The Royal Enfield INT 650 isn’t just a motorcycle, it’s also a romantic vision of the past. This bike is an anachronism in 2020, but in perhaps the best way possible. All of my present-day worries melted away as soon as I sat astride this little black beauty. If you’re impressed by statistics, this bike won’t scratch that itch, but if you seek to connect with a feeling, a soul, a spirit, it’s right here. And damn is it cheap!
(Full Disclosure: Royal Enfield invited me to ride one of its motorcycles. I asked if I could borrow an INT 650 for about 1,000 miles on the Driving While Awesome! Coastal Range Rally. I arranged my own travel and paid for my own food. Royal Enfield arranged for me to pick up the bike from a dealer in Oakland, California. The bike was provided with a full tank of fuel, which I promptly emptied and refilled a few times over three days. I returned the bike in the same condition it was in when I took delivery.)
The Coastal Range Rally is traditionally held twice per year with around 100 automotive enthusiasts hitting some of the greatest roads in California. I’ve participated in the rally a handful of times—always in a car. This time I decided to ask the folks in charge if I could bring a two-wheeled participant for the first time, and they agreed after calling me a damned fool. After being hit by the worst weather imaginable, perhaps they were right.
The rally, for me, began on Thursday. Hauling over the hill from Reno, Nevada to the bay to pick up the bike was unseasonably dry and clear. I had hoped this would be a good omen for how my weekend would go, but alas...
Getting from Oakland to the start point of the rally in Sausalito sent me up and over the bay and down a gorgeous stretch of the 101. To put this into perspective, this was March 12, the day we decided to postpone all Radwood events due to COVID-19. This gave the rally a new significance to me. I knew it would be the last event I would participate in for quite some time, so I had to make the most of it.
The thing that makes the Coastal Range Rally great is how it seamlessly links great roads together without so much as a short transit along straight and boring highways. Every minute of the route is packed with corners, gorgeous views, and off-the-beaten-trail solitude. Skirt the coast, jam up through a grove of redwoods, shoot across hilly farmland, and end up in some far-flung town at the end of the day. How can you beat it? While it’s great in a car, that’s the kind of thing motorcycles were built for!
Rally participants are sworn to secrecy as to the exact route, so I can’t show you a map of the roads used over the three day escapade. The DWA folks work hard to find the best roads possible, and they don’t want a rush of motortourists to clog the roads or turn them into speed traps. I can say that the route took us from Sausalito to Ukiah to Clearlake, so use your imagination a little bit.
I expected this rally for cars to shine a bright light on the flaws of the Royal Enfield more than a traditional back country riding day might. I knew going in that the air-cooled twin’s 47-horsepower would need to be spurred on with copious throttle if I intended to keep up with the BMW 2002s and Alfas that the rally traditionally attracts. And keeping up wasn’t optional, as without a way to read the rally route book, I’d be lost in a second without a four-wheeled navigator.
Royal Enfield is the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, continually making two-wheeled conveyances since 1901. While the company was originally founded in England, it began licensing its bikes for production in India in 1955. By 1978 an influx of Japanese motorcycles killed off the British arm of the company, but they continued selling in India unimpeded.
The inexpensive thumpers from Royal Enfield still have 1950s origins, which is fine for its home market, but Americans and Europeans expected more power and quality from their motorcycle purchases. For the 2019 model year, RE introduced the new INT 650—and its Continental cafe racer-style sibling—with a new parallel twin engine, and a new Harris Performance-designed steel tube chassis. The Indian bikemaker also invested heavily in a new quality control program to bring itself up to snuff.
The INT 650 is styled in the same vein as any number of other motorcycles that come to mind when you think “standard.” It’s an amalgam of every great vintage motorcycle design with two welcome modernisms in the form of electric start and ABS. Otherwise, this bike could be straight out of 1965. It’s simple, and that’s by design. If you don’t want a bunch of stuff on your motorcycle, and the idea of a heated seat makes you spit, maybe this is for you.
Royal Enfield says the INT 650 weighs about 450 pounds without fluids. In riding the thing, it feels much lighter on its feet than that. Even with a steel frame and a 650cc air-cooled twin, it’s nimble and jaunty. Ducati says the Multistrada 1260S I tested just before the Enfield weighs 467 pounds dry, and the difference between these two feels far more than 17 pounds.
It’s a simple bike that I don’t need to spend a lot of time explaining. There isn’t any cool tech, there aren’t any innovative features. It’s a seat, wheels, an engine, and handle bars. Simple as that.
I have never been colder than I was riding this motorcycle in northern California. Following an overcast and chilly day of riding up the coast on Friday, which was quite a lot of fun and proved the bike’s mettle, Saturday started wet and frigid. I stopped by a Walmart to pick up a $4 crew neck sweatshirt and a scarf to help insulate me, and I’m so glad I did. Without any kind of windscreen or fairing, my upright chest was beat against a wall of icy wind for hours at a time, but I maintained composure and trudged onward. This is the bed I made, and I was determined to lay in it.
Leaving Ukiah on Saturday, we turned up into the hills, blasting through the fog layer. If you’ve ever ridden in fog, you know it’s a deep and penetrating wet. That got worse as the fog turned to rain, and the rain ultimately developed into snow. In short order my fingers grew numb before settling into a biting pain. Even with rain pants on, my legs were dry but extremely cold. Press on regardless—that’s what a rider from the 1960s would do.
