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Royal Enfield Continental GT 650: Review

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

“If it didn’t have the badge, we won’t assume it to be an RE”, that’s what we usually end up saying whenever we ride one of the new 650 twins from Royal Enfield. They are that far away from the company’s typical DNA.

Now that should tell you a lot on how we feel about the Continental GT 650 and the Interceptor 650. Between the two, it is the GT we have been riding a lot lately. Quite a lot. There’s a lot to talk about it. And because it is a Royal Enfield, we would say that the GT 650 is imperfectly perfect.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first - that its price and performance combination is nearly unbeatable, especially when you want the kind of motorcycle that the GT is. If that is how you look at it, the GT is the best motorcycle for you.

The GT is a good looking motorcycle, quite a handsome one. We do feel that the two exhausts are the best looking bits in the entire design, even if they are a touch too long. The chrome finish is really nice, and it’s the best and the shiniest from RE.

The fuel tank is as much bodywork as you’re going to get, and it’s quite prominent with some of the highest quality paint jobs we’ve seen coming out of the company’s Chennai factory. You see, Royal Enfield has done the hardest work on the 650 twins. It shows. And there was no other way, as the two 650s are the company’s most ambitious projects.

The GT is substantial enough that it is noticeable on the road. The best part is, neither can it be mistaken for any other RE nor for a Triumph Thruxton. It’s quite original, and that’s one of the things RE should be applauded for.

That said, we are not a big fan of rider ergonomics. Not because the lean forward posture puts more weight and stress on your wrists after some time - that’s natural when you’re in that position. But because there are other things not so right with it. The GT is said to come with the touring seat as standard, but it is hardly appropriate for a long ride.

It is alright for city riding, but its thinness starts to get troublesome after 30 minutes or so, which is quite disappointing for a touring seat! Over time it begins to feel harder than it is. It’s just not comfortable enough no matter what size of buttocks you are carrying.

Then there’s the thing with how your knees rest. Now we understand that the caferacer designs are more about aesthetics than practicality, but then it hurts the comfort. When you want to hold the fuel tank, you can’t, because that’s how the footpegs and the fueltank are positioned. Your knees rest on the cylinder heads, which is why there’s a set of small grill on either side of the engine and it’s exactly at the spots where your knee touches the cylinder. RE knows.

Good thing that the engine is quite sweet. It's as good as the flaws are bad! That makes sense, right? You begin to feel it through the fantastic soundtrack that the 270-degree firing order leads to, right from idle. The stock exhausts are loud enough to make it crystal clear that the engine is not a single cylinder unit, while they are quiet enough for stress-free prolonged riding.

Those unlike RE traits become apparent from here on. The all-new 650cc parallel twin engine is a very smooth unit, with crisp throttle response. Although, the throttle feels heavy when accelerating slowly.

At the same time, the power delivery is linear and smooth with very friendly torque curve. You can ride the GT at lower speeds in a higher gear without lugging the engine. The friendly nature of the engine is nicely complimented by the smoothest gearbox in a Royal Enfield. The shifts happen with surety with little effort. It is easily one of the best gearboxes in the business. The slipper clutch, a first in an RE, does its job of keeping the rear wheel in check under hard downshifting. At the same time, the clutch pull is firm and not overly light.

But how about riding at triple digit speeds? Well, the GT 650 is a global model, which means it’s designed to be ridden on the more speed-friendly US and European highways as much as it is meant to be ridden on the challenging Indian roads.

We didn’t test the top speed, but the GT can cruise at 120 kph with the ease that seems fitting for a modern, air-cooled, 650cc parallel twin engine. Riding at that speed in 6th gear, there’s plenty of room left for quick acceleration and overtakes. Of course, there’s a lot of windblast and more than the motorcycle, it comes on you to be sitting comfortably and stably at those speeds. The motorcycle does fine!

The engine is smooth, produces beautiful exhaust note at higher speeds, which sounds absolutely refreshing coming from an Indian motorcycle.

But there are vibrations in the handlebar, that can particularly be felt between 3,500 rpm and 6,000 rpm in the 2nd and 3rd gears. Unfortunately, that’s a range you spend a good deal of time in.

The GT handles well, it’s predictable and neutral in nature. The chassis is engineered to provide a stable ride at varying speeds, but the suspension doesn’t seem to cope up well, especially the rear shockers. They make the motorcycle squat during corners if the tarmac is uneven, or even when trying to corner spiritedly. The upside is, they provide a comfortable ride otherwise, so the suspension is tuned more for ride comfort rather than riding enthusiastically.

One of the highlights of the GT 650 are its brakes. The 320 mm rotor at the front leads to progressive, yet, powerful braking. There’s no sudden bite that will try and snap your neck out of place!

A premium motorcycle for Royal Enfield, not for the category

The Continental GT 650 is a premium and one of the flagship motorcycles in the Royal Enfield’s lineup. But it is not a premium motorcycle in its category. Let’s understand this clearly. If you want a premium motorcycle which is a caferacer, you know where to go.

The GT 650, along with the Interceptor, is priced along the lines of a number of 300cc to 400cc motorcycles. And that makes it a tremendous value for money. Beyond the price though, it is a unique motorcycle which doesn’t have a direct competitor. You should really want the GT 650, at the same time, you can still go for any of the other motorcycles in this price range without feeling threatened by the GT’s value proposition.

Royal Enfield should be praised with the way the new 650cc motorcycles have turned out. The company did surprise us with the overall quality and the performance offered here. The 650cc parallel twin seems to be a great platform and shows higher potential. A lot of custom builds and performance upgrades are being seen on the internet from various parts of the world.

And so, it is exciting to think about the future of these two motorcycles, as well as the other new stuff that Royal Enfield may have planned on this platform.

1 comment

1 Comment

Sajal Chakraborty
Sajal Chakraborty
Sep 23, 2019

Lovely Lovely piece of article. Old school, no frills, no shenanigans. Brings back some fond memories of an era gone by. Loved every bit of it.

Talking about bits, few itsy bitsy things -

1. Your photography needs me.... PERIOD ;)

2. As good as the 650 twins are, I feel, the overall RE experience is being the "still" dirty fish in the pond and it's ruining the pond for many. Recently, there have been quite a few cases, when the overall quality niggles on the twins provided some horrendous rendezvous for the owners, something these bikes don't deserve to be associated with, and something Mr. Lal should suck up and improve leaps and bounds.

3. Why does RE want…

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