Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Royal Enfield Continental GT makes strong first impression

Launch team members, sitting, from left, Akshit Vyas, Pankaj Vij, Prerna Tandon, Praveen Prakash Sathaye. Standing, from left, Remo Rehman, Radhika Sharda, Satish Kumar, Pallavi Trivedi, Ikshit Pande, Shaji Koshy, Mohit Vini, Shreyas Bhatt, Dinesh Joshi, CEO Siddhartha Lal, Aninda Sardar, Bidisha Dey, Karan Chauhan, Tanisha Sharma and Sandeep Mehta
Royal Enfield launched its new Continental GT in London this month with a truly regal week of activities intended to show the bike to the world's press in the best light. From the Ace Cafe to the National Motorcycle Museum, to the hallowed pavement of the Brooklands race track and the storied sands of Brighton beach, the new cafe racer was the center of attention.

Journalists brought from Japan, Australia, the U.S. and Europe no doubt departed with the impression that they had experienced a significant new British motorcycle (that just happens to be made in India). One writer was so convinced he told me he intended to personally purchase a Continental GT when it reaches his country; this from someone who can ride any motorcycle he likes, any time, for free.

This sales job was the accomplishment of a small but dedicated band of people gathered in London by Royal Enfield and parent company Eicher Motors. Most were no more at home in the UK than the foreign journalists, but their command of events was all polished precision.

It was easy to assume that the motorcycle must be superior, if so much care went into its launch.

Left to itself, the Continental GT is a world beater — or it is not — depending on how its spec sheet aligns with your needs. It comes in one color. I hope you like red.

But the motorcycle was not left to itself. The launch team shepherded the press through venues and lectures that bathed the new cafe racer in the warm glow of nostalgia. On a walking tour of London our guide pointed out the rooftop where the Beatles gave their final live performance (neighbors complained about the noise).

Looking at Brighton beach I realized it's not made of sand; it's all smooth, fist-sized rocks. If they'd been serious, the rioting Mods and Rockers could have massacred one another with those.

On Brighton Pier I watched an elderly gentleman roll his wife's wheelchair up to a row of Continental GTs. They gazed at the bikes warmly; approvingly. It was such a solemn moment I hesitated to photograph it. Memories of 50 years ago?

Approving glances on Brighton Pier.
Magical impressions like this were everywhere at the launch of the Continental GT. Special as they were, they were not entirely accidental. They happened because the launch team created opportunities for them to happen.

"Two steps above," was the judgment of one experienced motorcycle writer, comparing the launch of the Continental GT to the many other events he has attended.

The Continental GT launch was many steps above what I would have thought of: just have two girls in swimsuits pose with the bike (as in the old Norton magazine ads) at a press conference during a motorcycle show where the press has gathered anyway.

As a motorcycle, the Continental GT surprised and thrilled me. Its launch impressed me.

"This is not a hobby," Eicher CEO Siddhartha Lal told journalists at Brooklands. Royal Enfield is serious. The launch of the Continental GT proves it.

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