Catch-22: The 2023 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650
Catch-22: The 2023 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650

Can the much-loved cafe racer solve the dilemma of the head and the heart?

Motorcycles, at their core, are basic machines. You take two wheels, strap them to an engine and a frame, get a vague sense of safety, and ride off. Back in the day, this bare-bones approach allowed the rider and the motorcycle to grow together, form a connection, and create a bond, so to speak. At the end of every ride, you learned something not only about the machine but also about yourself as a person. But, that changed quickly.


Somewhere down the line, two wheels started to feel like four. They became safer, friendlier, more approachable, and dare I say, predictable? Don’t get me wrong, I welcome the technological advancements. Many of us wouldn’t be here without them. But take a quick look at any two-wheeler brochure today, and you’ll see a spec sheet designed around the latest trend, not motorcycles with character or soul. At least not until you get on the 2023 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650.


A Timeless Design, Now Modernised



Bear with me on this, but there’s a certain relatability in looking at the Conti GT and falling in love for the first time, for better or worse. From afar, you see it with a sense of timelessness as the design flows smoothly from one end to the other, complemented by its cleverly upswept clip-ons and sleek-looking fuel tank. The new model trades its spoked-wheel setup and halogen headlamp for alloys and an LED unit borrowed from the Super Meteor 650. The switchgear is also new, as are the grips and the adjustable levers, which feel premium to the touch.


It isn’t until you get closer that you start to see the red flags. What doesn’t feel premium here is the dated instrument cluster. The updated digital-analogue setup with a gear position indicator and trip-by-trip navigation—seen on the flagship Super Meteor and even the more affordable Hunter 350—has been missed here, which I find rather odd. And even though the alloy wheels add a much-needed dash of practicality, they look boring in regards to the overall design.


Got Your Back? Perhaps Not



Off the saddle, the Conti looks universally appealing. On the saddle, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The rider’s triangle here may not be as aggressive as a super sports bike, but it does take some time to get your bearings. Instead of being moulded to your comfort, the Conti asks you to get used to it. The price for that is mostly paid by your back and your wrists.


If you’re a tall rider, you’ll find yourself cramped due to the position of the shifter and the overall low seat height of the motorcycle, while short riders may experience further discomfort at the wrists. At low speeds, you’ll also notice the top-heaviness of the motorcycle, which can be annoying while maneuvering through slow-moving traffic and cramped parking spaces. However, nothing is as infuriating as the stock seat Royal Enfield has installed here. Just a few kilometres on the road, and you’ll start feeling uncomfortable on the saddle. The company does sell a reportedly better-cushioned seat, but the lack of basic comfort is still baffling.


Parallel Twin, Unparalleled Performance



This is my second extended outing on Royal Enfield’s 650cc engine, and somehow, the Conti GT feels more at home with it. Combined with the aggressive ergonomics of the motorcycle, every squeeze of the throttle feels like an absolute hoot. The 2023 models now come with OBD-2 compliance (On-Board Diagnostics); a more effective device that constantly monitors emissions and notifies the rider in case there is a malfunction. You’ll barely notice any difference between the old engine and the new one though. The power delivery is smooth and torquey, with triple digits coming at you with ease.


What also aids in your riding experience is the slick gearbox and the smooth pull of the slipper clutch. The engine heat does affect you and your pillion once you’re on the road long enough. However, considering the overall performance of the engine, it is something you just have to work your way around; it’s not very dissimilar from going to couples therapy.


Lean On



Perhaps the most understated update comes in the form of the Vredestein Centauro ST tires, which offer more grip and have a rounder profile compared to the Ceat units of the old model. Thanks to these, taking a corner feels easier and more reassuring. However, the suspension remains a mystery. The front feels a tad too stiff, while the rear is a tad too soft, making the motorcycle somewhat unstable at times. (I’m no expert in automobile engineering, but perhaps switching the two would make more sense here?). Sadly, the mysterious wobbling issue found on the wire-spoke variant is present here as well, albeit less intense. Ownership forum threads suggest an array of solutions like changing the tyres, replacing the fork oil, and more but nothing stands out as a solid workaround.


Pulling The Plug



Priced at Rs 3.39 lakh (ex-showroom), the Continental GT 650 is affordable considering the equipment it offers, but it is still a significant investment for an experiment, presenting us with a good ol’ Catch-22 situation, between the head and the heart. Logic dictates that Cafe Racers are a young (or fit) man’s game. The GT isn’t for everyone. It is demanding, exhausting, and sometimes a literal pain in the ass. But every time you look at it or ride it, you fall in love with it a little bit more. And, isn’t that what matters the most?

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