What is basically the third generation of the motorcycle, Royal Enfield has pulled off a masterstroke with the brand new Continental GT 650. Meant to follow in the footsteps of the original Continental GT 250 café racer, which was incidentally the fastest 250cc motorcycle of its time, and the Continental GT 535 single, the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 keeps the true essence of the café racer spirit alive while making sure that it stays with the current day and age.
Upon first glance you’ll notice that Royal Enfield hasn’t gone about reinventing the wheel by fiddling around with the Continental GT silhouette from the 535 single, after all the motorcycle was and still continues to be one of the prettiest thing on two wheels. That said there are minor revisions to the Continental GT 650 that come to the fore on close inspection. The fuel tank for instance is not as elongated as before but more or less has the same fuel holding capacity. Gone are the bar-end mirrors and the rider-only seats which make way for traditional options (although you can spec them out with optional accessories). And just so that you do not mistake it for the 535, there are four new colour schemes of which the photographed ‘Ice Queen’ and the chrome sporting ‘Mr Clean’ shades are my favourite. The latter also uses Royal Enfield’s signature golden pin-striping done by the master craftsmen in Chennai.
Royal Enfield has once again worked in close collaboration with their in-house subsidiary performance division – Harris Performance – to make sure the new Continental GT 650 frame (or for that matter the Interceptor 650 frame too) retains the great handling traits from the earlier 535 but is more that capable of getting the best out of the new 650 twin. Even here the chassis looks near identical to the old 535 one but there are major changes done to the underpinnings.
Firstly, the double cradle chassis now features less wider bolted-on downtubes. The move from single piece unit to a bolted on option was to make sure the frame could handle the new 650cc twin motor. The rake is now a sharp 24-degrees with a trail of 106mm, that leads it to nearly sportsbike territory. The wheelbase however is 30mm longer than before and now stands at 1400mm.
Even the riding ergos have been tweaked to make the Continental GT 650 more accommodating for all riders. While I was of the few that loved the hardcore arched forwards riding stance, this one just relaxes it by a couple of notches. It is still a committed stance but your bottom is 7mm lower, the clip-ons slightly higher and wider and the rear-sets in a natural café racer territory. Royal Enfield had kitted out our test motorcycles with the optional rider only ‘Touring’ seat which continues to be the long, narrow unit with a body coloured cowl at the end.
“The 648cc parallel-twin air/oil-cooled mill is a ground up new design from Royal Enfield. It is in tune with the heritage of the company”
Fans of the Royal Enfield thump are aplenty and perhaps the subtleness of the one found on the 535 single was beyond comprehension for most. However, a thump cannot and more importantly shouldn’t be produced from a twin cylinder mill. The 648cc parallel-twin air/oil-cooled mill is a ground up new design from Royal Enfield. It is in tune with the heritage of the company and of the famous British twins that are known throughout the world for their unmistakeable rumble. The 270-degree firing crank order makes for a very strong mid-range performance, something that Royal Enfield were very persistent right from the get go to have on the new twins. As a result the mill now makes 47bhp at 7,250rpm with the peak torque of 52Nm produced at 5,250rpm. The engine has been tuned in such a manner that you have nearly 80 per cent of the torque right from as low as 2,500rpm which finally starts to taper off at around 6,000rpm. The engine comes with a 4-valve head for better volumetric efficiency as well as a counterbalance shaft to get rid of the unwanted vibes but making sure the ‘Good Vibrations’ stay intact.
For the first time in Royal Enfield’s history you get a six-speed transmission that brings out the best of the engine’s mid-range grunt. The addition of the slip-and-assist clutch makes life considerably better as the lever action is unbelievably light.
“Even in sixth gear, you can ride the Continental GT 650 from speeds as low as 45kmph all the way up to triple digits”
As we rode out into the twisty bits around Santa Cruz, the Continental GT 650 felt extremely balanced. Despite missing out on bits like ride-by-wire or rider modes, the fuelling of the new 650 twin is precise. Roll on the throttle and the linear power curve makes for a very friendly ride. And as mentioned earlier, anything above 2,500rpm and you are in the sweet spot to make the most of the 52Nm of torque. Even in sixth gear, you can ride the Continental GT 650 from speeds as low as 45kmph all the way up to triple digits.
“I had managed to hit 110mph on the speedo which roughly equates to 175kmph”
Speaking of triple digits, the engine feels so relaxed and composed even at speeds like 120-125kmph. Since most of our riding took place through speed restricted areas, I was more than comfortable to let the Continental GT 650 hum along at 120kmph. Just as we turned off the Pacific State Highway and onto the Pescadero Creek Road, our lead rider opened up the taps and let the 47 ponies through. We followed suit and not only did the Continental GT 650 cross the ton but it went a well bit beyond that. A strong headwind did cause us to back off occasionally on our high speed chase but as far as I remember I had managed to hit 110mph on the speedo which roughly equates to 175kmph.
The Continental GT 650 likes to make little of the curves. While the sharp rake aids in tipping the motorcycle with ease, it is the long wheelbase that forces you to take a more cautious approach when switching sides. Mid-corner stability is out of this world. You can easily be doing 110kmph on fast wide bends as well as about 50kmph on tighter sections and shoot off with purpose out of both sections. It shows its weight when you are turning from one direction to the other and there is little you can do about it.
“While the sharp rake aids in tipping the motorcycle with ease, it is the long wheelbase that forces you to take a more cautious approach when switching sides”
The suspension units on the Continental GT 650 have been supplied by Gabriel as you get a 41mm conventional fork at the front with 110mm travel and two piggyback shocks at the rear with 88mm travel. The rear units get 5-step preload adjustability which is set at second from softest on the Continental GT 650 as stock. The road holding capabilities of the bike is brilliant but I would have like the rebound damping of the rear units to be tuned to be slightly slower. But hey, that is not too much of a hindrance when you are rip-rollicking through the twisties.
Pirelli has worked closely with Royal Enfield to specially develop tyres for the 650 twins. Right from the start, the idea was to run with 18-inch wheels and hence getting the composition right was a must. While these aren’t Diablo Rosso IIs, the grip levels are great for the motorcycle. You do have to be a bit wary when the tyres are cold but once up to temperature and they will be a great dancing partner. And to complement them, there are Bybre braking units with ABS as standard. A 320mm rotor at the front and a 240mm rotor at the rear do the job of retardation quite well. To make things even better, both callipers come with double sintered braking pads that make the bike stop in no time. Hence, needless to say the braking department is nothing but excellent.
Thus after a good solid day of riding, I was pleasantly surprised at the way the new Continental GT 650 has shaped up to be. It has exceeded expectations and has made me consider it to swap it for my Continental GT 535. The handling package has finally been met with a right motor and now it is only up for Royal Enfield to get the pricing bang on. They have got a winner on their hands!