This is probably as good a time as any to admit that, until very recently, I was a British motorcycle virgin.
I know, you’re shocked.
It wasn’t like I didn’t have plenty of curiosity about the breed — I just didn’t have the opportunity.
Think of the classic British motorcycles – Norton Dominators and Commandos, Triumph Speed Twins, Tigers and Bonnevilles, Royal Enfield Meteors and Interceptors, BSA A10s. Although Classic Brit Iron has its share of singles — Velocettes, the Matchless G50 and the Norton Manx — and a smattering of V-Twins — Broughs and Vincents — after Triumph’s Mr. Turner had his epiphany in 1937, the vast majority of British motorcycles were built around the parallel twin engine — an engineering breakthrough that produced the power and torque of a V-twin in a form factor that had the mass and width of a single.
A 1970 Royal Enfield Interceptor, I Believe
Only one of my string of close riding friends over the years had a British motorcycle — a Last Edition T140 Meriden Triumph Bonneville — and as pretty as it may have been, it wasn’t the most dependable runner — and I generally endeavor not to borrow motorcycles that I either cannot start or that will provide me with the unplanned opportunity for a nice long walk home. Walt’s ‘Last Edition’ qualified on both counts. My maddening curiosity about the bikes that had carried Brando’s Johnny, McQueen, Dylan, The Fonz and countless other dudes way cooler than me would just have to wait until the right opportunity presented itself.
I’ve been following closely the stories coming out of Royal Enfield about the development of their new twin cylinder engine, and the motorcycles that would use it. Although Enfield’s operations were relocated to India a very long time ago, there is a direct line between the current operation in Chennai and the old HQ in Redditch. As Enfield’s development project wrapped, details of the 650 cc, single overhead cam, 4 valve per cylinder, air and oil cooled vertical twin began to fill in. With modern machining, fuel injection, and other tricks like a gear driven primary drive, 270 degree crank, counterbalancers, and a power assist/slipper clutch would provide RE with a classic appearing but fully modern engine that could put them right in the hunt to provide reasonably priced, classically styled and versatile motorcycles to people that didn’t see the motorcycle technology and arms races as producing unalloyed progress.
After well more than a year of talking with the nice folks at RE USA, I was finally rewarded with a scheduled and confirmed date for an independent vehicle transportation contractor to drop a brand new Royal Enfield INT 650 at the bottom of my driveway. And, after a late start in the morning the day after Thanksgiving, I heard a big diesel engine come out of gear in the street outside. I grabbed a hat and jacket and headed outside.
Ben – of A&B Transport – really had quite the setup. One of the last made Ford Diesel Expeditions, pulling a tandem axle car transporter trailer. We pumped hands and exchanged pleasantries as he lowered a loading ramp door off the trailer’s front right side. Inside was our Enfield — with its bright orange tank, chromed exhausts and gold painted components simply glowing — but it wasn’t the only treasure onboard. In the motorcycle wheel cleat next to our Enfield, was a vintage Yamaha YZ360, with its distinctive strapped gas tank. She was definitely not a show queen, this was a runner, and a well loved one at that.
But it was what was in the back of the trailer that was really eye-catching — a Shelby Cobra, with the expected royal blue and white Shelby Stripe paintwork — perfect, and not so much as a fingerprint on it. Ben shared that it was a replica — with a modern 5.0 liter Ford V8 for power — but other than that it was original spec in every way, right down to its wooden steering wheel and leather strap door hinges. I told Ben that after we got the Enfield unloaded and before he left, I’d like Finn to have a look at the car.
We got the ratchet straps on the bike undone, and Ben keyed the bike and went to start it up. It turned over more than a few times — and more than I would have expected, for a modern fuel injected engine — before it finally caught on about the fourth or fifth attempt. We ran the bike up the driveway and then I ran inside to grab Finn.
When we both got back to the transporter, Ben was in the process of showing off one of its tricker features — the entire left side of the trailer was designed to raise up on gas lifts so that a show car could be displayed without being unloaded. With the trailer — most of which was billet aluminum — opened up, the Cobra was doing a creditable pearl in the oyster impression.
