Adventure riders who want to explore Vietnam’s paths and trails at the end of the blacktop are turning their backs on the big bore, big price-tag models. Instead, they are looking to the latest generation of smaller, more manageable, and far cheaper dualies. Enter, the Royal Enfield Himalayan, the best all-round motorbike tours in Vietnam.
However, no review would be complete without first taking a look at the bike that made its rise to fame possible.
The popularity of adventure rider touring motorcycles inextricably links to BMW. It is, after all, the Bayerische Motoren Werke responsible for unveiling the R80GS at the Cologne show in 1980.
The concept of the GS was to provide bikers with a large capacity motorcycle. A bike, capable of carrying a rider, pillion, and luggage in any direction they cared to travel. Whether that was by road or on the dirt made no difference.
The fact that during the early ’70s, small-bore dual sport bikes such as Honda SL’s, Yamaha DT’s and Suzuki DR’s were everywhere seems to be glossed over. Also, some of us were venturing off-road on street bikes long before the GS launched. Hey, let’s not steal BM’s thunder, though.
Motorbike Tours in Vietnam Get Real
If, however, the R850GS is responsible for putting adventure rider biking on the map, then the likes of BMW’s R1250GS must be held accountable for prompting the revolution against 600lb techno-babble behemoths.
the R1250GS must be held accountable for prompting the revolution against 600lb techno-babble behemoths
All the big Japanese manufacturers have small and mid-range adv bikes in their line-up. When Royal Enfield decided to get in on the act, it represented a significant step into the unknown. So have they got the Royal Enfield Himalayan’s price and performance right?
Launched in 2016, the initial reaction to the Himalayan was somewhat skeptical. A look at the spec sheet and a 400lb bike with a 24hp engine didn’t exactly seem like it would set the world on fire.
On the subject of looks, opinion appeared divided. Some said that Royal Enfield had taken elements of their classic-styled road bikes and continued in the heritage theme.
Others suggest that with a blank sheet, to begin with, they should have been more innovative, saying it looked outdated before it got out of the crate.
If you fuel your journey on opinions, you’re going to run out of gasSteve Maraboli
Everyone is entitled to an opinion. For an honest critique of an adventure bike, however, listen to those who know. Anyone who has been lucky enough to experience a tour in Vietnam will tell you just how ideal the Royal Enfield is for this type of exhilarating terrain.
Going back to the initial question – have they got the Royal Enfield Himalayan’s price and performance right?
Let’s delve into the Himalayan and take it down to its nuts and bolts. In the process, we’ll put it to the ultimate test and discover why it is fast becoming the best bike in Vietnam motorbike tours.
Design from Scratch
The Chennai based company has made a name for itself building retro style roadsters. Except, with the design of the Bullet remaining unchanged since the 1950s, it’s more accurate to say they’re more traditional than retro.
Fortunately for the Royal Enfield, when the biking world suddenly went all misty-eyed and nostalgic, they were ready and willing to ramp up and fill the gap.
The Royal Enfield Himalayan was the brainchild of Siddhartha Lal. He obviously could see the adv bike sector taking off and thought he’d have a slice of the pie.
Yes, starting with a blank sheet, he could have gone down the same route as other Indian and Chinese manufacturers. Creating some multi-plastic paneled Darth Vader look-alike, but thank goodness he didn’t. He came up with Himalayan.
Everything about the Royal Enfield Himalayan is new or at least designed and built specifically for that model. It still, however, retains a considerable serving of Royal Enfield DNA right through to its core.
Royal Enfield Himalayan Review: Quick Look Spec Guide
|Type||Displacement||Compression||Max Power||Max Torque||Gears||Fuel Supply|
|SOHC||411cc||9.5:1||24.5 bhp||32 Nm||5||EFI|
Chassis and Wheels
|Type||Front Fork||Rear Suspension||Front Wheel||Rear Wheel||Front Brake||Rear Brake|
|Semi duplex cradle||41mm Telescopic||Monoshock||90/90-21||120/90-17||300mm dual piston||240mm single piston|
|Length||Height||Seat Height||Ground Clearance||Weight||Wheelbase||Fuel Capacity|
Engine – Breaking With Tradition
Royal Enfield’s CEO Siddhartha Lal is also the man responsible for dragging the company into the 21st century in terms of the manufacturing process. This fortuitous remodeling also put the company in a position to take advantage of the retro boom.
