In a show of three-wheeled, V-4-powered, and all manner of adventure bikes, the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 and Continental GT 650 stick out at EICMA not because of their topline specs, but because of the company’s mission to attract new riders. Yes, the Interceptor 650 and Continental GT 650 are two retro-inspired motorcycles, but their story is a continuation of the world’s oldest brand and its vision for the future of two wheels.
And it all starts with the new powerplant: an air-cooled, 650cc parallel twin.
Its heritage stretches back to the 1950s and ‘60s, but it's the result of two teams in Chennai and Leicestershire, England. That site—fully operational since May 2017—houses design, engineering, fabrication, and testing staff in a fully modern outfit of tools and talent, and has grown from a team of six to 120 in a burst of hiring from around the world and the UK. While on a tour before heading to EICMA, Royal Enfield discussed how the new tech center is vital as a knowledge center in growing the brand beyond India, and how the two teams work together to build products that are suited for their traditional Indian marketplace and their goals beyond those borders.
The first fruits of those efforts are this new engine—an air-/oil-cooled 650cc parallel twin with four valves per cylinders and 270-degree crank—and these two bikes. It was designed around an experience, not just hitting numbers. In interviews, CEO Siddhartha Lal speaks of the Royal Enfield product not as instruments of adrenaline, but as a tool to have fun, and in a way that is accessible to everyone.
This means the motor is no fire-breather at 47 hp and 37 pound-feet of torque but is engineered to deliver an easy, rewarding, and fun ride. Special attention was paid to the look, keeping the appearance simple and tied to Royal Enfield’s vintage twins, and the sound of a wide spread of torque and a bumble that only a 270-degree crank can provide. Twenty-five hundred miles of full-throttle testing and hundreds of thousands of real-world miles later, it finds its home in the two latest models.
The Interceptor 650 and Continental 650 share a frame designed by Harris Performance and tested on the very same test track that Top Gear uses. It’s a steel tube chassis designed to work in tandem with the motor for light, easy, and rewarding riding. Suspension and brakes are also shared between the bikes: traditional up front, with twin rear shocks, and single brake discs both front and rear. Nothing fancy, but we’ve been told both models are tuned as a balance of open highway cruising and slicing and dicing through Indian traffic.
From there, the models differ. On the one hand is the Interceptor 650, a throwback to '60s standards that features an upright riding position, wide handlebars, and laid-back look that seems plucked out of '60s California. The other is the café-oriented Continental GT 650, featuring clip-on bars, rearsets, tank, solo seat, and an upswept exhaust.
In person, these are appropriately pretty motorcycles. Great attention is paid to character lines, finishes, and detail to deliver two motorcycles that look the part of fun and friendly. In an industry that has been churning out ‘60s throwbacks, the Royal Enfield twins look fresh, not derivative.
They feature bold color choices, different liveries, and paint colors that are bright and playful. Up close, they don't look like “entry-level” motorcycles. And that’s because they both are and are not.
In India and emerging markets, these middleweights are seen as nearly full size, and a step up for a rider base who is familiar with 125cc to 250cc machines. On the other side of the coin are mature markets like Europe and the United States where this is most likely to be a first or second motorcycle for a rider. Seeing this divide, Royal Enfield is quick to point out it built a fun bike for everyone completely separated from the price point. We’re still waiting for final details, but pricing should run between $5,000 and $7,000.
The big takeaway is this, though. In 2016, Royal Enfield sold 800,000 motorcycles; “a few bikes,” in the words of Lal. This makes it the largest two-wheeled producer in the world. It’s also a brand built on expanding the ridership of motorcycles.
In every other EICMA OEM presentation, adding new riders was a line item that had importance but was part of a fractured strategy. For Royal Enfield, it was the only strategy. From design, engineering, sales, and management staff, we heard consistently and completely that Royal Enfield wants to build bikes that are fun for existing riders and accessible for new riders. It sees the largest hurdle as not other motorcycle brands, but of having someone never start riding in the first place because they don't find it fun and accessible.
This is why the Royal Enfield twins are so important. The aim of the development team is to obviously grow sales, but also act as banner of how just riding motorcycles and having a good time doing it can be. Many will see these new twins as low-powered and possibly disappointing; I can already see the internet comments forming, and I get it. But every motorcycle brand on the planet offers bikes focused on adding performance, capability, and function. Very few combine that with emotion, but only Royal Enfield seems singularly focused on providing the experience of having a good time riding motorcycles. And if you can just divorce the idea of fun from power—and think of what inspired you to ride bikes in the first place—these bikes make a lot of sense, and look like a lot of fun.
After all this hype, we’re excited to ride one!
Don’t forget to check out the rest of our coverage of all the new motorcycles released at EICMA this year!