After Finn and I had spent a few minutes checking out the auto jewelry, Ben sat into the driver’s seat, and fired up the 5.0. The sound from the open side pipes was internal combustion music at idle — on the throttle though, it was the whole orchestra.
We thanked Ben heartily for delivering our Enfield, and for showing us the car. He buttoned the transporter back up and dieseled out of the neighborhood. Even though my mother and father in law were expected for a post-holiday visit, I grabbed my helmet, jacket and gloves for a short indoctrination putt around the neighborhood.
I set out for about a 2 mile loop through the farmland behind my house – a loop that ends up back in town before coming back to my house. I headed down MD 180, and headed for Saint Mark’s Road — which is a lovely, bumpy, tight single laner which is the perfect place for any classic motorcycle. I immediately appreciated the broad, midrange based power delivery, and the revvy, easy lope of the 270 degree crankshaft twin. Suspension was a tad more taut than I’m accustomed to, but would turn out to have a reason.
As I headed back up out of The Bottoms, I noticed the fuel bar graph in the LCD insert at the bottom of the speedometer. It had only one bar, and that bar was blinking.
“Naaaah…” I thought, “Nobody would be so thoughtless as to ship a motorcycle with a completely empty tank.”
Actually, they would, apparently.
As I headed back up Maryland Rt. 383’s steep hill up to town, and the nearest gas station, the RE quit in the middle of the grade under full throttle, and I drifted over to the narrow shoulder on the inside of the curved ascent up the hill. I pushed the bike as far out of the roadway as I could, and then yanked my helmet and went for my cel phone.
I couldn’t have been more than a third of a mile from either fuel or my house.
“Finn,” I said when he picked up his phone. “Go to the shed in the back yard, get the gas can from my mower, get in your car and head down 383 toward the bridge. I’m sitting over on the left hand side of the road. Stinking bike didn’t have any gas in it.”
Humanity, of late, has had plenty of chances to either disappoint or amaze me, and today humanity came though. The road I was pulled over on is a massive, curving grade that most people drive with their accelerator foot on the floor, to try and make reasonable progress toward the top. It’s a genuinely dangerous place to get stuck, and even more challenging place to try and pull over. In the perhaps 5 to 7 minutes before Finn pulled up, three separate folks pulled over to ask if I needed help.
It’s nice to know had I not had any help I’d still have had help.
After Finn rolled up I took about a gallon and a half out of my mower can, and the RE fired right back up and carried a humbled me directly home with authority.
It sure wasn’t an auspicious start. I texted Ben to let him know why he’d had such a hard time starting the bike originally, which provided him with a LOL.
We had a few days opening with some noticeably warmer weather in the forecast, and I felt optimistic that with a little more preparation, and under less hurried conditions, Interceptor Life would be better.
My buddy Paul is a quintessential Triumph man — a little bit quirky, a little bit rebel, and cares not a whit about what you might ride and how you might ride it.
I’d made my own tiny contribution to Paul’s delinquency as a rider by lending him my /5. At the time, Paul had been riding an original 1980s vintage Honda CB750, which was not known for its tight suspension and steering control. After some limited and slippery experience on my BMW, Paul recognized and quickly acted on his compulsion to get a bike with some superior roadholding.
Paul located a very low mileage and unmolested 2008 Triumph Bonneville — the last carburetted, air and oil cooled Bonneville. His Bonnie combines all of the modern internal combustion engineering and better manufacturing of the modern Hinckley Triumphs with the simplicity and agility of the Triumphs that went before. It was arguably the best of all possible motorcycle worlds, and one he obtained under commercial circumstances that have significant overlap with outright theft.
Paul and I have discussed me taking his Bonneville for a ride. The willingness was there, but the opportunity hadn’t really presented itself.
I sent Paul a note asking if he wanted to go for a ride on Saturday. It was a chance for him to check out the Enfield. And a chance for me to benchmark it against its British Motorcycle cousin, the Bonneville.
