‘Motorcyling’ is a subjective discipline. It might equate to plain commuting for some while it could be a way of life for others. And there is many a category in between that would have people with definitions (or perceptions) of the word as unique as their own selves.
It’s thanks to this varied lot that keeps manufacturers on their toes to keep bettering their game, which in turn has gradually, but steadily, pushed sales of premium motorcycles despite fuel-efficient commuter bikes being the mainstay of our two-wheeler industry for as long as we remember.
Royal Enfield continues to cash in on this trend and occupies a staggering 95 per cent share in the above-250cc category. Of course, zero competition in that cubic-capacity range from Indian manufacturers and high-priced imports have played a huge role too, but it’s the staunch RE fans who Siddharta Lal should be thanking more…
The bike that you see here, the Continental GT, also known as RE’s Café Racer, is touted by the company as its best product yet, and Mr. Lal envisions buyers outside the RE circle as well to welcome the bike with open arms. A lot has already been written about the bike so I will skip through the non-essentials and try to clear the apprehensions that still abound.
How much is the oomph factor?
Obviously, it’s not just the posers who want to be seen on a good-looking bike; even the least narcissistic of the lot will coyly agree that those turning heads and admiring glances do add to the feel-good factor. So, if being the centre-of-attraction is high up on your priority list, just buy this bike without reading any further.
The number of “appreciative” nods and gestures you’ll get on the Conti GT would be second to none on our roads – this is the best-looking motorcycle in India at present, period. Yes, that statement means that it looks better than every other motorcycle on sale in our country today. UK’s Xenophya Design has gotten it perfect and contrary to what you may think, it would have taken little to botch it up. The careful restraint is evident in the minimalist design and perfect proportions of the GT.
The design is indeed the strongest part of the GT but the execution, sadly, isn’t. I am referring to the build quality and overall fit and finish here – bikes like the Suzuki Hayate, costing a fourth of GT’s price, are better in that aspect! This bike gets manufactured at the company’s new plant at Oragadam and it’s a pity that, against our expectations, we still get to see ugly welds on such a beautiful bike.
Does it have the GO to match the show?
If not for the engine, the Continental GT would have been Royal Enfield’s first all-new motorcycle in the last one hundred years. Okay, ignore the reference to time, but seriously, when was the last time you saw a completely all-new motorcycle from the iconic marque? The engine in the GT has been taken from the Classic 500 and bored to accommodate 36 cubic centimeters more.
So, the GT puts out 29.1 bhp at 5,100 rpm while the torque is rated at 44 Nm at 4,000 rpm. Most of us would be aware that the 1960s RE café racer used to produce 21 horses from its 250cc motor…
Anyway, if an 883 cc Harley-Davidson produces around 50 bhp, I am okay with the 535’s ‘claimed’ power output, but the problem is – it does not feel like 29 bhp to me. And this was when the test bike had the aftermarket RE performance exhaust slapped on. Of course, the GT is considerably quicker and faster than all its siblings but there is always a slight hesitation in the proceedings and no, I am not talking about the fueling here. Still, the ton comes up in 12 seconds from a standstill while the true top speed of 132 km/h is also much better than the other bullets.
The biggest issue is the vibration that starts at around 3,000 rpm and gets so harsh at 4,000 revs that despite having a better top-end at your disposal you still would be compelled to ride along with other bullets at 90 km/h. This engine needs to be rubber-mounted. The shift-quality of the 5-speed gearbox is also better than other RE bikes but is nowhere close to the ones offered by the Japanese (or even the Americans) in refinement or precision. The fuel efficiency tries to compensate though by offering more than 25 km/l, even in the worst of city traffic, so I suspect that it would return around 35-37 km/l on highways – that is a great figure for that big an engine, but I did not get to test it.
Ride and Handling
Can it dance?
As I mentioned above that it’s only the engine which is not new in this bike – every other major component is. The chassis breaks away from the single downtube norm of the bullets to a more rigid and dynamically better twin-cradle steel frame from Harris Performance (of UK again). The alloy rims with chunky spokes, Brembo brakes, Paioli shock absorbers, 41 mm fork tubes superb Pirelli rubber – all combine to make this newest RE motorcycle handle better than all REs until now.
But, don’t get fooled by the looks though as this is still a heavy motorcycle that tips the scales at 184kg. However, once on the move, it handles like a charm. Again, it’s not effortless, and no matter what you do that R15 rider will vanish on the twisties, but keep in mind the bike’s weight and slow turn-in behavior and you can still have loads of fun with this number.
The suspension is set on the stiffer side and the brakes are the best that we have seen on an Enfield yet. This again reiterates that this is the best handling RE at present. However, you would want to take it easy on bad roads. This is just one area all other Enfields would leave the GT in the dust. So, while you gingerly traverse that broken section, your friend on his Standard or Classic would thunder along without even flinching.
Having said that, you certainly reclaim the honor soon by swooshing past him at 130 km/h… and then immediately backing off – not for the sake of any solidarity, but because of the aforementioned vibration. More consoling is the fact that the riding position of the GT is not at all punishing as I had thought it to be. Those clip-ons are mounted on top of the triple clamps placing your hands at almost the same height as a conventional straight ‘bar would. Taller riders might feel a bit awkward with but it’s nothing that you can’t get used to.
Price & Colors
Not insanely priced!
Royal Enfield, for the first time ever, appears to be going hip! The Continental GT, apart from the bright red color is also offered in a gleaming Yellow, which against our thoughts, looks tasty! Its not that dirty after-market yellow that you see on some used cars; this one has a slight Orange-ish tinge to it, and a quick informal poll saw the scales tilt in Yellow’s favour more.
Thankfully, Royal Enfield has priced the Continental GT nicely and the on-road price of a little over 2 Lakh in almost all major cities of India pegs it slightly above the Thunderbird 500, which until now was the most expensive model in the RE lineup.
Will you commit?
Okay, so we did see that the Continental GT for sure is the best Royal Enfield yet, and while at it, it’s more frugal than some 250cc bikes too. It’s also comforting to know that it’s available to us at half the price of what it sells for in the United Kingdom. However, the fit and finish leaves a lot to be desired and the performance, ride and handling puts the GT nowhere close to the more modern machinery offered by other manufacturers for the same or even lesser price (Duke 390 and CBR 250 R being the prime examples).
But, this is not a bike to be measured by that yardstick. This is one of those bikes that will have you reset your morning alarm-clocks. You would want to get up earlier than usual and go for a quick spin on it, and the small ride would just be the appetiser for you to ditch the car and ride to work instead to enjoy more of that fix. People would start wondering when did you start smiling so much, and they would be also surprised to see your display picture on social networking sites changing from the one in those Ray-Bans to the GT’s.
*Here are all the seating options for Continental GT
Yes, this is not a bike that you would buy for its 0-100 km/h times or for its top-end whack; you would buy this art-on-wheels for ambling around at a pace that makes YOU feel good – now ain’t that motorcycling all about? Subjective it is, you see.
Royal Enfield Continental GT Pic Gallery [117 Pics]: