Two modern classics, the open road, winding ghat sections, and beautiful beaches – the recipe for a perfect motorcycle ride to Goa?
A legend once told me, ‘whatever you do on the first day of the year, i.e., 1st January, you end up doing that throughout the entire year.’ For years, I thought it to be a silly superstition and outright farcical. However, recent events gave way to a moment of reflection upon this idea, allowing me to wonder if it could be true after all.
You see, on the first day of 2019, I happened to be enjoying an epic motorcycle trip in the Himalayas. And, since then, it’s become a monthly exercise (of sorts) to go on a road-trip on a kickass motorcycle. Now, last month, in keeping with this trend, I went on a ride that I had been planning for a couple of years. Okay, it might not be as exotic as you’re thinking, but for a first-timer, a ride from Mumbai to Goa can be quite an event.
Soon after I made up my mind, I rang up Jared and told him of my cunning plan – to make this trip official by aligning it with another official event – TVS MotoSoul. Jared liked the idea, of course – he never says no to a road-trip.
The next thing to do was to sort out the bikes. For Jared, it was an easy choice – he picked our Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 long-termer. While I was still deciding on what bike to arrange for, Jared suggested that Benelli’s new Leoncino 500 would be a nice choice alongside the Interceptor.
It was a good idea, for both bikes are quite similar in their appeal – and this would allow for an official comparison. Both are modern classics – okay, the Benelli is touted as a ‘Scrambler’ but that’s far from the truth – and both produce identical power, and both are powered by parallel-twin engines.
Of course, the Interceptor is much more affordable, and has turned out to be a phenomenon ever since its launch – not to mention, it’s one of our ‘Best of 2019.’ However, the idea behind the comparison was to see which one of these is an ideal long-distance cruiser and more fun to ride on Indian roads. The next thing to do was to fire up the engines and ride into the sunset…
Hitting it straight
From Mumbai to Kolhapur, the roads are wide and traffic is moderate, meaning we could both open the taps on our bikes and cruise comfortably at three-digit speeds. The Benelli’s liquid-cooled 500cc parallel-twin is a peach of an engine and delivers 47bhp and 46Nm of torque in a very smooth manner.
And out on the open road, it feels even more relaxed – there are mild vibrations above 6,000rpm, but, overall, it’s a very tractable powertrain. Oh, and I love the ‘big bike’ in-line-4-like noises that it makes. However, what I didn’t find as suitable was its suspension setup – the ride quality was super firm, and, that means at high speeds your spine feels all the thuds and undulations that you encounter on our roads. The 50mm front fork is rebound adjustable, and the mono-shock at the back is adjustable for both rebound and pre-load. However, whatever adjustments you make, the ride is always choppy.
After our lunch stop at Kolhapur, we switched bikes. Now, while I’ve ridden the Interceptor before, I’ve done so only for very short durations. As a result, I was curiously eager to spend more time with the Interceptor and to see the reason behind all the hype surrounding this modern classic.
The 47bhp 648cc parallel-twin motor here is a gem in the true sense of the word. There are absolutely no vibrations, and it feels very sophisticated right from the go. Unlike the Leoncino, which makes angry noises as
it pops and crackles, the Interceptor produces a deep and refined rumble of a typical old-school twin motor.
On the move, the Interceptor offers more grunt too – its engine delivers more torque (52Nm) and has a wider powerband. The suspension setup is well calibrated for our roads, but it also errs on the stiffer side, meaning your spine does get occasional thumps. However, its ride doesn’t feel as unforgiving as the Benelli’s.
What really makes the ride uncomfortable is the Interceptor’s soft and narrow saddle. After a couple of hours of riding, the seat tends to sink in and your back starts hurting. Also, compared to the Benelli, which has Scrambler-like tall handlebars and a low-seat, the Interceptor has slightly front-biased and aggressive ergonomics, which can get exhausting after 3 to 4 hours of riding.
Ghat it out
Once out of Kolhapur, Jared suggested that we take a detour from Nipani towards Sawantwadi and Amboli, as it’s a more scenic road. Plus, this section has some amazing ghats of Amboli. Now who needs a second invitation when you’ve got a setting like this and you’re on a fast motorcycle? Jared and I were absolutely loving these bikes on this stretch of road. And it was quite a revelation, because our bikes weren’t really meant for corner carving, but, still, we were having so much fun!
However, while I was absolutely gob-smacked by the composure of the Interceptor around fast corners, I couldn’t really ignore the fact that Jared was getting farther and farther away after every corner, before he completely disappeared from sight! After 20 minutes or so, I saw him again, waiting by the roadside for me. As soon as he saw me, he kind of exclaimed, ‘The Benelli is so bloody awesome on these roads, man!’ And it must be, because Jared never misses an opportunity to grumble and call me ‘slow,’ if I happen to fall behind for some reason. So, it was a refreshing change, thanks to the Benelli.
After nearly 10 hours on the road, we made it to Goa. It was a gruelling ride – well, every road trip on Indian roads is, that goes without saying – but this one as filled with immense fun nonetheless. As for the bikes, I absolutely loved the Leoncino when I first tested it in Delhi, however, on this road-trip, I realised that my first encounter with the Benelli was a bit of a holiday romance.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great bike for short rides, but its ride quality is simply unacceptable for our roads, and even on the smoothest of smooth stretches, there’s a constant vertical movement to the wheels – the ride never settles down.
The Interceptor, on the other, does everything a bit better and is a more rounded package. And that’s before you consider the huge price gap between the two – ₹ 2.56 vs ₹ 4.79 lakh (both ex-showroom). Of course, the Benelli comes with a number of modern bells and whistles like LED headlamps, but even that doesn’t justify its high premium. And, so, if I had to pick one of the two, it’ll undoubtedly be the Interceptor.
However, that said, after our long, long ride, I realised that neither of these bikes is meant for long-distance riding – they just aren’t comfortable if you have to ride 8 to 10 hours in a day. And if I have to do a long-distance haul from Mumbai to Goa again, I think I’ll be much happier with a sports-tourer – the Yamaha R3 or TVS Apache RR 310, perhaps. And, with that, you are now allowed to throw brickbats at me for wasting your time with this story.
Also read - Benelli Leoncino 500, Track Test