Given the massive upheaval and overhaul happening at Royal Enfield I’m surprised we haven’t seen a surge of builds based around their iconic single. The relatively new Continental GT is ripe for customising with its handsome 500cc engine and characterful analog feel. There aren’t a myriad of electrical components for a customiser to hide and the frame is already good to look at in its standard form.
Chris Zahner crossed our bows last year with a really well executed Yamaha DT250 and he’s since been in India making a short film about what it means to be a Royal Enfield owner. Not only is Chris a talented filmmaker and shed-builder but he’s not a bad storyteller either so it’s over to him for a breakdown on this latest project.
“Returning from India with a full hard drive and effectively no money, it was probably the worst time to begin another project. Of course, I planned to make a big production of it — not just a build, but a short film, a slightly entertaining backstory and various other moving parts and people involved. I shopped my concept around and finally it caught the ear of the largest Royal Enfield dealership in the U.S. — Royal Enfield of Ft. Worth, Texas which is run by a guy named Michael Baker. He’s incredibly enthusiastic and supportive of anything Royal Enfield. We hammered out our concept for what would be produced, ironed out the specifics of the deal and two weeks later a 2014 Royal Enfield Continental GT with nine miles on the clock showed up at my door.”
“The Royal Enfield Continental GT is unapologetically ‘modern vintage’ but with EFI, a crash engine cut-off sensor and other bells and whistles coming from the factory, I felt that the bike wasn’t elemental or vintage enough. I really wanted to push this thing back to the bare essentials — to really distill the whole concept of the bike. Another point of this build that I want to make is that I am not a professional builder, I’m just a guy with a healthy obsession for motorcycles and making his bike his own. I have built a handful of bikes before so I have some nominal fabrication skills and with the considerably low price tag of one of these bikes, I have no qualms about cutting it it half before it’s even broken-in. The main idea here is that this is a bike to have unfettered fun with.”
“The stock offering of the Continental GT is really quite beautiful and I commend Royal Enfield for their clear vision in looking to their past in terms of design. I wanted to be faithful to the original shape and silhouette, for the most part at least. However, the bike is quite heavy for its size and power output. As always, I like to strip everything off of the bike that is not essential to making it run. I removed absolutely everything inside of the subframe, de-tabbed all of the mounts for everything that was no longer there, removed all of the lights, gauges, center stand, stock exhaust and even the entire EFI system.”
“I decided to convert the café racer into more of a scrambler set-up mainly because the bike handles so much better with moto-style bars and a neutral seating position, I found this out while riding a modified GT through traffic in Chennai, India. I had a friend drill the stock triple trees to fit moto-style bars from Steffan at Zombie Performance. I can’t give enough praise for the unique bends and combinations he comes up with. In this case, the bars have a very forward and aggressive sweep, yet very plain 1″ stainless steel paired with slimline risers from Biltwell to give a classic and understated look. Continuing with that theme, I cut off the rear loop bridged it with a piece of quarter inch steel plate that also served as the tail light mount. The tail light comes from a CBR1000 which discreetly sits under a very minimal ‘one-and-a-half-seater’ that was molded from fibreglass, padded with a cocktail of carpet padding and yoga mat and wrapped with soft, pleated leather by Corinna Mantlo (a highly sought after custom motorcycle seat builder in Brooklyn, co-founder of the Motorcycle Film Festival and all-around badass).”
“As mentioned, I felt it was important to maintain the shape of the stock gas tank and to be faithful to the overall silhouette of the bike. However, the original café tank was a bit long for the upright sitting position that I was after. I sectioned and shortened the tank to bring the rear dimensions in line with the rear wishbone of the frame, shaved 3/4″ off the rear slope of the top of the tank and then narrowed the tank to regain a teardrop shape from a bird’s eye perspective. This prompted a major reconstruction of the tunnel which was no longer intruded by a fuel pump and other electrical storage and ended up retaining the original fuel capacity despite its smaller overall dimensions.”
“Speaking of fuel pumps, there was a major weight savings with ditching all of the stock electrical components. I obtained the parts to convert this bike back to carburetor from the guys at IndiMotard in Bangalore, India, rigged up a very basic wiring harness supported by an Antigravity 12-cell battery that was hidden under the swingarm where the original center stand had been removed. The only other organs in the electrical system are the stock ignition switch, an on/off and kill switch from MotionPro and a single beam Hella headlight. No turn signals, no horn, no nonsense. Is it legal? Technically no, but I haven’t gotten any real trouble for my barely legal machines yet. (All the times that I have been stopped, the cops are usually most interested in whichever bike I am riding and I graciously tell the officer all about the bike. It usually ends and a handshake and half the time they don’t even ask for my license — which is even against protocol.)”
“I fabricated the three-stage stainless steel exhaust complete with Supertrapp muffler which helped the engine breathe, but the real special sauce in this setup are the performance cams, pushrods, valves and dual-coil valve springs from Hitchcock motorcycles in Solihull, England. This bike is now a drastically different bike to ride with a satisfying and noticeable spike in horsepower throughout the RPM range. It also helps when the bike lost about 70 pounds.”
“The last major yet subtle change was to the suspension and overall stance of the bike. I shortened the front suspension by 2 3/4″ as well as stiffened the forks to combat a bit of dive that you would experience when the stock Brembos would clamp down. Out back, I fitted some 15″ Burly Brand Stilettos to match the stiffened front end and to give a little bit of raise in the tail section, complementing the lower front and for an overall aggressive stance. The bike feels much more solid and stable, especially in the turns.”
“Other bits include a throttle and grips from Biltwell as well as their Mushman pegs for the rider and the rear pegs are actually Harley shift pegs from Joker Machine Finishings included gloss black polyurethane paint for for the frame, swingarm, triple trees and fork lowers. The rims, hubs and engine covers are coated in Cerakote, while all stainless steel was left natural. I also removed the powdercoat from the stock engine cases with some serious aircraft paint remover and brushed the exposed aluminum with a wire wheel. The tank and abridged fenders are painted with House of Kolor Rootbeer and a relief cut decal panel on the tank to match the satin wheels and engine covers.”
“I built this bike in my friend’s mother’s empty three-car shed (same one as the last build) with nothing more than a new Milwaukee angle grinder, an old Hitachi drill, a cheap TIG welder from Eastwood and a Craftsman tool set. At the end of the day, I’m proud of what I’ve built and have a lot of fun riding it. So much so that I didn’t even mind when I low sided it on its maiden run while grabbing a hand full of throttle upon exiting a turn on cold, unscrubbed tires and then requiring surgery and pins in my thumb… nope, still all smiles.”
Chris certainly embraces the shed-building mentality and clearly has an unbridled passion for customising motorcycles, which is handy as he’s demonstrated that he’s pretty damn good at it.