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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 16 September 2013

Royal Enfield Continental GT

We rode the new 535cc Continental GT last week and it'll be featured in full in RealClassic magazine. While you're waiting for that roadtest, here's the background info about this all-new café racer...

2013 has been an eventful year for Royal Enfield, both at home in India and in one of its most important export markets here in the UK. The firm's new manufacturing plant at Oragadam near Chennai became fully operational in the first half of the year and is expected to build 175,000 motorcycles this year; then 250,000 in 2014, with capacity in hand to double that level of production in future to match the anticipated global demand for Enfield motorcycles. One of the first in-house, all-new models to roll out of Oragadam debuted in London last week - the Continental GT.

Those heel plates are ripe for improvement... 2013 Royal Enfield Continental GT

In recent years, new Enfield motorcycles were imported into the UK by Watsonian who made a significant contribution to the development and design of many of the special, British-market only variants. Compared to the potential global market - especially in India and China - UK sales are relatively modest and can't be an especially profitable area of operations for Eicher, Enfield's gigantic parent company. However, the old 'home' market has always been important to the company, if only for the prestige value of maintaining the historic ties.

And I think that grab handle is upside down... 2013 Royal Enfield Continental GT

Watsonian opted to give up the franchise earlier in 2013 however, choosing to become an independent Enfield specialist, and a new importer was appointed this summer. Since then, things have been pretty quiet…

…until now. With much fanfare, Royal Enfield launched the first new model to spearhead their international campaign. And they have chosen to move the brand upmarket and somewhat sideways, seeking to seduce chic and sleek younger riders with a 1960's style café racer. Sporting clip-on bars, a fashionably flat, solo seat, clean lines and kicked-up silencer the Continental GT certainly looks the part. Enfield collaborated with Harris Performance to develop the new twin-downtube cradle frame - which, to be blunt, is somewhat over the top for the 29bhp single-cylinder engine it houses at present. Presumably there'll be something with two cylinders along in a wee while to fill all that empty space.

Enfield have also raided the European parts-bin for posh-sounding components, so the Continental comes equipped with twin gas-charged Paioli shocks at the back, 41mm forks at the front, Pirelli boots and Brembo brakes. The rear 240mm single disc would probably be up to the job of controlling the Continental's energy all on its ownsome but - in a world where appearances are everything and the numbers on the spec sheet matter - the front end boasts a 300mm disc with floating dual-piston caliper set-up.

Very Metal...
Royal Enfields on Now...

The unit construction engine, which has been running around for several years in various capacities, comes to the UK as a 535cc for the first time. The electronic fuel injection system now comes courtesy of Keihin, and has been remapped 'to deliver that extra punch and responsiveness.' The 87mm by 90mm motor runs at 8.5:1 compression, can be started by foot or electric button, runs through a five-speed constant mesh gearbox to a wet multiplate clutch, and outputs its 29.1bhp at 5100rpm. Max torque of 44Nm is at 4000rpm, which is in line with the firm's aim to deliver easily accessible output, making the Continental 'nimble with a lot of useable power and torque… fun to ride at regular road going speeds.'

The Continental has been developed for 'a post-performance era' (feel free to draw your own conclusion about what that means) 'where consumers are increasingly looking for authentic, evocative and uncomplicated motorcycles.'

Insert your own 'post performance era' joke here...

Potential riders - sorry, consumers - will no doubt be delighted to know that there was as much information in the press pack about the accompanying range of accessories and clothing as there was about the motorcycle itself. But that's only to be expected; some manufacturers don't even bother building a bike before they get their t-shirts on the shelves.

Royal Enfield are undoubtedly serious about attracting a different type of rider (younger, if the photos are anything to go by, with a distinct inclination towards self-indulgent ill-humour and a bathroom shelf stacked with 'product') to the Continental GT. The price looks to be about right: at £5200 OTR the Continental significantly undercuts the cost of the most popular retro-roadsters available in the UK; Kawasaki's W800, Triumph Bonneville and Moto Guzzi's V7. But can the Continental's good looks make up for the limitations of its single-cylinder motor? Can style compensate for a 30bhp shortfall? Royal Enfield seem to think so.

Young lady points at kickstart. Or hurty knee. We're not sure...

Siddhartha Lal, MD and CEO of Eicher Motors came to London himself to emphasise the importance of the new model. 'As we aim to become a global leader in the mid-size motorcycle market, the all-new Continental GT is the right product at the right time with interest in café racers rising across the world,' he said. 'We are confident that with this product we will create a new segment in mid-size motorcycling, with bikes that are holistic in their approach, and are great fun to ride in cities and on B-roads and adequately adept for motorways too.'

So. Can the new Continental GT live up to its aims? Will it be user-friendly, easy to maintain and rewarding to ride?

Ready to roll...

We put the GT through its paces, ride it to Brighton and back, and answer at least some of those questions in RC115, November 2013 issue.

Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos: Paul Miles / Royal Enfield

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