2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT Review

Return of the single-cylinder cafe racer

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2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT

Editor Score: 76.0%
Engine 12.0/20
Suspension/Handling 12.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.75/10
Brakes 7.75/10
Instruments/Controls4.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.25/10
Appearance/Quality 8.0/10
Desirability 7.25/10
Value 7.5/10
Overall Score76/100

In a world of increasing electronic complexity, Royal Enfield’s Continental GT is a bastion of motorcycling simplicity. And that’s just how Enfield’s CEO, Siddhartha Lal, likes it. Over lunch on our Continental GT media ride, he relates how the more simple a motorcycle is, the more reliable the bike and the easier it is to fix if there is a problem. No argument there, but what’s his underlying point?

Interview with Royal Enfield CEO Siddhartha Lal

Since 1955, Royal Enfields have been produced in a country with more unpaved than paved roads for a mostly rural population of more than a billion people. Simplicity and dependability (as well as self reliance in one’s own mechanical skills) are therefore more than just valuable assets for Indian motorcyclists, they’re necessities for reliable, everyday transportation.

The new Continental GT comprises Enfield’s reputable attributes and puts them forth in a cafe racer package based on the company’s own Continental GT model first launched in 1964.

At one time, the Continental GT was heralded as “Britain’s fastest 250.” The modern version has a similar cafe racer style, but it won’t win any performance awards.

At one time, the Continental GT was heralded as “Britain’s fastest 250.” The modern version has a similar cafe racer style, but it won’t win any performance awards.

Unlike the 250cc Conti GT of yore, the modern counterpart is powered by a 535cc Unit Construction Engine (UCE). Introduced in 2009, the OHV, UCE has an undersquare bore and stroke of 87mm x 90mm and a compression ratio of 8.5:1. The result is a slow revving engine that produces a claimed 29.1 bhp at 5100 rpm and 32.5 ft-lb of torque at 4000 rpm.

Not exactly overwhelming power and torque figures which you can feel … er… not feel(?), when riding the GT. Lethargic probably bests describes the Conti GT’s engine performance, but it gets the job done.

The fuel-injected Single has both kick and electric start (Yamaha’s upcoming SR400 is kick only). Power is delivered to the rear wheel via a wet, multi-plate clutch, five-speed transmission and chain final drive.

The fuel-injected Single has both kick and electric start (Yamaha’s upcoming SR400 is kick only). Power is delivered to the rear wheel via a wet, multi-plate clutch, five-speed transmission and chain final drive.

Comparatively, in our 2013 Beginner Sportbike Shootout Part 2 we measured Honda’s CBR500R and found that it produced 42.9 hp at 8600 rpm and 28.6 ft-lb of torque at 6500 rpm. The Honda’s 471cc parallel-Twin suffers a 64cc displacement disadvantage but boasts liquid-cooling, DOHC and four valves per cylinder. The CBR, at $6299, costs $300 more than the Conti. Considering this engine power disparity, maybe a Ninja 300, with a measured 34.8 hp @ 10,600 rpm and 18.0 ft-lbs of torque @ 9600 rpm (from our 2013 Beginner Sportbike Shootout Part 1) would be a more appropriate choice for a model comparison.

Riding a red GT reveals not a buzz, but a big-cylinder thump that palpitates through the seat, bars and footpegs. It wasn’t until switching from the red to a yellow GT that the vibration changed from noticeable to obnoxious, primarily through the handlebars. While vibrations through the seat and pegs remained equitable between the two bikes, the handlebar vibes on the yellow model had my metacarpals feeling as though they may burst through the skin. Certainly, the color of bike has nothing to do with differing engine vibration, but it raises a question about production consistency. Equipping the engine with a counter-balancer would go a long way in minimizing vibes regardless what color or model Enfield you’re riding.

Amazingly, no matter engine speed or level of vibration, the needles on the analog speedo and tach remained rock steady and legible.

Amazingly, no matter engine speed or level of vibration, the needles on the analog speedo and tach remained rock steady and legible.

With a claimed curb weight of 406 pounds (90% of fuel tank capacity), the Conti certainly isn’t a heavy motorcycle, and its lowish, 31.5-inch seat height makes managing that weight easier at stops and slower speeds. New-to-intermediate riders, or those of restricted inseam length, will appreciate these facets.

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Riding on 18-inch wheels (100/90 front and 130/70 rear), stability’s more the name of the game than is quick transitioning. But that doesn’t stop an Enfield rider from enjoying a set of switchbacks. Just keep your momentum up and go lightly on the single-disc front brake, because powering strongly out of corners really isn’t an option. The Pirelli Sport Demon tires provide ample grip and, being a sport-touring tire, should also rack up plenty miles before needing to be replaced. When it does come time to replace tires, a set of the same rubber should only set you back about $200.

Yep, the sidestand and its mounting bracket are the first to touch tarmac on the left side, and touch down early they do. There’s more clearance on the right. The Contis are designed to be cool, urban commuters, so Enfield didn’t prioritize cornering clearance.

Yep, the sidestand and its mounting bracket are the first to touch tarmac on the left side, and touch down early they do. There’s more clearance on the right. The Contis are designed to be cool, urban commuters, so Enfield didn’t prioritize cornering clearance.

The double-cradle, steel “featherbed” frame combined with the non-adjustable fork and preload-adjustable shock kept the GT from exhibiting any unnecessary or surprising reactions when navigating corners at the speeds we were riding. The suspension registers on the stiffer side of compliant; helpful when going fast, a little abrupt over the bumps when going slow.

