MCN Fleet: Video round-up of 2020 with the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650
See the video above to find out what Gareth thinks of the Interceptor after spending 2020 riding, modifying and working it.
Update 8: Further afield on our Enfield
First published 25/11/2020
After 2020’s false start, I’m thrilled to tell you I’m finally getting some longer rides in on the Interceptor to discover what it’s like over distance. I’ve been on a number of three figure-mile days out recently, both on my own and riding with friends, cruising and at higher speeds, so I’m getting a good feel for this hugely popular Royal Enfield 650 and how it can keep up with more expensive machinery – like MCN Editor Rich Newland's long-term test Africa Twin.
Rich and I went out for a dusk dash, circumnavigating Rutland Water and the epic surrounding roads one sunny evening a few weeks back. The routes there are simply spectacular, but so’s Rich’s riding, so it was very interesting to see if the Inty, its 47bhp engine and I could keep up.
I have to say, following the Honda through the fast, 60-70mph sweeping bends on Empingham Road I was pinned at full throttle, so I was seriously glad for my choice of suspension upgrades. The K-tech kit’s damping is so finessed and accurate compared with the standard setup – particularly at the rear. It’s given the bike a whole new lease of life for this sort of ride: I wouldn’t have felt comfortable at anywhere near those speeds on the slow reacting OEM shocks because the rear end would hop around so you never knew how much connection the rear tyre had with the road.
It’s where K-tech’s decades of racing expertise comes to the fore. It’s far less tiring, too, because you know it’s going to glide over most road imperfections, and you don’t have to use as much core body strength to keep it pointing in the right direction. I’m keeping a very close eye on tyre pressures following my flat a little while ago, and the ContiRoadAttack 3 CRs remain impressive, which really helps to highlight the brilliance of the Interceptor’s fundamental chassis design. It’s engaging, nimble and predictable. A joy to ride. Sure, it’s nowhere near as quick as the Africa Twin, but it can just about hold its own on a spirited road ride.
It’s not all great news, however. I’m struggling a little with finding neutral after I’ve been riding for a while. Pulling up to a standstill I’m often found kicking up and down between first and second searching for an elusive green N on clocks.
Now, this could be rider error, but I’m not so sure – I’ve tried everything I can think of but now and then, for seemingly no reason, the Enfield just won’t pop out of gear without instantly finding another. I suspect some adjustment may be required to the lever or switch, but I’m yet to spend time diagnosing the issue. On the subject of controls, the Tec brake and clutch levers I installed in my last update are a brilliant upgrade. They’re beautifully built, but more importantly feature six-stage reach adjustment so my odd shaped XXL hands are catered for.
Which is fantastic news, really, because it means more confidence and even more miles under my belt. But the weather’s drawing in now. Will there be any winter woes to worry about? The next few months will reveal all...
I’ve got one: Pip Wellsteed
"Overall the bike has been excellent. Exactly what I wanted it to be, simple and uncomplicated, just back to basics so you can enjoy the ride. The Enfield attracts so much interest from all walks of life – coffee breaks can take ages! The eight hours and 300 miles we did in Storm Alex would have been awful on any bike but the Enfield didn’t miss a beat.
"SW Motech Legends luggage is awesome, and looks the part on the bike, and the weight saving of aftermarket silencers compared to the OEM cans is ridiculous! I have the TEC cannons, and they look and sound great too."
Update 7: Intercepting bad luck
First published 10 October 2020
It’s been a frustrating few weeks with the Interceptor, but I’ve learnt some useful lessons. In my previous update I was almost evangelical about my new Continental rubber, and irony came home to roost just days later when an unexpected rear-end wiggle on a local B-road told me most of the air had evacuated my tyre.
Rescued by the hugely friendly, highly knowledgeable and Harley-riding Charles from SOS Motorcycle Recovery on behalf of Royal Enfield’s flat tyre roadside rescue service, and returned to my workshop at home, I started investigating the problem.
