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Royal Enfield Continental GT First Ride Review

Rich Cox
October 9, 2013
Filed under Latest News, Other Motorycle Reviews, Retro + Vintage Motorcycle Reviews, Road Tests

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2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT riding

True, it doesn’t go a million—or even a hundred—but the GT definitely offers all the right look and feel for those who would love to transport themselves back to the future.

Last September Royal Enfield Motors hosted a lavish international press launch in England for its all-new Continental GT café racer bike, which was first seen in the U.S. at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, California in December 2012. The UK intro was a genuine “back to the future” experience. During the four-day itinerary, Enfield not only submersed the press in the history of the iconic brand (visits to legendary bike and motorsports museums, introductions by well-known Royal Enfield historians, even a trip to the site of Royal Enfield’s original 1907 Redditch factory), but made sure we experienced firsthand some of the magical sights, sounds and subjects that were a part of the nostalgic 1960s café racer scene in England.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT Ace Cafe

Royal Enfield used the historic motorcycle subculture venue the Ace Café for its massive international press launch. The GTs will be available in only one color, signature red.

That naturally included a visit to the legendary Ace Café, which Royal Enfield utilized as the launching pad for all of its festivities—and our first real look at this café racer contender. Royal Enfield’s main plan with the GT was to make sure it artfully retained the simplicity, form, function and especially the authenticity of those iconic ’60s racers—but also to mechanically bring it into the new age. Two British firms were hired by the Chennai, India-based company to do most of the GT’s development work. Harris Performance brought the bike’s road-going stature into the 21st century by engineering an all-new double-cradle frame for it instead of the Bullet’s single downtube chassis. There’s also a beefy 41mm fork, gas-charged Paoli shocks, new 18-inch Excel alloy wheels with Pirelli Sport Demon tires and Brembo disc brakes front and rear (the rear disc is also a first). Royal Enfield also worked closely with Xenophya Design of the UK on the styling of the GT, making sure its overall look, proportions, positioning and the quality of the componentry—especially the tank, seat, clip-ons and rearsets—were café racer authentic, and its weight a svelte 405 pounds with the 3.3-gallon tank 90-percent full. The company even utilized one of Royal Enfield’s past standouts—the 1965 Continental GT 250—for overall design inspiration; not a bad choice as this little 21-horsepower café-styled racer was, during its time, touted as Britain’s fastest 250cc production bike.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT with Concorde

The actual press conference took place on the storied grounds of the Brooklands Museum, the birthplace of British motorsports and aviation. Here the GT takes a breather underneath a prototype Concorde, one of the museum’s star attractions.

For power, the GT starts with Royal Enfield’s basic air-cooled 499cc OHV single used in the Bullets for generations. The old cast-iron mill was finally phased out in 2011 in favor of an all-aluminum, unit-construction engine with fuel injection, in service since 2009 and good for about 27 horsepower. Some might think the GT would have been much more desirable with a more modern engine design, but for Royal Enfield that was never in the plan. It wanted to keep the GT simple, economical, uncomplicated and authentic to the original ’60s café racer period. The GT’s current engine is, however, not a totally stock powerplant. It’s been hot-rodded ever so slightly—displacement is now 535cc, the ECU has been remapped and the flywheel lightened, all good for about a two horsepower increase over the stock engine. Here in the States an outdated 29-horsepower single probably won’t light the younger generation’s fire, but the engine’s period authentic appearance and performance might actually increase the GT’s desirability and collectability, especially among the older generation.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT engine

Although a very mild performer, the big single’s very distinct, retro appearance definitely adds to the authenticity of the package. Its ability to dish out mileage figures in the 70-80 mpg range is a plus as well.

Physically the GT replicates the former café period bikes to a tee. It is petite, light and very slim, with a moderately racy seating position—in fact, its physical dimensions and overall weight are very similar to perhaps the most famous café platform of its day, the BSA Gold Star. So just strapping a leg over the GT and whacking the throttle a few times, listening to that muffled blat blat heartbeat of the big single, will instantly send you back in time.

Royal Enfield had prearranged a morning’s massive group test ride that launched us from the Ace Café and eventually wound us down south, about 85 miles, to the seaside town of Brighton. For the most part it was a crazy, chaotic ride as 30 of us battled to stay in a group through the choking London traffic and frequently contentious roundabouts. If anyone got separated, they would have been lost forever. The GT can, as it turns out, competently play the commuter role as its seating position isn’t overly aggressive, and I had no complaints about any of its basic mechanical functions. Clutch engagement was smooth and progressive, the action from the 5-speed gearbox was flawless, the Keihin EFI provided hiccup-free throttle response, the brakes are plenty potent, and even finding neutral at the stops was easy.

That’s all a plus, but it’s still a very low-performance powerplant and acceleration is sluggish. It takes a whole new mindset—slow down, take your time, there’s no hurry, experience the mechanical sounds and pulsations of the past—to fully enjoy riding one of these creatures. And I did have to adjust my riding style slightly in search of the best acceleration. I was originally trying to take the engine to its 5,800 rpm redline before shifting, but it turned out the hot ticket was to short shift and let the torque provide the squirt out of the corners.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT gauges

The GT’s cockpit is both simple and elegant with analog instrumentation providing just the basics—speed and engine rpm. The little slide lever on the left bar aids with starts in really cold conditions.

