“What we’re trying to accomplish, in our own bumbling and gentle way, is World domination.”
So says Royal Enfield’s CEO Siddhartha Lal – not the sort of on-the-record quote you expect from a business leader, especially one whose company is already a world leader in the middleweight motorcycle segment with production in excess of 800,000 units for 2017. But it’s this frankness and a desire to keep motorcycling simple that is endearing Lal’s brand to a growing number of riders. There’s no IMU, TC, DTC or ESP on a Royal Enfield: the only acronym used at the company HQ is KISS – keep it simple, sweetheart.
Since taking control of the then moribund marque in 2000, Lal’s mantra has remained the same. For him, motorcycling is becoming too complicated; people are yearning for the simplicity of riding that existed from the 1950s through to as late as the 1980s. And if you think this is just an excuse to justify building basic motorcycles, a look inside the company’s new multi-million-dollar UK Technology Centre will quickly change your mind. These days it takes a massive investment to make simplicity work.
Lal’s passion for the pure joy of motorcycling is contagious, and it has spread to his workforce. Many of the 115 staff presently employed at Royal Enfield’s Bruntingthorpe technology centre paid for their own tickets to attend the 75th EICMA Milan Show just to be present at the unveiling of the new Interceptor 650 and Continental GT 650 models they had been working tirelessly on for the past few years. They were the same staff members I spent the Sunday afternoon before the Show chatting with while they cheerfully beavered away at their workstations – no one was grumbling about long hours or working on a Sunday surrounded by invited members of the world’s press.It’s been half a century since you could buy a new twin-cylinder Royal Enfield. The last was the Interceptor, made from 1960 to 1970, so it’s fitting that the same name has been revived for one of the two all-new 648cc parallel-twins which made their public debut at Milan. As well as the retro-styled Interceptor roadster, there’s a Continental GT café racer that’s available in either single-seat or dual-seat mode, but technically the two are almost identical, sharing the same engine, chassis and suspension. The two models differ mainly in style. The trad-looking Interceptor has a long, flat seat, teardrop tank and high ’bars. The Continental GT gets a humped café racer seat, lower ’bars and rear-sets, plus a different fuel tank. The ’bars are perhaps a little high for a true café racer stance, but that sop to comfort will no doubt be appreciated by most customers.
Both new bikes are powered by the first Royal Enfield twin-cylinder engine to be built in the modern era, ever since production of its 700cc Interceptor ended when the Redditch-based UK company closed in 1970. Almost 50 years later its Indian counterpart is the World’s largest manufacturer of middleweight motorcycles, with 667,135 examples of its established range of pushrod singles produced and sold in the company’s most recent fiscal year ending on March 31, 2017. A massive 96% of those motorcycles were sold in India, leaving just 4% for export – in spite of which, there’s still a two-month waiting list there for its most popular Classic 350cc model. The opening earlier this year of Royal Enfield’s new third factory at Vallam Vadagal, on a 50-acre site outside Chennai, will allow annual production to expand to 825,000 units during the current fiscal year, and to 960,000 bikes by 2019, with an increasing number of them the two new Twins.
Each of these features the same air/oil-cooled single overhead-cam eight-valve 648cc parallel-twin engine developed at Royal Enfield’s brand-new UK Technology Centre near Leicester. This is fitted with a single gear-driven counterbalancer to reduce vibration from the engine, whose 270º crankshaft is a forged one-piece item for extra strength and durability. Three different types of engine were designed, built and evaluated during early development stages with 180º, 270º and 360º crank configurations. The 270º crank was chosen for reduced vibration, coupled with its classic twin-cylinder engine note.
