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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

2018 Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 - First Impressions

First things first, this is not a blown review with some flamboyant wizardry from behind the lens by our equally flamboyant Krishnendu Kes and Bobby Roy (sorry guys to disappoint, because for this article you all need to deal with just me). This is going to be my first thoughts basis the time I spent with the 2018 Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 (thanks to the amazing Sohib Solomon for giving me that call), as I try and document the excitement of the child who got the candy he was looking for, and that too from a shop where he least expected to find it.



DISCLAIMERA very critical point of this impression is that I got off my 2018 KTM Duke 390 and immediately got on the Interceptor 650, so, I would be drawing a lot of parallels between the two purely from a riding dynamics and ergonomics perspective, so please don't lose your mind over Apples and Oranges shenanigans.


The Motorcycle

Off the bat, the Interceptor looks anything but laid back. The motorcycle in all its iron cladding looks an eager motorcycle that's just split seconds away from going from a complete standstill to being full on berserk. Observe that I chose my words carefully, as I chose to use the word "berserk" and not "maniac" - that's Duke 390 territory. This is very unlike Royal Enfield, which has a stable full of motorcycles which exude a laid-back aura if not total a lack of excitement for me. The motorcycle looks equal bits retro and modern, but more on the retro side in my honest opinion.



There's hardly any plastic bits on the motorcycle and that's a good thing actually because not only it results in absolutely zero panel vibrations because there aren't any, but also, adds to the overall plush feel of the motorcycle. Throwing your leg across the saddle, you are immediately greeted by a plush and soft seat and the south end was happy with the feel. Taking the bike off its side stand and trying to feel the weight of the bike, with both feet firmly planted, I could immediately feel that bike is heavy but equally manageable. The weight distribution on my either leg was perfect and balanced. Even when I was hopping on the bike, or swaying it sideways, I always felt that the weight distribution was just perfect and equal. As a litmus test, I generally put my both feet on the foot peg and try and balance the bike on stand still to see how the weight on either side behaves and to my surprise, the Interceptor gave me a full 3 secs before I had to put both my feet down, not because the motorcycle started tilling, but because I was looking like to total jerk trying to do that on a test ride bike. 3 secs is exactly the same amount of time I am able to balance my Duke 390 which weighs two planets less than the Interceptor

Overall, I felt really really good just sitting on the motorcycle and appreciating it's curves and weight.

Ergonomics

The Interceptor is a Retro and it's supposed to feel like one when you sit on it. I was sitting upright, as I "reached" for the wide handlebar. Yes, I had to reach for the handlebar, primarily because, the handlebar is low and is fairly straight for the rider. For example, the handlebar on my KTM Duke 390, is also relatively straight, but the bar ends angle towards me, so I just hold the handlebar when I am riding the bike, rather than reaching for it. However, when the handlebar is not angled towards the rider, it does two things -

  • 1. Forces the rider to reach for the handlebar and thus putting in more weight on the front and thus deriving more purchase from the front. However, in doing so, I was putting more weight on my palm and after the short ride, my palms were red and a bit uncomfortable. Something that needs a bit of getting used to.
  • 2. Providing for a riding triangle that's a bit forward biased, again allowing more purchase from the from the front and aids sharper handling. Mind it that the triangle is forward biased and not committed - that's the Continental GT territory to some extent.



The switchgear is placed right and is comfortable to operate and everything on the handlebar is neatly arranged and is placed exactly where it needs to be. The two round instrumentation pods continue the retro vibe ahead and provided me with the basic information bits that told me how the needles of enjoyment were treating me and that the motorcycle didn't just die on me.



However, coming from a Duke 390, I sorely missed information inputs like Gear Position indicator, Clock, Range etc. Also, the positioning of the turn light indicator on the console is a bit odd, showing up at the bottom left corner of the console. It really doesn't tell you which indicator you actually activated, as a double arrow indicator blinks weather you have activated the left or the right indicator, and coupled with the fact that from the rider's position, it's actually nearly impossible to see the indicator lights from behind its chrome housing, it's just left on your short-term memory and guess as to which indicator you actually ended up activating.


Having said that, one prominent observation I had about the ergonomics was the placement of the rider foot-pegs. Ideally, when my foot is down, the foot-pegs should always be towards the back of my legs and not in the way. This allows for easy movement of the my legs and also if you are pushing the motorcycle front or back, the foot-pegs doesn't come and hit my legs. However, in the Interceptor, the foot-pegs are right in front of my legs, and they hit my legs every single time I was trying to push the bike back for taking it out of the parking slot. It bothered me so much that I was deliberately trying to place my legs farther out but then realized that it was compromising my stability and I was almost on the verge of slipping while I was trying to push the motorcycle back. So, this is something that riders would need to keep in mind.

Engine

I don't know, I really can't fathom how, but somehow, the engineers at Royal Enfield have been able to produce a 648cc Parallel Twin engine, that's so smooth, that it puts the Japanese to shame - no really, I have ridden Japanese twins extensively and while they are fast, they do make their presence felt. The engine on the Interceptor, on the other hand, is so darn relaxed that won't let a cup full of water placed on the tank move a single nanometer (a little over exaggeration there, but you get the drift). The primary reason for this butter smooth engine character can be attributed to the basic philosophy behind the Interceptor - it's supposed to provide you a relaxed and powerful ride. The engine is supremely under-stressed and the 47 bhp of peak power coming at 7250 rpm and 52 Nm of peak torque coming at just 5250 rpm put an affirmatory stamp that basic philosophy - it's no race machine or a speed maniac for those traffic light GP, it does best what's it's made for - provide a punchy, enjoyable and relaxed ride.



