If you were to construct a motorcycle from the ground up, starting with a proven frame, a reliable electronic fuel-injection system, and outfitted with enough name-brand parts to keep you within the lines on the road—yet you had to stay on a budget—the Royal Enfield Continental GT would be your choice two-wheeler. It’s packed with as much potential from the factory as a custom bespoke option out of your garage.
Instantaneously recognized as being inspired by café racers, the Continental GT is made for the masses that want a bike with no frills, but an all-encompassing and bona fide two-wheel experience. With a new state of the art Royal Enfield factory pumping out one motorcycle per minute of operation, equaling roughly 1,000 a day, RE is on par to provide a multitude of riders with a 535cc single-cylinder performance motor, making it their most powerful motorcycle in production.
Seating position is appropriately lower and forward facing, but not at the sacrifice of overall comfort. Royal Enfield made sure to position the handlebars above the yoke, not below, and the rear pegs perpendicular to the front of the rear tire, so that it still feels sporty from the get go. You’re going to get the traditional motorcycle ass ache, but that’s what comes with the experience of riding. (You’re already somewhat of a nutter for riding a motorcycle anyway, so just deal with it.)
As far as looks go, it’s, well, incredibly awesome. While not everyone is totally in love with café racers—often times going for the insect-like, explicitly in-your-face nature of a superbike, or the pedestrian, khaki wearing, radio blaring, high “book ‘em Danno” windshield cruiser bike crowd—most all people understand simplicity and nostalgic cues. Everything from the Smith style gauges that simply display speed, RPM, turn signals and fuel, to the minimal body panels and fairings, the GT was made to be simple, light and overtly fun. Plus, as the English say, you won’t look like a cock while riding this bike; if anything you’ll be cooler. Add a porn ’stache and a Barbour quilted jacket and getting tail should be easier than throwing a baseball into an ocean.
You’re not going to win any races with the Continental GT, unless you’re tearing it up with a Schwinn Hornet on a back road. However, what the GT lacks in pure, brute power it makes up for with a honed chassis by notable English maker Harris Performance Products, LTD. While the 29.1hp (Yes, the .1 makes a difference) won’t throw you off the bike with abrupt acceleration and visceral performance, the chassis in combination with the Pirelli tires and Paioli adjustable suspension offers a firm connection between front fork and the road. And when you start feeling a bit of lift at higher speeds, it’s as simple as tucking and leaning over the front wheel to get more traction and stability, especially in high-speed sweepers. For beginning riders, the GT has a soft learning curve that makes it forgivable and tractable. If you needed to grab a fistful of brakes, the standard Brembos are firm and offer predictable bite. In other words, you get what you’re opting in for.
While the sum of all parts is a relative bargain for $5,999, some minor quips and faults hamper the joyful experience at times. The 5-speed gearbox sometimes feels like stirring a bowl of rice with a shovel, which can make you search for gears when rev-matching. Going from third to second, I found that one out of around 20 times, the gearbox would hunt for the correct cog and make a high-pitched whirring sound, which would only be rectified when changing gears up or down. (Though, a word of caution: If you’re going fast and this happens, always shift up. The reason is that if you shift down and the rear wheel tries to catch up to a particular gear, it can get loose, causing the wheel to kick out and you to possibly slide out). Also, the GT could use a bit more power. Granted, the majority of people who buy this bike wouldn’t want or expect more for their needs, or will only be using the bikes on weekend rides to the artesian bakery, but 29.1 horsepower is very limiting. (And getting passed by a 1995 Chevy S10 pickup on the uphill makes you self conscious.) You almost want to hop off and push. Exhaust noises do make up for lack of power, however, as you’ll want to keep the revs in the power band and listen to the deep and throaty single cylinder pushing explosions in a controllable manor.
But lack of power and some minor quirks aside, the Royal Enfield Continental GT is a bike made for everyday cruising and for the enjoyment of the activity and freedom of motorcycle riding. The gas mileage, comfort, looks, sounds and excitement add to an experience that can be accomplished whether riding to the office, or to the mountain. Being on a bike is like nothing else: The sense of personal space and open air feels like flying, and the pleasure is only multiplied when being on something as simple, rewarding and easy to operate as the Continental GT. If you’re looking for personal expression and enriching adventures, Royal Enfield has a bike for you.
Photography by Mark Jenkinson.