WITH THE INTERCEPTOR AND CONTI GT, I HAVE NO DOUBT ROYAL ENFIELD HAS WINNERS ON ITS HANDS
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,