Over the past year or so, I’ve had the opportunity to ride the Royal Enfield INT650 both all around Portland as well as some longer distances out across the Pacific Northwest, from the damp and rugged Pacific coastline to the high desert east of the Cascade mountain range (and through those mountains to get there). Great rides to be sure and I’ve kept the bike basically bone stock, and it’s a surprisingly effective long-distance companion, thanks to the torquey parallel twin engine, comfortable riding position, better-than-expected road-holding and especially that 6-speed gearbox. But the longer rides also got me thinking of ways to better explore how the 650 Interceptor, as it’s known outside the U.S., could be made into an even more effective distance machine, without subtracting from its charm and core appearance.
As noted, it helps that the INT650 really is a decent light-duty over-the-road bike right out of the gate, at least to me. A Gold Wing competitor? Um, no. But that’s not really the touring vibe I enjoy anyway. I’ve owned several full-boat touring bikes (including Goldwings) and they’re great at eating miles, but all that luxury dulls the edge of what should be a much more involving and exciting way to see the world. Longer rides on the INT650 brought back the sense of fun and adventure I had when I first started exploring the world by motorcycle, when I was a penniless college kid crossing borders on well-used, basic machines without a single luxury.
Now, after decades of riding all kinds of bikes, going back to touring at a much more basic level has won me over again. Ten years ago, I saddled up a used, air-cooled, single cylinder dual-sport machine for an impromptu long ride I figured could turn into a torture test – for my butt, at least. I simply threw some soft bags over the seat, bungeed up my other gear to the rear rack, and headed out onto the roadway – and eventually onto dirt roads. No windscreen, no heated seat, no cruise control, no cupholder on the handlebars, no nuthin.’ Instead of a grind, it turned out to be an epic, interactive riding experience. In truth, I lucked out on the seat factor, and the bike was a smooth runner (for a single). That certainly helped make it more… tolerable.
I love touring with a super-simple setup. Moving through space at speed while out in the elements with a minimum of vehicular “stuff” around me is like flying – and why I started riding motorcycles in the first place. I feel perfectly comfortable out in the wind with the right gear on – and a good seat. My only concessions to age, modernity and comfort include said better seat, modern riding apparel, some suspension tweaks, an excellent Cardo helmet audio/communications system, USB power for my phone and GPS, and some better forward lighting. But that’s it! Overall, my “touring” bikes are simple and close to stock.
After a great year buzzing around on short hops and one long trip to feel out the INT650’s touring potential, I hit the Royal Enfield accessory catalog and in time, UPS delivered a large, heavy box the delivery guy lugged to my door with somewhat of a scowl, but inside were some key bits to take the INT650 from citybike to horizon chaser.
Comfortable Distance: Royal Enfield Touring Seat
For more comfort while riding longer distances, Royal Enfield offers a Touring Seat option, and thankfully, it looks identical to the stock seat, which is good news because the flat stock seat looks and works great. Rather than do some sort of deep-dish king/queen flying sofa kind of thing, RE simply changed the internal materials to increase comfort; the only difference in appearance from the stock seat is a small “touring” tag and double stitching instead of single stitching. There is a definite increase in firmness over the stock seat, and since it is still flat like the stock seat, I could easily move around on it and change positions. If you’re brave enough to tour on an INT650 with a passenger, there’s actually a fair bit of room, but I hope you and your pillion pal are really good friends (or more). Pro tip: Despite what you may assume, you don’t want a pillowy soft motorcycle seat when going on long rides. There’s a good reason people could sit in metal tractor seats all day way back when: Support and firmness are the keys to comfort over long distance.
Mirror, Mirror: Royal Enfield Touring Mirrors
The stock mirrors on the INT650 work fine but gave me a bit too much shoulder in my view. The optional touring mirrors feature a pivot at the base for more adjustment options and I like them right over my hands so I have a clear view to my six, and their profile is lower. Plus, they look better, are higher quality and have some nice RE branding.
C’mon Feel The Noise: S&S Exhaust System
This is perhaps the biggest change I made to the INT650, and one of the most popular judging by my chatter with other INT650 owners. While the stock chrome cans that come with the bike look nice and even sound decent enough, they are quite heavy and for me, a little too quiet. The brushed aluminum peashooter-style S&S exhaust system look great (you can polish it to a shine if that’s your thing) but more importantly, they shave a solid 18 pounds of weight from the bike and bring a burly, head-turning bark to the 650’s 270-degree firing order. They also don’t void your warranty. Simple baffle inserts let you mellow the tone for city riding. Slipping them out lets the 650 really make its presence known under heavy throttle, but they still burble down the road nicely while cruising. Let’s just say they look and sound “proper.”
