The Himalayas, a daunting yet extremely appealing landscape for die hard motorcyclists. The ride from New Delhi to Khardung-La, the highest motorable road in the world is considered by many to be a motorcycling pilgrimage. Having done this route in various capacities over the last decade, I can assure you that riding here is no walk in the park. It’s a gruelling high altitude ride that requires a high degree of commitment and drive from you as a rider. You have to brave the cold, high altitude, isolation and the fact that there’s no help for about hundreds of kilometres at times and no phone network.
Most of my trips to the Himalayas were on a Royal Enfield, whether I liked it or not. Given the fact that hauling your luggage over rough terrain at high altitude isn’t easy on a 150cc machine, the Royal Enfield quickly became the motorcycle of choice for almost every local and foreign rider wanting to conquer this terrain. Also, the Indian Army has long since been using the Royal Enfield Bullet as their official motorcycle.
In all fairness, the Bullet always has been a rugged machine. It has repeatedly proven itself as a motorcycle that can take a beating and still keep going. However, it isn’t purpose built for the Himalayas. The Bullet is a classic based on the same design fundamentals as the Royal Enfields of the 1950s. The suspension is, for the lack of a better word, useless. Ergonomics aren’t favourable for standing up while riding; the engine could do with more power and efficiency, etc.
You see many Bullets on the Himalayan highways with modifications that help this motorcycle to adapt to the rough conditions. This became a great idea for Royal Enfield to capitalise on. Why not give the people what they want? They’ve established themselves well as a modern-classic motorcycle manufacturing company and no one can unsettle them from that top spot, perhaps it was time they ventured into unknown territory and tap in on the loyalty enjoyed by the brand?
Enter the Royal Enfield Himalayan; this is what the company calls the most definitive motorcycle for your Himalayan adventure. A motorcycle purpose-built for adventure and touring in the Himalayas. Bringing together 60 years of Himalayan riding experiences in a completely ground-up design, and powered by a new LS 410 engine. This is a motorcycle that finally paves the way for a purer, non-extreme and more accessible form of adventure touring locally but internationally, it goes neck to neck with some really capable Japanese and European entry level enduro motorcycles priced similarly.
The Himalayan is built on a rugged duplex split cradle frame designed and developed by Harris Performance; the Himalayan is stable and agile in equal parts. A mono shock rear suspension with linkage allows for longer travel and delivers a smoother ride than the classic Bullets. This is one of the features that really takes comfort to the next level compared to the standard Bullets. The Himalayan’s 220 mm ground clearance ensures it gobbles up obstacles comfortably. Wheel size, a very crucial element in off-road riding, is one of the advantages of the Himalayan. The front gets a 21-inch tyre and the rear gets an 17-inch tyre, a standard size among all off-road biased motorcycles. The rubber is manufactured by CEAT, a big name among Indian tyre makers. The version sold here in the UAE gets the same tyres although other international markets might get a better-known brand of tyres.
However, this is not the Himalayas and as this motorcycle is now available in the Middle East, the Himalayan’s size or rather the lack of it becomes obvious the minute you throw your leg over it. This is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. For sorter riders or those just starting on with adventure and off-road riding will find this motorcycle very easy to handle. With a seat height of 780mm it’s far more accessible than many entry-level adventure motorcycles. As a tall rider, I fount it cramped.
Lets move on to the engine, which is an all new mill built specifically for the Himalayan. It is an air-cooled, carburetted 410cc single-cylinder UCE (unit construction) engine. It produces a claimed 24.5hp at 6,500 rpm and 31Nm of peak torque at 4,500 rpm. Power is sent to the rear wheel through a five-speed transmission.
Even though this new engine isn’t a powerhouse by any means, it is relaxed and works its way over rough terrain with a calm and composed demeanour. It is smooth and doesn’t go overboard with spinning the rear wheels around gravel tracks. However, I’d not want to be anywhere close to the desert while on the Himalayan. Braking is handled by a locally manufactured brand (Bybre) and it gets a twin-piston floating calliper and a 300mm disc up front, and a single piston floating calliper on a 240mm disc in the rear. The feel could’ve been a tad better, especially at high speeds. However, I believe the test motorcycle had an issue and braking wasn’t how it should’ve been. The rear lacked any bite and that’s not usual.
Royal Enfield hasn’t rewritten the rulebook when it comes to the suspensions and the overall underpinnings of the Himalayan. The front fork is a conventional 41mm unit up front while a monoshock with adjustable preload resides in the rear. Overall, you get around 220mm of travel before it will bottom out.
I terms if looks, I’m impressed with its no-nonsense appearance. It means business. It is an adventure machine and it certainly looks the part. Royal Enfield has put in a lot of thought in ensuring its ready for adventure almost right off the showroom floor. It has two racks up front that double as tank guards, a rear luggage rack, one near the swingarm, and a small bash plate. It does need more equipment though, most importantly, the engine guards. The local Royal Enfield dealer will be happy to sell them to you at an extra cost.
Summing up the Himalayan is a bit tricky then. Sometimes, it did feel like a its out of place in our market. It doesn’t come close to all the other adventure motorcycles out there. It isn’t geared up for out kind of high speed long distance cruising. I’d be very uncomfortable pinning the throttle and cruising at 140kmph on this for hours. But then, you’ve got to be honest to the real purpose of this motorcycle. Royal Enfield set out to build a real affordable and easy to manage adventure motorcycle. Keeping this in mind, they’ve done a great job. Everything is accessible on this motorcycle, the seat height, the power and most importantly its price. Priced at AED 21,000, it is by far the cheapest adventure motorcycle out there. In does have some worthy competitors in the form of the KLR650 and the DR650 which are sold in our markets but the Himalayan isn’t as tall and heavy as the KLR or the DR.
For me, its simplicity is what makes it stand out.