Amid a fanfare of trumpets, the spring of 2016 saw the launch of the Royal Enfield Himalayan. It was, after all, a total 180-degree turn for the Indian motorcycle manufacturer, who previously had stuck fiercely to road bikes. Here, Onyabike Adventures gets the inside line from four owners who share their personal experience of life with a Royal Enfield Himalayan.
With its single-cylinder engine, robust frame, and low-tech approach, it stood out as the polar opposite to the current catalogue of humungous, over-complex, computer-dependent adv bikes on today’s market.
The Himalayan also found favour with its extremely competitive price, low running costs, and great accessories as standard. Add to this, a well thought out luggage system for people who wanted to lug a load safely, and it presented a great package.
As with all bike launches, the hoo-ha eventually dies down as the press spotlight moves on to the next best thing. It’s interesting at this point to discover who has put their money where their mouth is and gone ahead, bought one, and why.
Itchy Boots and the Path Less Trodden
To most of us, the name Noraly Schoenmaker doesn’t mean a thing. However, mention the name Itchy Boots in adventure circles, and it’s a whole other story. Suffering a midlife crisis at the age of 30, Schoenmaker waved goodbye to a big-shot job in the Netherlands, selling everything including her Ducati Monster 796, and hit the open road full-time.
Travelling by motorcycle wasn’t the initial idea. While renting a bike to ride around the Himalayas the experience struck a chord, and without any further deliberation, she headed for Delhi and bought the bike named after the mighty mountain range.
Noraly recalls that it wasn’t until she took delivery of the bike that she thought about where to ride it. She eventually settled on wetting her feet on a quick jaunt from northern India to Malaysia.
Continuing from that first trip, she has now clocked up an impressive 36,000 km. After 8½ months passing through 25 countries, the legend of Itchy Boots is well and truly on the radar.
Bear in mind that Noraly is not some covert, factory-backed, flag-waver with a hidden agenda. She coughed up enough wedge to buy the bike and finance the trip personally. In my book that adds weight to the review.
‘Over the course of my journey, I can honestly say I have had no major breakdowns, but that’s not to say nothing went wrong. In Iran with about 17k on the clock, I burnt out the clutch plates on a super slippery mountain path, but I had spares and they were very easy to replace,’ she says proudly.
Head Bearings in a Kazak Market
There were other problems too she admits. In her opinion, some of the parts that come fitted as standard aren’t so good. She refers specifically to the steering head bearings, which she had to replace at 8k, then again 9k later. ‘When I went through the second set I was in Kazakhstan, we found a set in a local market that would fit and they’re still on the bike.
The stock, made in India CEAT tyres, is also pretty useless, she says. So she ditched the originals after 1100k due to a severe lack of grip. Every bike has a tyre combination that suits it perfectly, and the hoops she prefers are Pirelli MT60’s. Ironically, the Himalayan comes with these as standard when sold in Europe or the US.
Noraly also comes up with a few more initial gripes. She reckons the seat is too soft, the screen is too low, and the main stand reduces otherwise great ground clearance. ‘That’s about it though,’ she adds, ‘not really a big deal at all.’
With almost 40,000km under her belt over mostly back-roads and rough terrain, the lack of any serious mechanical breakdown is nothing short of amazing. As full of praise for the Himalayan’s toughness as she is though, her maintenance regime has gone a long way to keeping the Enfield singing in tune.
‘I always change parts well before they fall to pieces,’ she says, ‘it’s just not worth the risk when it’s just you and the bike in the middle of nowhere. I ask a lot of the engine too, so I change the oil, filter, and spark plug well before the factory intervals. It’s just better for the engine and also, sometimes when you’re in real out of the way places, you have to make do with putting in poor quality oil, so I change it around every 3k.’
The Right Choice of Bike
Almost 40,000km of back roads and rough terrain in remote areas with no real issues is all the justification Noraly needs to realise she made the right choice of bike. If pushed to justify her decision, she says, ‘first of all it’s cheap. Why waste 24k Euros on something, when this will do the job just as well? And with the money you save, go have an adventure.’
‘Secondly, it’s tough and manageable. I dropped her plenty of times and I was never in a situation when I couldn’t pick the bike up myself. Finally, she is reliable, easy to maintain, and low-tech. Regardless of where I went, no back street mechanic was afraid to pull an engine cover off. You just don’t get that with big adv’s that rely so heavily on electronics.’
Noraly’s final word addresses one of the most common issues regarding the Himalayan; horsepower. ‘Yes,’ she says candidly, ‘I would like some more power. And if you’re going to spend a lot of time on highways, you’re going to be very disappointed. Take to the back roads though, and the power output is perfect.’
Exploring the Trails in Vietnam
Talking of back roads and engine performance, another fan of the brand who thinks he got it just about right is Stewart Brewer-McCabe.
Recently, Stewart moved his family to Phong Nha in Quan Binh province, central Vietnam. As soon as he saw the first Himalayan roll into town, he knew it was the perfect tool for the job.
He explains: ‘We have some of the most scenic road riding in all of Vietnam in Phong Nha. There are also hundreds of kilometers of wood trails and dirt tracks to explore. ‘When the Himalayan caught my eye, I took a good close look at it, considered what I wanted it for and what it was capable of, and it was a great fit.’
‘So far I’ve got just over 4000km on the clock, but the Himalayan has handled everything thrown at it beautifully. I’ve heard some say the seat is too soft, but I’m a naturally skinny bloke with not much padding of my own in that area, so it’s perfect for me.’