After our little fuel level fandango, you can assume I was no longer making any assumptions about the preparation of the INT 650 test bike. I’d check the chain, air pressure in the tires, and any other setup items there might be — rearview mirrors, that sort of stuff. I was starting to be pretty sure that this bike was a pretty early — and likely pre-production example. For starters, the bike’s VIN ended in 149 — so this was likely the 149th unit built. Second, US DOT has some labelling requirements that identify the stock, certified tire sizes, and the designed tire pressure. When I went to look for the label — because there is nothing that will screw up chassis performance worse or faster than the wrong tire pressures — my little orange buddy didn’t have one.
A Pretty Girl
I spent some time on the Internet, looking for an Owner’s Manual. RE had a US and an International web site, both of quick claimed to be able to provide User Support documents. I know a little about tech, but neither of the two web sites seemed to be able to provide me with that manual — web code that asked you to register, and then log in, and then wouldn’t get you to the Manuals anyway. There was a Support E-mail form — I filled it out, telling them I was a US Motorcycle writer and needed the Manual to support a Magazine test. Crickets.
I could find recommended pressures for the Royal Enfield’s other motorcycle — The Bullet — but the recommended pressures were clearly not appropriate for modern tires and suspension — stock pressure for a 350 Bullet is 19 PSI in the front tire.
I was finally rescued by a Fast-fingered Brother in the Indian Motorcycle Press, who had been invited on a factory tour, and bagged cell phone pictures of the first two pages of the factory service manual, including — drumroll — tire pressures.
So thank you, Fast Fingered Brother, you provided, and my rechargeable inflator set things right.
We continued to exercise oblique strategies and creative thought — an excerpt from a Continental GT 535 Owner’s Manual showed me how to access the locked side cover and release the saddle. I hoped to find either a User’s Manual or, at minimum, the registration form I’d asked Ben the Transporter for and he hadn’t been able to provide.
Were those things in there?
I did get a fleet insurance form.
So No. Live dangerously.
I also spent a few moments with a 14 mm wrench, setting up the rearview mirrors. The rearviews are a classic type, having not one but two locking collars — one at the usual position at the stem, on the handlebars, and a second one located at the base of the mirror at the top of the stem. The setup is precise, sturdy, and once dialed in stays dialed.
After a trip back to town to fully fill the tank and set the bike’s trip meters, I was now confident of my setup (incorrectly, it would turn out) and ready to really ride.
Sunday turned out to be an almost perfect riding day — sunny, calm winds, and a high just under 60 degrees f. I generally try not to plan — but the rough non-plan outline was to head off towards Shepherdstown, West Virginia and then find the most oblique, inefficient, nondeterministic route back to Jefferson. Paul and I would switch bikes a few times during the ride.
It was an opportunity to really put some twisty road miles on the INT. A chance to get some feedback on the RE’s new design from a skilled rider with tens of thousands of miles in the saddle of a British Parallel Twin. And a chance for me for finally ride the Bonnie, and to compare the two motorcycles — two branches off the same family tree — head to head.
With the aftermarket exhaust Paul had fitted to his Bonnie, I heard the basso rumble at least a half mile before he hit the bottom of my driveway.
As a place to start a good ride, The Jefferson Pike heading west out of Jefferson doesn’t leave much to be desired. Heading away from The Shop, the road drops down dramatically though the greenest pastureland towards Catoctin Creek and Brookside Corner. The INT is so light and nimble that I ended up well inside of my intended line and had to correct at the apex. Coming back up the grade I rolled the RPMs on the 650 out, enjoying the feel and power delivery of the motor, and revelling in the sound of the Enfield’s engine as it mixed with the report of the Bonneville that was stretched out behind.
After clearing the circle at Brunswick, the road down into Knoxville is a mini-motorcycle amusement park — a series of descending, decreasing radius sweepers that terminate in the little village where the road then makes an abrupt right. Setting the INT on the sides of its tires — Pirelli Phantom SportsComps in a classic spec 18 inches at the front and rear — the orange bike was easy to keep on line once one had been selected. There was something about the bike’s transitional behavior — the turn in and exit on the power — that felt unsettled to me. It was subtle, but it wasn’t right.
