Royal Enfield Interceptor review: "there's nothing like it at the price"

Andrew English

At £5,499 on the road, there's nothing quite like the Interceptor, Royal Enfield's first twin-cylinder motorcycle since 1970. "I sold two yesterday morning," says John Hogsden of Enfield dealer Hartgate of Mitcham. "There's nothing like it at the price."

The original Interceptor was introduced in 1960 and these 700cc (later 750cc) twins found a ready market in the US, where there's still recognition for the Royal Enfield name, which is apparently the world's leading maker of mid-sized motorcycles.

Which might explain why last year they launched the new Interceptor in Santa Cruz. Funny how we didn't get invited to that launch and instead got to ride the bike around south London.

While we missed the views of the Pacific Ocean, the Interceptor proved itself as suited to the UK's pockmarked pavement as it would have been cruising California's Highway One. It also attracted a degree of attention which was almost alarming given the parlous state of the UK motorcycle market. Five people came up to ask about it while we were photographing on Wimbledon Common.

So what is it? Highly conventional, that's what, though you tend to count upwards in terms of specification when it comes to this 118-year-old name, which has had a reputation for basic and decidedly retro machines.

The bike is utterly conventional, but that simplicity suits its retro styling Credit: Jeff Gilbert

The frame is a round-tube, welded and painted steel item with a twin gas-shock rear end and curiously wide-set footrests. Wire-spoked wheels looks the part and the Interceptor has single disc brakes front and rear sourced from ByBre, a subsidiary of Italian braking specialist Brembo. They also have a Bosch two-channel anti-lock braking (ABS) system.

The engine is a 47bhp/38lb ft air- and oil-cooled vertical twin. That relatively lowly power output means an A2 licence holder can ride the Interceptor.  

While the weight of 202kg is on par with the competition, the Interceptor has quite a high seat height. The general mien is old school, with large engine casings and gearbox covers (there's plenty to polish), gently rising handlebars and separate instrument dials. The 120mph speedometer contains a simple digital fuel gauge and odometer, but no clock, while the rev counter is red-lined at 7,500rpm.

Although it's thoroughly modern, the engine looks like a classic British parallel twin from the Fifties or Sixties Credit: Jeff Gilbert

Press the starter and the twin fires with a clackety idle which was set a bit high on our test machine and meant the shift into first on the left-foot change was a bit clunky. With peak torque at 2,500rpm you seldom go upwards from neutral, however; the Interceptor pulls from walking pace in second gear.

And it's a joy to ride around town, with a chassis geometry that allows quick changes in direction at low speeds without feeling as though the machine will fall over. Budget 18-inch Pirelli Phantoms grip pretty well, but feel a bit skittish on drain covers and over-banding.

The fuel-injected engine doesn't respond quite as smoothly as some, but it's good enough to provide confidence when rolling on the throttle when exiting roundabouts, when clean fuelling is desirable. I estimate the fuel consumption to be about 50mpg.

As with the rest of the bike, the instrumentation is distinctly retro in style Credit: Jeff Gilbert

I'd forgotten just how many people are trying to kill you on the streets of London and more than once had to thank the strong front brake and its sensitive lever.

On the open road the Interceptor will cruise at 70 to 80mph though you'll need to lat flat on the tank to see the magic "ton". The exhaust note is first rate, much more charismatic than a Triumph Bonneville T100 on standard exhausts.

Faster roads show up the machine's Achilles Heel, however, which is the mediocre damping. Push through the turns and the ride gets bouncy and heaves over longer undulations. At the same time sharper road bumps crash through the frame and sorely test the seat padding.

It's fun and comfortable at low speeds, although upping the pace exposes the mediocre damping Credit: Jeff Gilbert

But will owners push the machine this hard? Most won't and will simply relish the good looks and exhaust note of the Interceptor. It might be on interest to those who have suffered the variable reliability of the company's previous machines that the Interceptor has a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty.

It's a fine machine, with terrific looks and what seems like decent build quality. I was going to say that at this price it can sit at the back of the garage for occasional use without making you feel guilty, but the Interceptor is much more than that; it's great fun, so it would be a crying shame not to use it at every opportunity.

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