Royal En­fıeld 650

BIKE (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Hugo Wil­son Pho­tog­ra­phy Royal En­field

WE’RE RID­ING NORTH along Cal­i­for­nia’s iconic Pa­cific Coast High­way at 9am on a late Septem­ber morn­ing. Cold mist is blow­ing in from across the sea to the west, and our string of 12 shiny new mo­tor­cy­cles is pleas­antly bop­ping along at a steady 90mph. Ad­mit­tedly, this is an odd time to be think­ing about the In­dian econ­omy, but it’s ac­tu­ally fun­da­men­tal to un­der­stand­ing what we’re do­ing here. In the UK Royal En­field are seen as a niche man­u­fac­turer of quirky, old fash­ioned sin­gle-cylin­der bikes that ap­peal to ec­centrics and old men. But last year RE made 850,000 mo­tor­cy­cles, mostly for their do­mes­tic mar­ket – In­dia. That’s some niche. More bikes than Ducati, Tri­umph, KTM, BMW and Har­ley-david­son. Com­bined. In global terms they are huge. And this is the most sig­nif­i­cant new Royal En­field mo­tor­cy­cle since they last launched an all new par­al­lel twin. That was in 1949, so they de­serve a party to cel­e­brate the new one, and this is it. As well as mak­ing 5000 bikes a day at their Chen­nai fac­tory, RE also em­ploy 142 peo­ple at their UK de­vel­op­ment cen­tre in Le­ices­ter­shire. This all-new 650cc twin is the first fruit of this An­glo-in­dian en­deav­our (the Hi­malayan light­weight ad­ven­ture bike was con­ceived and de­vel­oped in In­dia, with some UK in­put). It’s tempt­ing to think that this bike’s main pur­pose is to open new mar­kets for the RE brand, but that’s only partly true. It’s also a bike for RE’S three mil­lion In­dian cus­tomers. Never mind what hap­pens with sales in the UK, USA, Eu­rope or other ma­ture mar­kets, the bike that we’re rid­ing will surely be the world’s big­gest sell­ing big bike of 2019. At 90mph on the cir­cu­lar ana­logue speedo the match­ing tacho reads 6000rpm, but the red­line is still 1500 revs away. There’s a

faint vi­bra­tion, but only enough to tell you that the air-cooled, 650cc par­al­lel twin with 270° crank­shaft is thrum­ming away be­tween your legs. The en­gine lacks the punch of big­ger ca­pac­ity ri­vals, but de­liv­ers torque from 2500rpm to a peak at 5250rpm and be­yond. When forced to slow by a dawdling car, you can re­gain mo­men­tum and waft past on a twist of the throt­tle, or speed things up by chang­ing down a cou­ple of gears in the crisp six-speed box. The oc­ca­sional clear road op­por­tu­nity on the PCH sug­gests the 47bhp, A2 li­cence com­pat­i­ble bike will de­liver a top speed of around 110mph. There are two vari­ants of the new bike. A Con­ti­nen­tal GT café racer and this, the retro style In­ter­cep­tor, a chrome, al­loy and bronze paint trib­ute to the last UK made Royal En­field twins. Those 736cc ma­chines were built in an un­der­ground fac­tory in West­bury-on-avon be­tween 1968 and 1970, when the brand went belly-up in the UK. In the 48 years be­tween then and now the In­dian con­cern, which made their first bikes in 1955, sur­vived and even­tu­ally pros­pered to a de­gree the old buf­fers who put Royal En­field into the mo­tor­cy­cle busi­ness in 1901 couldn’t have dreamed of. 850,000 bikes a year! They’d have had a heart at­tack be­fore get­ting to one tenth of that fig­ure. It’d be nice to con­tinue north on High­way One to Ore­gon, Van­cou­ver and Alaska. The In­ter­cep­tor feels solid, com­fort­able and ca­pa­ble. The rid­ing po­si­tion works for my 5ft 10in, al­beit with the neck:wind pres­sure caveat that comes with all naked bikes. It’s sta­ble, se­cure and re­as­sur­ing. Af­ter 35 miles in the cool coastal air we turn in­land onto the Pescadero road and the mist dis­ap­pears. This is a wrig­gling, gig­gling, up and down and round and round, roller­coaster of sec­ond and third gear, turns, blind crests and short straights. With