The Pike ends with a weird, pre-uniform highway code left hand entrance ramp to US 340. With the RPMs up, both motorcycles had no problems picking their spot and moving smartly around and into existing traffic. Paul and I continued to roll westward — after clearing the bridges and intersections around Harper’s Ferry, 340 opens up, and the INT seemed right comfortable at a 75+ mph cruise showing just under 5000 RPMs in top gear. I’ve become pretty adept at finding body positions on naked bikes that minimize the CD of my substantial ass, and it was easy to find a spot where the wind supported my upper body without feeding input into the bike’s front end. The INT still had usable power on cruise in 6th gear, and good acceleration with a downshift into 5th. The 270 degree crankshaft engine’s character and vibratory feedback was spot-on — just enough to know one was riding a motorcycle — but not uncomfortable or objectionable in any way.
When Paul and I got to West Virginia Route 230, I indicated a stop, and found a good level and visible spot on the shoulder, where I killswitched the INT and set her on the stand. With the two bikes sitting nose to tail on the shoulder, the resemblance between them was uncanny — from the shape of their fuel tanks, through the construction of their wide-flange hubs on the spoked wheels, to the bench seat and the positioning of the tail lamp and turn signals perched on the back fender — the bikes might not have been twins, but were certainly cousins with a strong family resemblance. The only significant styling departures were the use of the more classic spec 18 inch wheels on both ends of the Enfield, where the Triumph sported a more modern 19 inch front and 17 inch rear combo, and the Enfield’s more modern upswept megaphone style dual exhausts in place of the Triumph’s low mounted peashooters.
Hubs On Any Proper Bike Look Like This
I gave Paul a quick briefing on the control layouts and specifics of the Enfield’s drive train — 6 speeds, slipper clutch — other than that the control layouts between the two motorcycles were nearly identical.
“Then let’s ride.”
There’s a ‘Stop’ sign right after WV 230 leaves US 340 – immediately afterward the road turns into a pretty typical West Virginia Winding Road – tight, decreasing radius 90/90 combos, grades, and long straights shaded by trees. It was clear from the first corner that Paul felt immediately comfortable on the INT — he was leaned well over and in the gas. From the saddle of the Bonneville, the contrast between the two machines was immediately on full display. With its more than 200 cc displacement advantage, the Bonneville had a bit more urge lower on the tach face, but on a back road the two bikes were still pretty closely matched — The RE pilot might be spinning a few more RPMs, but neither bike was able to run away from the other. The RE’s 6 speed transmission – compared to the Triumph’s 5 speed – helped to keep the engine spinning in its happy place and keep it in the hunt. The Triumph’s engine — with its 360 crank and extensive counterbalancing was smoother than the Enfield’s mill — but it was almost too smooth — the RE felt like a motorcycle, where the Bonneville seemed to have become so refined it had all but lost its distinctive character. Steering on the Triumph — which had four degrees less rake on its front end, was noticeably slower, but with its wide bars the rider was still able to corner briskly enough on these twisting roads. The compliance of the Bonneville fork was worlds better than that of the Enfield, though. Although the two bikes weight are within 3-4 kilograms of each other, the Bonneville felt like a locomotive on a back road – heavy, stable, comfortable — where the Enfield felt more like a go-cart – taut, nimble, always ready to change direction with minimal rider input.
Although I might have had a tad more power available, keeping Paul in sight was not a trivial exercise – he was clearly enjoying the INT 650. Riding these two good handling, midrange power happy motorcycles we quickly put all of 230 in the rearviews, rolled into Shepherdstown, banged right and recrossed the Potomac headed for Sharpsburg. Maryland 34 is a wide open, rural highway, which helps me come to appreciate the Triumph’s smooth top gear power delivery.
On the far side of Sharpsburg, Paul calls for a stop. He swaps back to his Bonneville – I swing a leg over the bright orange INT.
