Royal Enfield Himalayan Review – Retrograde Mountain Goat
Bare bones go-anywhere package is appealing as long as you don’t count your weekend kicks in horses or buttons. But, hey, they did throw in a digital compass!
After 60 years of iterations on charming post-war Brit thumpers, India-based Royal Enfield has gone against its own grain with this 411-cc adventure motorcycle. Built around a brand-new half-duplex split cradle developed by UK-based Harris Performance, the motorcycle is the company’s shot at the growing ADV category, and also a chance at changing its global image.
Named after the Himalayan mountain range – that acts as a natural border between India and China and is also home to the highest mountain in the world – this RE is a simple cup of good coffee in an era dominated by tech-laden double espresso macchiatos with 2 cherries and a butler to clean up after you.
Royal Enfield Himalayan – the company’s first adventure tourer sticks out like a sore thumb in any two-wheeler parking by way of its height (1360 mm at the top of the fly screen) and length (2190 mm). The design, from Pierre Terblanche’s pen, amalgamates the odd dimensions into a rather purposeful package. With a 21-inch front and 17-inch rear, the Himalayan has the ADV stance down pat.
A retro-hangover is evident on the front with a single large round halogen headlamp, tall narrow windscreen surrounded by round mirrors on either side. The 15-litre fuel tank has an ‘exoskeleton’, which apart from holding the headlamp in place and securing the tank during falls, can also be used to mount luggage on the sides. The rear gets a small luggage rack, integrated with grab rails for the pillion. Under it, an LED tail lamp encased in aluminium surround.
Someone in the Royal Enfield materials department must have shed a tear. For, this motorcycle uses plastic front and rear fenders and side panels breaking away from the ‘all metal build standard’ of its siblings. Viewed from above, the HIMALAYAN lettering is neatly stickered off-centre on the tank and both fenders, a great visual and unlike the shiny branding the company usually employs. The motorcycle is currently available in two matte finishes, granite and snow. The finish quality has improved significantly compared to the company’s previous models.
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But the large-ish dimensions shrink once you are astride. With a 31-inch seat height, the Himalayan is a welcome change for adventure motorcyclists who usually tip-toe every time they set their feet on the ground. The approachable seating is one of its best features, not just on tarmac, but off the road too. Newer riders who are more prone to reach for the ground while navigating trails will be a happy lot. This is also an advantage when you are riding a luggage-laden bike.
Disengage the kill-switch and an assortment of analog and digital displays comes to life. On the left, is an analog speedo with readings in both mph and kmph with a multi-information display in its lower half. On the right, a half-sized tacho reads out upto 9,000 RPM, with the redline beginning at 7,000. Between the meters are telltale lights for the indicators, engine check light, neutral, and two buttons for the MID display functions and hazard lights. Below these are the analog fuel gauge, and a digital compass which displays North with an arrow, as well as the direction you are headed in.
Press the ignition button, and the sound is a surprise. Gone is the legendary Bullet thump. Instead, the all-new long stroke 411-cc single cylinder oil-cooled engine sounds out its 24.5 BHP at 6,500 RPM with a deep putter interspersed with tut-tuts from an upswept exhaust.
The clutch is an easy pull-in but gear shifts are a challenge at times, especially downshifts. The company did attempt fixing the issue by replacing the clutch on all its delivered motorcycles with a modified one, but you’d more easily find Nemo than you would Neutral on the Himalayan. The easiest way to mitigate this was to turn the engine off, and voila, neutral. You can really twist the throttle with this bike, as it responds in an unhurried manner.
While moving, everything seems in place. The seat is just soft enough to be proper comfortable on longer jaunts. The handlebar is wide enough to be suitable for both seated and standing manoeuvring, but the latter would be better if the bars were just a smidgen higher.
The suspension setup too is more comfort-oriented so as to facilitate hour after hour of saddle time. With 200 mm and 180 mm of travel from the 41-mm conventional front forks and rear monoshock, respectively, there is plenty of room to absorb anything from large potholes to a ride through the treacherous and achingly beautiful terrain of the Himalayas.
The motorcycle feels nimble whilst moving, belying its 191 kg (421 lb) weight. It remains flickable whether on the tarmac, or on a trail. The vibes which you would find on all other Royal Enfields are conspicuous by their absence, thanks to a counter balancer. Vibrations do creep in through the bars and footpegs at a much higher 6,500 RPM, but they serve more as a reminder of the thumper’s limit rather than the constant accompaniment of yore.
Get to 5th gear and this motorcycle will cruise all day long between 4,000 and 5,000 RPM. A speedo-indicated top speed of 140 kmph is what we achieved on open road after some pushing, but the single feels better suited to 110-120 kmph cruising over sustained periods. However, there are many motorcycles that will do better speeds on the freeway.
So what sets this bike apart is that it will keep going even after the tarmac ends. It really does take to the off-road terrain well with its 220 mm of ground clearance. The CEAT dual-purpose tyres add to the fun factor. Those new to off-roading will love how the rear slides out at the slightest hint in loose gravel and dirt. This is one slide-happy machine! Nothing you cannot control, after all it is no torque monster, with a peak 32 NM at 4,250 RPM.
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The torque coming in early means you don’t have to rev it hard to get past a hump and bringing some minor air-time cred under your belt. Over the rough stuff, though, the soft suspension pitches in at times. This also means it takes most of the punishment for you. With a metal sump guard, RE has also ensured that fun times are not interrupted by a cracked casing.
At the same time, the gear and rear brake levers are flat-stamped pieces with no ridges for rigidity. This means if and when you do let the bike take a slide, either lever could bend inwards pretty easily. One thing that RE missed out on is ABS, preferably switchable. For, the tall front combined an average disc setup meant we really had to pull the front brake lever to bring the Himalayan to a halt in a rush at the cost of some confidence.
However, the lack of sophisticated gizmos seems almost a theme with this machine. It is simply a tall motorcycle, with soft touring-oriented suspension, and a motor that is capable of cruising just over the ton. To live with it in urban traffic is also possible due to its well-articulated front, which results in a tight turning radius. On the open road, it can give long hours of cruising without much of a complaint, although the two-level height adjustable windshield does little but ward windblast off your chest.
The Royal Enfield Himalayan excels when the going gets tough and where most slow down to tackle no-road terrain, this machine can continue unhindered while still carrying the rider in comfort. In fact, it might just be the gateway motorcycle to open up the ADV category to a whole new bunch of riders, and that seems to be the company’s intent.
With fuel-injection on the way, it could turn out to be simpler and a tad smoother to run. The no-frills Himalayan is an almost zen-like reminder of what motorcycling is all about – two wheels, an engine and the will to explore. It might just be the motorcycle you ride to the Himalayas and back so long as you’re not in a hurry.
PS – The writer is aware of the problems a lot of Himalayan owners have posted. We have covered them separately here. The Himalayan we had for review, stayed with us for a good 10 days. During that period, we did not face any major problems.