‘The whole bike has a sim­i­lar feel to Tri­umph’s 900cc Street Twin. Given that lots of the de­vel­op­ment staff are ex-hinck­ley, that’s not sur­pris­ing’

wide-ish bars and un­fash­ion­ably nar­row, 18-inch, tubed Pirelli Phan­toms, the In­ter­cep­tor is great fun. It changes di­rec­tion quickly, but there’s enough grip and for me noth­ing touches down (though later one of the fac­tory testers ap­pears with de­stroyed footrest blobs and chunks of the cen­tre-stand ground away). The front fork ac­tion feels good, of­fer­ing de­cent ride qual­ity and pro­gres­sive damp­ing when you push along on these badly sur­faced roads. The rear is more of a com­pro­mise. Lim­ited travel (just 88mm) means that it can get a bit squiffy if you hit a bump mid-cor­ner when press­ing on. Led by for­mer Bri­tish Su­per­bike racer and now En­field test rider Paul Young, we were. The sin­gle disc front is gripped by a slid­ing twin pis­ton caliper. Brak­ing power is ad­e­quate for the 200 kilo bike and, re-as­sured by Bosch ABS, you can be pretty cack-handed with it. The gear­box is sweet and the slip­per as­sist clutch is light, but the en­gine’s torque spread is such that you can drive out of cor­ners from quite low revs, and then hold the gear all the way to the red­line. The power de­liv­ery, bur­bling ex­haust note, and ac­tu­ally the whole bike, has a sim­i­lar feel to Tri­umph’s 900cc Street Twin al­beit with a few less horses. Given that lots of the de­vel­op­ment staff are ex-hinck­ley, that’s not sur­pris­ing. Be­cause the torque curve starts low, and is ba­si­cally flat­tish you can be in any one of three gears at any given time. But ab­so­lute power isn’t reached un­til peak revs, so there’s no sense of when you need to change up. You have to watch the revcounter, not to keep it in the power, but to stop you smash­ing into the rev lim­iter. It makes you won­der why it’s got six gears with just 500rpm be­tween each of the top three ra­tios. It also makes the en­gine’s char­ac­ter­is­tics a bit bland and you’re never re­ally sure what gear you should be in. You change down more for en­gine brak­ing than for drive. Those power traits will make it a great bike for ner­vous new­com­ers. Low seat and nar­row stance help here too. From low rpm the fu­elling is per­fect. En­field haven’t both­ered with ride-by-wire, there’s a throt­tle cable at­tached to but­ter­flies in the throt­tle bod­ies, but the smooth­ness of the throt­tle re­sponse from a closed throt­tle is ex­em­plary. If En­field, us­ing a Bosch sys­tem, can make this work and hit Euro 4 emis­sions tar­gets why can’t KTM? In equip­ment terms it’s re­fresh­ingly sim­ple. There are no modes and no TFT dash. Just a ba­sic ana­logue tacho and speedo with a trip me­ter. But on the In­ter­cep­tor model you do get a cen­tre-stand and a pas­sen­ger grab rail which are gen­uinely use­ful. This is a glo­ri­ously sim­ple ma­chine. At 200 ki­los with­out petrol it’s also lighter than most other mid-ca­pac­ity ret­ros. En­field make no claims for fuel con­sump­tion, but the 13.7 litre (3.6 gal­lon) fuel tank sug­gests a range of close to 200 miles. In­land from the coast the skies are clear and the sun is shin­ing. From Pescadero we snake up through the state park, through the chang­ing smells of eu­ca­lyp­tus, pine and red­wood trees, up to

