Siddharth Lal, CEO of Royal Enfield (RE), called Goa a spiritual home of the motorcycle brand. A full day of riding the new parallel twin-engine-powered RE motorcycles in this little beach-y paradise, and I began to see why.

Royal Enfield’s modern motorcycles are India’s answer to the Triumphs and Harleys. Out-of-league prices for the big bad cruisers? Head to choose from one of the RE’s on offer. Sometimes-jarring vibrations and other little niggles are borne with, just like Goa’s bad bits are overlooked by the teeming tourists who flock to its beaches for that affordable vacation. Oh, and like Goa, the REs’ cult status has gone mainstream too, if sales figures are anything to go by.

Then again, RE bikes mostly made their peace with an entry-level big bike status. People still aspire to get the Harleys, Triumphs, and the likes later on. However, while it may have been a long time coming, RE has finally made the jump. How? By bringing in a brand new parallel-twin 650 cc engine to power two new bikes — the Interceptor 650 and the Continental GT Twin 650 — and pricing them much lower than the competition.

Old school charm

The Interceptor is built very similar to the Royal Enfield Twins of the 1960s. Teardrop tank, wide handlebars, a flat dual seat, etc, make it look right out of a California beach ride picture (the old twins sold in the US as serious performance motorcycles). The naked instrument dials, housed just above the round serrated headlamp give it that retro, raw street scrambler look. The twin exhausts with the chrome finish add some heft to an otherwise compact design at the rear, with the narrow tail-lamp completing the retro look. For an engine that size, RE has managed to make it fit very snugly in a double-cradle frame chassis. Sitting atop the bike, the engine pokes out ever so slightly on either side, but that apart, the design is seamless. The wide, braced handlebars offer an upright riding posture and the knee recesses on the fuel tank let the rider assume a comfortable position. Gold-finish gas canisters mounted on the rear-shock absorbers go well with the rest of the gleaming finish.

The Continental GT 650, on the other hand, picks up where the Continental GT 535 left off, and betters it. The clip-on handlebars are now mounted closer to the rider, to ease the forward-leaning riding position. Thanks to the bigger engine, it also gets a little heft. The rear view mirrors can also be attached on the inner side of the handlebar and not just on the edges. As RE later implied, some of the so-called extremes seem to have been moderated, and these are welcome changes.

Having ridden the Continental GT right after the Interceptor, the riding position was of course more committed, with the footpegs being placed to the rear on the GT, and the gear shift lever orientation being backward. But being a café racer, the GT will cater to a specific audience, while the Interceptor will appeal to a wider section. Apart from these changes that reflect riding style, both the motorcycles are pretty much similar. The Continental GT also gets a single-seat option.

More rumble, less thump

RE pulled the covers off the new parallel-twin engine at EICMA, Italy, in 2017. Since then, speculation on its performance and characteristic has been rife, and expectations ran high. Were they met? Well, yes. The air-oil cooled engine makes 47 hp of peak power at 7,100 rpm, and a peak torque of 52 Nm. A lot of this torque makes itself available at 2,000 rpm and above, so both the bikes left behind other vehicles at traffic lights and after stop-overs.

The 270-degree forged crank helps minimise secondary vibrations, claimed RE, and that was obviously felt during the ride. The internet was abuzz with questions on the vibrations bit, but the new Twins more than take care of them, making long cruises more relaxed and giving the rider confidence at high speeds. The 270-degree orientation also helps the bike start with a murmuring rumble that gets louder and deeper as the throttle is opened. Gone is the trademark ‘thump’, and given the rough-hewn, urban image these bikes project, it’s a welcome change.

Power delivery is linear and smooth, with quick bursts of acceleration feeling especially easy. What will also help rookie riders take to these bikes without too many hiccoughs is the gearbox. The six-speed transmission, a first for RE, is well-accommodating. One can easily shift to sixth at speeds around 60 kmph and let the motorcycles cruise away. Knocking and false neutrals have also been addressed, and unless one has to brake suddenly from high speeds and doesn’t downshift quick enough, there are no qualms. The slip and assist clutch is well-weighted and many fingers and wrists will be thankful for it.

With this engine, the Interceptor and the Continental GT can do three-figure speed cruises all day long. Top speed is said to be around the 170 kmph mark, and highway speeds are an absolute breeze to maintain. In fact, tipping the scales at about 200 kg, the motorcycles manage to extract enough power for effortless fast rides. Given the bikes’ compact proportions, questions were raised on how well the engine would handle heating. An oil cooler along with the air-cooling mechanism has done the job fairly well. In traffic conditions, riders may well feel some heat as the engine operates in lower gears, but it’s not much to complain about.

Ride and handling

Goa’s pothole-ridden stretches put the motorcycles to a bit of a test. The suspension is on the firmer side, and bad bumps can get a little hard. The Continental GT’s suspension preload settings are a tad different, to go with the riding position. But despite the slight hard-ride feeling, it isn’t very jarring and unless the bikes are pushed to 100 kmph and beyond, may not even be too much of a sore point.

ABS is standard and with its intervention and otherwise too, braking was reassuring, with good bite. The front and rear disc brakes get into action with less skids and sideways motion. On cornering too, the bikes performed well, with the Continental GT faring a little better than the Interceptor, as it should. The Pirelli tyres offer a good grip, but knee- and elbow-downs are best left to the pros, given the weight.

Bottom Line

The Standard Interceptor starts at ₹2.5 lakh and the standard Continental GT at ₹2.65 lakh. A 650 cc parallel twin at that cost? Yes indeed, and one that manages to hold its own and churn out an exciting performance. With this pricing, Royal Enfield has taken the game to the competition. The company admits that it could cannibalise its single-cylinder 500 cc offerings and feels that a lot of its graduating-to-a-higher-level customers could well go for these instead. But nonetheless, it will continue to offer those models as well. With on-road prices being around the ₹3 lakh mark, buyers suddenly have a middleweight motorcycle option in an aggressive price range. The ball is now in the competition’s court.