It's back to the 60s on Royal Enfield's affordable cafe racer
Royal Enfield's 2021 Continental GT 650 boasts sporty handling, has sufficient power, is affordable
It does not have a cornering anti-lock braking system, different ride modes, a quickshifter or upside-down forks. Not even a digital clock.
But the 2021 Continental GT 650 from Royal Enfield - the world's oldest motorcycle-maker, founded in 1901 - is still a winner in the cafe-racer segment because of its simplicity.
Cafe racers originated in London and were popular in the 1960s. The GT 650's reasonable price tag, sufficient power for Singapore roads, sporty handling and retro design are palatable traits.
At around $20,000 with a certificate of entitlement (COE) and a three-year unlimited warranty, the GT 650 makes good sense at a time when COE premiums for motorcycles are at a high of more than $8,000.
Its unsophisticated looks and beefy exhaust sound originating from a parallel-twin 648cc engine will take you back to the 1960s, when motorcycles were stripped down and optimised for speed.
The slender 13.7-litre fuel tank, clip-on handlebars and megaphone dual-exhaust pipes link it to the cafe-racing fraternity. Basic controls allow you to focus on riding and on the road.
With a low seat height, both feet can touch the tarmac effortlessly.
A dual chrome-trimmed analogue speedometer (with a digital trip-meter window) and rev counter complement the bike's old-school design.
The passenger-seat cowl, which can be removed with an Allen key, adds racing flavour despite the motorcycle giving a relatively modest output of 47bhp and 52Nm.
While its performance figures are humble, the six-speed GT 650's tall first gear ratio and low-end torque (about 80 per cent available from 2,500rpm) ensure you will not be the last to pull away at the traffic light.
When you have to crouch over the fuel tank, which is long and narrow at the rear, you know you are on a cafe racer.
But on hard acceleration, you might be jolted onto the rear-seat cowl.
Taller riders will find their knees gripping the engine cylinder heat grilles, which is clearly less painful than gripping hot engine fins.
In sixth gear and at 3,500rpm, the speedometer shows 90kmh.
The GT 650's "reverse" clip-on handlebars with an upswept design offer comfort to your wrists.
Non-adjustable 41mm telescopic forks and five-way preload dual shocks handle the suspension duties. They give plush cushioning for most road conditions, but the forks lack rebound damping over square-edged road bumps.
Despite the GT 650's dry weight of about 200kg, it still handles like a sports motorcycle.
Braking is robust, courtesy of twin piston anti-lock ByBre brakes. Likewise, the 18-inch tyres offer enough lean angle and grip on dry surfaces.
Turns are negotiated without a quickshifter, so you have to blip the throttle during downshifts, followed quickly by the sound of the occasional exhaust "burp", before powering out of bends.
It is a lovely sound, especially from a modern fuel-injected, middle-class motorcycle.
Bringing more riding enthusiasts to this category is the brand's priority, Mr Vimal Sumbly, Royal Enfield's head of business markets in Asia-Pacific, told The Straits Times.
It is eyeing riders who intend to upgrade to bigger, affordably priced motorcycles that are capable of going everywhere.
The GT 650 should have quite a few converts.
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