Royal Enfield’s popularity is soaring thanks to their range of modern, yet classic roadsters. The Himalayan is the manufacturer’s first foray into the adventure market, so will it make the summit or flounder in the foothills?
Before viewing a ‘bike for the first time, your brain goes through a number of complex calculations; each one designed to give a serious appraisal of its full potential.
All of this carefully considered information, however, is thrown out the window the moment you see it in the flesh and your gut-reaction takes over. In fact, this is more or less what happened when I read the initial reports of Royal Enfield’s first step into the adventure ‘bike market with the Himalayan.
When even the likes of Harley-Davidson throw their hat into the ring (1250cc Pan American prototype), you can’t help but think that the whole dual-sport genre is well overdone.
After all, unless your ADV ‘bike is 1 liter-plus, has more electronic gadgets than the Batmobile, and a seat you need a ladder to mount, you’re not even on the guest list.
So if that’s the case, why does the world need a 400cc adventure ‘bike pumping out a mere 24hp from a company which still manufactures motorcycles based on a 1950’s design?
Far from being an underpowered underdog in Vietnam, the Royal Enfield Himalayan not only makes sense out on the street but also puts the dual back into dual sport.
Launched in 2016, the Himalayan was not only Royal Enfield’s first attempt at this sector of the market but also the first adventure bike ever to come out of the Indian continent.
If you think Royal Enfield’s manufacturing plant is as old school as their ‘bikes though, get the idea right out of your head. The company’s high tech factory in Chennai runs a state of the art computerized production line, but that’s only half the story.
Royal Enfield wanted to nail their colors firmly to the mast with the Himalayan in Vietnam, so everything about it is new from the ground up, and then some. Showing just how serious RE is about the project, its creation was handed over to one of the motorcycle world’s most famous designers: South African, Pierre Terblanche.
Although the former Ducati designer’s brief was to come up with something new, the ‘bike still needed to retain the company’s trademark old school vibe. Add to this sufficient rugged dependability to take the show off the road, and it’s safe to say, the Himalayan has it nailed.
I think by now you can tell I’m a fan, but don’t take my word for it—read on and discover why.
At first glance, the ‘bike appears lightweight but at the same time sturdy. On closer inspection, it’s encouraging to see that with all the excess garbage gone, everything onboard seems to earn its keep.
The seat height looks higher than it actually is at 31”, maybe due to the stepped seat. Throw a leg over the seat though, and both feet easily find terra firma, which is always a major plus when you hit the slippery stuff.
As for weight, at a fraction over 400-lbs, it’s still light enough to hurl around but sufficiently heavy to feel solid. By comparison (and it’s a good comparison seeing as the new GS is also built-in India) the BMW 310 GS has a whopping 32.8” seat height.
Although a completely new model, the Himalayan has great retro looks, feel, and a practicality that made me warm to it immediately. I could see it covered in mud in the same way that the BMW’s plastic bodywork makes me want to keep to the street.
Pathetic, I know, but when I saw the spark plug sticking out of the side of the engine, I felt like buying everyone at the Chennai plant a beer.
Why? Because I can think of better things to do with the two hours it takes to remove five panels, undo 19 bolts, and remove the petrol tank just to check the spark plug (yes, it’s the 310 GS again).
Scrutinizing the engine
Further scrutinising of the engine specs also reveal the overhead cam cylinder head with, wait for it, valve clearances you adjust with a screwdriver and a spanner.
I’ve seen feedback on American and British sites proclaiming that DIY valve adjustment is nothing more than an excuse to reproduce out-dated technology. Some are also of the opinion that a 3000-mile service interval and a mere 24hp is also a testament to the engine’s weakness.
That type of attitude is fine if $500 for a bucket and shim adjustment by a dealer is no biggy. For us, ordinary folk, however, being able to perform full service for the cost of the oil and filter IS a big deal.
Furthermore, the 3000-mile service interval is to check the valves (quite literally a 15-minute job, even if they need adjusting) with oil changes coming in at 6000 miles.