With the company’s roadsters well established, Lal set up an R&D team in Great Britain tasked with creating new models, one of which is the Himalayan. The motorcycle was the company’s first leap off the tarmac and into the adventure bike market.
Being a smart cookie, Lal put legendary bike designer (and the man behind the Ducati Multistrada) Pierre Terblanche in charge of the project.
Rather than go with the company’s trademark pushrod engines, he felt that the project warranted a new engine and frame. An overhead-cam configuration with an over-square bore was decided on with a cubic capacity of 411cc.
The OHC layout allowed for more precision of the valve timing and did away with the need for bulky push rods and heavy valve train. The new layout would keep the overall bulk down and allow for a lighter engine unit.
With one inlet and one exhaust valve, maintenance can also be carried out by anyone who can tell a spanner from a screwdriver
With one inlet and one exhaust valve, maintenance can also be carried out by anyone who can tell a spanner from a screwdriver.
The original version of the Royal Enfield Himalayan was intended only for the Indian adventure rider market where, how shall we say, emission laws aren’t a huge priority. For this reason, the first series Hims came complete with a carburetor.
The rest of Asia, Australia, not to mention the UK and USA, were clamoring to get their hands on the adventure rider bike. Hence, changes to the ABS, electronic ignition and fuel injection were needed to meet export requirements.
Reaction to the Himalayan was generally positive. Except for the one elephant in the room that everyone seemed to focus on, namely the Himalayan’s paltry 24-horsepower.
Forget Vanity Horsepower
Here’s the thing about horsepower. For me, you’ve got two types. The first is the kind of power output that’s usable on the dirt by the average Joe. Then there’s vanity horsepower. The sort of three-figure power output that needs complex electronic interventions to control it and a Paris Dakar winner to make handling appear easy.
The Himalayan falls into the former category. However, the OHC layout allows it to rev freely while the long-stroke crank keeps the 32Nm’s of torque down low right where you need it most.
The combination of which makes the engine produce relevant, real-world, user-friendly power in a way that completely belies its modest output.
The Royal Enfield Himalayan is not a bike you’ll constantly dance through the gears just to keep the engine in its sweet spot, and this is an important point of any review.
If you’re embarking on a Vietnam motorbike tour you’re in effect jumping on a bike you’ve never ridden before. Heading off into terrain, you may not have ever experienced prior to riding in Vietnam.
Intuitive and Predictable
To be in with a chance of enjoying Vietnam motorbike tours, what you need is a bike that feels right the moment you throw a leg over the seat. One, where the controls feel intuitive and the power predictable.
It also needs to provide you with a solid, stable-feeling platform that isn’t going to leap out of your control. If this sounds boring, you’ve been watching too many big manufacturer launch videos.
As for the rest of the engine, the gearbox holds five gears. First gear launches well and is easy to slip for low-speed maneuvers. The remaining gears are evenly spaced. While top gear will let you cruise at around 100kph without putting too much stress on the motor and with surprising little vibration.
Frame – Built to Take a Beating
The Himalayan’s frame is pretty straightforward in its design being a semi twin cradle. Seeing as some Eastern-made bikes I’ve seen in the past have been less than robust in the frame department, I gave the welds a good going over.
Suffice to say, it’s all fine, with the fabrication looking like it rolled out of any one of the big four Japanese factories
Lal’s desire to get things right the first time came up trumps and had the frame specifically designed from scratch
Lal’s desire to get things right the first time came up trumps and had the frame specifically designed from scratch.
