However, the high demand for demo rides meant I only had a couple of days with each bike.
I’m happy to report that after thrashing both bikes through traffic, down highways and over mountain ranges, the 650s live up to most of the hype.
Richard says the previous problems with Royal Enfield chrome tanks have been resolved.
A close inspection at the demo models substantiates a vast improvement in paint and chrome finish.
In fact, the overall quality is a substantial improvement. I pulled the locked seat off the Interceptor and was pleased to find the paint extends right down the tank where you can’t see it and the welds are neat.
Even the initials of the bike builder responsible are hand painted on the end of the tank under the seat.
That’s pride of workmanship, with good reason.
Wiring and cabling is tidy, plastics are smooth, the vinyl seat is good quality and even the footpegs are nice rubber and alloy units.
The only build fault I could find was a slightly gummy weld joint where the headers leave the cylinder on both the Interceptor and GT.
Those who love the retro look will appreciate that Royal Enfield didn’t go to town on the chrome which the original ‘50s/‘60s cafe racers didn’t have.
Instead of acres of chrome, the engine casings and wheel rims are brushed alloy (black rims on some models) which looks understatedly stunning. (Now there’s an oxymoron for you!)
For a $10,000 bike there are quite a few niceties and extras such as twin instrument pods with a tachometer, comprehensive toolkit and lockable fuel cap.
It also sits on retro-style Pirelli Phantom tyres originally made for the Ducati GT1000 and used on the new Triumph Bonneville.
And how many $10,000 bikes come with a centre stand as standard these days, let alone a toolkit? In fact, how many bikes twice the price have a centre stand and toolkit! (Note that the GT does not come with a centre stand.)
The toolkit is in a side panel which is locked with the ignition key. It also has a latch inside that unlocks the seat.
The Interceptor’s seat is soft and quite comfortable, but after two hours in the neutral riding position you sink down into the seat and you can feel the supports underneath.
The seat is 804mm high, but it’s very narrow, so at 183mm tall I could easily get my flat feet on the ground with knees bent.
Pillions will enjoy the thick padding and the substantial grab handle at the back.
Royal Enfield has kept the price down by making this a lo-fi bike. No fancy traction controls and electronic wizardry, although it does have ABS, of course.
The instruments are basic with just two analogue pods (speedo and tacho) and a small LCD screen with readouts for odometer, trip A and B and a voltmeter when running. No clock, ambient temperature, weather forecast or stock market readouts!
And you have to reach over and touch a mode button between the two dials.
The indicators and taillight are also basic and the mirrors are cheap units that come loose over rough roads and blur at highway speed.
The front and rear fender feature cheap and ugly rubber extenders that can easily be unscrewed and discarded for a neater, bobbed look.
Many Royal Enfield enthusiasts are attracted by the slow and methodical pulse of the single-cylinder engine.
These parallel twins have a 270-degree crank like the new liquid-cooled Triumph Bonnevilles, so they are a totally different heartbeat.
And unlike the the 500 singles, you don’t need to schedule a slot in your diary to reach 100km/h. It will reach 100km/h in about six seconds.
Some say it will top 170km/h, but I managed 140 — under controlled conditions, of course!
It will certainly cruise at legal highway speeds in a relaxed manner with very little vibration or hand/feet tingle.
Riders in hot climates will also appreciate the fact that they do not run near as hot as the new scorching Bonnes. The cylinder heads still get quite hot, as you would expect, but there are coated metal protectors so you don’t burn your knees.
The 648cc twin is oil and air cooled with a modest 47 horsepower or 35kW at 7100rpm and 52Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
It doesn’t sound like much, but the midrange is smooth and meaty.
The engine is mated to a super-slick, six-speed gearbox and clutch with a moderate pull so it is easy to use in traffic.
You will need to feed the bike some revs in the first couple of gears for rapid acceleration from the front of the queue at the traffic lights.
If you continue to rev the bike to the limiter and dance on the gearshift you will get maximum results, but you may also hit a few false neutrals. (I didn’t hit any on the GT which has a more direct shifter lever.)