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In conversation with Siddhartha Lal, RE’s big boss

Royal Enfield

Sid talks to us about the development of all-new parallel twin and of course, new bikes

Q: How has the new engine been developed? Please take us through the entire process.
A: Everything started with a thought process, the thought process is really two fold. One comes from India which represents other emerging markets as well and the other is coming from the opportunity in markets like the UK , the US and Europe and what do they really need. And what we felt was, in the emerging markets like ours, we needed to give an extra go. This is what our customers were wanting and we have got 25 lakh chaps who have been riding from the last eight years. So we know what they want, they tell us what they want and some of them want something a bit more and we thought this was a good jump. On the other hand we felt that (specially in richer countries) the market for big bikes was very well developed and even what they call middle-weights is still sort of converging to the 800 sort of cc category. It’s still a pretty large bike in our opinion and we therefore we thought that this sort of middle point where you have access for much more powerful markets like India yet you are able to use it extremely well on highways and you know you can cross a tunnel but you can certainly be riding at 120kmph on a highway at part throttle and still be enjoying yourself. And then on the refinement requirements, all markets in the world wants refinement, we have done a lot of work on the refinement of the engine. We are not just working the fit and finish of the engine but we have put in a balance shaft, a slipper clutch, a sleek 6-speed gearbox, so it has everything you need. So basically on the brief when we had first started we had three different concepts in 2014, with 180-, 270- and 360-degree crank. It started off as a 600cc, we were wondering if it should be a 5-speed or 6-speed, so obviously that’s clear. And again emissions, we had to see whether it was going to meet emission norms, and finally we landed onto 8-valves, single overhead camshaft setup.

Q: So can this engine be scaled up?
A: That’s not the idea, I mean I am sure somebody will try to do that at some point, but again we have added lots of bits and bobs in the market. Especially in India we have to be very cost conscious. So if you make an engine that can be scaled up, then by definition what that means is that you are going to add fixed costs today on the production for the next few years till the time you want to scale that up. So what we have done is that we have made an optimal 650.

Q: And there is no need to scale it down for some markets?
Q: No. Again, you know we have come to that point where we don’t want to do different things for different markets. It was very important for us, for a piece of mind, for manufacturing, for suppliers, for quality to do one engine, to do one rolling chassis that is precisely integrated. So basically all of this is exactly one motorcycle, there is nothing different in these two, the styling and the ergonomics is the the difference but the bike is exactly the same underneath. Basically, our idea is to make a rolling chassis repeatable.

Q: How important and how difficult was it to get the quality right? Because you’ve had issues with your other new bike?
A: It is extremely important for us to continuously improve and to make sure that we do that. I mean at every single parameter we have upped our game tremendously. So firstly the entire development, the engine, the vehicle, the development team, the new product introduction process, it’s all new. We augmented our existing teams but we’ve got full new you know let’s say extremely expanded teams, the number of people working on this bike has gone up exponentially.

Q: So the Continental GT 650 has any carry over parts from the earlier Continental GT?
A: That was the idea initially, especially on the styling side. We thought of having the rolling chassis entirely new, so there was no carryover in any case in terms of rolling chassis. We thought of retaining the tank but we weren’t able to do that either. So the tank on the bike looks similar but if you look closely, it’s squarer. I think a lot of people love the idea of a GT but they wanted more go on it, so we kept the basic idea of the GT. But yes, we have actually changed the styling, the stance and the ergonomics. The styling and the stance is just a bit lower just a bit wider and the ergonomics are suited for a comfortable ride. It’s still obviously a bit of a crouched position, though. And this thing can do more than 160kmph, guaranteed! I have clocked 162kmph myself.

Q: Which one do you prefer between the two?
A: Obviously, there is shinier newer one and I always normally keep only one motorcycle in my so called garage. So yeah I will probably have an interceptor first. I love the GT as well but I already had that.

Q: Did the R&D process begin after deciding upon the name?
A: It was contiguous, we wanted it (Interceptor) to be based on the same idea. Basically this was taking the GT to the next level, but we were very clear that the GT itself has some limitations. I am talking about the riding styles with a wider audience, so it does a job for a few people but certainly it’s a bit crouched down position for the general public. Older chaps and heavy people, especially. So we were clear that we wanted a roadster and then Mark and team worked on many different ideas on what a roadster could be like and then we sort of converged on this while looking at our history, so it sort of came together.

Q: And in terms of timeline how long has this been in development?
A: The first drawing that we were able to pull out was in early 2014. After deciding onto a 270-degree crank, we had James Young join us after that. In early 2015 he made a lot of changes and movements to the concepts which included some changes to the gearbox. He said, it’s a twin so it’s always gonna be a bit wide, so our idea was to try and keep it as lean as possible. We have taken some leeway’s, true, but basically we tried to keep it as lean as possible.

Q: Did you try a V-twin or something? Or that doesn’t fit with the heritage?
A: V-twin absolutely fits with the heritage. If you go back a longer way, we have a standing example of a KX which you didn’t see. It was there in our tech centre, so when you come around I want you guys to see it once. It’s a 1140cc V-Twin from the 1930s.

Q: And why such a low compression ratio? I am sure you can get more horsepower out of the engine.
A: We have been facing fuel quality issues in some parts of the world, and we have to focus on engine longevity as well. And you know we thought 47 was a perfect point because that is also an A2 license in parts of the world.

Q: And the major work and most time went on the bike, was that on the engine front?
A: Equally on the chassis front too I would say. We had to change the head-stock angle at some point, not the offset, just to push it back by 25mm. It is quite a bit actually. So there is a huge amount development that went into it, because for us, high speed stability has become very important. And what we found in some of the benchmark motorcycles was that some were really good at high speeds, some were actually really very crap when you went at a 160kmph. We were clear that we had to be great on that front and yet it had to be very nimble at low speeds. I think a huge amount of developmental effort on geometry of the chassis went in and the suspension.

Q: And how important was it aesthetically? Do all parts need to look authentic?
A: We don’t think it’s required to disguise and to make things look what they are not. In our opinion, we think authentic is what it actually is and what it should be. So you have fuel injection, you don’t hide it. So for us we try and keep it as open and naked in a way and then we have got a bit of shrouds over there but that’s because fuel injections are normally not the prettiest things but you are not hiding and you are not making it look like something else.

Q: How do you educate the Indian single-cylinder Royal Enfield enthusiast for the parallel-twin?
A: We don’t educate people.

Q: …because it’s all about the thump, they all want the thump.
A: And they have got the thump, we are not taking it away. The singles are very important to us and we are still going to make them. But really for chaps who want a bit more go and who can afford a bit more, honestly that’s also more important. Bu the point is that you cannot replicate a thump on a twin and you don’t want to either and again that’s not authenticity. What you want to do is make sure that you get the best idea out of a twin. So in terms of what does a twin do well? I believe it has a very good mid-range, in this case, and we have engineered a very good sound in this, it’s a lovely rumble. I think you must have heard of that and you know it’s the air-cooler part. It’s the fact that it’s not a big bore either, so it’s still got that old-school character, it’s got 270crank which actually helps tremendously in that gorgeous sound and all of that.

Q: Any sportier variant of the Continental in the offering?
A: No, we think this is as sporty as you are going to get. How much more sporty do you want?

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