First Ride: 2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT

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2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT

The first all-new design from the Indian brand in 50 years (you read that right), the 2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT is the most faithful recreation of the original café racer yet attempted. Can a classic bike work in the modern world? RideApart contributor and Mumbai resident Bjorn Schutrumpf took one to Goa to find out. – ED

Photos: Bjorn Schutrumpf

What’s New

The Continental GT is the lightest, fastest and most powerful bike Royal Enfield currently makes. It is also the first to use international-quality components: the double-loop steel frame was designed by England’s legendary Harris Performance, tires are Pirellis, brakes are by Brembo and the shocks are Paioli units, complete with remote reservoirs. Best of all, the design was penned by Xenophya.

It truly does look like it came from a different time, when bikes were simple and honest machines. The air-cooled, single-cylinder unit is equipped with a kick-starter in addition to the electric pushbutton start on the handlebar. Two simple gauges show speed and revs and the single-rider seat is basic and flat – without being uncomfortable. The wheels are spoked and covered by metal fenders, there’s a simple round headlight and absolutely no bodywork interferes with your view of the engine.

That 535cc engine produces just 29.1 bhp at 5,100 rpm and 32 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. All-up weight is 405 lbs, with its 3.5-gallon tank 90 percent full. That’s 35cc more than previous Royal Enfields, with the additional performance allowing a claimed top speed of 89 mph.

First Ride: 2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT
2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT

The Ride

But that’s not a speed I felt comfortable testing on the Goan highways in India. Here, those are jointly shared between cars, trucks, TukTuks, motorcycles, scooters, cows, stray dogs and even boy racers using all of the above as chicanes.

In those conditions, the Continental GT was perfect. It’s diminutive size, easy going performance and accessible nature paired with the high quality components to deliver a great sense of control in a chaotic environment. The skid marks leading to a truck that pulled out in front of me can testify to that. I survived unscathed, but took it as a sign to explore the traffic-free back roads.

Through those rural corners, with only cows and stray dogs to dodge, the Continental GT comes into its own. The stiff frame is untroubled by potholes and bumps while the suspension is compliant and nearly plush. Steering is quick and responsive, allowing you to eat up corners while using the entire rev range.

This new motor has been set-up to make its top end more useable in comparison to the existing range of 500cc thumpers. That gives it a more willing nature, asking you to push it.

Riding at 60 to 65 mph on this bike is a real thrill. At speeds that wouldn’t get a modern performance bike out of first gear, you’re testing the limits of the Enfield’s narrow tires.

Fitted with clip-ons, albeit ones mounted above the top yoke, the riding position is a good compromise between comfort and control. A full day of riding will strain your wrists, but this is, after all, a café racer, one that’s entertaining and engaging to ride, so its worth it.

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT
2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT & cow

What’s Good

I haven’t yet had the chance to ride the bike through the gridlocked mayhem of Mumbai, but the lightweight, narrow bars and nimble nature should make the Continental GT a great commuter.

Royal Enfield has opened a new production line for the Continental GT. Foreign parts, design and quality control as well as modern assembly lines and processes have gone a long way toward creating build quality that is much better than expected. The aircraft-style filler cap is one such example, beautiful to look at and perfectly finished.

It delivers a much more authentic retro experience than any Bonneville will ever provide.

Despite that originality, the gear lever is on the left side! This deserves special mention, as the brand made that switch just 10 years ago.

What’s Bad

The Five-Speed gearbox wasn’t shifting perfectly, trapping itself in neutral as I tried to shift up into 2nd. Not good while fleeing packs of feral dogs.

The bike could easily make 10 bhp more. Hey, at least tuning it will be easy.

The horn is overly loud. This is a problem when using it to say, “thank you,” “hello,” or signaling a direction change, as it is commonly done on Indian roads.

Royal Enfield Continental GT
2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT

The Price

Well, it’s definitely going to be cheaper than that other Continental GT… This is the big question hanging over the bike’s U.S. release next year. At the likely $6,000 price point, you’re really going to have to want retro style to pull the trigger. The Honda 500 trio offers vastly more capable performance at the same price.

