The seating position on the Continental GT 650 is committed, although the handlebars contribute the lion’s share to that impression. The footpegs are rearset but not by a lot – in fact, crouching on the GT makes you feel a little cramped because then the footpegs feel like they should have been a little further back. However, for the target market, we think this riding position will be perfect, and we’re sure that mods from their performance division will include more rearset ‘pegs at some point.
The standard seat feels a little too hard for all-day rides, but it sure helps transmit all the information from the road really well. It also needs to have more grippy fabric, because you tend to slide in front every time you brake hard. This is brought into focus because the tank is a lot narrower than the engine’s crankcase – this is important because that width is what has dictated the width of the footpegs. As a result, the rider’s knees are a lot further in, and the shape of the tank doesn’t lend itself to being gripped by the rider’s knees very easily. A wider tank would have gone a long way in making the GT more comfortable – and this stems from how good the Bybre brakes and Pirelli tyres are. These tyres aren’t very wide – in fact, there are 160cc bikes with wider rear tyres in our market, but the proportions are just right on the Continental. The brakes don’t seem like much for a 650cc twin-cylinder motorcycle that weighs more than 200kg, but the bite, feel and progression on our ride was great.
The choice of suspension is interesting – the conventional front forks aren’t out of place, but twin dampers are the rear are an anachronism today, even if they help contribute to the period look of the motorcycle. Even on the smooth roads of California, the rear managed to transmit bumps to the rider – on the preload setting that was second from softest, and with a test rider that weighs almost as much as two regular Indians. For the Continental GT to work in India, the seat and suspension will both have to offer more comfort, despite its sporty intentions.
Speaking of which, the frame is such an improvement over what we’ve come to expect from a Royal Enfield. We were pleasantly surprised with what the Himalayan had to offer in terms of handling, and the Continental GT 650 is a mature handler with stiffness, compliance and feedback that puts a grin on your face. There are feeler bolts and rider footpegs with springs that can fold… this should give you an idea of what the company expects its customers will do with its new product. It isn’t the kind of motorcycle that will turn at the slightest whiff of steering input, but it forgives errors, and is ready to play. It’s a little like the engine, in fact.
The brief for the engine was to make something that had useable power through the rev range, rather than something that was a power monster that was difficult to ride daily. As a result, 80 per cent of the Continental GT 650’s torque is available from 2500rpm all the way to its power peak at 7250rpm. That’s a really wide powerband, and not just for a Royal Enfield. The 648cc parallel twin doesn’t mind being revved to the redline, but there’s no real reward to it. Instead, riding the torque curve from 3000-5000rpm works better. Yes, vibrations are present but they’re well in check. They get intrusive only when you cruise at over 100kph, which brings it to 4000rpm and over. They’re prominent through the footpegs, and to a lesser extent, through the handlebar. Vibrations from the seat aren’t absent, but they never bother the rider a lot. Fueling is smooth; even the on/off transition in the middle of a corner is handled with maturity. The gearbox is, in a word, modern. The pull on the lever is light, and it engages positively. The feel at the shift lever is excellent, with a positive snick when you go into gear. Yes, you can hurry it through the gears if you so wish, and downshifting is a breeze thanks to the back-torque limiting clutch.