“You got anything specific in mind for the route back?”
“Absolutely not. Do what the spirit says do.”
Paul was, apparently, receptive to the spirit, and after a fast pull up 34, breaks right at Keedysville on Dogstreet, then Nicodemus Mill, then King Roads. These are tiny, technical little roads with short straight blasts punctuated by single lane arch bridges which provide the rider with a chance to go all Flying Manxman if that’s what one is into. The INT makes rolling the throttle wide open on a corner exit a delicate thing of pleasure.
We continue to play find the smaller road, until we run out of county and Md 383 drops us out of a full throttle top gear run at a ‘Stop’ sign just yards from the shop.
If anybody smoked cigarettes any more, Paul and I would have both smoked one while we stood at the bottom of the driveway, all black leather and tilted heads drinking in the subtle shapes of two fuel tanks and the tink-tink-tink sounds of hot exhaust parts quickly cooling. But they don’t, so we didn’t, but their absence seemed palpable anyway. We had to settle for just admiring two really pretty motorcycles as a single malt, unblended treat.
It had been a great ride – a gift from the universe at the beginning of December – and we’d both been surprised a few times by these motorcycles and learned some things we hadn’t expected.
I told Paul I’d kept sensing that weird transitional cornering behavior — especially on corner exits — where the bike just seemed to want to wander. Paul tells me I’m imagining it — he didn’t notice it — and I resolve to take tools in hand, if necessary, to get to the bottom of it.
The bottom of it, as it turned out, was a very shallow pool.
A Royal Enfield INT 650 has exactly one point of suspension adjustment. And on my test unit, it was adjusted wrong. RE’s chassis for this motorcycle was designed by their newest wholly owned division, England’s Harris Performance. Harris’ success on the racetrack is legendary — many years worth of Yamaha 500GP bikes were Harris bikes. The INT’s fork rake of 24 degrees is pretty aggressive for a street-only motorcycle — my 70s vintage BMW S bike runs 27 — Pauls’s 2007 Bonneville runs 28. A BMW S1000RR, which is a track focused missile with every form of electronic stability control known to science, is 23.9.
On classic or vintage motorcycles — many of which had fork rake angles that were not deigned with agility in mind — it was a pretty standard shortcut to jack the rear preload, which would effectively reduce the rake and make the bike far more willing to turn in. On the Royal Enfield INT 650 — with a frame and suspension setup that was biased towards sporting dynamics — such a cheat was not only unnecessary, but would likely be counterproductive.
That would have been bad enough, but as it turned out, the preload collars on the twin rear shocks were set to two different settings — with the right shock set to five out of six and the left one set to four out of six. Reasonable engineers can and will disagree – some will say that the swingarm and rear wheel assembly will continue to operate as a unit even if the forces on it are unequal – others though will posit that such a configuration will result in a subtle bias in the direction of the less sprung shock — in this case, a tendency to come off of bumps with a slight left turn.
There was only one way to see if I was right, and that was to head back to the road.
I went back to the same stretch of the Jefferson Pike for a Moto-mullligan.
The transformation was dramatic. With the rear end of the bike lowered to the correct attitude and the preload evened out between the two shocks the Enfield was now a solid and stellar handler. All of the flaky transitional behavior was gone, and I began adapting my normally conservative big bike lines to what the INT Twin was demanding. Most of my cornering behavior had been pretty conservative – with early entrances and easy lines to the apex. With the INT apparently dialed in, I started delaying entrances and cutting harder. The INT , it seemed, really liked the whip — the harder I rode, the more settled the bike seemed — a conclusion which isn’t remotely surprising given Harris Performance’s heritage. Instead of picking up US 340, though, I decided to take the final exam — Mountain Road.
Welcome To Mountain Road
Mountain Road is another Frederick County Classic — it’s mostly a one lane road that cuts from the bottom of Knoxville up the mountainside back towards Md 17 North and Burkettsville. Mountain is tight, steep, twisty, dirty and bumpy. If a motorcyclist is looking for a workout for both the bike’s suspension and him/herself, Mountain is what the Doctor Ordered. Cutting up the initial grade the INT was doing precisely what it was told — I could put the bike within an inch of where I wanted it on the road, despite all the havoc being caused by the road’s uneven surface. In the middle section of the road, it runs through a forested section where a series of decreasing radius, downhill bends are camouflaged by the tree canopy. I ran the Enfield in wider than I have on any other bike, and then rolled the twin into corners with nary a complaint — the Pirellis gripped with zero drama, and absolutely nothing ever touched the pavement. It was even trivial to tighten lines mid corner. As enthusiastic as my cornering had become, the Enfield felt like it had plenty left in reserve — more than I’d ever find prudent on a public road.
After finishing off Mountain and picking up Maryland 17 north, I ran the bike hard up through the gears — making my changes at about 6500 RPM and setting up at about an 80 mph cruise when I hit top gear. About halfway to the tiny village of Coatsville, there’s a classic set of big radius 90/90s — there’s always a section of gravel on the exit of the second one, which given the hand laid stone walls on the inside of the road helps to keep one honest. I got in to the first corner at right around 60, and managed the bike on the throttle — with a good blast of acceleration in the chute between the two corners, and then running on engine braking to get in the second one at about 55 and staying slightly wide to avoid the gravel patch, which was right where it always was.
I finished my test loop by coming back down Burkettsville Road back to Jefferson, working the amazing sets of corners at each of the places where the road crosses Catoctin Creek. The Orange Menace continued to amuse and amaze — cornering on rails while making the most of its revvy, raucous motor.
Since that day, I’ve done exactly what I promised the nice folks at Royal Enfield I would do — riding this motorcycle everywhere I could and every chance I got. The only limitation I’ve had forced on me is I haven’t been able to do really long distance point-to-point travel because I have no heated gloves, no windshield, and its been consistently colder than most people consider survivable motorcycle riding weather. But for the first hour and a half to two hours, a combination of natural insulation, ability to handle cold and raw cussedness has enabled me to have as much fun as I can recall having on a motorcycle.
The bike isn’t perfect — as a brand new, clean sheet of paper design, it’s nearly impossible that it could be. But it’s so close that I have to give the design team at Royal Enfield a tip of the hat for creating a bike that has so much personality that it just makes one want to ride at every opportunity and for no reason other than to have more fun riding the thing.
Motorcycle Begins With Motor
Taking care of one of these Royal Enfield 650 Twins — our INT 650 or its café styled brother, the Continental GT 650 — at least looks to be a total cinch. The engines are air and oil cooled. Valve adjusters on the SOHC 4 valver are screw and locknut type working on the ends of roller cam follower rockers. The roller followers should keep wear to a minimum and the screw adjusters make the adjustment as easy as it gets. The engine has an easily accessed car type cartridge oil filter — it’s a pretty good size one, too — so oil changes should be nearly trivial. The throttle and the clutch both have cables.
Adjust and lube your chain. Lever on new tires. Change oil. Repeat.
In the time I’ve had the bike, it’s spent a lot of the time being enthusiastically wrung out — RPMs up in the 5-6000 range for extended periods of time. The 650 has felt solid, felt happy there — it’s smooth, cooling properly, maintaining proper clearances and making good usable power there. It is not consuming any oil. RE’s 650 feels like a confidence-inspiring, solidly engineered and thoroughly modern engine.
Enfield certainly seems to be willing to properly back that confidence — both 650s come with 36 month, unlimited mileage factory warranties.
Both 650s also make use of a slipper/power assist clutch pack. I haven’t been able to obtain an engineering drawing of the clutch assembly to help visualize what’s going on, but I can clearly feel the mechanism – usually a ball and ramp set up of some sort – operate through the cable when the low effort and easily modulatable clutch lever is initially pulled in with the engine running.
