Road Test

Road test: Royal Enfield Continental GT review

With a range of new Royal Enfields on the way, we give the firm's current flagship another look

AN interesting year lies ahead for Royal Enfield. At least three new models are expected using two new engine platforms including a parallel-twin.

The Indian firm is opening a development facility in Leicestershire and recently acquired British chassis maker Harris Performance, who designed the frame in the excellent Continental GT.

But how excellent is it? With a new adventure bike due using a modified Continental GT chassis, and a new range coming with help from Harris, I thought it was a good time to have another go on the flagship café racer.   

So I took RE up on an offer of joining a ride on Continental GTs from the firm’s shop in south-west London to the Goodwood Revival in West Sussex, via Brighton.

A 7.30am start at the shop, breakfast in Brighton then on to Goodwood. Three hours’ riding in total according to RE.  It felt like more. One thing the Continental GT can never be called is a mile-eater. It has that ability I remember in two-stroke 125s of making 50 miles seem like 150. Of rattling you until your retinas shake loose and battering you as though it’s tenderising a steak with its thinly-padded seat.

There’s no pretending it’s not a good-looking machine. I don’t think I have heard or read a single dissenting voice on that point. That classic horizontal line made by the frame tubes and tank. The simple one-colour paint job. That café racer bum stop. Those piggyback shocks in a similar shade of gold to Öhlins.

But it reveals itself as a styling exercise under closer scrutiny and that impression is strengthened by riding it. Its aim seems to be to achieve the right look on a budget, not to actually be good.

It’s a costume, just as much as all the period outfits at the Goodwood Revival, but one that rolls.

The aluminium bar-end mirrors look a tiny bit too modern, not quite as traditional as the rest, which deliberately apes the 250cc Continental GT of the ‘60s. The mirrors look like they’ve been added by a custom builder who’s losing his eye for detail. And they don’t work. It’s like viewing the road behind through a slightly tinted compact. One of them rotated on the bar at motorway speeds.

Budget shortcuts are evident. The engine will not start at all with the side-stand down, even in neutral. You have to sit on it or put it on its centre-stand. I think we can assume this reduces production costs in comparison to a side-stand cut-out switch that kills the engine only if it's in gear. 

The single-disc front brake is not bad, with enough power, but the rear is vague and a look at the pedal offers an explanation. It’s stubby, inducing your foot to push down on the arm as well as the pedal itself. That arm, and its hinge at the base of the foot-peg, permit too much lateral movement, so a push doesn’t transmit directly enough to the caliper. It seems cheap.

In its favour, the riding position isn’t uncomfortable. It won’t give your hands pins and needles. It’s sporty-upright, closer to an R3 than an R1, with the clip-ons mounted above the top yoke.

And to be fair, the vibration at motorway speed didn’t seem quite as bad I recalled, having ridden it at the launch in 2014. At 80mph in the highest of five gears, its vibey but bearable, and it will hold that speed easily, showing 4.500rpm on the analogue twin-dial dash, with the red line at 5,500. It’s only the accumulative effective of a long ride that leaves your brain rattling in your skull.

Continue reading our Royal Enfield Continental GT review