Soon after announcing the Royal Enfield Continental GT Cup in September, RE held the first round of races in October for the same. The Continental GT Cup is an attempt by Royal Enfield to not only promote motorsport culture in the country but also to educate and train the young riders to improve their track riding as well as their skills. We at evo India got to witness the races at the Kari Motor Speedway Racetrack in Coimbatore, and also try out the GT-R 650 — the racetrack version of the RE Continental GT 650. Read further to know about our experience!
I’m crouched over the tank in a race tuck. It’s cramped. The clip-ons are low down — below the triple clamp. The footpegs are high up. I’m so glad I didn’t have a big belly to contend with here — there really was very little room. I’ve got the throttle wide open as I blast down the main straight of the Kari Motor Speedway — my eyes scanning the road ahead through the little bubble fairing for my braking marker. I catch the speedo needle hitting about 155kmph on the clock. Not bad, I thought, until I realised I’d lost sight of my marker! The 150m board had flown past me, now the 100m marker… brake! Chin up, slam the brakes and drop four gears. It’s a deceptive left-hander, this C1 on the newly surfaced track — it is much tighter than it seems, and you’ve got to really get the bike slowed down to hit the apex and follow through to C2. Push the bike in — and it needs a push — but there’s incredible grip and feel from the front end as it nails the corner, and then the next. And the one after that. Get back on the gas down the back straight and the twin-cylinder engine rumbles and roars — nothing like the high strung engines we’re used to listening to at the track but delightful all the same. Retro racing is what Royal Enfield is calling it. And I’m all for it.
It’s a simple formula — take the Continental GT 650 and strip it down to make it ready for the track. Exactly how you would modify your Enfield for Ladakh, but these mods are solely focussed around going faster instead of further. The changes are simple but they make a world of difference. I’ll start with the fairing because that’s really what gives this motorcycle so much character even while standing still. An aero bubble with a white patch around a number on the nose — a nod to the fairings that GP bikes sported back in the day, and one that had me floored with how simple but brilliant it looked. I’ve seen bikes that look like this before — but in magazines and museums. Never in motion on a track, and sure as hell not from the saddle. It didn’t just evoke nostalgia, it doused you in a bucket of it and freeze-dried it over just so that none of it wears off.
Then there are the changes to the suspension. The front forks are retuned with a different oil, get preload adjustment and are revalved slightly so that it is now stiffer. The rear suspension is an all-new unit — taller than before to give the bikes a little more ground clearance when they are fully leaned over, and now come with linear springs. Racing tyres that border on slicks. The brakes are the same, but the brake fluid has been changed because the stock fluid was boiling over on track. The ergos have been changed — race clip-ons and stock footpegs that have been moved upwards for more clearance. The rear section that holds the mudguard on the stock bike has been chopped by 10mm and re-welded.
Interestingly, the engine has been left completely stock. There are absolutely no changes to the internals, with the only change being to the exhaust. Aspi Bathena, the racing legend who has designed and built these bikes, makes these exhausts himself. They obviously save weight, but they also liberate a little more power and help the engine breathe better. In fact, the total weight savings of the motorcycle amount to 24kg — a significant number over the stock bike. Add to that the 12 per cent power gain and you have a faster motorcycle.
“The idea was to make a bike that was not too expensive to build, but was fun to ride at the same time,” says Aspi (or Aspi sir, as us younger crop of journos would address him) when quizzed about the rationale for the mods. “I was going for something like the Matchless G45 racer, but this is obviously better than that,” he says bluntly, pointing at something as seemingly inconsequential as the tyres and saying how that one single factor makes these modern bikes so much easier to ride than the machines he used to race back in the day.
It’s an incredible machine to ride on track — unlike anything I have taken to a circuit before. Get out of the pitlane and it takes a moment to get used to the ergos. Sort that out and get comfortable on the bike, and then you can go about discovering the rest of it. It certainly feels quick —the lower weight and free-breathing engine give it a solid punch. The gearing has been lowered (14-tooth front sprocket instead of the stock 15) to suit Kari, so it feels really strong off the line, and you’re hitting the limiter in every gear far sooner than you’d expect. It sounds lovely as well — its a boomy, bassey thrum that is familiar from the stock 650 but with a little more of a snarl to it when it opens up fully. Very loud, very emotive.
As for the chassis, the changes really highlight the balance that the 650 platform inherently has. The front and rear suspension no longer have the softness that was needed for the road and leave you with a really confident package. You can lean on the front end when trailing in to the corner and there’s not too much squidge from the rear end when gassing out of corners. Even the brakes feel strong and there was no fade over the eight to nine laps we did. Not like we were pushing as hard as the pros anyway. 15 minutes on the track with these bikes, though, and I was spent. This was a proper workout!
These motorcycles aren’t just a vanity project though. Royal Enfield has been making inroads in to motorsport over the last few years, and this is their latest stab at it. These motorcycles will run as a one make championship as a part of the JK Tyre national racing championship. Entry fees for the four-round championship is reasonable — `20,000 — especially when you consider RE will be covering all costs of damage and crashes as well. Round 1 was a roaring success with Anish Shetty winning both races of the weekend, but there’s plenty more to fight for over the rest of the season.
As for the bikes, they are absolutely gorgeous machines. Properly modern motorcycles that hark back to a bygone era. They’re fast — just a couple of seconds off the fully modded RC 390s that take part in the national championship, and yet they look absolutely gorgeous at the same time. There is more work to be done. There are updates to footpegs to tweak the ergonomics in the works, and Aspi is working on an ECU update as well. But when it comes down to it, Royal Enfield is back at the racetrack after decades — and the sound of 20 of these thundering down the straight makes me only imagine what racing at Sholavaram must have been like. Does anyone have a time machine?