The Verdict

Royal Enfield hopes the Continental GT will help it expand sales outside of India. Whether it can do that depends on the market’s readiness to give up modern performance for something that doesn’t just look like its straight out of the 1950s, but rides like it too. They gained at least one customer though. I’m going to go ahead and buy one. I’ll let you know how it holds up to Mumbai’s monsoon season.

RideApart Rating: 7/10

More Photos: 2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT >>

  • Blu E Milew

    29hp out of 535cc? And I thought my 14 year old DRZ400 was low on power..

    • Rich Wentz

      My thoughts exactly.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    Did you just gripe about the horn being too loud? That is more Pro than a con here in the US

    • Jay Temkar

      It is Pro in India as well…In India people constantly honks..and many times for no reason..

  • 200 Fathoms

    “It delivers a much more authentic retro experience than any Bonneville will ever provide.”

    What does this mean?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      The bonnie is a modern bike in retro dress. The Enfield is a classic bike made using modern production methods.

      • Piglet2010

        A good thing too – although I would argue about the rear suspension on the Bonnie being modern.

  • David

    “fastest and most powerful bike Royal Enfield has ever produced.”

    Hmm, I think this needs a fact check…. I believe the fastest motorcycle Royal Enfield ever produced was the Interceptor, which had a reported top speed of 120 mph from contemporary magazines. This is probably a little optimistic, but owning one, I can verify that they put out more than 30 horsepower and will top “the ton.” It was the fastest street-legal production motorcycle that was produced in the early-mid 1960′s.

    For reference check the chart provided here:
    http://www.cycleworld.com/2012/04/02/fifty-years-of-do-you-have-any-idea-how-fast-you-were-going/3/

    • Dan Kearney

      Should have read “Fastest Indian Royal Enfield” ever. . .

      Cheers

    • William Hardy

      couldn’t help noticing the 1949 Vincent – 18 years before there was a contender…

    • ThruTheDunes

      In fairness to the reviewer (Bjorn), the quote at the start of the article says the …lightest, fastest and most powerful bike Royal Enfield currently makes, not that they ever made.

      • David

        The review was updated since I made my comment.

        • ThruTheDunes

          Ah, I was unaware, thank you for putting that in context. And for fostering the correction. Most appreciated.

  • Chris Davis

    I love the acknowledgment that customers want trimmed fenders so let’s just make it easy on everyone and make them that way to begin with, adding plastic (and no doubt easily removable) extensions to meet legal requirements. Well done.

    • TP

      Good point

  • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

    Great review! I’m also impressed that a man named “Bjorn” lives in India.

  • biloo

    Enfeild…”the reason we lost the empire”.

    • bbradsby

      i thought it was because of Lucas electrics

      • HammSammich

        No, that’s just why they drink warm beer (Lucas Refrigerators). ;)

  • Maneesh Joshi

    “It delivers a much more authentic retro experience than any Bonneville will ever provide”.

    Now what exactly is that remark supposed to mean? In which sphere of retro has this statement been premised? Looks? Take a look at every single Bonneville model and a remarkable similarity would be noticed. Performance including reliability? Exactly the opposite.

    Before making such sweeping declarations, in all integrity and honesty, you should spend some time with the motorcycle and then perhaps, the stage would be set to compare it with the Bonneville.

    Perhaps, in an associated manner, you should also read the comments of Mr Siddharth Lal, the boss of Royal Enfield India about what he thinks of Triumph. I trust you are not of the same mould…

    • ThruTheDunes

      My vote would be to start the retro experience comparison by kickstarting the new retro Bonnie and the new retro RE. No, wait…

  • Scott

    That is a handsome bike! Any idea what the numbers on the front are for?

    • Dan Kearney

      Indian Rego. Cheers

  • Rich Wentz

    Pretty bike. Great style. But I know they can get a bit more power out of that thumper.