Simon Warburton, Royal Enfield’s Head of Product Development, admitted that getting the right appearance and riding characteristics from a new engine design is not as straightforward as most people might imagine. “We had to build those three different configurations of engine in order to test them, because there’s no substitute for riding them,” he said. “To get an air/oil-cooled engine to pass Euro 4 and Euro 5 is hard work, but we got there, and our designers got the look spot on.” Measuring 78 x 67.8 mm and with central chain camdrive, this fuel-injected motor employing a Bosch ECU produces a claimed 47 bhp at 7,100 rpm, while maximum torque of 52 Nm is delivered at 4,000 revs. The six-speed transmission features a slip/assist clutch – another first for Royal Enfield. A low 9.5:1 compression ratio denotes a low state of tune, most likely to ensure it runs well even on poor-quality fuel. Simon Warburton explained that the rigorous testing regimes conducted simultaneously in India, Europe, and the UK are unique to Royal Enfield. “In Europe, it’s much cooler, and the roads are faster. In India, it’s much hotter, and the average speed is much slower, so we needed to design a bike that can do both well, plus fuel consumption is a key issue in India, where the quality of fuel is often poor. We have to take all that into account in our development process.”
Tubular steel cradle frame
The tubular steel cradle frame that’s common to both models carrying this new twin-cylinder motor has been developed by Royal Enfield’s subsidiary Harris Performance, and carries a conventional and non-adjustable 41mm fork set at a 24º rake and giving 110mm of wheel travel, with the twin rear shocks operated by the box-section swingarm providing just 88mm of give. 18-inch Pirelli Sport Demon tyres are fitted as standard to the skinny wire wheels, with braking supplied by a single 320mm front disc gripped by a twin-piston caliper, with a 240mm rear. Bosch ABS is fitted as standard, helping to achieve Euro 4 compliance for both bikes. The Interceptor weighs in at 202kg with oil but no fuel, compared to 189kg for the Continental GT, while the low 804mm Interceptor seat height (790mm for the Continental with a solo seat, or 793mm with a passenger) means that most customers will be able to put both feet flat in the floor at rest. No word on pricing, yet – but deliveries will commence in April 2018 of bikes which will be entirely manufactured in India.
Given Royal Enfield’s ultra-competitive price structure in export markets with its singles, expect the company’s new twin-cylinder models to be a fraction of the price of their most obvious rival, the Triumph Bonneville developed just 15 miles away from Royal Enfield’s brand new magnificently equipped UK Technical Centre near Leicester, which opened last year and presently houses 115 employees. They’re led by the company’s top technician Simon Warburton, formerly of Triumph, and Mark Wells, Head of Product Strategy & Industrial Design, whose former company Xenophya Design was responsible for styling several Triumph models. With several other former Triumph employees having moved to Royal Enfield’s new British R&D HQ, these new Indian-made Royal Enfield twins are serious competition for the Thai-built Bonnevilles. However, while Triumph’s current Bonneville models all carry either liquid-cooled 900cc or 1200cc motors, the new Royal Enfields are air-cooled 648cc twins which slot into a market that Triumph doesn’t currently cater for – a sub-Bonneville, authentically retro-styled niche. With the smallest Bonnie now starting at 900cc, the 650 Interceptor and Continental GT are effectively the mid-level bikes that Triumph doesn’t make.
Introducing the new models, Royal Enfield CEO Siddhartha Lal said, “The Interceptor carries forward the Royal Enfield legacy into the 21st century. While in its essence it retains the old-school design and character, it has all the underpinnings of a modern machine. It combines agility, usable power, excellent ergonomics and style in an unintimidating manner. However, the Interceptor is more than the sum of its parts – it’s great fun to ride and brings a smile on your face every single time that you ride it. The engine has been designed to offer the right balance between power, torque and usability, so as to ensure a smooth and unintimidating riding experience. It will offer a broad spread of torque which will make the motorcycle easy to ride without frequently shifting gears.”
Going back to the future for Royal Enfield entails combining a modern OHV middleweight engine design with traditional styling and accessible performance. Siddhartha Lal will be pleased that the new Twins seem to be occupying a place in the market where there are few competitors.
Photo credit: Royal Enfield Motorcycles