In 2018, when Royal Enfield first announced its new 650cc-twin, we didn’t allow ourselves the luxury of high hopes. For too long, avid motorcyclists had been left a little underwhelmed by the British brand’s modern offerings — despite a century-long lineage that began in 1893. But then, when we rode the thing, our fears began to melt away.
We’ve been back in the saddle a couple of times in the intervening years, but we can now say — with absolute certainty — that the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 is one hell of a machine. In fact, we can pinpoint exactly when we came to that definitive realisation: earlier this summer, on the cliffside roads of North Cornwall — where the salt-spray and cool coastal air blew away any remaining reservations.
We began our trip — a refresher course in the Interceptor, if you like — in London, and made our way over the North Wessex Downs and Quantock Hills to the North Cornish coast. By the time we reached the village of Pendoggett, we began to fully understand what Royal Enfield’s vision had been with the new Interceptor 650. True, over the course of the past decade, the brand has spent an immense amount of time and money on research and development. But, for this — its first higher-capacity parallel-twin in almost 50 years — it was worth it.
Because the Interceptor is a different breed in a different league. Part charming retro roadster, part 1960s desert racer, it’s the sort of bike you could imagine the mid-century Hollywood hell-raisers motoring around Tinseltown on. Once you sit astride the Interceptor, those wide handlebars, the homely quilted seat and teardrop tank manage to transport you in more ways than one. It’s like firing up a time machine.
Of course, the engineering is a little more up-to-date. Powering the Interceptor through St Endellion and within a stone’s throw of Port Isaac, it handled handsomely — both on the long expanses of B-road and deep into the narrower, twisting paths and tracks all the way to Pentire Point. It’s a motorcycle engineered for our modern expectations and sensibilities, but without sacrificing the edge and excitement of bikes gone by.
“The Interceptor carries forward the Royal Enfield legacy into the 21st century,” said Siddhartha Lal, Royal Enfield’s then-CEO, at the bike’s launch in 2018. “While in its essence it retains the design and old-school character, it has all the underpinnings of a modern machine. It combines agility, usable power, excellent ergonomics and style in an unintimidating manner.”
He can say that again. The engine, a single overhead cam, 8-valve air/oil cooled, 650cc parallel twin, produces a healthy 47bhp, which is just enough to give you that sense of adventure you’re after when riding. And Royal Enfield’s strides in quality and craftsmanship are no clearer than with this engine. The all-new six-speed gearbox, also — which offers wonderful delivery of torque and power through the mid-range. And the gentle burble from those twin exhausts? A true treat for the ears.
And people have really responded to this shot in Royal Enfield’s arm. Despite being almost two years old, the Interceptor 650 is still selling incredibly well in the UK. In fact, it was the UK’s best-selling motorcycle in June of this year — one of the many reasons we decided to jump back on and take another look at it.
We’re glad we did. Because this is a bike powered by pleasant surprises. We expected a ‘typical’ Royal Enfield when we first encountered it back in 2018 — and we were instead presented with machine re-engineered on almost every level, from design and ergonomics to powertrain and handling. And now we’ve had a second roll of the parallel twin dice, we’re convinced — this is Royal Enfield’s finest hour.
Royal Enfield Interceptor 650