of the Con­ti­nen­tal GT but it was too ex­treme for a lot of peo­ple, in terms of er­gos, which kept peo­ple out of the mar­ket. One idea was to have the Conti GT with more reg­u­lar han­dle­bars, but that doesn’t work. Then we de­cided to do a proper road­ster from our ar­chives.”

There’s a big rea­son we are rid­ing in Cal­i­for­nia – in the Six­ties, Royal Enfield built the In­ter­cep­tor to the spec of their US im­porter who’d asked for a big­ger en­gine (this is the land of big dis­place­ment af­ter all!) and it was so pop­u­lar, Royal Enfield never found the ex­tra ca­pac­ity to sell the In­ter­cep­tor in any other part of the world. The In­ter­cep­tor is now back in Cal­i­for­nia, the US is the first mar­ket that it was launched in, the first mar­ket where prices have been re­vealed though I’m not sure if it will be the first to start de­liv­er­ies. Is this some­thing to do with Har­ley-David­son?

“Not at all, it’s not meant to be any­thing of that na­ture. I be­lieve we are com­ing in a cat­e­gory that is not re­ally be­ing served to­day by the more evoca­tive play­ers. We are not try­ing to go up against any­body, no­body even has that kind of vol­umes that in­ter­ests us. We are re­ally try­ing to cre­ate the mar­ket and that’s the beauty of it.”

So the ob­vi­ous ques­tion on vol­ume. “I’ve seen a lot of com­pa­nies give big tar­gets, and if they don’t meet their tar­gets it’s seen as a fail­ure. Of course we would like to sell, but if it doesn’t hap­pen it wouldn’t mean that it’s a bad prod­uct; prob­a­bly that we need to fix it more or the tim­ing wasn’t right. We don’t want to set our­selves up, give big num­bers and come shy of that. Even the Clas­sic which has taken us from 50,000 to a mil­lion took nearly 2 years for it to re­ally take off. There’s one in 20 prod­ucts that are in­stant suc­cesses.”

TWENTY YEARS AGO, WHEN I STARTED OFF test­ing bikes (and later cars), when Sid Lal took over the reigns of Royal Enfield, their bikes were both very de­sir­able (to a very few) and a joke (to the vast ma­jor­ity). I was in the former. The ca­bles snap­ping, the oil leak­ing, the brakes that re­fused to brake, the wrong side gear­box that re­fused to find gears, we put it all down to char­ac­ter. I slipped on what was then called a rocket ex­haust and rode like a hooli­gan. Rode with the Pune Road­shak­ers club. Rode to Pak­istan for the Friend­ship cricket series, only to be turned back at the bor­der. Spent a year long-term test­ing the Light­ning 535, a bike that never re­ally sold well. Picked up bikes from a deal­er­ship that sold man­goes along­side the Bul­lets. And then as peo­ple fi­nally started buy­ing them, I grew out of it. The brand be­came cool but the bikes were more or less the same.

With these new 650 twins, the In­ter­cep­tor and Conti GT, I’m back in love with the brand. And un­like in my early days there is no rea­son to be apolo­getic about it, there are no quirks or ir­ri­tants to mask as char­ac­ter. There is also gen­uine qual­ity in these bikes – noth­ing,

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