It would have been easier and cheaper for the Royal Enfield Himalayan’s spec to go with a frame similar to their existing range. In other words, one where the engine acts as a stressed member. However, this leaves the underside of the bike exposed, which is not great for an adventure bike. Damaging the sump can mean an abrupt end to your Vietnam motorbike tour!
We contacted Royal Enfield India and asked :
What do you see is behind the main success of the Royal Enfield Himalayan, its growing popularity for adventure Motorbike riders worldwide?
Practical, Unintimidating, Affordable, on-road & off-road motorcycle that is suited not only for everyday riding but also for planned/unplanned weekend adventures/explorations.
International Marketing Royal Enfield
Bikes like the Kawasaki Versys 300 and BMW G300GS both have this type of frame. Looking at the way the exhaust is exposed and the flimsy look of the skid plates on both bikes undermines their dual-sport credentials.
Protecting the Sump
Not so for the Himalayan. Here, twin rails splay out in an inverted Y from the single down tube to protect the sump of the engine. The area is reinforced, and a substantial steel bash plate added.
Harris Performance, are the people behind the Himalayan’s frame and were called in specifically for their rock-solid track record.
Having built Grand Prix winning frames for the big four Japanese manufacturers, Harris has come up with a frame design that ties in nicely with the traditional look of the bike.
More important, though, they’ve matched the frame to the Royal Enfield’s engine characteristics well.
This feature is often overlooked but is extremely important. It marks the difference between a bike like the Himalayan that can cope with dirt duty and one merely made to look like it can.
….every gram of a poorly designed frame is going to feel like a kilo when you’re picking it up off the Vietnam dirt.
The frame has to feel robust and dependable. It must also not be so hefty as to be a liability for the engine. Let’s also not forget that every gram of a poorly designed frame is going to feel like a kilo when you’re picking it up off the Vietnam dirt.
Harris has nailed it in several other areas too. Check out the frame minus the seat, and you can see that the sub-frame has a substantial step. This feature helps to give the bike a seat height of only 31.5’’ which is extremely useful in two ways.
Leave the Ladder at Home
Firstly, you won’t need a ladder. More importantly, though, being able to get both feet on the deck means it’s easier to dab or paddle in the dirt of Vietnam.
The moment you throw a leg over the Himalayan in Vietnam the ability to get terra firma under both boots adds to the bikes feeling of controllability. The bike at once feels familiar.
The last thing you need when undertaking Vietnam motorbike tours is a bike that takes a week to feel comfortable riding.
Don’t underestimate the feeling of instant familiarity the moment you plant your backside on the bike. The last thing you need when going on a tour is a bike that takes a week to feel comfortable riding.
Starting with the wheels, the bike gets a 120/90-17 tyre on the back. This size gives it a decent width, allowing you to get a good amount of rubber on Vietnam’s road or dirt.
More importantly, though, nearly every big name manufacturer makes a dual-sport adventure rider bike or off-road hoop that size. This fact means you’ll never be short on choice for a replacement.
At the sharp end is a 90/90-21; once again, it’s a tyre size that will give you plenty of options. Going for a 21’’ also means that Royal Enfield has added to the Himalayans off-road integrity and usability. A factor which is a great plus for anyone on Vietnam motorbike tours.
Another first for Royal Enfield is the use of mono-shock rear suspension.
The suspension is taken care of with 41mm conventionally mounted forks. The forks are non-adjustable, but you do get a very useful 7.9″ of travel. Another first for Royal Enfield is the use of mono-shock rear suspension.
Once again, travel is a very credible 7.1”. Although front and rear feel quite softly sprung on the road, you’ve got to push the Himalayan into some pretty deep holes before either bottom out. A fact that anyone planning Vietnam motorbike tours will find very comforting.
No More Breaking Bad thanks to Himalayan’s ABS
The rear disc and single twin calibre front brake came in for criticism on the early models as being a bit spongy and underpowered.
There was a need to address this before the export of any bikes, and now the Himalayan ABS model is standard. Apart from offering real-world safety, this works a hell of a lot better.