I would have liked to experience the GT’s true calling by burning a few mountain roads, but unfortunately our designated route didn’t offer any. I can tell you that the GT feels easily flickable and very taut and together when flung with abandon through congested roundabouts. There’s no question in my mind that at this point in time, the GT’s chassis performance is way beyond that of the engine’s—which means you could easily ride it at ten-tenths all day long and that’s where the excitement will be. Longer distances and higher speeds do not suit the GT well, however. The big thumper is really breathing hard as it struggles to 3,800 rpm at 70 mph, and at that speed it produces some serious vibration through the handlebar and chassis that—coupled with the rather stiff suspension and a thin, mildly padded bench seat—means that short runs to the café or quick blasts up the local mountain road will still be the best way to fully enjoy this bike.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the GT. I loved its clean and simple period-correct fit and appearance, and its overall handling takes the marque to whole new level. Of course the most important question is that, by purchasing this new GT, are you going to instantly become one of the notorious Ton Up Boys? Sorry, not quite—we could only coax it up to about 85 mph, maybe 90 downhill.

But that’s no problem, as Royal Enfield will also be offering a great selection of accessory “Burn-up Wear” to help you at least look the part. The U.S. distributor, Classic Motorworks, hopes that bikes will start reaching its dealers before the end of 2013.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT right side

The museum’s period correct grounds really show off the GT’s clean, simplistic beauty. All test bikes were sporting the company’s accessory muffler that’s a little smaller in size and has a slightly bigger bark compared to the stock unit.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT Specs

Base Price: $TBD
Website: endfieldmotorcycles.com

ENGINE
Type: Air-cooled, single cylinder, 4-stroke
Displacement: 535cc
Bore x Stroke: 87.0mm x 90.0mm
Compression Ratio: 8.5:1
Valve Train: OHV, 2 valves per cyl.
Fuel Delivery: Keihin EFI
Lubrication System: Wet sump
Transmission: 5-speed, constant mesh
Final Drive: O-ring chain

ELECTRICAL
Ignition: Digital electronic
Battery: 12V 18AH

CHASSIS
Frame: Twin downtube cradle frame
Wheelbase: 53.5 in.
Seat Height: 31.5 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm stanchions, no adj., 4.3 in. travel
Rear: Paoli twin gas-charged shocks, adj. for spring preload, 3.1 in. travel
Brakes, Front: Brembo 300mm floating disc w/ 2-piston pin-slide caliper
Rear: 240mm disc, 1-piston pin-slide caliper
Tires, Front: 100/90-H18
Rear: 130/70-H18

PERFORMANCE
Claimed Wet Weight (90% fuel/oil): 405 lbs.
Load Capacity: 405 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.3 gals.

1965 Continental GT 250

The 1965 Royal Enfield Continental GT 250, the inspiration that set the current GT’s development in motion. At the time, the 250 was very cool looking, very fast and highly desirable among young “learner” riders in Britain.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT rear wheel

The GT certainly rewards the non techies among us, as the only suspension adjustment offered is the spring preload on the gas Paioli shocks. Notice the little grab handle above the shock—it makes centerstanding a breeze.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT front wheel

The Continental sports a larger 300mm front disc (all other Enfield models have a 280mm front) and is the first Enfield to feature both a front and rear disc brake. Braking power is plentiful.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT seat and tank

Like its predecessors, the GT is slim and compact, and although its mildly racy riding position is fairly comfortable, it all plays better to the physically smaller rider. The bar-end mirrors are very stylish looking, but not very effective.

Comments

6 Responses to “Royal Enfield Continental GT First Ride Review”

  1. Patrick Duffy on October 10th, 2013 9:19 am

    Another report I read from someone at this event claimed that the top speed was 101mph? Now if they were in Brighton maybe they tried it down the hill from Devils Dyke towards the A23?

    [Reply]

  2. Jack Pike on October 10th, 2013 6:34 pm

    Instead of wasting time on this snail, why don’t they try to recreate the Enfield 750 interceptor. For a while back in the mid-1960s, it was the fastest production quarter miler that CYCLE WORLD had ever tested.

    [Reply]

  3. Muqwambie on October 14th, 2013 8:02 pm

    Oh here we go again by-golly Jack Pike take a hike.

    [Reply]

  4. Antonio Campos on October 16th, 2013 10:22 pm

    The bike looks great but needs just a bit more power. Get it up to 110mph and it’s a goer.
    Also, put an updated modern 750 or 850cc Interceptor in the market and you’ve got a market.
    Tony C

    [Reply]

  5. GT on November 2nd, 2013 8:59 am

    Given the most telling comment in this report … ” to help you at least look the part.”, the Continental might more appropriately be reviewed in Sculpture Digest. As my daddy always advised, better to be parked and thought a competent motorcycle than to be ridden and confirmed an impostor. I salute Rich Cox for his efforts at putting lipstick on this “bike” but his claim that the Enfield requires “…a whole new mindset—slow down, take your time, there’s no hurry, experience the mechanical sounds and pulsations of the past.” it is clear that the writer, as well as this motorcycle, wholly misses the intent of those hardy souls building and riding the cafe racers of the past. The “look” was only cool only when confirmed by performance – something the Continental sadly lacks. I’m with Jack on this one.

    [Reply]

  6. Tony Campos on November 4th, 2013 7:23 pm

    The new 535cc Continental GT produced in Indian is a beautiful bike but does not live up to it’s predecessor the UK’s 250cc Continental GT.
    Give this new bike the power to match it’s looks. UK and world riders want that.
    My family imported and distributed the UK Royal Enfields and other UK brands for many years until their factories shut their doors. I’ve ridden and tested the UK Continental GT extensively as I have my personal 750cc Interceptor, a great bike with lots of power.
    I smell that a new Interceptor, either 750cc or 850cc, is on the drawing board. If that’s the case, they should also dress one up to look like a Café Racer as I did mine by adding 250cc Continental GT bits like the handlebars, seat, aluminium disks on the front wheel, short windscreen, etc.

    [Reply]

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