It didn’t take long to work out the carcass of the tyre was in perfect nick, and the valve was letting air through. Since these tyres still use inner tubes thanks to the spoked wheels, the diagnosis called for a new tube. Whether it was pinched or rubbed through I’m not sure, because I couldn’t be there for the repair itself, but it’s got me wondering whether I should think of switching to tubeless for added peace of mind.
Along the way I also figured out how to remove and reinstall the rear wheel, then checked and adjusted chain tension at the same time. Royal Enfield have great videos on basic maintenance – and it’s an easy bike to work on.
While it was parked up I took the chance to order some cosmetic upgrades to fix a few of the less appealing parts on the Interceptor. A call to Tec later, and a beautifully packaged box arrived the next day containing a metal chain guard (£49.99) to replace the ugly plastic item, and a set of black adjustable clutch and brake levers (£38.99) to swap with the fixed OEM items the bike comes with.
The result? I love the look – gloss black blends so much better with the K-tech shocks and S&S pipes for real modern-classic appearance - but I can’t tell you how they perform yet: I snapped the clutch lever pivot bolt in half while removing the standard lever.
Given my recent luck it isn’t surprising you can’t order just the bolt itself – Sycamore in Peterborough had to order the whole lever assembly, and I’ll have fitted it by the time you read this. It costs £21.98, so while it’s irritating, it isn’t the end of the world. What next? I’m done fitting bits. It’s time to get out there and enjoy this bike properly while we still have some decent riding weather. Did someone say ‘road trip’?
Update 6: Shockingly good move
First published 21 August 2020
There isn’t a lot wrong with the way the Interceptor rides. That’s clear by the sales figures as much as anything else – it was among the UK’s best-selling bikes during June 2020. Sure, it’s cheap, but that sort of success doesn’t come off the back of a low list price alone.
However, with low cost inevitably comes compromise, and so we find a bike that’s been fundamentally designed well, but using some bits from the cheaper end of the parts bin as finishing touches.
That isn’t to say anything about the 650 twins is substandard; more that it’s built to a budget. This also means it’s a great base for simple yet significant improvements. I’d decided to turn my attention to the handling, which, if you’ll remember back to my earlier updates, was one of the things I thought could be better.
For me, the issue was two-fold: the standard Pirelli Phantom tyres weren’t great because their round profile, hard compound and classic tread pattern meant I didn’t have as much confidence as I’d have liked mid-bend – particularly in the wet. This was addressed with the fitment of some Continental RoadAttack 3 rubber (front - 100/90 R18 M/C 56V TL, rear - 130/80 R18 M/C 66V TL), which have been designed for all-weather performance on classic endurance racing bikes.
Costing £184 a pair, these immediately transformed the way the Interceptor felt. Turn-in is more linear and I’ve got loads of confidence to push on in corners because there’s considerably more grip on offer at every angle of lean. I’m keen to try these in the rain to see how their tread pattern slices through standing water but so far the difference between these and the Phantoms is chalk and cheese.
And secondly the Interceptor’s suspension struggled to keep up with itself, and I often found the tail bouncing a bit too much for my liking along the rutted, cambered B-roads I live along. Luckily, at the just the time I was giving this some thought, I came across a news story about K-tech’s new range of fully adjustable forks and shocks for the Interceptor. A phonecall later and I’d got the bike booked into their on-site bike setup facility at their factory in Derbyshire.
The system I’d gone for couples the firm’s Tracker fork cartridges, which feature adjustable compression and rebound damping along with spring preload adjustment (£594), with the Razor rear shocks (£954), which retain the twin coilover design Royal Enfield intended, but are of far higher quality and have compression, rebound, spring preload and length adjustment.
And the verdict? I’m blown away. Within seconds it was obvious this was a different ballgame. Bumps and ruts disappeared as I learnt to ride with a new-found enjoyment – not in going particularly quickly, but in the ability to adjust midcorner and really get into a rhythm with my riding. It’s not a hard ride, either – there’s a decent amount of travel but the damping accuracy is exceptional. My handling project is now complete so it’s time to learn to live with this new setup and do some longer trips, and later in the year, the Enfield’s first trackday…
Update 5: Posh Pipe Dreamin'
First published 21 July 2020 by Gareth Evans
I’m still in the honeymoon period with the Interceptor, loving every single ride, but if my back was against the wall, I’d say that my biggest criticism was its soundtrack. It’s just a little flat.
