Picture this: We are doing a relaxed 60 kmph on an empty Goa highway when a biker on a Honda CBR250R speeds past us. Keenly observing our motorcycle in his rear-view mirror, he slows down, allowing us to join him. Challenging us, he again vrooms past. We accept the challenge, downshift to third gear, apply throttle—a little twist goes a long way—and the poor CBR chap gets reduced to a small spot in our rear-view mirrors. We are now happily doing 120 kmph and our motorcycle still seems to have enough grunt. Let me introduce you to the Continental GT—the lightest, fastest and the most powerful Royal Enfield in production. A machine that also creates a new category in the mid-size motorcycle segment where Royal Enfield aims for global leadership—and that’s why the GT was first launched not in India, but in the UK in September.
The Continental GT is the same bike that Royal Enfield had displayed at the Auto Expo 2012 by the name of Café Racer. Now, café racing, as a culture, evolved during the 1960s in the UK and involved motorcycle enthusiasts (the Rockers—a biker subculture) using stripped down, customised motorcycles to race between transport cafés. These sporty, souped-up motorcycles gave birth to the café racer genre. Low-set handlebars and rear-set footpegs—lending to a crouched down riding posture—were the hallmarks of these café racers. They were also very simple machines that could be customised easily to make them more responsive and quicker.
Café racers of the 1960s and Royal Enfield’s own 1965 Continental GT—the first mass produced café racer of its time—have been the main design inspiration for the current Continental GT. This bike has a stretched out low-profile fuel tank with knee recesses for the authentic period café racer look. Then, it has a flat sculpted racing seat with contrast stitching and bump stop along with rear-set foldable footrests. There are trimmed front and rear mudguards that add to the clean lines of the Continental GT. It also has an upswept exhaust that allows more ground clearance, especially required when you are cornering at speed. Royal Enfield has worked closely with Xenophya Design of the UK in order to ensure that the Continental GT doesn’t miss out on design details. So as to retain the classic look, the bike is simple and devoid of the excesses that characterise many cruisers and superbikes of today. Although the machine we rode was a single-seater, the company is also offering a double-seat option.
For the Continental GT, Royal Enfield took the 499-cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled, unit construction engine that powers the Classic 500, and upgraded it to 535-cc by increasing its bore (up from 84 mm to 87 mm) while keeping stroke the same (90 mm). The company also re-mapped the ECU and the result is that it now produces 29.1 bhp of power and 44 Nm of torque. While the numbers may seem humble, the result is an extra punch and responsiveness that is so essential to its café racer character.
Royal Enfield has also worked with UK-based Harris Performance to create this bike’s chassis, which is essentially a twin downtube cradle frame on which the engine and the body is planted. While the front suspension is 41-mm telescopic fork that has a long, 110-mm travel, on the rear you have twin gas-charged Paioli shockers. But perhaps the two best things about the bike are its tyres and brakes. Royal Enfield has chosen Pirelli Sport Demon tyres for the Continental GT and to stop the bike you have Brembo brakes—the front is a 300-mm floating disc, while the rear is 240-mm disc. All this results in a motorcycle that is fun to ride. The Continental GT is, unarguably, the best handling Royal Enfield in production. Also, the ride is quite planted on most road conditions, but not all. While the bike is very smooth on good tarmac, some vibrations do trouble you on bad roads. Then, because you tend to sit in a way that a lot of your body weight shifts onto your hands, the ride can get tiring over a period of time. The bike we rode had these unique bar-end rear-view mirrors which, though small, are surprisingly functional and clearly show what’s following you.
Available in two colours—the signature GT red and a brand new shade of GT yellow—the bike retails for R2.05 lakh (on-road, Delhi) which, we believe, is a very good price point, especially considering the fact that we currently have only two café racers in the country and the other one, recently unveiled by a famous British manufacturer, will cost you about three times. “Find your café. We’ve built a racer,” so said Siddhartha Lal, the MD & CEO of the company, at its India launch in Goa. “With the Continental GT, Royal Enfield has given one thing back to the world of motorcycling—unadulterated fun. Go ride,” we say.