The bike is so capable of performing its duties in the mountains, lowlands, and jungles of Vietnam, it’s difficult to believe the Royal Enfield Himalayan is a budget bike. Forget about the bulletproof engine, solid frame, and capable suspension. The bike comes with some useful extras as standard for even the experienced adventure rider.
The latest versions of the Himalayan feature electronic fuel injection, an LED rear light, steel bash plate, rear rack, and tank protectors. Plus, the ABS system which is twin-channel.
Fork gaiters also come as standard and a handy fly screen that does a great job of keeping the muck, bugs, and airflow off. In fact, anything that your motorbike can throw at you! Find yourself behind the bars of the Royal Enfield Himalayan in Vietnam at night, and the instrument cluster is bright, easy to read, and packs in a host of information.
Royal Enfield Himalayan Review: Watching the Clock
Readout of the large speedo on the left is in both KPH and MPH and the Royal Enfield Himalayan’s top speed is 140 KPH (87 MPH). Bear in mind, Vietnam’s top city speed limit is 30–40 KPH and 40–60 KPH on rural roads. It is therefore unlikely you’ll get to test out its top speed in Vietnam while on motorbike tours.
The lower segment gives digital readouts for a clock, air temperature, 2-mode trip, and gear indicator.
You can toggle the readout to give average fuel usage, and a spanner icon tells you when it’s time to service the engine. To the right is a cluster of idiot lights with all the usual suspects (indicators, hi-beam battery warning, etc.) and beyond that the rev-counter with an easily seen red line.
Below are twin clocks set in an oval housing. Here you’ll find a fuel gauge and the rather cool addition of a compass. The entire cluster is electronic, but the use of analogue clocks makes them instantly readable as well as adding some old school cool.
Companies such as Harley-Davidson, Ducati, and Triumph found the benefits of offering a range of aftermarket accessories long ago, and the Royal Enfield Himalayan has embraced this mantra.
You’ll find a host of practical kits for the savvy adventure rider such as panniers and crash bars, but the thing about this bike is that it provides a great platform to create your own.
Using the base model as a starting point, Onyabike Adventures has developed a range of their accessories built to high specifications. These accessories can deal with everything Vietnam’s terrain can throw at them.
When you’re running motorbike tours up and down the length of Vietnam’s demanding and spectacular terrain, what you add to a bike is a game-changer.
The Royal Enfield Himalayan modified and fabricated parts created by Onyabike Adventures include headlight guards, pannier rails, and engine protectors. Each one is based on needs they’ve identified during their Vietnam motorbike tours.
Fit and Finish
You won’t find any flash paint jobs here or things hidden behind an overabundance of plastic panels, what you see is what you get. The black satin finish on the engine, rack, lower fork legs, and the frame is tough. It can shrug off mud and grime with nothing fiercer than a bucket of soapy water.
Everything feels well put together with no apparent rattles. The two-piece seat pops on and off without a fuss. In general, the conclusion to this fit and finish review is that it is robust enough to take plenty of slides along the deck without much complaint.
Royal Enfield figured you’d rather be out riding than in the house agonizing over a choice of paint job
As for the finish, Royal Enfield figured you’d rather be out riding than in the house agonizing over a choice of paint job. So, in a nutshell, you get a choice of three, the Graphite, Snow and the best, in my opinion, the Royal Enfield Himalayan Sleet edition.
The names for the first two Graphite and Snow may sound fancy but if you think, nearly black and almost white, you’re hacking up the right trail, adventure riders.
The third option, the Sleet edition, looks a bit like a digitally camouflaged rain cloud. In reality, the paint job is pretty cool as the graphics are done by hand, making each one slightly different.
On the Road
You may think that nothing on the Royal Enfield Himalayan spec sheet immediately jumps out. Plus, its performance data makes it sound as exciting as a battery lawnmower, but you’d be dead wrong.
On the road, no one thing out-performs any of the other components. This fact means that the engine doesn’t overwhelm the frame. The handling remains neutral, and suspension copes well for what an adventure rider can manage.
