This is the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 and, needless to say, it’s a very popular motorcycle in India. The riders in our country have a deep liking for sporty as well as old-school motorcycles, and the Conti GT delivers both these traits in a stunning package. Although its sales never skyrocketed — mainly due to its sporty ergonomics, the Conti has a small yet religious fan base.
However, the dearth of updates since its inception in 2018 meant it had started looking and feeling old. Hence, to breathe a fresh lease of life into the Continental GT 650, Royal Enfield bestowed the bike with a few visual and functional updates for 2023 while keeping the core aspects unchanged. Now, how much of a difference have these changes made in the riding experience of the bike? Let’s find out.
Styling and Quality
The design of the Continental GT 650 is one of its strongest suits. Its styling beautifully reminisces the OG café-racers of the 1960s with a clip-on handlebar, a boxy fuel tank with deep knee recesses, upswept twin exhausts, and a scooped-out seat. The longer saddle can be replaced by a single-piece seat and a rear cowl, which take its visual appeal to a whole different level. While the bike has always been a looker, for 2023, RE has introduced two new paint schemes with alloy wheels and blacked-out treatment for the engine casing, thus making it appear more modern. Fortunately, even the older chrome-adorning, spoke wheel variants continue to be on sale.
On the quality front, RE’s 650 twins have always been impressive and the 2023 iteration is no different. The motorcycle is well put-together and nothing looks odd, out of place, or susceptible to loosening or breakage. Even the quality of the paint and switchgear feels premium and long-lasting.
Ergonomics and Comfort
The trade-off for the sporty looks is the committed ergonomics offered by GT 650. While the 804mm seat height makes it easy to hop on the bike, the riding stance you get into might not be to everyone’s liking. Typical of café-racers, you sit crouched ahead, holding the clip-ons and your legs are acutely bent to reach the rear-set footpegs. The seat is long enough to slide back and hold on tightly to the tank recesses with your knees. However, if you sit on the front edge of the seat, your knees touch the engine case which gets uncomfortable in traffic as the engine heat can be felt on the thighs. Thankfully, RE has given small braces on the cylinder head to prevent direct contact between the knees and the engine.
Now, this riding position feels quite thrilling on a short burst of rides on open roads or around corners. However, getting stuck in traffic isn’t very pleasant as a lot of pressure is induced on your wrists every time you apply brakes. And if you plan to go touring, your back might start hurting within two hours of being in the saddle. Well, as I said, there are trade-offs. But once you crack the right technique of sitting on sportbikes — core engaged, legs tightly gripping the tank, and arms loose – the ride becomes more bearable and fun.
As for the ride quality, it does feel firm for the most part, but not outright unforgiving. The GT 650 gets its rear preload dialled in to the third step from the factory, unlike the Interceptor 650 which gets it at the lowest position. This has been done to raise the tail of the GT slightly higher which results in sportier handling dynamics. At the same time, it also translates into a slightly firmer and bouncier-feeling rear suspension over sharper and taller hurdles like rumblers or deeper potholes. However, minor undulations are taken care of with a fair amount of plushness.
Performance and Handling
The engine, chassis, suspension, and brakes of the Continental GT 650 are the same as the previous model. That means the overall riding experience is almost identical. However, the inclusion of alloy wheels has allowed the usage of tubeless radial tyres from Vredestein.
Besides the convenience of easy puncture repair, these rubbers inspire more confidence while cornering by delivering ample grip and feedback. For a 211kg (kerb) motorcycle, the GT 650 is a great handler. It feels noticeably more agile than the Interceptor 650. While tipping it in requires some effort, once leaned over, it effortlessly traces the desired line around corners. It only starts feeling a little unsettled and wobbly around bends if your inputs aren’t smooth and gradual.
As for its 648cc, air/oil-cooled, parallel-twin engine, it has always been a gem of a mill. It’s high on refinement, feels, and torque. There’s enough punch to reach 100kmph in a jiffy and, if road and traffic conditions allow, exceeding 150kmph is also doable. But the highlight of this motor is its mid-range torque and tractability. Doing 50-60kmph in fifth gear is seamless and accelerating ahead from there is a stutter-free affair. Even the throttle feels direct and crisp. And the GT does all of it while being almost free of vibrations, regardless of the speed.
Accompanying the delightful engine is a slick-shifting gearbox. The cogs shift with minimal effort and short throw, thus adding to the involving character of the bike. While I did come across false neutrals on a few occasions, it wasn’t a big problem. The clutch could be lighter though. Typical of all REs, the clutch action demands you to put a fair amount of pressure which becomes cumbersome if you’re stuck in traffic for a long time.
In the braking department, just like the other 650s, the GT scores high. There’s a tremendous bite from the front lever and just the right amount for the rear. While the lever feel could be slightly better, the ByBre callipers bring this 211kg machine to a halt quickly and without much effort.
Features and Technology
With the new iteration, Royal Enfield has sprinkled an adequate amount of modernity on the GT 650. As mentioned before, the presence of alloy wheels means punctures won’t be a nightmare anymore. The adjustable levers allow you to tweak the reach of the levers as per your comfort. Plus, the inclusion of a USB charger means your devices can be juiced up on the go. As for the rotary switches and LED headlamp, they don’t necessarily add to the everyday convenience but look nice nonetheless. On the flip side, the instrument cluster could do with more information. While these analogue dials, accompanied by a tiny LCD, go well with the overall retro theme, additional data like a gear position indicator would’ve been welcome.
The Continental GT 650 returns a fuel efficiency of around 22-25kmpl, which is decent considering its engine displacement and performance. It gets a fuel tank of 13.7litre and that means the approximate riding range would be close to 340km.
Buying the Continental GT 650 would be more of an emotional than a practical decision. Cafe racers inherently come with certain shortcomings like a committed riding position, lack of pillion space and comfort, and, in most cases, a stiff ride. And all these limitations apply to the GT 650 as well. However, if you are fascinated with the concept of café racers and the kind of feel they deliver, the Continental GT 650 is a no-brainer whatsoever.
It’s also a unique offering considering the Indian market doesn’t have any other quintessential café-racer priced under Rs. 4 lakh (on-road). As for the other aspects like engine performance, refinement, handling, brakes, and build quality, there’s nothing to worry about. Moreover, Royal Enfield’s impressive brand recall and sales and service reach further add to the ownership experience.
Photography by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi