Royal Enfield Continental GT 250 – Part 4



Kel Boyce tells us what happened once he’d completed his rebuild, and how he learned to live with an ‘oilfield’…

Now the old British motorcycle industry was inherently charitable. It kindly provided us with oily old engines that kept our waterproofs waterproof, rattles and whirrs to keep us awake and a multitude of parts that required constant maintenance, in order to keep us in the shed and away from the pubs.

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The REs were no exception. After a year’s labour, the GT was ready to fire up and the first design fault showed up – the flashy, short kickstart lever could barely spin the motor over! Job number one was to replace this miserable item with a longer (but unlovely) one from a Crusader. Years later, I was to do the same job, for the same reason, when I replaced a Honda 250 RS kickstart lever with the longer version from a 250 Superdream.

That sorted, we took to the open roads with the GT burbling happily through its new silencer.

Not sure if this is Kel's bike, but it is definitely a bike.

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Soon after its rebuild, I ran the GT 150 miles from my then home in Kent to an RE rally in Nottingham. I was accompanied by sundry other RE 2-stroke and Bullet owners, all dead keen to see the GT spew its lubricant over Her Majesty’s Highway. How disappointing, then, when she arrived in the Midlands bone-dry and, likewise, arrived home in the same condition (hurrah for silicone sealant!). It was, by then, however, time to crank down the head and other gaskets.

The bike was not destined to spend all of its time in sunny Kent and regularly attended rallies in the West Country, the Pennines, and Northumberland.

The GT and I were getting along fine until, at around 12,000 miles, an ominous rattle could be heard every time the engine passed through 4000 rpm on the over-run. For anyone versed in GTology this is the unmistakable warning of impending big-end failure and I was soon lugging the crank into my local engineering shop for a regrind.

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‘Ha’, laughed the engineer, ‘a 250 RE crank, eh? If you’d been in here 15 years ago, you’d have seen those things lined up wall-to-wall, all waiting for regrinds’.

Also available in sepia. Random Continental Stuff on

With the motor rebuilt, I was soon blatting along merrily again, half listening for rattles at 4000rpm. Then, at around 17,000 miles…

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The motor locked solid whilst deep in the Kent countryside. Glancing down at the crankcases, I could see a neat hole at the front in which was jammed a chunk of ally. ‘Oh no, it’s thrown the rod!’ The maker’s logo on the fuel tank caught my eye – it said, ‘Made Like A Gun’.

Made like a gun: Liable to go bang...

Back at home, I stripped the motor but found the conrod still attached to the crank. What had happened was that the rod had broken through the small end – precisely where the bodger’s groove was. I cursed that guy for years, until I learned from fellow GTers that the Achilles’ heel of any 250 RE is the small end eye, which could break at anytime. I would recommend that a rod always be shot-peened before fitting and that any rod, with marks or digs within the small end eye, be scrapped.

I got hold of a new rod and had the GT cases welded up. The cases distorted somewhat during the process but, again, silicone saved the day.

So, apart from the minor problem of engine blow-ups, what other interesting events await the unwary GT owner?

Well, you don’t have to ride the GT for very long before ground clearance, or lack thereof, becomes an issue. The centrestand drags the deck immediately you go beyond 20-degrees of lean. Only the fact that the stand is constructed of ally has prevented many nasty accidents – the stand wears rather than digs in.

On my bike I fitted one-inch longer rear shocks to increase ground clearance, which at least made the machine rideable. The stand legs were then lengthened, by screwing on ¾ inch steel ‘feet’, in order to allow the rear wheel to be lifted clear of the ground. Shocks were Hagons (replica Girlings) with medium damping and the recommended 110lb springs. I could have got away with 90lb (as I used the bike almost exclusively one-up) but, preferring a bike to ‘chatter’ rather than ‘wallow’, I stuck with 110lb.

At the front end, I found the situation dire, for the telescopic forks are undamped. The handbook states that oil within the fork legs provides an element of damping – I think not! All the time the bike is moving, the forks are pattering in an annoying (and dangerous) fashion. The impression one gets is of riding a softly sprung pneumatic drill! Give me Valentino Rossi’s ‘chatter’ anyday.

Valentino Rossi, yesterday...

Now we come to the dreaded 5-speed gearbox or, more correctly, neutrals box. Quite frankly these things are pants. How did I eventually cure the problem? By fitting a Crusader 4-speed gearbox cluster! This didn’t totally cure the problem but chances of picking up the correct gear were markedly improved.

Incidentally, the GT engine is not as highly tuned as some people think (even though it’s over-square) and the unit is so tractable that five speeds are totally unnecessary. In fact a GT these days should have a reduced compression ratio as the 5-star fuel it was intended to use is now unavailable – the ‘pinking’ on steep hills on a hot day has to be experienced to be believed!

There is one more transmission problem with an aging 250 RE, and that is the clutch body / input shaft combo. The two are united by male and female tapers, which, quite frankly, aren’t up to the job, especially after a few ham-fisted rebuilds. On two occasions I was left sitting in the road without drive after the clutch body spun on the shaft, shearing the woodruff key.

It was whilst pondering a cure for this problem that I remembered a GT clutch body I had in a box of spares. Some bright spark had bored out the taper and welded in a splined boss. Then it came to me – the RE used an Albion box, the same as a Villiers, and the Villiers 8E (or was it 9E?) engine used a splined input shaft. Eureka!

So it was down to the local Villiers spares stockist in Greenwich only to find this had been converted to a welding gas suppliers. On entering, however, I recognised the ‘old boy’ behind the counter as the former Villiers guru and I asked if he had any gearbox spares left over. ‘Sure’, he replied and, upon hearing what I wanted, he pulled up a trap door in the floor and disappeared into the dark, cavernous depths below.

He emerged a couple of minutes later, triumphantly waving the requisite shaft. A fiver changed hands and I was away with the ‘problem solver’ (brand new and still covered in the manufacturer’s grease).

The Villiers’ shaft is slightly longer than the GT one but, fortunately, at the operating lever end. All one needs to do is lengthen the actuating pushrod. I cut mine in half, hardened the cut ends, and inserted a ball between them – luvvly jubbly!

I seem to remember that the overall gearing on the GT was a bit low for long distance touring and I fitted an 18-tooth gearbox sprocket in place of the standard 17-tooth one. This was helpful on motorways but, when riding against a headwind, top gear could not always be taken. ‘Anoraks’ usually consider this situation undesirable, as the motor is pulling a power-sapping indirect gear instead of the direct top gear.

Next And Final Episode: Kel looks back on his time with the GT, and compares it to European and Japanese classics of its time…


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