Back in 1960s, a new motorcycling subculture emerged in the UK. No, it wasn’t about superbikes or stunting. It was rather simple. Ride to a cafe, play a record, then ride across (up & down) on your motorcycle before the record stops playing. This is when cafe racers were born. Riders of this breed were known as the ‘Ton Up’ boys, since their primary target was to hit the ton (100 mph). The ton-up boys used to drop every unnecessary part from their motorcycle, lower their handlebars for a more sporty & aerodynamic position, zip up a custom made leather jacket & tear apart the streets of UK. The entire breed was then known as ‘Rockers’. Although the rockers were looked down upon by the society, as a breed creating nuisance on the streets, more & more younger blood was attracted to the thrill of riding a fast motorcycle down to iconic locations such as the Ace cafe.
Almost half a century later, Royal Enfield takes a walk down the memory lane to introduce the latest generation with cafe racers. Called the Continental GT, the bike from the south Indian manufacturers stable is as close as one can get to rocker life in today’s date here in India. Although the bike is built in India at Royal Enfield’s new production facility at Oragadam, the Continental GT has inputs from around the globe. The bike has a chassis developed by Harris Engineering, design & conceptualised by Xenophya design and quality parts sourced from other top suppliers globally.
The Continental GT would be a new nameplate for India, but the bike was first produced in 1965 as a 250cc cafe racer. While plenty of old school bikers went the modification route to build a cafe racer in India, Royal Enfield now offers one off the shelf. Also, this is the lightest, most powerful & the faster Royal Enfield built, yet. So does this cafe racer excite one here in India? Does it live up to the expectations of a modern day ton-up boy? We took the Continental GT for a spin around the busy streets of Mumbai to find out…
The Continental GT is priced @ Rs. 2,02,916 (ex-showroom Thane).
A blast from the past, and a mighty good one at that. The Royal Enfield Continental GT is everything a cafe racer should be, and was back in the day. It looks fantastic and is sure to attract the older generation as well as the new kids who are into this type of motorcycling. Xenophya design has done a good job at keep things minimalistic, yet, very close to the concept of a cafe racer.
At the front, the GT gets a simple round headlamp with a glass (fibreglass) lens. We’re glad they didn’t try a projector setup like the Thunderbird as that would have taken away from the retro looks. Amber lens on the rectangular turn indicators also add a nice touch in the looks department. Front number plate is mounted below the headlamp. Below, the telescopic fork are different from the usual think ones seen on other Enfields. These look more conventional, like on any other motorcycle on the streets. Maintaining the retro looks, the GT rides on 18″ aluminium spoked wheels and at the front, houses a 300mm disc aided with Brembo calipers & steel braided lines. Front mud guard is painted in silver and gets a detachable black extension at the back to avoid mud spray. The highlight in the styling department are the bar end mirrors. There are available as an optional accessory and are a must have on the Continental GT. Priced at Rs. 4,500 for a pair, these units do a decent job of showing you all the action happening behind. The clip-on handlebars look good, and are placed at the right angle. One can even lower these units as there is enough space to play around.
Come to the side and the 1960s styling is clearly evident. The long fuel tank, carved to accommodate your knees adds a lot of character to the motorcycle. The right mix of retro styling. To add another neat touch, the fuel filler cap is again what one would love. The chrome unit has a small flip section to reveal the keyhole. Below the tank, the new 535cc, single-cylinder motor is completely exposed. Chassis is also exposed and body panels are strategically placed not to cover the chassis. The Continental GT is primarily sold as a single seater. The seat is thin, and looks neat. Behind, you get a nice hump with the seat sloping upwards and gets a body coloured panel too. If you opt for the optional double seat, Royal Enfield has added another neat touch by offering a seat cover cowl which can be mounted over the pillion seat to give a single seater look to the motorcycle. Side panels are small body coloured units, and the LHS panel opens up as a storage bin for your documents.
Come to the back, and there’s very little to speak about. The read end is again minimalistic and the seat hump shows off nicely. The retro looking tail lamp is mounted at the end of the chassis and sports the same rectangular turn indicators on either side. The XL sized black mudguard looks quirky and although it would serve well in monsoons, we would like to get it off on other days. Rear wheel is again an 18″ spoked aluminium unit holding on to a 240mm disc brake. The Paioli shock absorbers get yellow springs which break the colour monotony. As is the case with most Royal Enfields, the Chain is mounted to the RHS of the wheel and gets a half cover. The swept-up exhaust is seen in chrome and is a bit longer by cafe racer standards. There is another optional exhaust, which is louder than this unit and is almost similar in length. It costs about Rs. 4,500 and gives a deep throaty sound when on the go.
If you love grabbing attention, and are not into supersport motorcycling, the Continental GT can assure you a lot when on the streets. In the bright body colours such as red & yellow, the GT stands out amongst the crowd at a traffic light. Not only the new buyers, but the best part is even senior citizens relate to the motorcycle and will give you a thumbs up on the streets.
Instrumentation & ergonomics:
The Continental GT sports a twin-pot instrument cluster with chrome rings on top. Quality control from Royal Enfield is still not up to 2015 standards and a couple of owners have complained about these chrome rings falling off. To the left, you have the speedometer while on the RHS you have the tachometer with redline starting at 5,500 RPM. The speedometer section is quite cool with KMPH & MPH markings. Below, you have a small digital display for your odometer & trip meter. Instrument cluster is backlit in white & the keyhole is placed on the clip-op handlebar.