‘In equip­ment terms it’s re­fresh­ingly sim­ple. There are no modes and no TFT dash…’

Sky­line Ridge (with a view down to San Fran­cisco bay) and La Honda, for lunch at Al­ice’s Restau­rant. Bask­ing in the Cal­i­for­nian sun the In­ter­cep­tor looks great. The paint, chrome and pol­ished al­loy glint, and the air-cooled en­gine is hand­some. It’s a vis­ually well-bal­anced bike, with nice de­tails. But not per­fect. The fin­ish on the forged al­loy top yoke looks cheap and some of the fas­ten­ers and plat­ing look sus­pect too. We’re rid­ing pre-pro­duc­tion bikes, so some of these is­sues may be sorted by the time UK bikes get to deal­ers. There are two ver­sions of the new bike. The up­right In­ter­cep­tor and the café racer style Con­ti­nen­tal GT only dif­fer in rid­ing po­si­tion and body work, but it’s enough to give them a very dif­fer­ent feel. The GT footrests, mounted on al­loy forg­ings, are three inches fur­ther back, while the swan neck clip-ons drop your hands by a good four inches. En­gine and chas­sis, bar­ring two notches of rear pre-load to marginally in­crease rear ride height and quicken the steer­ing, are iden­ti­cal. The GT’S rider stance is sportier and more ag­gres­sive, and it changes the weight dis­tri­bu­tion, giv­ing more feel to the front end in turns and pro­vid­ing a less wind­blown stance on the high­way. On the GT you can ride harder in the curves around La Honda, and faster on the PCH, but it pitches up­per body weight onto your wrists at lower speeds and places my knees be­low the line of the tank, so they have noth­ing to grip ex­cept

the back of the cylin­der head. A fact ac­knowl­edged by the fit­ting of lit­tle wire guards. The GTS we rode had the op­tional solo seat (no price yet) which re­stricts tall rider’s abil­ity to push back. But the main dif­fer­ence is cos­metic. Do you want clas­sic or the café racer style? I pre­fer the In­ter­cep­tor’s looks and rid­ing po­si­tion, and I think that the en­gine char­ac­ter­is­tics match the stance of the bike bet­ter, but both are great ma­chines. En­field sug­gest that this is a new mar­ket sec­tor with no di­rect ri­vals, but as ret­ros you stack them against the Tri­umph Street Twin and Ducati Scram­bler, which are both more pow­er­ful and bet­ter equipped, but feel less au­then­tic, and the Moto Guzzi V7, which has a sim­i­larly sim­ple ethos, a lot of charm and usu­ally wins Bike’s group test. And there’s also Har­ley-david­son’s 750 Street, which is In­dian made too. In the A2 cat­e­gory they’re al­ter­na­tives to mod­ernist twins like the Kawasaki ER6 and Honda CB500. The En­field’s will hold their own against any of those bikes, and we haven’t started talk­ing about money. The UK price won’t be an­nounced un­til early Novem­ber but in the USA the base model In­ter­cep­tor will cost $5799 (with the GT $200 more), while En­field’s trusty sin­gle-cylin­der 500 Clas­sic is just 5% cheaper at $5599. In the UK the 500 Clas­sic costs £4699, adding 5% to the price would make the In­ter­cep­tor just £4934. If that turns out to be close to the mark, it could be a enough to re­ally shake up the mar­ket.

‘If £4934 turns out to be close to the mark, it could be a enough to re­ally shake up the mar­ket’

Cal­i­for­nia, au­tumn 2018: rst ride of what po­ten­tially could be the big­gest sell­ing big bike of 2019

There will be ve colour op­tions for the GT, and six for the In­ter­cep­tor

No TFT screen, just a trip­me­ter. And chrome

Con­ti­nen­tal GT: more ag­gres­sive and sportier than In­ter­cep­tor

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