I like the seating position on a Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM) and on classic British iron. I also like their looks. When I was a kid, my mom suggested I try building a model airplane. At the time, I was so young—probably around 7—that I didn’t know that the U.S. and the U.K. were separate countries. In fact, I was so young that I probably didn’t know what a country even was. In other words, I had no idea what I was looking for in terms of patriotic influences. I picked my first model airplane entirely based on looks.
It turned out to be a model of a British Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane. Later, as an adult, I read a review by an American fighter pilot who flew P-51 Mustangs during the war. His comment about the P-51, when comparing it to the Spitfire, was, “You climb into the P-51. You put on a Spitfire.”
Getting on a Royal Enfield INT650 is something like that. No matter how you configure, it is still a tight fit. However, you can customize the position. On top of that, don’t let that 650cc on the side of this motorcycle fool you. I wouldn’t say it is fast, but I would say it is zippy. It is quite a machine, and nothing like the old classic Bullet 500. I bought that bike new, but then donated it to a charity.
The Bike with the Peg Leg
Let’s talk about the “you gotta be kidding me” aspects of the INT650 first. Talk to anybody who is over 4 feet, 5 inches and they will tell you that it is the pegs. Their location makes it seem as if the engineers in the U.K. and India conspired to put them in the worst position their design software could possibly configure. If that was their goal then they nailed it.
Moreover, the rear brake peg is so small that if your boot is too large you might not be able to even find it. There are a couple of custom options, but they don’t really solve the fundamental problem. In other words, eventually you can find something that will “work” but it is the absolute worst part of the bike.
If you are over or around 5 feet, 10 inches and looking for a retro ride, go have a look at a Triumph or a Moto Guzzi V7 III—if you can afford them.
Now for the bad parts. The standard INT650 seat has the padding of a metal yoga mat. No nails, but sitting on it still feels like your bum is practicing yoga in a Russian prison.
Fortunately, there are a lot of entrepreneurs in the U.S., India, and the U.K. that offer solutions. This is where the Royal Enfield Int 650cc starts to shine. Put on some custom foot pegs and a custom classic saddle, and you have a real motorcycle. Custom pegs will help you find something that is near adequate, and you can get a comfortable saddle that will make your Royal Enfield look like it just landed on the dock in 1955.
We will have to put aside the issue that the bike does not have a kick-starter, but neither do the Triumph Speedmaster, T100, T120, or Speed Twin. The Moto Guzzi V7 III doesn’t have one either, but you don’t notice it so much.
To me, a Royal Enfield without a kick-starter looks like a British soldier coming back from France after WWI with a wooden leg. It looks fine, but something is missing.
Retro Touring on a Retro Bike
Nevertheless, once you get the pegs and the saddle sorted out, this motorcycle will surprise the eyebrows right off the top of your face. To name a few relevant bikes, I’ve owned a Yamaha SR400, a Yamaha XS650, a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200, a Triumph Speedmaster, and a Bonneville T100. I have also toured southern U.K. on a restored BSA.
Although it doesn’t have a kick-starter—and everybody knows that a retro ride, like an American football game, starts with a kick—but the INT650 does replicate and refine the late ‘60s and early ‘70s motorcycle ride. I started riding motorcycles around 1968. Would I trade my Triumph 2007 Bonneville T100 for my 2019 Royal Enfield INT650? It is an easy answer: absolutely not.
Here is why. Going from San Bernardino, CA, to Seattle, WA, I-5 is a straight line about 97% of the way. There is an exhilarating exemption. It starts 10 minutes north of Redding, CA, and goes for about 72 miles up to, through, and past Weed, CA. It is the only stretch of I-5 with a series of S-turns, and they go from hair pins at 40 mph to high-speed turns marked for 65 mph.
I called a young friend of mine who has a cherry Sportster 1200. At our first rest stop south of Dunsmuir, he walked over and asked, “What the hell did you do to it?” Nothing. His bike has five gears; mine has six. After a 55 mph turn, I dropped mine back into fifth. I think the rpm went up to about 5,000, but it still purred like a cat. It redlines at 7,000 rpm, but I have no idea why anybody would need to take it to that. Put it in sixth and listen to the engine murmur at 70 mph.
The INT650 the smoothest 650cc motorcycle that I have ever been on. If I had to open up the throttle more at that speed to get away from something, this sporty little Indian-made tiger would still put me off the back of the bike if I were not paying attention.
Does it need more power? Power for what? True, it isn’t a sport bike, but it isn’t an Apache helicopter or a Tomahawk missile, either. Still, this machine is exhilarating. You get to work it. By that I mean that, for an old boomer, its power and torque ratio come together seamlessly.
You get to the top of the first gear exactly when you would want to and when you are ready to shift to fourth. Frankly, a careful rider with a family and a mortgage wouldn’t want to get there any faster. Will it do the ton? I don’t know, but if I were 18, I might want to try and find out. But I’ve been in two motorcycle crashes, so it’s a no thank you from me now.
The bike gets 55-60 miles out of a gallon. In California, the insurance is less than half of that for a Moto Guzzi V7 III, and the aftermarket support is right up there with Harley-Davidson. My custom retro saddle cost me $226 with free shipping. I’m going to put a touring screen on this flash from the past, dress it with some saddlebags, and tour the Pacific Northwest with it.
Be careful. It feels a little top heavy at first, but a brand new one will roll out of the dealership for about $7,200. Is it worth it? Well, put it in a turn at 65 mph on a mountain expressway and then you tell me. It is the most agile motorcycle I have ever ridden, and I wouldn’t want one single horsepower more than what it already has.
2019 Royal Enfield INT650
Distributor: Royal Enfield North America
Engine: 4-stroke, single overhead cam, air-oil-cooled, parallel twin, fuel injection
Power: 47hp @7,250rpm; 38lb-ft @5,250rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, slipper clutch
Dry Weight: 445lbs (claimed)
Seat Height: 32.7in
Fuel Capacity: 3.6gal
Fuel Consumption: 60mpg
Colors: Mark 2, Canyon Red, Ventura Blue, Orange Crush, Downtown Drag, Baker Express, Sunset Strip