5 things I've learned winter riding a Royal Enfield Continental GT 650

Royal Enfield’s cafe racer-style retro bike has proven an ideal cold-weather companion

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 in front of Christmas tree

Ever since passing my test, I’ve been a fair-weather rider. At the slightest drizzle of rain, my helmet and leathers have remained shut away in the cupboard, and the latest I’ve ever ridden in the year is mid-ish November, and that was only because of an unseasonably warm weekend of weather we had one year. 

But for 2023, I’ve turned over a new leaf. A bit of rain no longer stops me from wheeling the bike out of the garage, and most importantly, I’m riding through winter. Why? Because life’s too short to stop riding for several months every year. Granted, I’m not going to be heading out in snowy conditions to prove a point, but on those days when the roads are (mostly) dry and it’s warm enough that there’s little to no risk of hitting a nasty patch of black ice, I’ll sure as hell be donning some baselayers and popping out for a blast. 

It helps that the bike I’m currently testing is a Royal Enfield Continental GT 650, which has proven a fantastic winter companion. Here’s why.

The power output is ideal

With an A2 license-compliant 47bhp and around 30lb ft of torque on tap, the Continental GT 650's parallel twin has an ideal amount of poke for winter riding. You don’t feel like you’re wasting some hefty output you’re not comfortable with fully deploying when the asphalt is cold and might not be entirely dry. 

You can use the whole lot quite comfortably, and while it doesn’t feel hugely quick (perhaps due to the weight - it's about 35kg bulkier than a Honda CB500 Hornet but no more powerful), there's more than enough performance to satisfy newer riders and seasoned bikers alike. Thanks to the parallel twin’s 270-degree crank, it also makes a lovely, suitably rumbly noise. 

It’s easy to keep clean (but looks great dirty)

There's really not much in the way of bodywork, making it easy to keep the Continental GT clean. Granted, you could say that about most naked bikes, but there's no weird alien face-like headlight arrangement here to collect dirt in tricky-to-clean crevices. Instead, there's a single, round, old-school headlamp. And if you're not willing/able to keep on top of cleaning it, that doesn't matter - it's one of those bikes that wears the muck well. 

It’s simple 

Some slightly fogged-up clocks have been the only quality/reliability concern so far

If you like having the safety net of things like traction control and riding modes with softer throttle maps, we absolutely don't want to discourage that mindset. That being said, having a simpler bike like the Conti’ GT when the riding conditions aren't always optimal gets you into good habits.

The only rider aid it has is the now mandatory ABS, and it's a straightforward dual-channel setup. There's no TC, and there are no rider modes. As such, while riding one of these through winter, you'll probably find yourself taking a bit more care, reading the road better, and learning more sympathetic throttle control. 

Riding it feels like an occasion

Yes, you could buy something like a grotty old Yamaha XJ6 from Facebook Marketplace to fulfil winter hack duties, and many do - if you commute whatever the weather, something like that fits the bill brilliantly. But if you're only going to be riding for pleasure, you'll need a bike that actually encourages you to layer up and head out in the cold. 

The Continental GT does this for me. With its café racer-style looks, courtesy of that perfectly sculpted ‘coffin’ tank, and (reasonably relaxed) clip-ons, I only need to give it a quick glance, and I want to gear up and go. And once you're on it, it feels like a proper ‘occasion’, whether you're just pootling down to the shops to get some milk to stick in one of the soft panniers (they're great, by the way), or a nice, country-road jaunt.

It does wonders for the brain

When it's cold, the days are short and the general pressures of this time of year start to mount, every ride on the Continental GT has made me feel better. And here's the great thing - whatever bike you have in the garage could do the same for you. Get out, have a ride, and I can pretty much guarantee your mood will be lifted.