Reviewed: Royal Enfield Continental GT 650
There are two ways of looking at Royal Enfield’s all-new, 650cc retro twin duo, comprising the roadster Interceptor 650 and café racer-style Continental GT (and, as an aside, are we the only ones who think they got the names the wrong way round?).
The first, being cynical, is of them being fairly crude, barely-adequate performers which in reality do no more than bikes from nearly 50 years ago did. After all, an air-cooled 650 twin putting out just 47bhp and corralled by a twin loop, twin shock frame with single disc front end and zero modern gizmos sounds more like an early ‘70s Yamaha XS650 than much else from 2019 although, of course, being a ‘retro’ maybe means that doesn’t matter…
But the other view is far more exciting and explains the early anticipation and NEC Show clamour: here is a smart, all-new, authentically retro (air-cooled) twin with performance that’s both A2 licence compliant and reasonably entertaining, handling that’s better still, with a correct ‘heritage’ badge (sorry W800 Kawasaki), British engineering know-how and all starting at around £5500 – or around £2500 cheaper than Triumph’s cheapest Bonnie.
Time, then, to start taking Enfield’s newcomer seriously.
The former Enfield India, renamed Royal Enfield in 1998, has been part of the vast Eicher Automotive group since 1994 and, since ‘Sid’ Lal became CEO in 2006 has been on an ambitious expansion and modernization drive. In 2013 and all-new factory was opened in Chennai, it took over the UK’s Harris Performance in 2015 and, in 2017, opened an all-new R&D centre in Leicestershire headed by numerous former Triumph employees. The two new 650s are their first product.
Both use the same, all-new 648cc parallel twin held in a Harris-developed chassis. The roadster styled Interceptor has higher bars, dual seat and more rounded 13.7-litre fuel tank and starts at £5499. The café racer Continental GT tested here has a racier, more angular 12.5-litre tank, rear sets, clip-ons and an (optional) solo seat from £5899.
And from the off, although still deliberately ‘old-fashioned’ with an inescapably slightly budget build, it’s both a generation beyond Enfield’s familiar old singles, which had been its only offerings since the ‘70s and a decently pleasing, charming and entertaining place to be – especially considering the price.
On board everything is as it should be: middling sized, light and slim enough not to intimidate; decent, non-extreme ergonomics (even for my 6’3”) and a view across Monza-style fuel cap and twin analogue dials that’s straight out of the ‘Classic Motorcyclist’ (even if that cap is a bit flimsy and the dials a touch on the cheap side).
It starts happily on the button, that new twin is flexible and as willing as a devoted puppy, all the controls are light, slick and intuitive and cruising at 60+ is both comfortable and effortless. Then it gets better still. At the first set of bends the slightly more inclined riding position encourages bend-swinging fun and the chassis delivers it: light, precise steering, easy flickability and no wobbles, weaves or uncertainty at all. Thank you Harris. What’s more the brakes, though basic, are more than good enough; the suspension, though fairly cheap as well, easily adequate for this sort of bike and it all combines into enjoyable, simple, old-school style motorcycling that will more than enough for most Sundays.
Sure, ultimately, that’s the new 650’s limitation as well: this 47bhp machine is one for fairly short Sunday pleasure rides and not much else. We wouldn’t recommend touring and year-round commuting in the UK would possibly murder its metal lustre without daily pampering. But it is a quantum leap up from Enfield’s old singles, is just as capable as Kawasaki’s (admittedly better built) W800 for nearly £4k less and delivers enough for this sort of bike – and at a price few others get near to.
And if that doesn’t count as success, we don’t know what does.
Words: Phil West
|ENGINE TYPE||Parallel-twin, SOHC, two valves per cylinder, air cooled|
|BORE X STROKE||78 x 67.8mm|
|MAXIMUM POWER||47 hp (35 kW) @ 7100 rpm|
|MAXIMUM TORQUE||52Nm @ 4000rpm|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||41mm telescopic fork|
|FUEL TANK||12.5 litres|