The Royal Enfield GT harks back to an earlier era, writes Jacqui Madelin

The Royal Enfields built in India to a classic British recipe, albeit with powerplant changes mandated by modern emissions regs, have been a niche seller to classic-lovers for many years.

The owners seek an olde-worlde experience with some sort of warranty and back-up, and are happy to make a few performance (and some build-quality) compromises to get an all-rounder that's awash with character.

So the new Continental GT is something of a departure, for though it still harks back to an earlier era, and a classic model - a 1967 250cc single - this time it recalls the race track, and it uses new components for much of the build.

It employs a Harris frame - Barry Sheene fans will recall that name - plus Paioli, Ohlins-look suspension and a development of the Enfield Bullet's air-cooled single, albeit bored out to 535cc, with a larger intake manifold for the Keihin fuel injection, wider inlet-valve diameter and with a whisker more power.


That said, the 44Nm at 4000rpm and 21kW at 5100 on offer is laughably modest compared to most mid-sized machines, and a mate on a Suzuki Gladius blew it into the weeds at a blip of his throttle, without changing gear.

But on the bendy back roads we picked for our 750km day out, I arguably had a lot more fun.

For to maintain momentum on the GT requires more than the ability to twist your wrist - something a toddler could manage. You must be willing to take it by the scruff and wrestle the wheels off it, constantly working it up and down through the five-speed transmission.

The Royal Enfield has been popular for years as an allrounder with a classic style.
The Royal Enfield has been popular for years as an allrounder with a classic style.

Overtaking takes some logistical planning and you don't want to use the Brembo brakes if you can help it, but at 184kg wet it's light, the handling's surprisingly capable, and though this suspension and skinny tyre combo seemed a little firm and a tad prone to skitter over bumps, it was equally amenable to the sort of body English a trail rider is familiar with to order it sharply back into line.

On arrival at our final destination I was the one flexing my overworked clutch-hand fingers, but I was also the one with the ear-to-ear grin, though I'd rarely put the speed limit in danger. I wasn't even uncomfortable, for those "clip-on" bars and rear-set footpegs are less extreme than they look.

Owning this historic marque will set you back just under $10,000.Picture / Jacqui Madelin
Owning this historic marque will set you back just under $10,000.Picture / Jacqui Madelin

The standard muffler's quality let it down, though. For our pics and all bikes sold since, the $299.99 optional sports silencer was fitted - "we'll wear it until the standard one's quality improves" says distributor Trevor Clark - and it released a whisker more grunt, a hint more noise and a better finish.

The standard vibra-mirrors that were as useless as a wet week thanks to their high-speed buzz at much over walking pace were also replaced, with these handsome, and unexpectedly more effective, bar-end items (at $64.99 each).

The GT is certainly a barrel of fun for anyone preferring an involving ride to an easy one, and it's frugal, returning between 3.8L/100km and about 4.5, tallied during an especially taxing leg.

The twin-valve air-cooled four-stroke single is also still the home handyman's dream, and it even retains kick start for extra cred.

The only question you need to ask is how much you are prepared to pay for character, a historic name and a classic experience from a new bike? The Royal Enfield GT costs $9995.

Suzuki's Gladius retails at two grand more, Honda's CB500F one grand over and the Hyosung GT650PL LAMS a grand less, yet they're all more powerful, require less input to ride rapidly and, at risk of incurring the Enfield distributor's wrath, arguably come with a more reliable rep for brand build quality. But then there's that grin factor ...