For many, fun, practicality, and freedom are the building blocks of motorcycling— and that’s what Royal Enfield entices American motorcyclists with its affordable Continental GT ($5999). This Indian-built bike blends the nostalgic look and feel of a vintage cafe racer with modern features including fuel-injection and disc brakes, offering riders the best of both worlds.
(Top) The Continental is powered by a fuel-injected and air-cooled 535cc Single. It fires to life via electric start or a kickstarter (Center) Rear suspension is handled by a pair of gas-charged and preload adjustable shocks. The GT also sports a disc rear brake with stainless-steel brake lines—a nice touch. (Bottom) The cockpit of the GT is small but still workable for even taller riders. We appreciate its sporty, yet not overly demanding riding stance.
The new-for-2014 Continental GT is a remake of the 1964 original. It’s powered by a beautifully styled and oversized 535cc version of Enfield’s classic air-cooled Single. It sports a simple two-overhead-valve head and breathes through a fuel injection-equipped throttle body and a chrome megaphone-style exhaust. It also gets a lighter flywheel, refined fuel mapping, and a modified air intake box. The engine sips 87-octane gas from a 3.6-gallon fuel tank and fires to life via push button electric start, or manually with a kick-starter. It puts power to pavement through a cable-actuated and oil-bathed clutch, manual five-speed transmission, and chain final drive.
The all-aluminum engine is hung inside a totally revamped chassis developed by Harris Performance Products, a high-end British road racing shop that specializes in chassis and suspension development. The frame is constructed from steel and uses a ‘featherbed’ design in which the main frame tubes are parallel and reinforced to one another.
Helping shield riders from the tarmac is a braced and damping-fixed 41mm fork (4.3-in. of available stroke) and a pair of Italian-sourced and preload adjustable Paioli gas-charged shocks (3.1-in. travel). The GT rolls on a pair of 18-inch wire spoked aluminum wheels shod with tubeless Pirelli Speed Demon rubber (100/90 front, 130/70 rear). Both rims wear a cross-drilled disc brake actuated hydraulically through stainless-steel lines (a noteworthy feature, considering its price point). There’s also a center stand to ease maintenance chores.
Aesthetically the Continental sports a refined look that stays true to its cafe racer roots. We appreciate its authentic and era-correct wasp-style seat, elongated fuel tank with Monza-styled (but non flip-up fuel cap), and the beautifully polished engine and cylinder head cases. It’s a great looking motorcycle in either its red or yellow colorway, and like a nice-fitting black suit, it’s sure to get attention anywhere you go.
With a full tank of fuel, the Continental GT is claimed to weigh 406 pounds but feels even lighter in motion offering the agility of a mini-bike. Yet the riding position isn’t cramped for a six-foot tall rider. The GT’s low seat height (31.5 inches) ensures that virtually any sized rider will be comfortable, offering a sporty but not overly demanding riding pose. In spite of its racing-inspired design the Continental has limited cornering clearance—especially on the port side, as the bottom of the frame kisses asphalt before the footpeg feelers. However, if you can keep from leaning it over too far, the chassis is taut, accurate and has enough potential to put a grin on your face—especially through tighter curves.
(Left) The GT feels much lighter than its 406-claimed curb weight. It offers the maneuverability of a motorcycle much smaller than 500cc. (Center) The fuel tank has an elongated shape with cut-outs for the rider’s knees. It also gets an Monza-style (but non flip-up fuel cap). (Right) Excessive vibration through the handlebars will bother some. But after a while it just becomes more of an authentic vintage experience.
Starting the engine is as simple as a push of a button, or if you’re feeling daring, it can be accomplished through one well-timed prod of the kickstarter (make sure the piston is at top dead center, or it could take a few kicks for it to light). There’s also a handlebar-mounted hot start/cylinder decompression lever, but it didn’t seem to make a difference when kicking over the engine, hot or cold. Another oddity, is that the motorcycle can be started even with the kickstand down. Twist the throttle and you’ll be rewarded by a throaty-sounding exhaust note that’s matched well to the overall character of the bike.
(Top) The Continental’s chassis feels taut and delivers all the right sensations through corners. Cornering clearance, however is limited—especially on the left side. (Center) Despite limited ground clearance we still enjoyed the way the GT handles. It is well suited to tight, twisty tarmac and is very easy to ride. (Bottom) Engine performance is lackluster. Though the engine does pump out a smooth spread of power that will be appreciated in a novice rider’s hands.
Although it’s claimed to pump out 32.5 lb-ft of peak torque (at 4000 rpm) and 29 horsepower at
4100 rpm the engine feels sluggish at any rpm. The limited power it does have comes on smooth and the calibration of the fuel-injection and throttle response is spot-on. Like an old bike, engine vibration through the controls is excessive. If you’re used to riding modern motorcycles it feels extreme. Once you get accustomed to it, it isn’t all that bad and actually complements the riding experience accurately. Still, this isn’t a motorcycle we’d want to ride for more than a couple hours.
The clutch has a feathery light pull and wide engagement point which is a big plus for riders that have limited experience with a manual-style clutch. The gearbox has a short throw between each of its five gears but the ratios are widely spaced from one another, and when paired with the engine’s limited power, makes straight-line acceleration even more mundane. There’s little to complain about in regards to the GT’s braking performance with either brake adept at shedding speed and helping the rider making a safe, controlled stop.
If you’re looking for a fun, little bike to cruise around town on, then this retro-styled Enfield should be top of your list. Although it isn’t the fastest thing on the road, it runs well, looks sharp and offers just enough performance to keep you entertained. And with a price just under six grand it won’t break the bank.
- Looks incredible for a retro bike
- Extremely agile and easy to ride
- Ear pleasing exhaust note
- Lackluster engine acceleration performance
- Excessive vibration
- Limited cornering clearance