Earlier this month, I took Royal Enfield’s new Interceptor 650 for a spin after shooting Brando’s review of the standard roadster. Shortly after, Royal Enfield lent me its café racer sibling, the Continental GT 650, which I call a “chai racer,” for a week of utter bliss. The Indian brand’s all-new 650 twins surprised and impressed me and my friends so much, and while the Interceptor is an ideal base for customization and touring, the Continental GT 650 felt way more natural for me personally (becuase it felt like a bigger version of my current bike). I fell in love instantly.
The Continental (GT) name dates back to the 250 cc British factory-made café racer by Royal Enfield (RE) from the 1960s. I’m glad RE brought it back in 2014 as the Continental GT 535 (now discontinued), because I remember a time when you had to transform Bullets into café racers via conversion kits. I’m even happier now that the brand has further developed the bike. This generation’s jump is pretty significant, and hopefully, RE keeps getting better and better in the future. On a stereotypical Sunday morning, “motovlogger” Gaki Azurin (AKA GakiMoto) and I collaborated on a rolling shoot with several buddies that took us down NAIA Expressway (NAIAX), around the wide open roads of Entertainment City, and to the weekly Burgos Circle car and bike meet with the Litas Manila. Gaki rode the Interceptor and I took the Continental. Our timing avoided Manila’s notoriously horrendous traffic and I had so much fun on the chai racer, I didn’t mind the sweltering heat.
The 2019 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 looks very much like the previous Continental GT 535. The new motorcycle is built around a twin cradle, tubular steel frame, created by Harris Performance in the UK — chassis specialists that have been developing race bikes since the ‘70s. Harris Performance also designed the frame of the previous Continental GT 535. Eicher Motors, which owns Royal Enfield, acquired Harris Performance in 2015 and the resulting partnership has proven beneficial to the Indian brand’s evolution; the new twins are British-designed and Indian-manufactured in symbiosis.
The Continental GT 650 is such a good-looking motorcycle. Just look at it. Its classic allure is achieved by its frame, round headlamp, dual shocks, and wire-spoked wheels. Meanwhile, the café style is highlighted by the sculpted tank and clip-on handlebars. The latter keeps the bike’s profile low and streamlined, accentuating the straight line from tank to tail — more so than on the Interceptor. Everyone I showed the bike to said it was “very pretty.” It is indeed eye-catching, and Royal Enfield lent me the “Ice Queen” color (without a tail cowl) in white with a gray and light blue stripe. RE also offers the following color schemes: Ventura Blue, Dr. Mayhem (black, gray, and yellow), Black Magic (black and gold), and Mister Clean (chrome). They all look as good as they sound.
The mid-level height of the clip-on handlebars felt just right to me. Like it would on any sporty bike with an aggressive riding position, this might not be as comfortable for others. The rear sets were placed nicely and didn’t get in the way of putting my feet down — something the low, narrow seat helped with. Gaki actually preferred the Continental’s rear sets over the Interceptor’s foot pegs, finding the latter obstructive. The bike’s height and center of gravity worked wonders for my short stature, but the tank’s knee dents weren’t functional for me at all (as seen in the photos). That’s just part of being petite, I guess. The engine even comes with little guards, where my knees were bound to make contact when I sat upright; it got a little warm around that area too but it was nothing to complain about. Even when I slid my arse back and bent low over the tank, my knees still didn’t nestle into the dents. I don’t know how long your legs have to be for that to happen, but I’ve seen it done by taller people in photos. Short folk should figure out a way to raise the foot pegs.
The 2019 Continental GT 650 is powered by Royal Enfield’s new, air and oil-cooled 648 cc parallel twin rated to make 47.7 PS at 7,250 rpm and 52 Nm of torque at 5,250 rpm. Gaki wasn’t too pleased by those numbers. It’s not as powerful as the Japanese 650s in the same price range, but it’s more aesthetically charming and it’s got enough “go juice” to give joy. Yes, it’s incredibly smooth — an RE miracle. There are no weird vibrations, no “jackhammering,” and no stuttering with the Bosch fuel injection dialed in well. The SOHC power plant features a forged counterbalanced crank, a 270-degree firing order, four valves per cylinder, roller rockers, and aluminum engine covers. I didn’t put a lot of trust in the fuel gauge. The sound wasn’t shabby, and the dual exhausts give the Continental a more Triumph-esque appearance. This motorcycle is like a younger, friendlier Thruxton… After all, a bunch of former Triumph employees now work at the new Royal Enfield UK Technology Centre in Leicestershire, where RE’s 650 twin was designed.
I personally loved the Gabriel suspension — 41 mm front forks with 110 mm of travel, and dual piggy-back shocks with 88 mm of travel and adjustable preload (I was riding a perfect mid-level setting as a featherweight). The setup suits real-world conditions, spirited riding (when I say spirited, I don’t mean full-on aggro), and roads both great and crappy. The bike rolled reasonably over imperfect surfaces. I appreciated how easily I could clear humps and climb my garage’s ramp; the bike would just glide right over them. That seemingly soft behavior didn’t translate into concerning dives upon hard braking.
The Continental GT 650 brakes with ByBre (By Brembo) calipers, a 320 mm front disc, and a 240 mm rear disc. These give enough stopping power to both allow mischief and encourage responsible behavior. The braking distance required some foresight, which I’m already used to owning a drum-donning oldie. The slipper clutch was forgiving and made shifting a non-issue, and the Bosch ABS was confidence-inspiring. Meanwhile, the retro Pirelli Phantom Sportscomp tires afforded good, versatile grip. The power was enjoyable and extremely manageable, while the center of gravity and low seat height kept the bike’s weight out of mind, even with the generous ground clearance. The chassis felt wonderfully stable in both straights and curves; the 24-degree rake and 105 mm of trail kept the geometry compact and agile; and the levers were light. All these things make the chai racer super ideal for a first big bike. It was so easy to use. Logic aside, the hawkish riding position felt like I could have been piloting an entry-level sportbike.
I became such a huge fan, I still have separation anxiety after giving it back to the dealer. I’d definitely love to own one. Since I already have a Japanese sake racer (Honda GB400), I’d probably consider the Interceptor 650 for touring purposes… But because of my background, the 2019 Continental GT just felt so intuitive, familiar, and perfect. It’d be such a difficult choice between the two. I haven’t tried nearly as many motorcycles as Gaki has, but this was one of my absolute favorite tests so far. Royal Enfield hit it out of the park with this thing, and I miss it. If you’re a new rider looking for a highway-legal bike that’s both manageable, fun, and beautiful… Or if you’re a seasoned rider who wants an extra café racer in the stable — consider the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650, in a color you desire. Pricing starts at ₱375,000. In addition, BPI and BDO credit card holders can avail of a 2-year payment scheme with 0% interest.