Switch gear quality is cheap and doesn’t look good on a bike which costs upwards of Rs. 2 lakh. Yes, it is functional and there’s nothing more than one might need, its just the touch and feel which could have been better. In standard form, the bike gets regular rear view mirrors which work decent. The cool looking bar end mirrors, although small in size, manage to offer a good viewing range without too much of your elbows in it. The glass used in this is a bit of anti-glare and will keep you happy at night.
Hop on the GT and it will suit most riders. With a seat height of 800mm, the bike welcomes taller as well as shorter riders. Riding position is sporty & forward biased. You lean on the clip-on a fair amount and this will surely be confidence inspiring while on your favourite twisties. Rear set foot-pegs also add to the sporty stance. The solo seat is nice & long, and the seat compound is of medium grade. For those who love additional customisation, the clip-on handlebars can be dropped further down to suit your taste. For those who relate the bumper-to-bumper commute as most convenient on the Enfields will be a bit disappointing though. Riding position is too committed and can get to you at stop and go situations.
If one does opt for the double seat, there is enough room for the pillion rider as well. Getting on & off the GT is an easy task.
Engine, performance & handling:
Powering the Continental GT is a 535cc, air-cooled, single-cylinder, long-stroke, 4-stroke, fuel-injected motor which produces 29.1 BHP of power @ 5,100 RPM & 44 Nm of torque @ 4,000 RPM matched to a 5-speed gearbox. Royal Enfield claims this is the best & most powerful engine they have ever built.
Press the electric started, and the bike performs the typical Royal Enfield drama. It doesn’t fire up instantly, as there’s a mechanical lag after you press the button. You need to keep the button pressed for over a second. One alive, the engine is nothing but a typical Royal Enfield. NVH levels are better than other models, but not as refined as one would expect. Yes, most of the fanboys go around calling this as the bikes ‘character’, but come on, a vibrating engine is not really cool. At idle, you can see the front mud guard vibrate noticeably. Exhaust note at idle is the typical ‘dug dug dug’, but the thump is not very prominent anymore.
Slot it in first, and the ample torque lugs the bike from 0 kmph easily. Typical of Royal Enfield, the bike is at ease within city limits. With a kerb weight of 184 kg, the Continental GT is not a light motorcycle for city riding, but the engine is very tractable and one can enjoy the ride in the initial gears. Torque availability in lower gears is good and the GT has a good mid-range punch. 140mm of ground clearance although not very healthy, tackles speed breakers well.
But we’re not looking at city riding too much. Built to cater to the new age ton-up boys, the Continental GT is supposed to be a mile muncher, but it doesn’t live up to the expectations. Hit the highway and keeping the engine on the boil is a painful task. The bike easily revvs beyond 5,000 RPM, but vibrations kick-in big time above 3,500 RPM. The vibrations felt on the handlebar as almost numbing and it is not at all worth the effort riding at high speeds. Yes, the bike climbs over a ton easily, but maintaining those speeds will leave your hands sore. It is best to ride these bikes under 3,000 RPM at speeds up to 100 kmph in top gear. Excessive vibrations are bound to cause a body panel rattling in due course of time. So yes, Royal Enfield has retained the cafe racer character quite well, but they shouldn’t have retained the yesteryear vibrations.
Gearbox is still the same, loud and clunky. Gearshifts don’t really feel seamless, but are better than other models for sure. The bike did not false shift even once, and finding neutral wasn’t a problem. Clutch is not too light, but not too many would have a problem with it.
Handling department is where the Continental GT shines compared to other thumpers from the stable. Harris performance has done a brilliant job at building this double cradle frame and the bike feels very sharp around corners too. Quite unique to Royal Enfields. Coupled with a telescopic front fork & Paioli shocks at the back, the Continental GT is dynamically rich when it comes to cafe racers. Suspension set up would feel a bit stiff for the city, but is perfect for the corners. Yes, corners! The GT is the first Royal Enfield which can allow you to get your knee down in a corner. Don’t get over-optimistic though, the bike is heavy and a slight mistake can catch you mid-corner.
The GT rides on Pirelli Sport Demons, which is probably the best-in-class rubber offered. Tyres provide exceptional grip levels in wet & dry situations and even under hard braking, they do not squeal very easily. Brembo brakes & steel braided lines perform in an acceptable way. However, the heavy weight nature of Royal Enfields need a fair amount of distance to come to a halt. So if you’re riding hard, make sure you bite the brakes a bit early.
So if you want to live a modern day rocker life, the Continental GT is the only old school motorcycle which you can buy off the shelf. Although built as it should be, the GT is quite a canvas and very modification friendly. Look around on google, and you will find a lot of tasteful mods done on the GT, and to everyone’s choice. Yes, refinement levels are far from ideal, and one would accept that while buying a Royal Enfield. But if its a decision of form over function, the Continental GT is oodles of oomph. With a sporty riding stance, the Continental GT is still a rare sight on the streets and one will enjoy exclusivity. Can it create a ton-up subculture in India? Time will tell…