The Royal Enfield was unfazed by any of it. Despite pulling over to warm my gloves on the bike’s exhaust and my finger tips by my breath, I passed a number of people with windshields treading carefully on summer-compound tires. The wet and cold pavement was no match for the narrow Pirellis, carving through the slush and keeping both of us upright. I found myself a good pace that was a mix of cautious for the weather and speedy for the need to get back to sea level as quickly as possible.
Once down the other side of the grade, the warmth of a 50 degree day enveloped me like the embrace of an old friend. By lunch time I was mostly dried out and having a great time. The pavement was damp or drying for the remainder of Saturday, but I was able to really lean into the corners and put the power down coming out of them. This motorcycle is confidence-inspiring in that you know it has relatively low thresholds of performance, but you are never encouraged to step beyond them. I had an unspoken agreement with the INT 650 that neither of us would do anything stupid—well, anything more stupid than riding in snow and ice.
This is an endearing motorcycle. It want’s to be your friend, and you want to invite it to your birthday party. It looks and feels familiar to anyone with riding experience, and is as unintimidating as motorcycles can get these days. It’s not particularly great in any particular area, but it’s pretty good at all of them.
The air-cooled twin is old-school cool. It’s got a great, classic noise, which the dealer demonstrated sounds even better with a set of S&S slip-on mufflers. The power delivery is pretty smooth, but if you want to go fast, it’ll take a whole lot of grip twist to accomplish. Even with a long straight stretch, I found triple digits out of reach, maxing out around 87 miles per hour. It’s perfectly comfortable cruising at 75 on the freeway at around 5,000 RPMs in 6th gear. Acceleration is nice, even with a big boy like myself onboard. the six-speed gearbox with nicely spaced ratios helps, for certain.
This motorcycle excels at uphill grades, with plenty of low-end grunt and excellent gearing. While I normally prefer riding downhill, getting the most out of every sweeping curve, a combination of the not-quite-enough brakes of the INT 650 and the wet weather had me braking early and often with unpleasant results. Even with the bike’s Bosch ABS, I found myself occasionally locking the rear wheel into downhill corners in the wet. The brakes were competent enough in most situations, but sustained downhill braking had them heating up quite a bit, as evidenced by the noxious smell and increasing brake zones. If the bike were mine, I’d want a better pad compound.
Ergonomically, I quite liked the RE. The wide handlebars are in a ready position, and the foot pegs offered reasonable comfort. The large fuel tank required a cowboy stance, but it was easy to get used to. The Continental model’s fuel tank has knee cutouts, but its fuel capacity suffers as a result. As a personal preference, I’d rather have the extra fuel capacity than a marginally narrower seating position. The seat had enough cushion to keep me sitting pretty, and overall, the INT 650 felt sporty without being too stiff or poorly laid out. Royal Enfield describes the INT’s ergonomic setup as having a “gentle sports bias”.
While I did find my back and knees hurt a little after four hours or so in the saddle, I never reached a point where I couldn’t press on. I just slept all the more soundly in my hotel each night as a result.
The bike’s 3.61 gallon fuel tank was perfectly suited for this rally. I was able to go long stretches between far flung towns without needing to stop for fuel. I was able to log around 60 miles per gallon. With over 200 miles of fuel range, you can do a lot of ripping before you have to pull over. And I do mean ripping, as I scored that fuel economy while pushing the bike to its limits. For hours at a time I was running all the way out to redline with every shift. I’m truly impressed.
The number one great thing about this bike is the price. With a starting price of just $5,799, it has all of the style of a Triumph Bonneville at half the price. And damn, what a style it has!
It’s so incredibly easy to use. If you’re looking for a starter bike, there are a lot worse places you could look. It’ll make an experienced rider smile, but it’s forgiving enough for a beginner.
The chassis and suspension are punching above their weight class. This bike has enough grip and compliance to take on bigger brands. And the engine is competent enough to make it all work as a great package.
The Bosch-sourced fuel injection system gives this bike incredible throttle response.
The shifter is smooth, fluid, and oh so nice. And accurate, to boot. I didn’t find a single false neutral in three days of hard charging.
Fuel economy. Range. Comfort. This bike has it all in spades.
I found the brakes and the ABS system underwhelming. Getting tripped up by cold and wet roads is pretty much unacceptable in 2020, but this bike lives in the 60s, and it’s acceptable for that era.
It’s not exactly fast. 47 horsepower is fine, but it certainly won’t set the world on fire. Then again, not every bike needs to set the world on fire. The world is on fire enough as it is, thank you very kindly.
The gauge cluster has a speedo, tach, fuel gauge, and odometer, which is nice, but the screen in the cluster showing fuel and mileage looks like it was cribbed from Texas Instruments circa the TI-87.
I understand that corners have to be cut to save money, but I do wish they weren’t quite so visible. No LED lights, no digital gauges, no trick electronics. It’s true to its roots, but maybe a little too true.
For the price, I think it’s well worth it. But I’d probably invest in a flyscreen, those S&S pipes, and a better set of brake pads.
And if you’ve made it this far into the review, you deserve to see a few photos of me making an absolute fool of myself. Our route took us down out of the hills out to the Pacific Ocean a few times, and at one of our stops, a few folks drove their cars out onto the beach for a photograph.
Peering out over the flat rocky beach, I said to myself, “Yeah, that backdrop will look great for my review.” So I punched the starter button and followed them out. What I had expected was a hard packed rocky dirt, but what I got was a very fine and thin silty sand sitting among the rocks and my rear tire immediately sunk four inches.
Thankfully I was able to keep the revs up and walk it out of the deep stuff, but unfortunately a friend with a camera was on hand to document my failure in judgement. No damage was done, except to my fragile ego.