Riding motorcycles in India is a unique experience for those habituated to the relative predictability of American, Japanese, and European roads. For one thing, there are a lot more cows—and they tend to be on the road.
That’s just daily life for the millions of riders aboard the small motorbikes that bob and weave through traffic and carefully pass the sacred cows who saunter peacefully about without restrictions. The cows know that vehicles will stop for them or just pass by slowly, so they stroll around lazily before plopping down on medians and roadsides to rest. For those of us in India for the first time—to ride Royal Enfield’s new Super Meteor 650—the wandering cows were just one more oddly exhilarating spectacle to deal with on the seemingly chaotic roads.
Categorized as a touring cruiser by Royal Enfield, the new Super Meteor isn’t just a tweaked Interceptor 650 or Continental GT. With a new frame, a feet-forward riding posture, a relaxed bar, and a dished seat, the Super Meteor is Royal Enfield’s latest effort to expand its rider base and rising profile both in and outside India. After several hundred miles in the saddle, it’s clear that the domestic riding experience we encountered has heavily influenced many facets of the Super Meteor’s design.
History and a Pair of Twins
In 1994, Enfield Motors was brought under the control of the Indian multinational corporation Eicher Motors Limited after decades of producing 350 and 500cc singles based on post-war designs in India. The parent company Royal Enfield shuttered in the U.K. in the late 1960s. Rechristened as Royal Enfield, the iconic Bullet singles received a complete and modern redesign.
In 2017, the Interceptor 650 and Continental GT 650 parallel-twins debuted, produced at a new state-of-the-art factory in Chennai. The bikes received positive reviews worldwide, despite producing just 47 horsepower from the air/oil-cooled 270-degree engine. For comparison, the liquid-cooled twin of a Kawasaki 650cc Versys puts out 65 horsepower.
That same engine powers the new 531-pound Super Meteor, although Royal Enfield described it as the 2.0 version due to some cylinder head revisions and other minor tweaks. It also sports a matte finish as opposed to the classic round and polished cases on the Interceptor and GT. Performance figures remain the same, as does the six-speed gearbox.
A non-adjustable Showa USD fork with 4.7 inches of travel is also new, while twin rear shocks with preload collars and four inches of travel ride out back. Wheels are cast instead of spoked as on the GT and INT650, as the Interceptor is known in the U.S.
Low-slung exhaust pipes make room for either soft or hard optional saddlebags. The Super Meteor 650 will come in two versions, including a factory-accessorized Tourer variant with a windscreen, upgraded saddle, and a small backrest. Those bits can be added to the base bike as well. Other accessories include multiple engine bar options, auxiliary LED lights, various trim bits, and multiple paint and logo schemes.
Royal Enfield hosted us first in Jaisalmer, near the Pakistan border. Our first day aboard the Super Meteor included a loop through the surrounding countryside to see some historical landmarks.
Order Within Chaos
Setting out, it was immediately apparent that this would be a novel riding experience. We shared the roads with innumerable cows, sheep, goats, farm tractors, overloaded tuk-tuks, scooters, giant trucks, and lumbering buses. In small towns, pedestrians and bicycle riders were in the mix as well. At times, riders on scooters and small motorbikes would go the “wrong way” in our lane toward us, a practice that was clearly common and accepted. Welcome to India.
However, it was not traffic chaos. There was a definite rhythm and flow on the roads. The most basic rules were to make room and use your horn. Horns speak a language in India—short beeps signal your location, longer ones indicate a need to merge or speed up. Another rule is to pass slower vehicles as soon as possible, wherever and however you can. Left side, right side, shoulder—take your pick. Just be sure to honk your horn to signal your intentions and hit the gas. Hit it hard.
On a long highway ride the next day to Khimsar, we passed at will, clicking the smooth-shifting gearbox down from sixth and then fully laying into the throttle. The torquey twin built speed quickly but never felt hyperactive. The long-ish suspension soaked up pavement—or dirt, sand, and cobblestone—irregularities, providing a ride that wasn’t buttery smooth but had a consistent feeling of control and neutrality.
Conditions varied from smooth pavement on open highways to chuckhole and speed bump-filled obstacle courses in small towns. Patches of sand, dirt, and excreta were common on narrow rural roads. Mix in animals, pedestrians, bicycles, and pushcarts, and the riding could swing from comical to life-threatening in an instant.
The Indian Influence
India’s roads clearly inform the Super Meteor’s design and specifications. For a cruiser, the bike’s suspension travel is long. Just 47 hp and 38 lb-ft of twist may seem laughable compared to a Harley-Davidson, but in India—and many other places—its spot-on for navigating the often slow-moving ballet of vehicles, animals, people, and worn roadways. Outside India, the tough 650 twin has just enough oomph to be a capable tourer and could just top the ton given some room to run.
In truth, the Super Meteor’s seating position is much closer to a standard than a cruiser. I rode both the Tourer version and the base bike—both were comfortable with the Tourer’s better seat having a slight advantage. The Super Meteor was easy to manage and control, with excellent clutch feel, spot-on fueling, and large Brembo ByBre brakes that thankfully popped into ABS activation more than a few times.
The bottom line is that the Super Meteor 650 was huge fun to ride because—like the INT650 and GT—it sits in that sweet spot where capability meets controllability. The Royal Enfield Super Meteor 650 shows that you just don’t need triple-digit power to have fun riding. But fewer cows on the road? That’s probably a good idea.
+ solid road manners, torquey and simple engine, unexpectedly roomy and comfortable
– small-ish displacement for touring, not going to win many stoplight races, no tachometer
Distributor: Royal Enfield
MSRP: Coming summer 2023
Engine: Air/oil-cooled, parallel-twin, 270°, 4-valve, SOHC, EFI
Power: 47hp @7,250rpm; 39 lb-ft@5,650rpm
Transmission: six-speed, chain final drive
Weight: 531lbs (wet)
Seat Height: 29.1in
Fuel Capacity: 4.1gal
Fuel Consumption: 50mpg (observed)
Fuel Grade: Regular
Colors: Astral Blue, Black, Green; Interstellar Green, Gray; Celestial Red, Blue (Tourer)