Most riders would never even notice it, but to an ‘Old Bike Guy’ — which for clarity involves the chronological gifts of The Bike and not The Guy — the microscopic ‘click’ one feels through the clutch lever feels exactly like the first of sixteen cable strands in one’s clutch cable letting go.
Call it a personal failing, rather than an engineering one.
On the flip side, the operation of that clutch on a winding road feels like a magic trick, a cheat. It didn’t take long to figure out that on a really gnarly corner entrance, snapping off what would be a plaster inducingly ill-advised number of downshifts on a dry clutch would produce a very light and self modulating amount of engine braking that made it far easier to manage one’s corner entry line and attitude. All my corner entries on the 650 started having a soundtrack of the twin on a lovely overrun burble.
Speaking of burble, the INT makes Proper Motorcycle Noises. It is by no means obnoxious, but the combination of the 270 degree firing order, and a properly tuned exhaust provide for a nice muted rumble and the previously mentioned burble. Triumph Paul went out of his way to tell me that the Enfield sounded much better than his Bonneville had with the factory mufflers which he no longer had.
It also has a proper dual horn. I have a freely disclosed bias for motorcycles whose horns covey authority.
Classic Analog Instrumentation
‘Orange Crush’ Paintwork – You Should See the Optional Chrome Tank
There is the small matter of The Name.
Everywhere else in the world, this bike is called the Interceptor 650. All of the press pack pictures show sidecover decals that say ‘Interceptor 650’ where this one says ‘INT 650’. It makes perfect sense, as Royal Enfield first sold a motorcycle called ‘Interceptor’ in 1962. American Honda – by dint of its line of VFR Motorcycles, sold here starting in 1982 — owns the US Trademark though, so RE has a bike called the INT that I will inevitably refer to accidentally as The Interceptor and who the heck can blame me?
If you are the sort of person that chooses to ride your motorcycle in cold weather the 650s will do that willingly. The coldest morning start I tried was at 28 degrees f. – it had been colder overnight – and the bike spun with authority on the starter and fired on the third compression stroke just like it does when its 70 outside. It was immediately ready to ride away with no cold running issues.
I’ll freely admit that I’ll ride motorcycles with my revs restrained and minimal throttle in neighborhood streets or in tight confines like parking lots. The INT didn’t appreciate this rider behavior — under 2000 RPM my twin ran a little bit unevenly. I suspect this is one of those pre-production issues that an FI mapping update will likely slay. On the gas, though, no one will remember that or care a whit.
The brakes on the bike are absolutely beastly. The ByBre brakes — produced by Brembo’s Indian subsidiary — appear everywhere these days — lower displacement motorcycles by BMW and KTM both use ByBre brake components. The front caliper on the INT looks for all the world like a 80s-90s vintage Brembo gold line two piston caliper — and in concert with the 320 mm full floating disk and braided steel line — stops like one, too. The front brake generates as much braking power as this chassis can safely use — and does it in a way which is easily modulated and controlled near the limits. If you blow it, there is Bosch ABS to back you up, but if you need to brake harder than this setup permits, you’ve already crashed.
Brakes By Brembo – ByBre – and ABS by Bosch
Maybe this is another subjective thing, but the fork on our test really needs another look from the design team. While I understand that Harris Performance might lean towards racetrack suspension settings, the fork is just too overdamped for street use — while on smoother pavement the front tire will just stick, on bumpier surfaces there’s just too much shock being passed to the suspension and to the rider. It may be stiction, and it may be damping rod orifices that are just too small, but a little bit more compliance would go a long way towards more comfort on the street. If this were my motorcycle, I’d be ordering up a set of RaceTech Gold Valve cartridge emulators and taking wrench in hand, stat.