The Hard Underbelly: Royal Enfield Bash Plate
The INT650’s oil filter had to go somewhere, and it ended up low in the front of the engine, vulnerable and, well, stylistically compromised let’s say. Both problems solved with the RE bash plate that both lends the INT650 a bit of off-road menace while covering up that unfortunate birthmark. Careful, installing it could lead to knobbies, high pipes and suspension changes…
Protect The Heart: Royal Enfield Engine Bars
In India, many Royal Enfield riders install wide, wide engine/frame protection bars (formerly known as “crash bars”) and I’m happy to see that they are also available for the INT650 here in The States, but I wanted some lower-profile crank case protection. These chrome bars (which are also available in black) get the job done, look great and for a longer ride, will accept any number of folding footpegs to give your boots another position option.
Buzz Off: Royal Enfield Bug Screen
I like open-air touring (although I’ve ridden many a fully-faired luxobike) and let’s face it, the little Royal Enfield bug screen just looks cool. It doesn’t really punch much of a hole in the air, but it keeps bug guts off the clock housings. That’s really all it does in terms of practicality. Mostly, it looks cool. Did I mention it looks pretty cool?
Fork Fortification: Royal Enfield Fork Gaiters
Dirt bikes have fork gaiters because all that dirt grit will eat right through a set of fork seals after a few rides. Street bikes like the INT650 don’t need to worry about that as much but the overall, long-term problem is the same: road grit, bug innards, and a nick in a fork tube from a wayward pebble off the tire of a truck ahead of you will all contribute to eventually wearing out your fork seals. Fork gaiters largely solve that problem, plus they punch up the vintage look a couple of points. Style and substance.
Dress Up Time: Royal Enfield Handlebar Ends and Brake Master Cylinder Cap
The front brake master cylinder has to have all sorts of DOT verbiage and other warnings etched into it, but if you tear the tags off of your mattresses and the warning stickers off of everything else like I do, well, that ugly cap has got to go. RE offers this simple cap with a handsome logo (below), and I also added the branded RE bar ends (above) for a little bit more snazz.
Carry The Load: Used Vintage Leather Willie and Max Saddlebags
As noted, I’ve ridden all manner of luxury touring bikes over the years, but it seems my most memorable trips were when I strapped a bunch of gear to my old air-cooled Honda with bungee cords, filled up some cheap and simple saddlebags and hit the road. I thought about splashing out for some of these swank Royal Enfield bags but while at an Oregon Vintage Motorcycle show, I came across a set of weathered but solid Willie and Max leather semi-hard bags that looked perfect and fit perfect. They hold just enough gear and set me back all of $10, and don’t even need bag racks thanks to the twin shocks. Hey, you can still buy them new as well, but they won’t have that nice patina mine came with.
Sing Along: Cardo Packtalk Bold
Even though the INT650 belts out a sonorous tune while underway, droning down a highway at 65mph for three hours is just that: droning. Call me spoiled, soft or easily entertained, I rather enjoy singing along to my favorite tunes on the less-curvy parts of my adventures, and the Cardo Packtalk Bold in-helmet comms system has been a faithful and entertaining companion for several years now. Sound quality is quite good and of course, there’s full phone ops as well as access to digital friends like Siri for finding my way to that taco truck in the town ahead. Cardo’s own voice recognition system has a limited vocabulary but works consistently, keeping your hands and focus on the road rather than on a phone screen or the unit’s buttons. I use it so much it’s second nature to operate hands free, and a useful tool rather than a distraction. It also works as a wireless intercom with other riders that have Cardo units and even with some other brands of comms systems.
Find Your Way: Garmin Zumo XT GPS
Sure, your phone has “GPS,” but truth be told, once you lose cell signal, your phone is just a very fancy camera and flashlight. I’ve been using Garmin GPS devices for over a decade, and their latest motorcycle-oriented device, the zūmo XT, is their best yet in terms of simplicity, screen size, and the level of detail when it comes to maps. It also pairs up with my iPhone and Cardo comms system for direction prompts and phone caller info. Plus, it came with a RAM quick-mount system that vastly simplified mounting it to the INT650, and the whole mount can be completely removed in a minute or so. The built-in battery lasts for hours on end and it charges from a USB power pack.
I also added a small clock ($12 on Amazon) that fits the INT’s analog aesthetic. It would be nice if RE would incorporate a clock option in the small LCD screen in the speedometer as a clock is of course highly useful.
What’s next? Little things, mosty. I’d like to add some marker lights, maybe some low-profile AUX LED riding lights, a side-panel bag and heated grips. Check back soon.