2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT: Modernized Retro

Text: John M. Flores • Photography: John M. Flores

The 2014 Royal Enfield Continental is slow, terrible on the highway, 
and completely and utterly impractical. Not only that, but it vibrates excessively at any speed above 10 mph, doesn’t have ABS or traction control, and lacks engine mapping modes and other technological advances. And I love it.

Powertrain and Chassis

With just 29.1 bhp at 5,100 rpm and 32.5 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm on tap, the Continental GT demands constant attention to keep it on the boil. The air-cooled, 535cc single-cylinder motor breathes through a paper air cleaner and is fed by Keihin Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI). EFI, new to Royal Enfield but otherwise commonplace in motorcycles and cars, is even proudly displayed on the motor, just like a Chevy from the 70s. The redline is a modest 5,500 rpm, but riders will rarely get there if they value their dental work.

The five-speed constant mesh gearbox is reliable, requiring a firm (but not authoritative) boot to operate. Gears are well spaced, with no big gaps dropping one into a hole in the torque curve. Five speeds are more than sufficient, especially considering that riders will be spending most of their time under 65 mph. In over 1,500 miles of riding, I never missed a shift.

The chassis is filled with thoughtful contemporary upgrades that make the Continental GT more than a trip down memory lane. The twin downtube cradle frame is surprisingly stiff, connecting the front and rear ends solidly, and without the flex that one might expect in an antique-looking bike. Likewise, the front end is held up with upgraded 41mm telescoping forks instead of the less rigid 35mm forks on other Royal Enfield models and bikes of similar vintage. The forks offer decent damping and are up to the task of handling the dynamic forces that the motor and brakes generate.

Up front, a single 300mm Brembo floating disc is squeezed by a two-piston floating caliper that provides plenty of stopping power, with good feel, linear response, and no fade in emergency braking situations. Out back is a smaller 240mm disc with a single-piston floating caliper. There is no ABS but lever feel is quite good, and an attentive rider can back off if the brakes lock.

Look and Feel

New retro-styled bikes are entering the market every year and try to hide their radiators, hoses, and modern bulk with clever design, but the utter simplicity of the Continental GT is still unique, right down to its chromed kick starter. People of all ages are drawn to the bike: older riders reminiscing about their youth, thick bearded hipsters taking Instagram photos, and even little kids, probably because the Continental GT looks like the motorcycle they drew with crayons in day care. Any modernity (i.e., any technology introduced after 1975) is integrated into the look, like the discreet LCD display in the speedometer that incorporates an odometer, trip computers (two), and fuel gauge.

One pleasant surprise is the clip-on bars with stylish bar-end mirrors. The bars certainly look the café racer part but are mounted above the top-triple clamp, yielding a fairly standard seating position. A rider can bend his elbows and assume a deep tuck as if he’s trying to hit the tonne, but one doesn’t have to.

When riding a Royal Enfield, riders have to remind themselves that this is not a modern motorcycle. The vibrations of the motor can take its toll on anything not secured with thread lock or safety wire, and the production tolerances of some parts are as retro as the bike itself. And despite the modern upgrades, the fundamental architecture of the motor is probably as old as the rider (or older). If riders have habits learned in their early days of riding (or taking the MSF Basic RiderCourse), one can quickly revert back to giving the bike a visual inspection before setting off for adventure. A centerstand helps basic maintenance

Riding Impressions

The Continental GT is at home on a quiet back lane, burbling along at 40-55 mph, the air-cooled thumper sending pleasant vibrations through the seat, clip-ons, and alloy footpegs—allowing a rider to relish the moment. Press it into a bend and the bike responds, not ultra-quickly like a modern sportbike, but with alacrity and precision.

Push it harder on a tight road and the motor note will rise aggressively, occasionally popping on the overrev, with the brakes confidently scrubbing off speed. Weight the footpegs, turn it in firmly, and the bike will respond in kind. Clip the apex, stretch the throttle cable, and the bike will roar. Forget what the number says on the speedometer, the feel is where it’s at, at once primal, emotional, quintessential, and just the thing missing from most modern motorcycles. 

Wrapping Up

At the end of the day, the Royal Enfield Continental GT is terribly impractical, good for little else but getting lost on quiet, twisty backroads and perhaps popping down to the coffee shop for a snack. The bike makes one work for every mph but rewards the rider with a throaty soundtrack and confident, tactile reflexes. For some, that’s all they want and nothing more to distract from the experience. For them, the Continental GT makes all the sense in the world.