Thankfully, there are myriad options for remedying this, and my search for a set of new slip-ons found me lusting after this pair of beautifully crafted pipes from S&S Cycle – a firm that works very closely with Royal Enfield (and Harley-Davidson, and Indian…). USA-based S&S produce a range of performance upgrades for the Interceptor aimed at improving rider enjoyment. More smiles-per-mile sounds great to me, so it was time for some heavy breathing.
What’s on the menu?
This little project took the form of the pair of pipes (£548), which save around 6kg over the hefty standard items, and also a new high-flow air filter kit (£62.50) complete with restrictor removal plates (£27.28). I’m told these latter two additions mean 95% better airflow into the engine, which should ensure improved throttle response as well as a subtle power boost.
It was an absolute cinch, too – a simple job with big returns. I did the filter first, which involves removing the seat and opening the airbox to get at the restrictor plate. Unbolt that and the standard filter is exposed. You simply remove, then replace with the S&S filter, and bolt the trio of restrictor removal plates on to keep the new element secure.
Next up were the pipes, once I’d finished drooling over their brushed steel finish – their build quality really is exceptional. I needed a set of gaskets from Royal Enfield (£12.52) sourced from Cooperb in Wellingborough, as the standard ones crumbled in my hand when removing the stock pipes.
Past that, you simply unbolt the bracket and then unbolt the pipes from the bike’s frame and pull them away. Then reverse the process to install the new pipes. Easy.
So what do you reckon?
The result, once the ECU had sorted its fuelling out, is a dramatic improvement. The throttle feels so sharp it’s almost telepathic, and the twin’s new music is just fantastic. It’s not too loud until around 5000rpm, but still every single combustion event is like a party in my lid.
Furthermore, I saved a whopping 6kg off the weight of the considerably bigger standard cans. You can see the difference in the image above. It’s going to take a while to wipe this grin from my face…
Update 4: Interceptor's proving pretty popular
First published 07 July 2020
I’m a huge fan of the Interceptor for a number of reasons – its looks, the way it rides, its simplicity, and of course its £5699 price tag for a standard bike, which includes full manufacturer warranty.
But it seems I’m not alone, because figures announced today by the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) show it was the best-selling ‘big bike’ (over 125cc) in the country during June.
The firm sold 196 bikes in the month, with only the hugely popular Honda PCX 125 scooter selling more, at a whopping 445 units in the same timeframe. The Interceptor outsold every other naked in what is the most popular bodystyle of bike currently on sale. Second spot goes to the Adventure Sport class, which includes bikes like the BMW R1250GS.
Have you been one of the lucky buyers who’ve got the keys to an Interceptor? I’d love to hear what you think of the bike, and about any modifications you’ve carried out. Why not send me an email and get in touch? Gareth.Evans@motorcyclenews.com - cheers!
Update 3: Lockdown life - charged and ready to go
First published 27 May 2020 by Gareth Evans
Sure, we’re still enduring restrictions due to coronavirus, but that hasn’t stopped me dreaming about what I’m going to do with this bike once the lockdown’s lifted. Having been an avid motorsport fan for most of my life, and in particular a historic racing enthusiast, I’ve decided the natural fit for it would be to see how quickly it’ll go around a circuit. If you think that sounds like an optimistic leap of faith for a relatively green biker like myself, I’d probably agree, but then this wouldn’t be my first visit to a track. I’m just more used to four wheels than two.
And anyway, I’ve got a seriously speedy secret weapon up my sleeve: I’m going ask for some tips from Neevesy, who when not running the Road Test desk on MCN or racing himself, has spent years instructing at the Ron Haslam Race School.
