Café racers have suffered the reputation as the hipsters' motorized vehicle of choice due to their vintage aesthetic reminiscent of the modified bikes from the mid '60s that English youth raced from one café to another. Thanks to Royal Enfield, the world's oldest motorcycle brand in continuous production, there's now a café racer with period-correct appearance, modern day performance and reliability, as well as a comfortable riding position – whether you wear skinny jeans or not.
First things first, the 2014 Continental GT is a sexy bike. Royal Enfield turned to the UK's Xenophya Design, who has worked with Triumph, Radical Ducati, and Aprilia to fine-tune the Continental GT's look, including an elongated tank that's recessed for the rider's knees and a clubman saddle with stitching that matches the color of the bike (red or yellow). The single cylinder, air-cooled 535cc engine produces a can't-get-you-in-too-much-trouble 29 horsepower and is bolted to a chassis designed by England's Harris Performance Products, who have designed and built race bikes for Yamaha and Suzuki. The Continental GT thrives at about 65 mph and below, making it perfect for urban riding as well as the 140 mile jaunt we took through the vineyards, farmland, and mountain switchbacks of Temecula wine country and northern San Diego County.
With a low standover height, and weighing only 405 lbs, it's also a great beginner bike. Sure, newbies often drop their motorcycle once or twice, but the CEO of Royal Enfield told us a few dings add character to this café racer, which says more about the personality of the India-based company than anything else: They believe the best way to admire a bike is to ride it as much as possible.
But, the Continental GT is a worthy rig for experienced riders as well. Hop on, hit the electric start or kickstarter (it comes with both), and the first thing you notice is the gentle rumble of the thumper that's Scarlett Johansson sexy. The second thing you're likely to notice is the placement of the foot pegs, which are farther back than most, and put you in a more aero position. And those vintage looks? They're deceiving. The springs that appear to handle rear suspension duties are actually adjustable, gas-charged shocks by Paioli and the clip-on handlebars are mounted higher on the fork stanchions, making a very comfortable ride. And yet you'll be close enough to a full tuck position to realize the hipsters were right about café racers all along.