IN THE INTERESTS of good journalism, I should declare my personal bias. There is a special place in my heart for single cylinder motorcycles. I love twins. I don’t even mind triples and fours. In fact, if it’s got two wheels and an engine, I’m usually pretty happy. I don’t know what it is about single cylinder motorcycles, though, whether it’s the pop-pop-pop soundtrack or the inherent simplicity that I find so endearing; maybe it’s both. Singles are also usually light, torquey and a whole lot of fun to ride down a twisty road.
I told Skol (Ozbike Publisher) I’d pick up the Royal Enfield Continental GT and be at the office by mid-morning. It’s already mid-morning and I’m just arriving at Royal Enfield’s Sydney store on Parramatta Road. Never mind, I’ll just grab the bike and haul arse.
“Morning,” says Will Keith who runs the place. “Do you fancy having a go on a couple of other Enfields before you take the Conti?”
What could I do? Skol’s waiting for me and I’m already late.
“Sure, I’d love to take them for a spin.”
After all, I’m supposed to be a professional motorcycle journalist!
Finally, I rock up at the Ozbike office and by now it’s well after midday.
“You’re buying lunch,” grunts Skol, and with that we’re heading east, Skol and his dog in his Harley outfit and me on the Royal Enfield Continental GT (still liking that name). As we rip through the Cross City Tunnel with the bike’s exhausts reverberating off the concrete walls, it’s hard not to smile at one of life’s small pleasures.
As we emerge from the Tunnel into the bright sunlight of a Sydney spring day, a dark thought crosses my mind. We’re heading into Sydney’s wealthy Eastern Suburbs, an area not famous for its cheap lunches and I’m supposed to be paying! While I’m worrying about opening my wallet, Skol turns off the road and heads off across what appears to be a grass paddock. We pull up outside an old timber shed, on the side of the Harbour, where people are sitting around drinking while someone cooks very tasty looking snags on a big old BBQ. The view across the sparkling waters of Sydney Harbour to the city is sensational. Unbelievably, when it comes to paying for lunch for both of us, I get change from $10—no wonder it’s called the lucky country.
Before we leave, we take a few shots of the Royal Enfield Continental GT against a back-drop of yachts. The bike looks pretty good; all that polished alloy glinting in the Sydney sun.
Looking over the bike you notice there are no fancy fasteners; it’s all good old-fashioned nuts and bolts with ample clearance around them. You could probably service this thing with its own tool kit. A kit that contains a pair of tyre levers (when did you last see those in a new bike’s tool kit?)
Skol decides his dog needs a swim so we head around to Watsons Bay where there happens to be a pub conveniently located next to the beach.
Riding through the tight winding backstreets past the big houses of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, the Royal Enfield Continental GT is a bit of a revelation—the suspension deals with the pot-holes and ripples of the road without a worry; the 18-inch Excel-rimmed wheels shod in sticky Pirelli rubber and the Harris-designed chassis keep everything stable and going where it’s pointed.
Despite being a café racer, it’s a pretty comfortable ride. The clip-ons are mounted above the top triple clamp and the rear-sets aren’t too rear-set.
I should mention at this point that the front Brembo brake works really well—thanks very much to the tool driving the black Range Rover (who would have thought you’d see one of those in the Eastern Suburbs?) for testing my emergency braking technique.
There’s a lot of fuss at the moment in Sydney about dogs in hotels. Apparently they’re unhygienic and dangerous. If that’s the reason they should probably ban beer too. I’ve seen people do some pretty unhygienic and dangerous things after drinking that stuff. I only mention this because we’d been rehydrating at the Watson’s Bay Hotel for a while before I realised Skol’s dog was sitting under the table. Skol didn’t seem to care and neither did any of the people around us so I didn’t bother notifying the relevant authorities.
The dog had a swim in the crystal clear water and then it was time to cut through the Sydney afternoon traffic to pick up my youngest from school.
The Royal Enfield Continental GT has no drama slipping through the banked-up inner city traffic. There’s not much heat coming off the EFI 535 cc motor and it’s narrow enough to slip through most gaps. In fact, the only drama I experienced on my first day with the Royal Enfield was when I pulled up at the school. No pillion seat. You can buy one as a genuine accessory from Royal Enfield for the sum of $290 including pillion foot pegs, which seems very reasonable. The test bike didn’t come with this optional extra so the youngest had to walk home.
Next day Skol decided we should go for a run up the Bells Line of Road to the Jenolan Caves. I knew it was going to be a ‘spirited’ run when I arrived at the office and he was sitting on the 1200 cc Sportster; looks like the dog would be staying at home.
We rode past all the outlets offering massive savings, then further out of town past all the churches offering saving of a very different kind. We rode past the RAAF base with its seemingly ever-circling Hercules, through Richmond, and on up into the Blue Mountains. I know the surface has deteriorated and they’ve sign-posted the road at 80 km/h, but the Bells Line of Road is still a very special piece of tarmac. All those corners, the views, the corners, the fresh air, the corners, and finally… the corners.
