Royal Enfield is a brand that doesn’t get a ton of recognition in the US, despite having operated continuously for over a century around the globe and in America since 2015. To try and rectify that, Enfield decided to double its cylinder count on two new models: the Interceptor 650 (known as the INT650 here in the US) and the Continental GT (no relation to , natch). These models are very much back-to-basics motorcycles, and they’re offered for a seriously attractive price — but are they any good?
Typically, I’d save the bit about pricing until the end of one of these reviews, because riding experience often goes a long way toward justifying a model’s price. In the case of the Interceptor 650, the opposite is true, but it’s not a bad thing.
The Interceptor 650 starts at just $5,799, which is pretty wild when you consider what you’re getting. To start, the INT650 (and its more cafe-racer-looking sibling, the Continental) is powered by an old-fashioned, air-cooled, 648-cc, parallel-twin engine with a 270-degree firing order. That last bit matters because it takes an engine configuration lacking aural personality and makes it sound better and feel rowdier, especially with the big, chrome two-into-two exhaust pipes that the INT is sporting.
The engine is fuel injected (this is 2020, after all) and good for 44 horsepower, which doesn’t sound like much because it isn’t. Yet, the Interceptor 650 has no trouble propelling itself to freeway speeds. The engine also does something that air-cooled engines are known for: It smells a bit like oil when it warms up. It’s a weird thing that I love, but it helps to sell the “new old bike” experience that Royal Enfield is going for.
Upon hitting the road on the INT650, the first sensation I get is that while it doesn’t look, feel sound or smell like a new motorcycle, it starts easily and goes into gear without complaint, even while cold. The throttle is smooth, and while the engine doesn’t offer the last word in response, there is no herky-jerky feeling which can plague modern bikes trying to hit emission targets.
The next thing I notice about the Interceptor is the sound. This thing sounds great. It’s deep and burbles along at low revs, but opens up into a proper growl once you hit the upper end of the bike’s modest rev range.
Acceleration is decent if not overly brisk, and I never find myself in real need of more power, even when entering a freeway. It’s here that the bike’s six-speed gearbox pays dividends, allowing you to do more with less power. The gear shifts aren’t spectacularly slick, but they feel accurate enough, with nary a false neutral to be found. True neutral is always where I expect it to be, and the clutch is smooth to modulate, if a bit heavy at the lever.
Given the INT650’s old-school vibe, you might expect the bike’s chassis and suspension to offer a similarly classic (read: sloppy) feel. But it doesn’t. As a larger rider, I will say that the suspension is the weakest point on the bike, but it’s by no means bad. The front uses a nonadjustable right-side-up fork and the rear is a pair of preload-adjustable shocks with little piggyback reservoirs on them.
The ride quality around town is fine, but push the bike at all or hit a big bump at speed, and you’re likely to find the limit of travel pretty quickly. There is room for improvement here, and with the bike’s asking price, I’d be OK with spending a little extra in the aftermarket to change springs and fork oil for a slightly less-compliant ride.
Braking is surprisingly decent, too. The single front brake uses a Brembo caliper and clamps a 320-millimeter disc. The rear brake uses a single 240-millimeter rotor and single caliper. There are some surprises in store, too: Not only has Royal Enfield managed to fit this bike with Bosch dual-channel ABS as standard, it also packs a braided stainless steel brake line, which goes a long way towards improving brake feel at the lever.
Stopping performance is adequate for a bike at this level of performance, and I never found ABS to be too intrusive, even when braking in a deliberately hamfisted manner to try and provoke it. The brakes feel consistent after several hard stops, but I don’t think I’d trust them on a racetrack, for example.
From an ergonomic standpoint, the Interceptor is pretty neutral. It’s upright and offers plenty of legroom, even for taller riders. The seat height is a very approachable 31.6 inches, so smaller riders will have little trouble getting at least one foot flat on the ground at a stop. The long, flat seat of the Interceptor is excellent for riding two-up but lacks padding, the main limiting factor on longer rides.
The hard seat paired with the overly soft suspension is a recipe for the kind of bruise you get, but really, really don’t want when you hit a bump at freeway speeds. Ask me how I know.
In any case, other highlights on the Interceptor include classic-looking analog twin gauges that offer a digital fuel gauge and trip computer, but no gear indicator. The gauges are very easy to read and look a bit like the Smiths gauges you’d find on a classic Brit bike, only they work. The large fuel tank is very nicely finished with a flip-top cap and sparkly orange paint on my tester.
Bonus points, too, for the tank actually being metal, along with basically everything else on the bike. If it looks like chrome on the Enfield, it’s likely really chrome. The plastics are acceptable, if not exceptional, and the bike’s switchgear is sensibly laid out and easy to use. That a motorcycle at this price feels like a well-built machine really says something about Royal Enfield’s efforts at upping its quality control for a global marketplace.
2020 Royal Enfield INT650 first ride: You don’t have to pay a lot to look good
Motoring around LA, I never feel like I’m a guy on a cheap, beginner-friendly bike. I feel like a badass as I roar away from stop lights or lean the bike over in turns. I smile in my helmet as the sun glints off of the Enfield’s chrome and deep, sparkling tank paint.
As a bonus, Royal Enfield is sufficiently self-aware to acknowledge people’s possible reservations (British “man in a shed” engineering jokes run deep) and offers both the INT650 and the Continental GT with a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty.
The Royal Enfield INT650 is certainly a bike that is both inexpensive and easy to ride, but it doesn’t need you to make excuses when people ask what you’re riding. It’s something I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anyone getting into motorcycles, because it delivers on all the promises that motorcycles in movies and on TV make without being scary or stressful. Ultimately, this is a motorcycle I’d consider putting in my own garage, and maybe you should, too.