While working on next year’s AMH I’ve contrived a new category for my expanded section on overlanding contenders: Feel-good Retro Twins. Doing a trip a la Ted Simon or Steve McQueen’s brief tour of the Swiss border could add a certain old-school frisson to the journey. Or maybe it’s just that this was how the twins that I liked looked in my influential teenage years.
It’s not all down to rosey-hued nostalgia. One good thing about retro style (or plain motorbikes) is that a tank is a tank, not a plastic cover held on by 12 zillion screws and fittings, like the Africa Twin (right). It greatly eases maintenance or fault diagnosis on the road and ought to reduce labour costs. Plastic cladding has become a cheap way of snazzily styling bikes or adapting the look across a model range.
Enfield’s new 650 roadster twin – the Interceptor is one such machine; what you see is what you get: a low-saddled, low-revving plodder which is light and low enough to handle off-highway excursions across alpine meadows while pulling its weight elsewhere and looking good as only modern classics can. There’s a 650 Continental cafe racer too and they say a taller Scrambler may be in the pipeline.
The twins were largely designed at RE’s UK Technology Centre south of Leicester, assisted by many former Triumph engineers who know a thing or two about twins. It shows, and according to those who know, internally Enfield’s 650 engine is a very close copy of Bonnevilles and the like, but rides better in many ways, has six gears and costs about a third less.
Talk of a 650 Scrambler would make sense, given the popularity of the Ducatis and success of the Guzzi’s V85TT. The Himalayan was a big step up from the Bullets but was still recognisably an RE. On the 650 there are a few cheap components which could easily be replaced, but from the look and the feel, the new twin puts RE even closer if not right among its competitors in western markets. That’s a pretty amazing achievement.
• Great price
• Three-year warranty includes roadside recovery
• Looks good, so is the fit and finish
• Very slick gearbox with no drivetrain lash
• Low saddle is comfy enough (and easy to re-foam)
• Engine fuels and pulls smoothly
• Twin shocks easy to adjust or modify. Means no rack needed for throwovers, too
• No complaints about the brakes
For a 270°, motor a bit lacking in character compared to a CP2. A little less silencing may help
Suspension a bit soft (shocks on lowest setting)
Clocks are a bit too retro for me
There are better-looking paint schemes than orange
Felt a bit small for me; taller bars may help
Forum link to a detailed 875mb service manual pdf download (it’s safe).
The first thing that struck me pulling away on the 1300-mile-old Interceptor was how uncannily smooth the motor was. It was almost disappointing that the 270° mill’s character had been so well disguised. The other observation was how exceedingly heavy the steering was. Surely not normal. The front Pirelli looked OK, but I know tyres can appear fine and even feel firm but be down by 10psi.
The seat height of 804mm (31.6″) is nice and low but the bike felt quite small which made me feel a bit exposed after a fortnight riding a plastic-clad NC750X. The motor ticks over steadily (no ineffective Himalayan-style cold-start aids here, just proper efi). It revs freely and the gearbox is amazingly slick with zero slack or lash in the drivetrain, something that spoils so many bikes. It means once rolling, clutchless upshifts take just the merest nudge from the foot. I’ve never ridden a bike which does this so easily.
Coming down some steep, shady lanes off the North Downs, the bike really didn’t feel that safe, so in Reigate I pulled into a Shell and put 32psi in the front. Aired up from who knows what pressure and with the sun now out, this was much more like it, at least when I got a chance to let the RE run on between clumps of traffic or cameras. As always, you can’t help comparing a test bike to what you’ve been riding recently and the lighter 650 didn’t feel as planted at my NC, nor was the suspension anywhere as good. Up Chipstead Way the bike (about 211 kilos with the 13.7-litre tank brimmed) was bouncing all over the place. But the motor was much smoother, if lacking the NC’s punchbag-thumping torque, and the light clutch and gearbox as unintrusive as they get.
Looks-wise, the orange tank with an RE badge and liberal chrome/alloy elsewhere doesn’t do it for me. I’ll take the more recently available batch of pinstriped and painted tanks, especially the black and red with added noire (left). And those bars look like something off my old TS185. One journalist reviewer parroted how the 650s go through no less than a ‘1007-point post-assembly inspection’ to make sure everything is absolutely in order and aligned. Maybe it’s just me, but you’d think they could take a couple of minutes to align the handlebar brace correctly (below). Luckily other bars are available and Triumph twin specialists, TEC have produced a range of 650 accessories, some useful, others just cosmetic but including shocks for just £150.
‘You’re going to enjoy this.‘ said the bloke at the bike shop as he handed me the keys. It should have been my type of machine but, unlike my Himalayan, I was disappointed to find myself under-awed by the Interceptor. Less quiet pipes may help but it feels like they’ve erased much of the character from the twin and reminds me yet again what a great thing Yamaha’s CP2 is – just the right blend of torque, sound and mutted throbbing – but never any harsh vibration. My XSR Scrambler could be a Feel Good Retro contender too.
These days there’s so much good stuff out there that, along with your wallet and looks, all you’ve left to help you decide is your gut instinct. I look forward to seeing how the 650 Scrambler turns out; it might be worth a second look.