All the information you could ever need regarding the bike’s performance and running is clearly displayed, and the seating position is comfortable.
Overall control of the bike feels intuitive. No nasty surprises are waiting to catch you out, which translates to the rider being able to concentrate on enjoying their Vietnam motorbike tours
Getting Down and Dirty on a Royal Enfield Motorbike Tours in Vietnam
When critics say the motorbike is underpowered, no way have they ridden it through Vietnam’s mush or loose surface. Ok, it’s not going to pull a stump out the ground any time soon, but neither is it going to feel uncontrollable for the average adventure rider.
For moderate pace trails, loose gravel or sand, and even rocky slopes, the Himalayan plods happily through them with the minimum of fuss.
For moderate pace trails, loose gravel or sand, and even rocky slopes, the Himalayan plods happily through them with the minimum of fuss.
Yes, the Himalayan has its flaws and limitations. At just over 6ft and 100kgs, I find the low seat height and high pegs a bit of a squish.
Similarly, standing up, I’m struggling to grip my knees onto the slim rear of the tank. The subsequent trade-off, though, is the ability to paddle or dab with ease and almost 9” of ground clearance.
Yes, the front wheel will break away if you push it, and the back end refuses to go sideways at the mere flick of a wrist. However, the unhurried feel of the engine doesn’t encourage such shenanigans. If you want to spend all your time sideways and on the back wheel, you’re on the wrong bike and in the wrong country.
Royal Enfield Himalayan Makes Sense in Vietnam
Choosing a dual-sport bike for personal use is a lot different from picking one to embark on a Vietnam motorbike tours. When you buy a bike for yourself, you either assess your skills and requirements and buy accordingly or go entirely off the grid and buy on impulse. Read our post on why the Royal Enfield Himalayan is rugged, reliable and real-world here.
You are allowed neither of these options when you’re putting together a fleet of bikes capable of experiencing a good Vietnam motorbike tour.
More importantly, you need to choose a bike that is reliable, tough and is highly user-friendly.
People’s safety is paramount, and their enjoyment of the experience is key. This criterion means you need a bike that doesn’t shine in one particular department. Being able to deliver without fuss or fanfare, to a point where all your senses are honed in on enjoying the ride, is far more important.
If you consider all these factors and load them into a search engine, the result would come back, Royal Enfield Himalayan. It’s that simple
Motorcycle manufacturers in a headlong panic about losing their baby boomer repeat buyers have listened too much to overpaid media spin-doctors. These industry experts identified the tech-savvy Millennials as the market they needed to woo aggressively.
As a result, small bikes became disposable, mid-sized bikes buzzy, and top-shelf models over-technical. All in an attempt to capture an audience that lives on their cell phones and experiences life through their social media account.
Royal Enfield Himalayan ABS and EFI give it enough tech to be reliable without making it intrusive
A lifelong relationship with the Himalayan
The Himalayan’s ABS and EFI gives it enough tech to be reliable without making it intrusive. In comparison to its Japanese and Italian counterparts, it may well be considered old fashioned.
But consider the following questions. Are you more likely to develop a lifelong relationship with biking after owning a motorcycle that you can service, repair, and evolve with overtime? Or one that looks like an extra from a Judge Dread movie that needs a computer when the buttons stop working.
On a trip across Eurasia (read more about her adventures here) Noraly Schoemaker, also known as Itchyboots, found a bearing on a Kazakhstan market stall that allowed her to repair her Himalayan. Can you imagine the owner of some computer dominated adventure bike finding a Bedouin tribesman with a laptop so he could download a patch for his traction control? No, me neither.
Onyabike Adventures Chooses the Himalayan
Make no mistake; the Himalayan is a very important bike, why? Because not only is it a tonic for technobike-itis, its low cost and robust reliability put control back in the hands of the rider. These factors make it ideal for any adventure rider in Vietnam wanting to embark on a motorbike tour.