Written by Martin Hodgson
When everything that’s old is new again, don’t throw away the past, just make it infinitely better and a hell of a lot more fun. The Royal Enfield single cylinder might be one of the most instantly recognisable engines in all of motorcycling history but it has a new sibling that joins the thunderous thump with a roaring rumble. To show off the new parallel twin nestled in the 2018 Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 the company commissioned the best of British, Old Empire Motorcycles. What they deliver is a stunning stripped down ‘Ceptor, that’s classic custom cool in signature Empire style.
It’s been a busy time for both companies with OEM in their sixth year, “Rafe deals with content, I deal with the bikes and we help each other out a little with both sides of things when needed… creating some nice bits and bobs to sell on our web store and our electric brand, English Electric Motor Co,” explains Alec. While Royal Enfield is now a billion dollar business under bike mad CEO Siddhartha Lal who moved to the UK to be near the Indian company’s R&D Tech Centre in Leicestershire while the new engine was developed.
It’s not every day that a global company comes knocking on your door, but as Alec explains what was required of Old Empire was right up their alley, “the brief was to create something that enhanced what was originally there without going too mad, and making sure the focal piece was the new twin engine.” To show off the new lump the bike was given a complete strip down with absolutely everything coming off that wasn’t going to be required and then some.
“A less cluttered line was achieved with a longer seat and the focus went on the rich leather and waterproof suede with old stitching. All the grips and pegs were treated to an Empire leather set this time in a new colour (now available online) of Ox Blood Red,” enthuses Alec, grateful to GB Upholstery for their work. The side covers have also been simplified with the stock items replaced by aluminium, rolled, wheeled and welded pieces that are given a classic car waterproof sewn vinyl covering; with mesh air intake on one side and brake proportioning valve the other side.
The tank didn’t require a great deal of change for the team to be happy with the look, but a flush fit T800 brass cap adds plenty of style points. Keeping things simple is the only other piece of bodywork “a wheeled aluminium shroud mounted at the front to give the bike a little more ‘poise’” But boy do they pop thanks to Simon at Flying Tiger Paintworks who laid down the stunning metallic ruby red colour that shifts from black to brilliant in the sunlight. Finished off with gold pinstripes and the signature OEM typeface for the Interceptor graphic.
[superquote]“The tank didn’t require a great deal of change for the team to be happy with the look, but a flush fit T800 brass cap adds plenty of style points.”[/superquote]
The beauty through simplicity continues at the front of the bike, “Custom bars were bent and many versions tried but our ‘ant’ like simple 90 degree bends looked best and were most comfortable, combined with internal throttle and clutch meant uber clean bars and running the front and rear brake through the adjustable value mounted on the side panel,” describes Alec. Further down, the forks have been completely shaved of all unnecessary components, while the yoke was machined to accept a start button. These parts were all ceracoated at Flying Tiger while Demeanour Customs took care of machining.
But all the hard work that had been done so far to create such vintage elegance really had one goal and that was giving the new engine the perfect place to sit. The 648cc parallel twin has undergone an enormous amount of testing and development with a 270 degree firing order providing endless usable torque. It also happens to deliver a stunning sound, rumbling under acceleration and absolutely raucous on the over-run. To enhance this even further a stunning set of OEM mandrel bent stainless big bore pipes were made with hidden internal baffles.
Despite its old charm the engine utilises a lot of new tech and that can pose a problem, “we were originally very concerned having worked with a number of very modern motorcycles with very complicated CANBUS wiring systems which don’t allow much if any modification without tearing the loom to bits. What we found out with the Royal Enfield was it is hands down the nicest and simplest bike concerning electrics; we managed to remove everything, and I mean everything, ABS, traction control, lightning, ignition switch, all controls and switches and without almost any splicing or re-wiring it would still start and run…. what a beaut!” smiles Alec.
The stock footpegs didn’t quite work with the look, so a pair of OEM’s own universal items were ceracoated and given more of the Ox Blood Red leather treatment. To literally wrap it all up a search of tyre catalogues revealed a set of chunky modern Metzeler’s that would fit the standard rims. “Yes we were paid by RE to build the bike but my unpaid honest appraisal is that it’s a stonker of a bike, the perfect bike for relatively new riders to hop on a bigger bike that has plenty of poke, doesn’t break the bank and has plenty of potential as a custom,” says Alec. And it’s hard to argue, Royal Enfield have delivered, Old Empire has fired the first shot to the bullseye and now the Gauntlet has been thrown down to custom builders around the globe.