A Royal Enfield Promise Of A Bike That Could Cross Continents
Images: Vrutika Doshi
Unveiled at the New Delhi Auto Expo in February 2012, the Royal Enfield Continental GT 535 had most motorcycling fans extremely excited. Here was a bike that promised the reliability and efficiency of a modern-day motorcycle, in the style and spirit of the café racers of the 1960s. In fact, it was Royal Enfield’s first new motorcycle for the 21st century, an impressive feat given that it remains the oldest motorcycle brand in continuous production, since 1892.
The original Continental GT was a model that the English Royal Enfield had launched in the 1960s to remain relevant in the highly competitive motorcycle market then. The young apprentices at Royal Enfield were asked to design a bike according to their own ideas, to address the tastes of young buyers. The resulting Continental GT, powered by a 20bhp 250cc engine built in the then new style of a café racer delighted the young. The model, produced in the factory in Redditch, UK, went on to have a strong influence on the rocker subculture in England then.
Inspired by the “original”, the “Indian” Continental GT 535, from 2012, had the style and panache of the ’60s Conti, but was underpinned with more modern mechanicals: It was powered by a 29bhp 535cc single-cylinder engine, mated to a five-speed gearbox, which developed a maximum torque of 44 Nm, at 4000rpm. The powerpack was encased in a tubular double-cradle frame designed by chassis specialist Harris Performance (which was later acquired by Royal Enfield India). The telescopic fork was a Paioli, and braking was by Brembo.
Royal Enfield India’s in-house designer S Sivakumar teamed up with British designer Mark Wells, from Xynophya Motorcycle Design, to design a bike that retained the classic elements and overall proportions yet rework the ergonomics to fit taller and bigger riders from today. With a design that was clean and pure, the Continental GT 535 had the makings of a modern classic.
The Continental GT 535 was a visual treat with its round headlamp, contrast stitching on the seat, small bar-end anti-glare mirrors, upswept exhaust, and its analogue instrumentation for the speedometer and tachometer. The fuel indicator, odometer and trip meter were digital, but beautifully integrated.
Available in red, yellow, black, or green, sales of the Continental GT 535 commenced in 2014. The initial road tests by the automotive magazines were very promising. With a chassis that was much stiffer than that of the Bullet, and with a suspension system that was better tuned, the Continental GT 535’s handing and ride qualities were a big improvement over that of the former. Overall, the Continental GT 535 was more modern, with the engine reaching its optimum temperature quickly, it had a decent pick-up. The bike also gained a reputation for being able to navigate traffic easily, once one understood the importance of playing with the gearbox to keep the engine running at its best. Though top speed was claimed to be 140 km/h, it was more comfortable to cruise at around 110-120 km/h, as there was an unwanted vibration closer to the top.
The problem was with the pricing—it was expected to be higher than that of the Bullet 500, but the gap was a bit too much. The performance, to many, was seen as rather underwhelming. And then there were some reliability issues too. Also, the riding position, even if it made the rider look good, was uncomfortable for long stretches. Somehow, the Continental GT 535 just did not quite set the sales charts afire. Sales peaked in 2015, declined thereafter, and by 2017 Royal Enfield decided to withdraw the GT 535. It was to be replaced by the all-new Continental GT 650 the year after, which has proved to be a much better machine, and decidedly more popular.
The total number of Royal Enfield Continental GT 535s sold seem to have barely crossed four figures for the three-odd years it was on sale, making it a rarity. Even if it was a bit disappointing in terms of performance and expectations, and had some teething issues, the Continental GT 535 was the foundation stone, the first important steps in the revival of the Indo-Anglian brand, which had just invested in a new factory in Chennai, a new research centre in England, and had installed new manufacturing processes. Reason enough why we believe that the Royal Enfield Continental GT 535 has the makings of a future classic.
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