Designing the engine
As for 24hp, yes, it’s pretty low compared to same cc bikes on sale in the States and Britain, but the Himalayan’s power characteristics make real-world sense. Designed with a long-stroke engine, maximum torque of 32 Nm comes in at a lowly 4000 rpm.
Compare that to the 310 GS that offers 28 Nm at 7,500 rpm, and you can see the Himalayan’s available power is right where you need it; at the bottom end
Both these factors should give the Himalayan’s power plant the longevity of a Red Sea urchin.
The likes of KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure R (160hp) and BMW 1200 Adventurer (125hp), make for dramatic spec sheets. Unfortunately, though, the suite of electronic interventions needed to keep them under control, to my mind, undermines their suitability as a jump-on-and-go bike.
Ride through winding country roads that turn into potholed paths. Travel down wet scree-covered mountain tracks or boulder-strewn plains, and 24hp, along with a rolling chassis that takes it all in its stride; more than makes sense.
And that’s the other thing about the Himalayan; it actually takes the rough stuff in its stride. There’s enough feedback from the 41mm forks, rear mono shock, 21″ front, and 17” rear wheel to actually make riding it on the slippery stuff predictable and fun.
A lot of credit must go to the frame here, and once again it falls right in line with the functional theme of the rest of the bike. Designed by British frame experts Harris Performance, their prior successes include building Moto GP winning frames for every major Japanese factory.
Harris’s pedigree is visible in spades, with the steel semi-double cradle providing the right blend of rigidity and balance to make the most of the engine’s power. There are also practical elements to its design that add to the bike’s dirt credentials.
As the name suggests, the semi-double cradle aspect of the frame supports the underside of the engine, rather than leaving it exposed as a stressed member. This design adds an extra element of protection, which combined with a steel bash plate, means it can take some serious abuse.
Talking of abuse, catch the Himalayan from the side, and you can see that the bend in the exhaust’s downpipe brings it slightly inboard of the frame’s down tubes. The exhaust pipe then runs on the inside of the bash plate, all of which provides extra collision protection.
Incidentally, that bash plate sits an impressive 220mm off the ground, which is 30mm more than Yamaha’s 1200cc Super Tenere.
The frame has also been designed from the outset to take a whole host of bolt-on racking. Up front are side frames that reach around the 4-gallon tank, which can also be adapted to carry everything from panniers to jerry cans. A lady called ‘Itchy Boot’ is currently 10,000km into a round the world trip on her Himalayan and gives a very honest assessment of its capabilities here.
Not that you’ll need jerry cans though, thanks to around 70 mpg and a 280-mile tank range. Bringing up the rear is a small luggage rack, which can also take additional cradles for panniers.
The petrol tank protectors, rear rack, a small windshield, and removable foot peg rubbers that unbolt to reveal serrated dirt bike pegs, all come as standard. Add to this a fuel gauge and digital compass on the dash, and that’s a considerable trick seeing as this is a budget model.
The Himalayan’s charm
For me, the Himalayan’s charm has a lot to do with its old school looks. Without the ability to back that up with a high degree of usability and rugged dependability though, I’d be the first to shout ‘fake.’
The latest BMW with its Intelligent Emergency Call facility can sense you’ve had an ‘off’ and send out an automatic SOS. A feature to be applauded, as c’mon, without a mobile crane you sure aren’t getting 564lbs of Germany’s finest out of a ditch.
For the Himalayan rider, however, this scenario will have a slightly different outcome and can be overcome in three steps. Step one, haul bike upright; step two, use a handy rock to straighten the brake lever; step three, chuff away into the sunset!
Riders in the western hemisphere looking for a cheap to buy, cheap to run bike will love the RE-H. Many say they’ll wait for Enfield to bring out a big bore Himalayan though with the new 650 engine, but in my opinion, they’ll be missing out.
The Royal Enfield Himalayan in Vietnam is rugged, reliable, and real-world. Furthermore, it’s an unpretentious bike. Put simply; it will do the job without making a fuss, whether that’s a trek to the rugged Himalayas themselves, the forests of Vietnam or the desert plains of Mongolia.