The word ‘retro’ gets thrown about a lot these days, and never more so than when related to motorcycles. But as these coverall terms often do, it extends over a multitude of different types – cruisers, street scramblers and café racers, all harking back to an earlier era. But the eras can differ as much as the bikes, something brought home to me after riding the long-term Royal Enfield Continental GT up to Andover to ride the SWM classics.
You’ve probably read all about SWM’s rebirth on last review, the bikes assembled in the old Husqvarna factory in Italy, most of them pre-existing Husky enduros. The classics are different though – air-cooled 440cc singles that owe much to the old Honda XBR500 motor. And the Gran Milano model is especially relevant to our Royal Enfield Continental GT, as it’s a cafe racer and comes in at exactly the same price.
But it’s a very different bike. Being based on the XBR, the engine feels as if it’s straight out of the 1980s, with an 8800 RPM redline and a low-geared, high revving nature. Like the Enfield, it’s been updated with fuel injection and whatever else is needed to pass EURO 4, but it’s very different to ride. By contrast, the Royal Enfield Continental GT redlines at 5500 RPM, which really says all you need to know. Despite the many changes made to the Bullet in recent years, its roots are still firmly in the 1950s – the sort of low-revving, long-stroke, four-stroke single that was the staple for ride-to-work dads and coffee bar cowboys.
That’s meant in a good way, because climbing back onto the Conti to ride home, I was struck by how relaxing it is. Although the Royal Enfield Continental GT looks every inch the café racer, the riding position isn’t too extreme, and the laid-back thump of the big single doesn’t goad you into riding faster. Mind you, at 60 mph it feels fast, and maybe that’s the point. I find myself cruising at around 60-65 and very rarely venturing beyond 4000 RPM, partly because that’s when vibration starts to intrude, and partly because I love the long-legged loping feel of the motor at lower speeds.
That might explain the astonishing fuel consumption. Royal Enfields have always been renowned for their frugality, and the Continental GT is exactly the same. I’ve averaged 94.3 mpg this month, not through any extreme economy techniques, just by keeping below 4000 (most of the time) and staying away from motorways. I’ve got to head to London on the Conti shortly, so maybe that will push the consumption below 90 mpg, but somehow I doubt it.
It’s certainly getting plenty of use, with just over 1000 miles clocked up since the last report, including trips down to Devon and Cornwall to photograph Velocettes for a book, and into Somerset to see another Bullet. In fact, it gets used for almost everything, except when my wife Anna is coming, because Royal Enfield Continental GT is only got one seat. Importer Moto GB offers an optional dual seat, and hopefully we’ll be trying that soon.
This sort of use probably isn’t typical (one Bullet owner I met recently has covered 4000 miles in three years) but the Royal Enfield Continental GT seems to be standing up to it. There is a hint of a leak from the downpipe/silencer joint, but that apart, it’s racking up mileage without a problem.
Royal Enfield Continental GT Specifications and Price
Engine : 4-Stroke, Single-cylinder, Air-Cooled
Bore x Stroke : 87 x 90 mm
Capacity : 535 cc
Compression Ratio : 8.5 : 1
Induction : Keihin EFI
Transmission : 5-Speed, Chain-Drive
Max Power : 29.1 HP @ 5.100 RPM (claimed)
Max Torque : 44 N.m @ 4.000 RPM (claimed)
Dimension (LxWxH) : 2.060 x 760 x 1.070 mm
Seat Height : 800 mm
Wheelbase : 1.360 mm
Weight : 184 Kg (wet, claimed)
Fuel Capacity : 13.5 Litres
Frame : Twin Downtube Cradle Frame
Front Suspension : 41mm Telescopic Forks
Rear Suspension : Paioli Dual Shockabsorber, Adjustable Preload
Front Brake : Single 300mm Floating Disc, with Brembo 2-Piston Caliper
Rear Brake : Single 240mm Disc, with 1-Piston Caliper
Front Tyre : 100/90 – 18 (Pirelli Sport Demon)
Rear Tyre : 130/70 – 18 (Pirelli Sport Demon)
Price (New) : £4999
Miles this month : 1030
Miles on clock : 2038
Average mpg : 94.3 mpg
Modifications : None so far
Total value of mods : n/a