Braking performance is admirable for the components with which the GT is equipped. Front brake stopping power is particularly strong for the single 300mm disc and two-piston caliper.

Braking performance is admirable for the components with which the GT is equipped. Front brake stopping power is particularly strong for the single 300mm disc and two-piston caliper.

Whether going fast or slow, the raspy thumperspeak emanating from the chrome muffler is an aggressive roar for an OEM pipe. Our group of 20 or so bikes sounded like a gang of Africanized bees on steroids echoing off the canyon walls of San Diego county.

The rider triangle is surprisingly more comfortable than the bike’s profile implies. For my 5’ 11” frame there was no discernable leg/knee cramping, and the reach to the bars is aided by the fact that the clip-ons are mounted above the triple clamp. Seat foam leaves something to be desired as it compresses after a short while with 185 pounds of pressure upon it, providing the rider (me) without all-day cushioning.

Seat stitching matching the bike’s color is a thoughtful detail. The oblong grab handle helps with centerstand positioning. Enfield offers a two-up accessory seat that comes compete with passenger footpegs.

Seat stitching matching the bike’s color is a thoughtful detail. The oblong grab handle helps with centerstand positioning. Enfield offers a two-up accessory seat that comes compete with passenger footpegs.

Overall build quality, paint, attention to detail, etc., seemed, for the most part, up to the standards of comparable Japanese models, and certainly better than some of the bargain bikes from some Asian brands we’ve tested before but won’t name here. The machined, bar-end mirrors are exceptionally attractive, but vibrations kept knocking them out of adjustment.

Speaking of Royal Enfield’s competitors, now that the company is making a push to increase recognition of the Royal Enfield brand in the US – better availability to models for both consumers and the press – we’ll be including Enfields in future comparison tests.

+ Highs

  • Café racer with a two-year warranty
  • A reputedly reliable motorcycle
  • A customizer’s or home mechanic’s dream
- Sighs

  • Underpowered
  • Questionable production consistency
  • Not quite the value it should be

2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT Specs

MSRP $5999
Horsepower (claimed) 29.1 bhp @ 5100 rpm
Torque (claimed) 32.5 ft-lbs @ 4000 rpm
Engine Capacity 535cc
Engine Type Air-cooled, OHV, two-valve, Single
Bore x Stroke 87mm x 90mm
Compression 8.5:1
Fuel System EFI
Transmission 5-speed
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Final Drive Chain
Frame Steel, double-cradle
Front Suspension Telescopic, 41mm fork, 110mm travel
Rear Suspension Paioli, twin gas charged shock absorbers with adjustable preload, 80mm travel
Front Brakes 300mm disc with two-piston caliper
Rear Brakes 240mm disc with single-piston caliper
Front Tire 100/90-18
Rear Tire 130/70-18
Seat Height 31.5 inches
Wheelbase 53.5 inches
Curb Weight (claimed) 406 pounds (90% of fuel tank capacity)
Fuel Capacity 3.6 gal
Colors Red, Yellow
Warranty Two years unlimited miles

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  • DickRuble

    “maybe a Ninja 300….would be a more appropriate choice for a model comparison.” … or maybe the Yamaha SR400? Air cooled… single cylinder.. standard.. same price..

  • Matt Maddalena

    As bad as this review is… I still want one! Royal Enfield has quite a buzz going it seems.

  • Brian Washburn

    Got to admit…its cool looking!

    • DickRuble

      what’s not to like?.. cut the pipes to make more noise…crappy mechanics as a feature, lousy handling provided, debatable looks … you have a competitor worthy of Harley Davidson, at a fraction of the price.

  • allworld

    Well the “sighs” are cons of the worse kind for me. I like the look, but I want more of a mechanical masterpiece, rather than gork at art.

  • Reid

    There was a time that I liked the looks of bikes such as this. But eventually the hipster bubble will burst and people will return to their senses.

    • DickRuble

      The hipster bubble has not even begun. How many bikes styled like this one do you think are sold overall? What percentage of all bikes? Not many in my opinion.. You can count the models on the fingers of one hand. Ducati had a couple of them ten years ago. They didn’t sell well. The vast majority of riders want sensible ergonomics or extreme performance. When a bike has neither of those, retro design is unlikely to compensate.

  • rocky

    “the OHC two-valve UCE “??? Its a push rod motor!

    • http://motorcycle.com/ Tom Roderick

      Typo, Rocky. Corrected to OHV.

  • jxgrab

    I love my GT, it is like I am famous when I ride it. So many people ask me about it. Most people think it is a Norton or don’t know what it is even though “Royal Enfield” is written in big letters on the side of the tank.

    I own several other vintage bikes and this is exactly what I have been wanting for years. It looks like it belongs parked next to my meriden triumphs and since it is new and only cost 5,995 I don’t have to worry about keeping it preserved and will ride it even when there is a chance of rain.

  • LS650

    I owned a 1995 Bullet for about 4 years. Actually a pretty decent, reliable bike, if you accept that it’s slow… But I always made sure I had my toolkit in the saddlebags, as it often needed something tightened or adjusted.

    I wonder if these newer ones are any better?

  • Garth Hartley Booth

    Yeah, they have made it look good, except …… those terrible yellow rear shock springs ! Awful, surely they could be made in chrome or black ?

  • Angel G. Matos

    i like the bike and what it’s made for. i see many folks comparing to others, price wise and performance wise. instead of comparing just take the machine for what it does great and leave it at that. i own a fxsts and a hayabusa and i love them both for what they do not what they can’t do. btw i’m getting one.