Monday, November 18, 2013

RetroSexyCool

Way back in September this year, Helmet Stories' Harsh Man Rai was in London for the international launch of the much awaited Continental GT, Royal Enfield's latest offering to the Gods of speed, style and nostalgia. We are headed off for Rider Mania, Goa this week and then for the Indian launch of the Continental GT in an action packed week. Watch this space for photos, updates, news and happenings at both these events in the inimitable Helmet Stories style. Meanwhile, just before the India launch, here's Harsh's London report on the Royal Enfield's emotional bid for your retro-modern heart with the Continental GT. This article first appeared in EVO India magazine in the premiere October 2013 issue.

The Royal Enfield Continental GT has perhaps been the company’s worst kept secret. Ever since the café racer concept was revealed to adoring Enfieldistas, both at home and abroad at the Indian Auto Expo in 2012, whispers around the Internet and numerous sightings had sustained the hype around this motorcycle. We knew it would have a 535cc mill, we knew it wouldn’t have Ohlins doing shock duty, we knew it would feature a twin downtube cradle chassis crafted by Harris Performance, we knew that Royal Enfield had tipped their hat to their past once again and based the design on the 1965 Continental GT 250cc, and we knew it would be red. But, other than a select few, we had no idea how it would ride.

In a cunning masterstroke, Royal Enfield decided to launch of the Continental GT at the legendary Ace Café, the spiritual home of the ton-up rockers on the North Circular Road in northwest London. Early last month on a brisk English morning the forecourt of the Ace was a sea of luscious red and winking chrome where 40 spanking new Continental GTs were laid out for a bloat of international journalists, many among them the bleary-eyed who had flown 30 hours the day before to attend the launch. The nattiest journos were the trim-waisted Japanese in their vintage leathers and pudding bowl helmets, goggles dangling nonchalantly from their hand.



The Continental GT looks like a million dollars and Royal Enfield has nailed the retro racer look perfectly. Liveried in the heritage GT red body paint, the low-and-long fuel tank with knee recesses, clip-on bars, the solo seat complete with a cowl, the chrome engine and upswept exhaust providing a pleasing contrast. The twin-cradle frame is bookended by a conventional 41mm fork and a pair of preload adjustable Paioli gas-charged shocks. The 18-inch Excel aluminum wheels wear Pirelli Sport Demons that have a period-correct look, size 110/90-18 front and 130/70-18 rear. Up front, two-piston Brembo calipers pinch a 300mm floating disc, while at the rear a 240mm disc, single piston floating caliper help to haul down the bike from speed.
There are a few things more mechanically satisfying in this world than kick starting a motorcycle to life (electric start is there, if you must, but remember this is the Ace Cafe) and hearing the snarl of a well-tuned single. First stop on the ride is Brooklands, the first purpose-built banked motor race circuit in the world that opened in 1907 when the speed limit in Britain was subject to a blanket 32 kph speed limit on public roads. The track has fallen into disrepair long ago but is regarded as the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation and the site of many engineering and technological achievements. Today the Brookland Museum displays a wide range of Brooklands-related motoring and aviation exhibits. A few minutes into my 35-km ride, I had already developed a great appreciation for the Continental GT’s air-cooled, 535 engine and with the excellent Keihin-FI injection system nowhere in the rev range did I find a hint of hesitation or sign of a stumble, just precise fueling.  The comfortable seat isn’t too high (or too low) for my 30-inch inseam, allowing my boots to be firmly planted at stops. The smallish bar-end mirrors offer an excellent rear view, while the twin clocks provide just the pertinent information via a pair of analog gauges and a small LCD display. The reach to the clip-on bars has my torso fairly upright over the tank but the relaxed yet not-too-lazy slightly sporty rear sets allow me to tuck in my elbows and hunker down at higher speeds. Around town, the GT carries its claimed 185-kg curb weight well, providing agile handling. The power of the front brakes, as well as the feel, is excellent and I felt little need to feather the rear disc even in the stop-and-go London traffic. A few runs on the short useable part of Brooklands banked circuit and we are off to Brighton and are promised 90 km of some twisties and flat-out motorway sections.

The Continental GT’s engine has a flat torque curve almost right off idle and carries through the mid-range that allows an easy modulation of the throttle giving the bike an easy to ride character. On top, the GT’s peak 29.1 bhp at 5100 rpm isn’t staggering, but simply fun. With 535cc on tap the Continental GT is Royal Enfield’s most powerful model and a lighter flywheel, a larger inlet valve and throttle body and a remapped ECU endow it with snappier acceleration much unlike its predecessors. On the faster tarmac, vibrations kicks in at speeds above 110 kph and gets fairly alarming by 125 kph, which is anyway faster than you’ll want to go on this motorcycle until you find a windscreen or some lower bars to relieve the air pressure on your retro half face helmet. The braveheart Aussies saw a claimed 145 kph on their speedos, but I decided to stay on the side of barely legal speeds. The rear dual shocks serve up a shade over 3 inches of wheel travel out back, and you can adjust their preload. Overall it’s all quite nice and good in particular at soaking up small bumps, but big bumps and quick changes of direction remind you why single-shock rears with more travel and progressive linkages killed off the dinosaurs. But for 95 per cent of street duty, the GT is the suspension is settled and damped well. Once the pace is picked up on a twisty road, the narrow tire choices make sense. Turn-in is light and predictable; while mid-corner stability is the best I’ve seen on a Royal Enfield. Getting the GT through a turn doesn’t take much effort or thought; it’s just natural, like riding a bicycle as a kid. In fact in terms of ride and handling, the Continental GT is undoubtedly the best Royal Enfield ever.  On the highway, the seat is capable of fairly long rides without numbness or discomfort to your backside as I found out on the ride to Brighton.


Every ride is too short when the bike is good, right? Well, I can’t complain, because my small taste of the Royal Enfield Continental GT left me with a very positive first impression. Very few bikes have felt as instantly familiar as the GT did after such a short ride and the nostalgic cool is just icing on a very tempting cake. Royal Enfield’s modern take on its original ’65 Continental GT 250 isn’t incredibly fast, terribly sporty or amazingly cutting-edge: the new GT’s a bike you just hop on like you used to do, 
especially when you’ve got no particular place to go. Nostalgic it might be and a feast 
for some eyes, but it’s also a super-functional, easy-to-ride motorcycle. The character is there when you’re riding, and you get it without all that character building in the garage. And when all you want to do is go on a ride, what better bike than a fully modern but totally authentic blast from the past? Royal Enfield has delivered. The café racer is back.