All of us have the urge to push further and faster on our bikes. But that traffic signal drag race or that unsafe midnight run well over the speed-limit is not the right way to test the bike’s limits or, more likely, yours. True fans of racing will tell you that the only place to experience the rush of speed is the racetrack and not the neighbourhood’s streets.
But how does one experience a dream machine on the track, hone the skills of that inner racer and quench his or her’s need for speed? Royal Enfield has been working on an answer to that question.
Around the time that the GT 650 twins were born, the idea for a GT Cup took shape in the mind of RE’s boss Siddharth Lal. Royal Enfield has been at the forefront of bringing the joy of riding in the great outdoors to thousands of its enthusiast motorcycle owners. The brand’s bikes have always been synonymous with rugged build quality and longevity. The Himalayan was created and purpose-built to tackle the mountains. With the arrival of the GT twins, RE realised that the cafe racer Continental GT 650 was perfect for exploring an extension into the world of racing and track training. So, for a start the GT Cup was established, and a race-spec version of the Conti GT was built. But this was done with much of the stock bike being retained to both prove the brand’s mettle and to keep it approachable for aspiring novice riders.
2021 was the first year for the Conti GT Cup race challenge. Aspirants who wanted to participate had to register online and more than 500 apparently applied and a 100 of them shortlisted for the race at the track in Coimbatore. Going by the feedback after completing season 4 of the GT Cup last month, Royal Enfield believes that they will need to create two categories - a professional and an amateur - series. The idea is to also allow novices to gain access to a race-spec bike and help them hone their riding skills. So, a riding/ training school could well be part of the plan. And a replication for the world of track racing and riding is to be attempted on the same lines of RE’s success in the field of motorcycling touring culture.
I travelled to Coimbatore to get a first-hand experience of the race-spec Conti GT on the track. First, a bit about the bike.
Stock Vs GT Cup
RE’s engineers claim that they had a lot of confidence in the stock GT 650 and so felt that it didn’t need any changes to the chassis. The only thing that has been changed in that department is the rear subframe, which has been shortened by 4-5 inches, more for cosmetic reasons. The wheelbase, swing arm and the mounting points for the rear wheel are all the same as the stock bike. The suspension geometry is also nearly the same. The only minor difference is the rear has been raised by about 5mm to aid ground clearance and to enable more banking angles at the racetrack without bottoming out the exhaust bend pipes. The foot peg positions have also changed for the same reason and they are more rear-set and higher. While testing the bike at the Kari Speedway racetrack just outside Coimbatore, I realise how important this can be. With its tight corners, a few even involving gradients, the GT Cup Conti provides for much higher lean angles.
The suspension is, of course, a bit stiffer, though the configuration is the same. The rear now has a linear-rated coil spring, which is slightly stiffer at 28 Newtons per mm, compared to the stock bike’s progressive 20-27Newtons per mm. The race-spec bike needs the stiffer set up for a consistent high-speed performance on the track. Similarly, the front has got pre-load adjusters; they can be adjusted up to about an inch and half, simply to reduce the sag from the rider’s weight. The oil in the forks is also thicker, but the cartridges remain the same. So, no fancy new suspension components for the race-spec GT 650. Internally most of the components have been retained with only some minor adjustments. The idea was to keep most of the stock bike intact even for the track. The wheels and brakes are also from the stock bike.
The exhaust is the most obvious change. There is no need to adhere to sound regulations here since these bikes are purely for use on the racetrack and not intended for use on the road. The GT Cup bike gets a derestricted exhaust, which helps reduce a significant amount of weight and adds to the power output. In fact, the GT Cup Conti is about 24kgs lighter and almost 13kgs has been saved by replacing the stock exhaust. The parallel-twin 648cc, air-cooled, fuel-injected engine is the same unit from the stock bike, but the power has jumped up from 47hp (stock) to about 53hp (race-spec). Similarly, peak torque generated has gone up to 57Nm from 52.3Nm.
The other bit of weight saving has come from the removal of electronics, and other road-spec’s parts like the headlamp, indicators, tail-light and even the ABS unit. The only additions in the race-spec GT 650 for cosmetically enhancing the aerodynamics are the fairing and the belly-pan. The fairing is also meant to protect the rider from the wind blast especially on the long straight at the Kari racetrack, where the race-spec GT Cup bike manages to consistently clock a top speed of 175kmph, while hitting the redline on sixth gear. For now, the RE GT Cup race is likely to be held at the Kari Motor Speedway and since it is a tight and technical track, RE engineers have gone down by one tooth on the front sprocket for the race-spec bike. The stock’s gearing is too tall for the track. But despite the shorter gearing the race-spec bike is faster due to the higher output and lower weight. For carrying more speed into corners on the track, the tyres have been changed. They are soft compound race tyres supplied by JK Tyres. But the filters and fuel being used are regular stock filters and unleaded petrol.
On the track, the riding position from the lower placed clip-on handlebar almost enables me to place my chin on the fuel tank. It is a much more committed posture, helps in aerodynamics too and allows sharp focus on the track. The exhaust note is loud, but great to hear at full throttle. While the GT Cup bike still feels heavy as I rode out of the pit lane, once I hit the track, tuck my knees in and wring the throttle, it changes character. It is quick and nimble, quite a bit more than the stock bike, but is also very controllable. It took a couple of laps for me to understand that bit. Down a couple of more laps at the recently relaid Kari track and the Conti GT Cup’s approachability shines through. It is very capable and the race I witnessed later that afternoon adequately proved that in the hands of an experienced racer this bike can be taken to the edge. But, for me, like it would be for many aspiring riders, the experience helped discover (grudgingly) that the bike can take me to my edge.