He recently presented a video on the common road-to-track mistakes for MCN’s Youtube channel (youtube. com/motorcyclenewsdotcom). It’ll also allow me to indulge in more fixing and fettling along the way, which I’m rather excited about. I’m considering the wisdom of fitting the slightly sportier seat from sister bike the Continental GT, following some advice on Facebook, and I’ll be trying new tyres out too for extra grip and feedback. I’m keen to hear from anyone out there who’s tracked an Interceptor already: what did you do to make it go quickly? You’ll be able to find out what I did later this year, as I’m planning on entering the Bike Shed Festival on this 650…
Still, while it’s been tucked up in my workshop at home over the past few weeks, I’ve had some small jobs to do just to keep it primed and ready for action after a long stint under lock and key. I’d ordered an Oxford Oximiser 900 charger (£31.24) to keep the battery healthy, but I’d need to remove the latter first. It’s nestled under the triangle black panel with the Royal Enfield logo on the side, and removal involves a key, four bolts, one rubber belt, a wiring clip to break the circuit and the two screws for the positive and negative hook-ups. After wiring battery to charger this unit does the job all by itself, analysing and selecting the appropriate mode for your battery at the time. Couldn’t be easier, and it’s valuable peace of mind.
Update 2: First impressions count, but don't judge a bike by its key
First published 09 April 2020 by Gareth Evans
A key can say lots about a vehicle. So it was slight trepidation that I took the plain, lightweight Royal Enfield-branded item into hand a few weeks back.
Would the bike, which looked impressively finished in promotional pictures, stand up to close scrutiny in the metal? Or was it destined to corrode the second I looked at it and fall to bits the moment I swung a leg over? With a price tag as low as the Interceptor’s, quality is a logical concern. And let’s not forget it’s made in India by a firm that builds nearly a million new bikes every year, mainly for less pernickety emerging markets. This’ll go one of two ways.
However, my first inspection of the bike waiting outside revealed nothing but a pleasant surprise. It looks like a brilliant proposition, and – considering my relative lack of bigger- ike experience - a great learning platform. A twist of the key to ignition position and the old-school clocks illuminate in an appealing violet hue, displaying a rev counter with 7500rpm redline on the right, while on the left the 120mph shown on the speedo seems optimistic given the A2 licence-compliant 47bhp on offer from the parallel-twin motor. But nevertheless, I’m not a rider pining for points on my licence and neither is my talent anywhere near taming a 200bhp superbike.
No, I’m here for the thrill of my local country lanes, blasting between airfields, under viaducts and over humpback bridges. Thumbing the ignition, the starter motor spins the air-cooled engine into life with a reserved bark that quickly settles into a consistent pleasing aural tattoo.
Waiting for some heat to soak in before my first ride, I took the opportunity to inspect the bike’s mechanicals. I love that machined metal crank case, the curves blending well with the Interceptor’s distinctive twin exhausts. These softer shapes are in stark contrast to the horizontal cooling fins on engine and radiator, making for a purposefully nostalgic look. Anyway, I’m here to ride, and once onboard the seat is comfortable for someone of my proportions; it should be fantastic for longer jaunts. A twist of my right hand and the engine responds almost instantaneously. The clutch isn’t heavy, the gearbox feels solid, and the brakes and handling seem friendly. It’s not perfect, of course, but a few mods could change that…
Update 1: Interceptor 650 has classic appeal
First published 11 March 2020
As a new-ish rider, the modest 47bhp the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 boasts carries big appeal – I want to learn to get the best from it, rather than spend 2020 simply holding on for dear life.
But it also speaks to my love of classic machinery, style and engineering too, with the simplicity of an old-school design and retro aesthetics married to the home comforts of modern running gear and, hopefully, reliability.
What an exceptional Sunday. pic.twitter.com/X8PvJobQ5e— Gareth Evans (@GarethEvansUK) March 8, 2020
Here’s hoping for long summer evenings rumbling along my favourite country lanes, and maybe some admiring glances from like-minded classic fans.
The rider Gareth Evans, MCN Online Editor, 36, 6ft. Riding six months, likes commuting and rural runs. Gareth.firstname.lastname@example.org
Bike specs 648cc | 47bhp | 202kg | 804mm seat height