Sophisticated, refined, fast – these are not adjectives to describe Royal Enfield’s Continental GT Cafe Racer. But despite this, the Continental GT is one of the most enjoyable motorcycles we’ve recently ridden and if the main reason you ride is to bring a smile to your face, then this motorcycle deserves you to take a good look at it.
No other motorcycle company in the world has as long a history building motorcycles as Royal Enfield – even Harley-Davidson and Triumph came to the motorcycle manufacturing party after Enfield. The Continental GT itself is steeped in history with the first bike bearing its name released in 1965. And despite the current iteration Continental GT featuring modern features such as fuel injection and Brembo brakes, this bike pays homage to its past in more ways than one.
The present day Continental GT was first released in India in 2013 and is an evolution of the original design of so many decades ago. It looks authentically retro, much more like a Triumph Bonneville than a Ducati Scrambler in taking design cues from yesteryear. The red or yellow tank looks brilliant and there’s just enough chrome without being overwhelming.
The gold plated shock absorber reservoir and silver painted clip-ons detract from that slightly, but that’s made up with the simple and elegant gauges and traditional rounded headlight.
The trip down memory lane continues with its performance. The Royal Enfield Continental GT is powered by a 535cc air-cooled single cylinder engine. Yet, despite a decent amount of capacity it manages to only produce 29 horsepower and 44 Nm of torque while pulling 184 kilograms (plus rider) along.
Then there’s the vibrations. Those with fillings may need to take a detour to the dentist after a ride from the shaking this bike produces. Anything above 3,500 rpm (redline is 5,500) and depending on the speed, you may find yourself adapting your riding style just to calm the bike down.
Normally, such slow performance and lack of refinement would be enough to write this bike off without hesitation. And yet in an ironic way, its idiosyncrasies become a positive. With more and more motorcycles becoming so increasingly complex and refined (dare we say characterless?), the Continental GT is a breath of fresh air. It’s the complete opposite of what most expect from a modern day bike and it’s all the better for it.
The engine note is glorious. A single cylinder engine has no right to sound this good. Even with such a small amount of horsepower on tap, I blipped the throttle on every downshift just to hear the exhaust note and the potential backfire. The 18 inch front and rear wheels are shod with Pirelli Sport Demon tires which provide predictable levels of grip.
On the flipside, the rear brakes lock without much effort, the seat is firm and the rear shock, while compliant doesn’t have enough travel. It’s also going to be a tight squeeze if you want to carry a passenger with you, too.
And I love it all the more for that. The Continental GT has a certain X factor that’s hard to explain. If this was designed and sold as a sportsbike you wouldn’t give it a second look but it’s not – it’s a cafe racer through and through. It’s the type of motorcycle that really fits the cliche of inviting you to take the long way home just because you can. And while it’s not made for all day riding, it fulfills the role of commuter and weekend pleasure cruiser with aplomb.
The Royal Enfield Continental GT retails for $9,995 in Australia, £5,199 in the UK and $5,999 in the United States.
– With special thanks to Motosport Gold Coast.