Teenage Dream: 1963 Royal Enfield Continental

Royal Enfield’s quarter-liter café, the 250 Continental, brought style to the streets.

| March/April 2017

1963 Royal Enfield Continental

Photo by Robert Smith

1963 Royal Enfield Continental
248cc OHV air-cooled single, 70mm x 64.5mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio, 20hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed:
84mph (period test)
Single Amal 1-1/16in 376 Monobloc
4-speed (5-speed stock), chain final drive
6v, coil and breaker points ignition
Single downtube open cradle steel frame/52in (1,320mm)
Telescopic forks front, dual shocks rear
Brakes: 7in (178mm) SLS drum front, 6in (152mm) drum rear
3.25 x 17in front and rear
Weight (dry):
305lbs (138kg)
Seat height:
29.5in (749mm)
Fuel capacity:
4gal U.S. (15ltr)
Price then/now:
£242.10s (1963)/$3,000-$6,000

One of motorcycling’s most powerful design icons first appeared on the roads of Britain in the late 1950s: the café racer. The archetype was the BSA Gold Star in Clubman trim, sporting clip-on handlebars mounted on the front fork, a paired speedometer and tachometer, skinny fenders and a swept-back header pipe.

In reality, few bikers — especially young bikers — could afford a Goldie, so they made look-alikes. They were often utilitarian machines, wrenched, chopped and welded to emulate the bikes their heroes rode on the Isle of Man or at the local track. Then came a couple of shifts that changed the nature of British motorcycling — with the unintended consequence of creating another classic café bike: the Royal Enfield 250 Continental of 1963.

Fast learners

In 1960, Britain was coming off its biggest post-World War II motorcycle sales year (1959) with 332,000 registered bikes on the road, and the future of motorcycling looked rosy. The leading edge baby boomers were turning 16 — the legal age to ride a motorcycle in Britain (it was 17 to drive a car). Then, in response to a rise in motorcycle fatalities, the Ministry of Transport dictated that new motorcycle riders would be limited to 250cc machines or less until they passed a riding test on public roads. That typically took several months, an interminable amount of time to a 16-year-old.

The move immediately raised the status of quarter-liter bikes, and with many older riders forsaking the family sidecar outfit for a small car, teens were now the biggest buyers of new bikes. This happy arrangement lasted until 1971, by which time Japanese 2-stroke 250s were capable of speeds close to the “ton,” and fatalities continued to rise. The learner limit was revised again, down to 125cc and a 12 horsepower maximum, and the minimum motorcycling age was raised to 17.

bike on highway

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