I’ll admit that the racetrack vibe from the 650 is so strong, I couldn’t help but think that as a platform, these bikes would make for a great spec racing series. And if I thought this way on the upright INT, it would have been ever more noticeable on the sportier Continental GT. If people will race CB160s, one could certainly race these. These bikes will certainly be affordable — the INT’s price is $5799, while the Continental’s is $5999 — and a hot-rodding supply chain is already forming for the bikes. Enfield USA has already been working with S&S to create power parts for the 650. The stock state of tune was deliberately engineered so that the bike could qualify for the lowest tier of international tiered licensing requirements — and an S&S-modified RE 650 has already set a FIM Bonneville class Speed Record at a tick over 150 miles an hour. So Enfield USA, I’d be burning up the phones to sanctioning bodies — with WERA or AMRHA, where it would make for a natural support class — trying to figure out how to get these motorcycles out on the track and banging bars.
Somewhere in a Product Planning Team Room inside Royal Enfield, there is at least one person that becomes very, very happy if one suggests that this motorcycle might become accessible to and popular with young, new motorcyclists.
And here, at Rolling Physics Problem Labs, we take this part of the testing very seriously, indeed, so we keep – on our staff – Finn, a calibrated, certified germ-free and highly unlikely to wad your bike young new motorcyclist to evaluate the Youth Appeal of test motorcycles. In the interests of transparency, said Test Youth’s daily rider is a 2016 CB500F Honda, which is a motorcycle — at least from the spec sheet — whose size and performance are in the same neighborhood as the INT. And in the interest of still fuller transparency, the Test Youth is a future looking Youth who, especially after his recent Tesla automobile test drive, would probably be OK with a Zero electric motorcycle.
In this context Youth may not be a fully ideal test subject, but he’s what we got.
On another freak sunny day The Test Youth got tossed the keys, and he geared up and headed off. He looked good, sitting upright on the saddle. One can just see he has great clutch and throttle control (or at least I can, anyway) and knows how to manage his position on the bike.
He’s a natural, which means if he inherited those traits, Sweet Doris from Baltimore must be some kind of rider.
Upon his return, I asked him about his ride.
“Should have worn plugs — it’s loud. Liked having the power down lower, though. Corners great. Still like mine better, though. It’s quieter and more comfortable.
Thing is a lot of fun, though.”
So there you have it.
The Thing IS a lot of fun.
So much fun that my BMWs have mostly sat unridden in the time the Royal Enfield has been here.
So much fun that on a cloudy, dark grey-skyed day today that was struggling to make 40 degrees, I suited up and fired up the twin. I have really internalized the appeal of motorcycles like this — light, narrow, simple — and now understand what all those BritBike guys were going on about.
It had gotten really cold overnight, and it had produced a few road conditions that were a tad out of the ordinary. We just wrapped up a year where The Valley got 75 inches of rainfall, so we have gotten accustomed to having water running across or over things it normally does not run across or over. Most of the bigger farms around have at least once place where drainage from a pasture has created a very small but persistent new stream crossing the road.
Last night, all those shallow streams across the road froze solid. I’d get some warning of one of these coming because my county highway guys had been laying down heavy salt to melt them out. I’d see a few grains and know to back down. I am glad I am not one of those guys that’s out at first light to get to work, cause that guy would have gotten more than his fair share of pants soiling extended zero traction moments early this morning.
Out on Maryland 67, the longest straightest road around, I ran The Interceptor hard up though the gears, and stretched my last shift out till well above 80. Your Royal Enfield INT will do The Ton, making it clearly worthy of its Interceptor name. She really is quite comfortable maintaining a 75-80 MPH top gear cruise, which means it can travel anywhere in America or anywhere else.
Headed back to the shop I elected Mountain Church Road, which is an absolutely gnarly one laner with a questionable and highly variegated surface that runs over a well forested mountain. There’s lots of change of elevation, blind treelined corners, and workout for the suspension on this thing that probably once was a path for goats. It’s the sort of road that to be willing to ride it you need to accept the likelihood you will get whacked in the shins and elbows by an occasional errant tree branch, at least if you are staying on your own side of the road. I was standing on the pegs but crouching down — getting me quite the workout, but having a blast nonetheless. In this environment the Royal Enfield is in its element – solid, agile, making good motorcycle sounds and steering precisely around corners or road obstacles on the gas or on the brakes.
On this cold afternoon, this Enfield 650 has all this rider needs.