Thumb the starter and I was greeted with the most addictive stock exhaust note I have ever heard apart from Inline 4s. These twins sound nothing like a conventional Royal Enfield. The Twin Exhausts provide a deep rumble and that rumble gets even more interesting as the revs climb up.



The engine was new, and I didn't push it beyond what was required to be done with a new engine, but till 5500 rpm no vibrations of any sort can be felt. Post 6000 rpms and till 6500 rpms, I felt some vibrations on the handlebar, but nothing on the foot pegs, for "the" couple of seconds I was there in that rev range. However, I would like to make a special mention that the vibrations were not buzzy as one would feel on a single cylinder engine, they were some deep, faded and low-frequency vibes that matched with the engine rumble - nothing that would make your hands feel uncomfortable after a ride of any length and duration.

Talking about revs, this Parallel Twin unit is one heck of a free-revving power plant. Generally, I don't like anything which introduces a lag between the action of my right wrist and when the engine revs tend to climb - a gripe that I have with all other Royal Enfield engines. However, the Interceptor slapped me on my face with its statement and boy do the revs climb fast or DO THE REVS CLIMB FAST - it's almost in the territory of my Duke 390, but way less angry in it's delivery and that's a huge accomplishment when you consider the fact that it went having a sluggish rev climb to an exciting rev climb in just one engine iteration.

The gearbox on the Interceptor is another gem. The Slip-Assist Clutch (note that it's not a Slipper Clutch, but it's a Slip-Assist Clutch) is light and I had no problems what so ever operating the clutch with two fingers. The gear transition and shifting (by the way the Interceptor gets a toe shifter - take that!!) is so smooth that I had to re-adjust my expectation for my Duke when I rode it back after taking the test ride. Riding the Duke, I have a habit of shifting fast as I climb through the revs and there was not a single time when I was able to trick the gearbox to into a false gear, it was precise, it was quick and the transition was butter smooth - so much so that every time I hit the sweet spot of transmission, I couldn't even feel the gear transition and it felt like I was riding a freaking automatic.

Now let's talk about the Ride and the Ride Quality, shall we!!

Ride and Ride Quality

Getting the Interceptor off its heels and rolling requires some additional dollops of throttle input, but that's primarily because of the additional "tonnage" it's carrying for its own weight and me on top of it, but it was effortless at the same time. Once on the go, this puppy just goes and keeps on going till the time you do not decide to back off to save yourself from kissing some random rattling sorry ass of a people mover.

The fueling felt precise and the reaction to the throttle input was immediate but not at all jerky - the transition was butter smooth.

The wide handlebar, coupled with the riding triangle makes up for a rather interesting ride experience, something you have to taste first hand. I was riding relatively fast, as I was constantly doing higher 80s, and negotiating through some sparsely thick traffic. I can say that I was not crouching but I felt that I was leaning a bit forward, but my legs were not as rear set as I would have had with such a riding stance on my Duke. So, here I was blasting through the traffic, slightly leaning forward with my legs less rear set. I bit awkward I would say, but then that's just me trying to have fun while thinking about the traffic and hiding my over-enthusiastic glee.

The Interceptor 650 with all its weight is a sharp handler - yes, I know that even I am not "accustomed" to equating a Royal Enfield to handling (remember those "haathi mat paalo" TVC from Bajaj? Well, where's the joke now eh??), but then such is the nature of the Interceptor that I had to throw everything I had in my mind about Royal Enfield's engineering prowess out of the window. Negotiating through tight nooks and crannies between dysfunctional cars and jaded two-wheelers was such a breeze that I was hardly shifting down to drastically bring the momentum down, while the Pirelli Phantom Sportcomps held the tarmac as if they were into a threesome of sorts - be it on a straight line dash or just leaning into corners.

The suspension on the Interceptor is perfectly set up for Indian roads and the motorcycle in its momentum was just gliding over potholes and undulations. In order to check how well the motorcycle holds itself, I took a spin over a surface which closely resembled a lifeless alien planet, and the Interceptor moved and conquered the alien soil as if it was destined to do so - no fuss required!!

A critical factor of Ride and Ride Quality of any vehicle is how effectively it's able to shed its momentum, and here also, the Interceptor outshines the Royal Enfield legacy. The Bosch dual-channel ABS on the Interceptor is a magic. It's intrusive, yes, as it would not allow you to have any kind of fun (and I am not sure if you can switch it off or not), but there were a couple of specific moments where I had to brake really really hard and not only did the ABS saved the day for me, but the way the chassis responded to the sudden and aggressive loss of momentum, that I was punching the air in utter disbelief - is this really the Royal Enfield that have known all these years? Add to that, in one of those occasions, I squeezed the right lever really hard on a surface which had sand and dust mixed into one and still and the Interceptor stopped confidently and without much of a nose dive to disturb it's poise or showing any tendency to bank towards the right.

After the short but hectic ride, the engine did tend to heat up and I felt it even when I was standing a couple of steps back when I parked the motorcycle. This is the month of November that we are talking about when the temperatures are low and soothing. How this engine manages its heat during peak summers is something that I am a bit worried about.

Verdict

Well, after the immensely satisfying ride, I can say this - I am not a Royal Enfield person, I love anything that has two wheels and a good and potent engine and chassis between them, but still, I was never a Royal Enfield person, but if this is what Royal Enfield comes out with to prove me wrong, I am proud of being proven wrong.





Watch out for this space as we would try and bring a complete Ride Review ThrottleQuest style as soon as possible.

Special Thanks to Manzil Motors, Sohna Road Gurgaon for giving me the Royal Enfield Interceptor to Test Ride.

Sajal signing out!!
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2 comments:

  1. Just like you said at the beginning, the article felt like 'a child in a candy store' !

    ReplyDelete

Item Reviewed: 2018 Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 - First Impressions Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sajal Chakraborty
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