You can cruise along in top gear on the Royal Enfield Continental GT making use of the low down torque, throwing it around the corners knowing the ground clearance and Brembo brakes will get you out of trouble. It isn’t a fast motorcycle, it doesn’t make masses of horsepower, but it is relatively light, stable and comfortable. The joy in riding bikes like the Royal Enfield Continental GT is that you don’t need to be seriously breaking the speed limit to have a good time. It’s engaging in a whole different way—you have to enter the corner with plenty of speed and trust the chassis and the tyres to get you out the other side.
Out in the fresh air and sunshine of the Blue Mountains, chasing Skol who was riding a bike making three times the power of the Royal Enfield Continental GT, I had a ball.
We didn’t make it to the Jenolan Caves. I’m going to blame the Sporty’s fuel-tank range; it had nothing to do with the fact we found a pub on the way.
On the way back, I rode the wheels off the Royal Enfield Continental GT managing to keep ahead of Skol until the road straightened out and the Sportster’s horsepower advantage couldn’t be overcome. That night I slept well.
The next day I needed to slip up to the Central Coast to do a favour for a mate. I thought I’d take the motorway to see how the Royal Enfield Continental GT coped with it. Start pushing the speed limit and the vibrations get a little annoying but never terminal. Ease it back a little and you could cruise all day. Sure, you get wind blast but the riding position is pretty comfortable.
Off the freeway and onto the back roads heading up the Central Coast and the Royal Enfield Continental GT is in its element. I realise café racers were born in 1950s Britain with rationing still in place and some truly shocking weather, but this is where I’d prefer to ride a café racer—with dappled sunlight shining through the gum trees, the smell of spring in the air and a twisting, turning road with views of the wide, blue Pacific Ocean.
Back in the city, I decided I’d been doing far too much ‘sports-touring’ and not enough ‘café racing’. As I understand it, the original café racers would meet at cafes, put a song on the juke box, then tear off up the road on a prearranged course, trying to return before the song finished. Pretty easy, right? Well you try finding a café in Sydney with a juke box.
My plan was to listen to a song on my phone through the earpiece and try to make it from one famous café to another before the song ended. I started at Café Sydney in Circular Quay (this isn’t really a café, more of a fancy restaurant, but it is famous) and headed to Harry’s Café de Wheels in Woolloomooloo (which is more of a food van, but again, it’s famous). I checked out the distance on Google Maps—1.5 km and listed at four minutes travel time. Thanks to the trusted Royal Enfield Continental GT, I made it with the music from Bat Out of Hell still playing in my ear.
Encouraged by my café racing success, I decided to go a little further to Deus Café in Camperdown and while there check out a few of their custom built café racers. Harry’s Café de Wheels to Deus café—5.7 km and 15 minutes travel time. No dramas, I pulled up at Deus with Stevie Wright still belting out Evie in my ear.
As I was getting back on the bike outside Deus, two guys pulled up next to me, and as often happens with motorcyclists, we struck up a conversation.
“Not a bad little retro,” said one of them.
I explained that the Royal Enfield Continental GT is not a really a retro motorcycle; it is the most modern motorcycle Royal Enfield have ever produced.
“What sort of power does it make?” asked the other.
“29.1 horsepower, according to Royal Enfield,” I answered.
“Wouldn’t be much fun then?” the man said. “I reckon you need at least 70.”
I pointed out that I’d had a ball on the Royal Enfield Continental GT for the last week but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.
It’s easy to dismiss the Royal Enfield Continental GT just looking at the stats but I reckon that’s missing the point—this is a pretty funky motorcycle to get around on and fiddle with. For me, the week was a bit of a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance moment; a reconnection with the simple pleasure of riding motorbikes.
After a couple of days riding around Sydney I was really starting to bond with the Enfield. It’s not a complicated motorcycle which adds to its charm. It’s a motorcycle you want to modify and fiddle with. I kept catching myself thinking, “I could just move that, or alter that bit, or get rid of that part completely.” Not that the Royal Enfield Continental GT isn’t pretty good straight out of the box but it’s amazing how a little tinkering can bond you with your bike. If you’re new to motorcycles, it would be an easy bike to learn to work on; and if you’ve been around bikes for a while, it has a charming simplicity that is both refreshing and appealing.
The price is appealing too: the recommended retail price is $9990 with on-road costs in NSW.
When I dropped the bike back at Royal Enfield Sydney, I was told about some young guy, here on holiday, who had hired a Royal Enfield Continental GT from them and ridden all the way around Oz. So it’s fair to say its touring range is only limited by the age of your joints.
But don’t take my word for it. You can hire a Royal Enfield Continental GT for yourself from Royal Enfield Sydney, 366A Parramatta Road, Burwood NSW 2134; 02-8011-3463.
written by Paul Angus