Bringing Up the Rear
‘Most other dual sports bikes I’ve ridden have seats like a plank of wood, but I can put in a solid day’s riding on the Him, and it’s a real arse-saver, ‘ he jokes.
Stewart reckons Royal Enfield’s first step into the dual-sport arena works very well. Taking the rough with the smooth in its stride. ‘The 200km ride between Phong Nha and Ke Sanh down the Ho Chi Minh west is probably one of the best rides you can do in Vietnam, ‘ says Stewart, ‘ and on the Himalayan it’s a dream.’
‘It’s not overly heavy and the handling is neutral, so it sticks to every corner like glue and the bike just goes where you point it. The Himalayan hasn’t let me down off-road either, ‘ he adds. It’s easy and comfortable to ride through the miles of woodcutting trails that surround us.’
As for accessories, ‘my youngest son loves riding pillion, so I got some factory hard panniers and a backbox. Not only are they great for stashing things safely and out of the weather, but they also give him something to lean against while on the back.’
Stewart added an additional front crash bar. This he says, is great for keeping brush and debris out of the way on the trail. Plus, some extra LED spotlights either side of the headlamp. ‘The scenery may be beautiful during the day’ he laughs, but man it gets dark at night.’
The Hawk Has Landed
Donovan ‘Hawkmoon’ Boxer is another well-travelled biker expat living in Vietnam. With more than a fondness for the Indian built dual sport. He gave up his gig as an insurance salesman in Manchester, England to chase his dream job. As road captain for two-wheel tour specialists Onyabike Adventures.
‘I’ve been running tours in Vietnam for around seven years now, and during that time, I’ve owned and ridden all kinds of motorcycles. I know my way around bikes, and I ask a lot of them. As you can imagine, I’m kind of fussy about the bikes I own.’
‘Four months ago I went for it and bought myself a Himalayan. To be honest, I’ve never looked back; I can confidently say, it’s the best bike for riding in Vietnam.’
Riding in Vietnam has many particular factors that will lead to certain types of bike being better than others, he explains. ‘For me, I needed a bike that is the best for the entire country, not only for some regions.’
The Long and the Short of It
The Himalayan is comfortable for long journeys as well as off-road sections, and handles well on all surfaces, ‘ says Hawk. ‘In Vietnam, we experience all types of surfaces in one short trip, ‘ he laughs.
Apart from the bike’s handling characteristics and adaptability, Hawk is impressed with its practicality. ‘The Enfield has a great set up for strapping on bags to the front and the back,’ he explains. ‘But I’ve also added some custom made racks to allow me to use waterproof saddlebags as well.’
‘So far, the only other change I’ve made is to swap the headlight for an Xenon, as the original was a little weak, but that’s been it. Practicalities aside, the Himalayan ticks two other boxes that are also very close to Hawk’s heart. ‘Not only does it looks great, ‘ he says grinning, ‘but it sounds great too.’
Down Under In the Dirt
Aside from a youth spent thrashing through the brush-lands south of Sydney on a modified Yam DT250, veteran Ozzie biker David Reeves has spent most of his life on road bikes. That was until he heard the call of the wild.
‘I started getting a hankering for an adventure bike, and that led to me try out a few,’ says Dave. ‘The problem with all the mainstream models is they’re all too tall. Also, their excessive weight is a problem. Watching Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman struggle with those big GS’s in ‘Long Way Round’ kind of highlighted it further.’
‘I also had to consider that all of my riding friends have road bikes so I couldn’t go for something too dirt orientated either,’ he adds. ‘Having ridden a few Enfield’s and taken a trip through Rajasthan on a 500cc Bullet, it suddenly came to me to take a closer look at its new little brother.’
David read every review he could find on the Himalayan. So when he discovered that Australian Motorcyclist Magazine had bought one for a long term test, he offered to buy it once they’d finished.
Research Pays Off
It turned out to be a smart move as the low mileage bike came with a host of practical accessories. These included upgraded tyres, hand protectors, DIN power outlet, tank bar bags and tank bag. Together with factory panniers and LED blinkers.
‘Since then all I’ve added is a woolen seat cover, had the side stand adjusted as it has fallen off twice, and repaired a burnt out stator.’ Apparently, and according to David, this is a reoccurring problem on earlier models.
‘Some of my friends have caught the bug too, but they’ve gone for big BMW’s and Triumphs. Ok, they’ll have to wait for me on the open road, as the Himalayan is its happiest cruising between 80-90 kph. What I’m looking forward to is when those big heavy bikes hit the dirt, he says with a knowing smirk, ‘I may just get the last laugh.’
‘Life with a 410cc adventure bike is good, ‘ concludes David. ‘I enjoy the fuel consumption and the fact that I can carry so much luggage. As for the future, I’d love to ride around India and Vietnam on an REH. What I’d like to do though, is take it right around Australia just to show it can be done.’
Onyabike Adventures Wraps Up
Let’s be brutally honest here. Apart from a handful of incredibly skilled factory riders pushing a 100+ horsepower, big bore, electronic-brained adventure behemoth to its limits is a pipe dream. The vast majority of BM’s, KTM’s, and Ducati’s are vanity purchases. Primarily bought because looking like you can circumnavigate the world is as good as doing it, right?
Wrong, what these four riders all have in common is a desire get off the beaten path. And, do it on a bike that can talk the talk, walk the walk, and won’t cost the earth.
For an honest bike review, listen to someone in the know. Someone who has been there, done that, and wiped their oily hands on the proverbial t-shirt.