Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 vs. 535: Twice the Cylinders, Twice the Fun?

The Himalayan bargain adventure bike isn’t the only thing showing Royal Enfield’s recent rise in the motorcycle world. For one, rumors suggest the formerly British and currently Indian company is looking to take on the Triumph Scrambler. But arguably bigger than that or the Himalayan are Royal Enfield’s neo-classic bikes, the Interceptor 650 and Continental GT 650. However, the latter isn’t the first retro café racer to bear that name. So, how does the latest Royal Enfield Continental GT compare to its immediate predecessor?

Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 vs. 535: the engine’s not the only difference

The first Royal Enfield Continental GT appeared in 1965, Iron & Air reports, on a 250cc motorcycle. And at the time, it was one of the fastest 250cc bikes sold in Britain. But it was dropped in 1967 when the company’s British operations ceased, Cycle World reports.

Then, in 2013, the Royal Enfield Continental GT reappeared as a brand-new 2014 model, RideApart reports. The only thing it shares with contemporary Royal Enfields is its Bullet 500-derived engine, Motorcyclist explains. It’s a fuel-injected 535cc single-cylinder engine, rated at 29 hp and 32 lb-ft, linked to a 5-speed transmission.

Considering the Husqvarna Vitpilen 401 makes more horsepower from a smaller engine, the Continental GT 535 may seem underpowered. However, it only weighs 406 pounds, RideApart reports, which is relatively light.

2019 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650
2019 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 | Matthew Skwarczek

Meanwhile, the 2020 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 has a 648cc two-cylinder engine with 47 hp and 38 lb-ft, Cycle World reports. It’s heavier than the GT 535, but not by much. Without fuel, it weighs 435 pounds. But that makes sense, given the newer bike’s extra features.

A red customized Royal Enfield Continental GT 535
Customized Royal Enfield Continental GT 535 | Matthew Skwarczek

The Royal Enfield Continental GT 535 is a mix of old and new. On the one hand, it has a Brembo front disc and ByBre rear disc, Pirelli tires, and a digital display with trip odometers and a fuel gauge. However, it also has both an electric starter and a kick-starter.

In contrast, while the Continental GT 650 has ByBre front and rear discs, it also has standard ABS. It has a 6-speed, not a 5-speed, transmission with a slipper clutch, Motorcyclist reports. Its twin gauges and digital display are also redesigned for better clarity. Plus, it has a slightly lower seat height.

How does the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 ride compared to the 535?

I’ve ridden both the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 and the GT 535. And while the two are both café racers, they’re noticeably different.

Apart from maybe a Janus, the Continental GT 535 is perhaps the closest thing to a modern vintage motorcycle. The single-cylinder engine sends a lot of vibrations through the clip-on bars, especially at higher RPMs. And the exhaust note is rawer and less refined, a thick THUNKaTHUNKa sound.

The Continental GT 650 is significantly smoother, with fewer vibrations and better throttle response. It feels more solidly-built than the GT 535. I also found the riding position to be more upright for the GT 650 than the GT 535, with less pressure at my wrists. Plus, it’s simply a more powerful bike; you don’t have to rev it high to get useful acceleration.

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However, between the two, the older bike is arguably easier to ride. Cycle World and Motorcyclist report the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 turns-in easily and handles better than the Kawasaki W800 Café. But the Continental GT 535 felt even easier to turn; it was more ‘flickable’ than the new bike. Also, I noticed less wrist pain after riding the GT 535 than I did after riding the GT 650. Though based on Bennetts’ experience with the latter, that might’ve been due to a poor riding position on my part.

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The GT 650’s sense of refinement, however, goes beyond a feeling of solidity. Its gauge needles don’t bounce around. The speedometer no longer has ‘kph’ as the more prominent scale on US models. And while neither bike stuttered on me while I rode them, RideApart and Cycle World reported the GT 535’s engine could stall even at idle.

Which bike should I get?

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A new 2020 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 starts at $5999. A gently-used one can be found for about $5000 on Cycle Trader.

A black 2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT 535 against a brick wall
2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT 535 | Motoworks Chicago

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A used GT 535 is usually a bit cheaper. As of this writing, Motoworks in Chicago has a 2014 model listed at $3900. But some modified examples can cost almost as much as a used GT 650.

Besides the budget, the best way to choose between the GT 650 and GT 535 is riding both. If you want a classic bike experience without the headache of carburetors, you’ll probably prefer the latter. If you want a truly modern and stylish bike, though, the GT 650 is the better buy.

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