used bike could offer. Accessible and fun. I'm glad to see someone gets it.