Common Tread

Royal Enfield Himalayan first ride review

Mar 14, 2018

The Royal Enfield Himalayan is not a new motorcycle, as it’s been available in India for the past two years. In fact, it was never intended for the American market. It was a purpose-built bike meant to give Indian customers a better option for tackling the broken roads traversing the Himalayan mountains and Indian countryside, not the freeways criss-crossing the United States. So how did it get here?

Royal Enfield North America fought hard for two years to bring this bike stateside. They saw the Himalayan as the motorbike that America needs to get back to its motorcycling roots. The American arm of the Indian manufacturer is hoping to change the way adventure bikes are viewed in this country.

Everyone I talked to from the North American offices was very clear that the Himalayan isn’t setting out to achieve any aggressive performance goals. The way they see it, there are enough large, performance-oriented adventure motorcycles. Rather, they see this bike finding its home with folks looking for an affordable and approachable machine. But is that enough to earn it a home in the changing landscape of the U.S. motorcycle market?

Royal Enfield Himalayan First Ride Review
The Himalayan is affordable and approachable with a style all its own. Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

The Himalayan

From my private conversations with friends to public forums on social media, there has been a notable buzz about this bike for some time. It seems that riders in the United States are more interested in this motorcycle than anything Royal Enfield has released to date. Questions I have fielded range from street performance to off-road prowess, with queries regarding Royal Enfield’s build quality and reliability leading the pack.

Setting aside the spec sheet (which has been readily available), let's focus on the areas that I think are most significant to answering those questions.

The Himalayan's engine is an all-new design with more technology incorporated in its design than any Royal Enfield has seen before. RevZilla photo.

The engine is an all-new 411 cc single-cylinder plant that claims about 26 foot-pounds of torque and 24 horsepower just before the rev-limiter kicks in around 6,700 rpm. It is the first engine to be built in Royal Enfield’s newest and most technologically advanced manufacturing plant in Oragadam, just outside of Chennai, India, which uses all-new tooling (a big step for a company whose manufacturing processes have remained relatively unchanged for over 50 years).

Fuel injection replaced carburetors, ignition is electronically timed, and the kick starter is no more. It is also the first Royal Enfield engine to incorporate computerized technology to streamline the diagnostic process (something that has become nearly standardized practice among most manufacturers). For those riders who prefer the basics and don’t like change, this push to modernization is likely to be met with some resistance. But it’s necessary for Royal Enfield to compete in today’s tech-laden ecosystem.

Yet for all of these changes, the main technology within the engine is still very simple. Valves are adjusted using a basic screw-and-locknut design. The good news is that valve adjustments are extremely easy compared to a bike that uses a shim-under-bucket approach. The bad news is that valve checks are required every 3,000 miles, every time you change the oil. In fairness, that is only bad news if you are averse to learning how to perform your own maintenance.

The traditional split-cradle frame is nothing new but I think it works in this application. Unlike bikes like the Versys-X 300 and the BMW G 310 GS, which utilize the engine as a stressed member, thus leaving it exposed to abuse in off-road situations, the frame serves as basic engine protection.

Royal Enfield Himalayan First Ride Review
The Himalayan represents Royal Enfield's first use of a mono shock. RevZilla photo.

The Himalayan’s suspension, with 7.9 inches of travel at the front fork and 7.1 inches of travel at the monoshock (a first for Royal Enfield), looks impressive when compared side by side with the spec sheets of other adventure machines. Get off the spec sheet on onto the road, however, and the illusion is shattered. Unfortunately, the suspension is extremely undersprung for the American market. I understand that at 220 pounds I am heavier than the average bear, but unless you’re a Boo-Boo-sized rider, you’ll blow through most of the suspension stroke just sitting atop the bike.

The style is something of a standout and is worthy of mention. Nothing else out there really compares to this bike. It’s a modern take on Royal Enfield’s classic look. Ergonomics are comfortable and upright when seated as well as making it easy to stand up on the bike and move around when off-road.

Royal Enfield Himalayan First Ride Review
While the Himalayan looks a bit bigger in person, its 31.5-inch seat height is one of the lowest available on an adventure bike. RevZilla photo.

It looks bigger in person than I was expecting but with a 31.5-inch seat height and a weight of just over 400 pounds, it is still approachable for riders who have shied away from adventure bikes in the past. At five feet, four inches tall, our camera gal Aly is becoming my yardstick for how bikes fit shorter riders. She had no problems hopping on the bike and getting her feet firmly on the ground.

Taller riders like myself (six feet, three inches) might feel a bit cramped. The rear pillion sits a few inches taller than the main saddle, which limits how far back you can sit. I would have liked an extra inch or two of room behind my butt.

Royal Enfield Himalayan First Ride Review
The analog dash gives you plenty of information, but don't plan your wardrobe based on the temperature gauge. Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

With an MSRP of $4,499, corners were cut when it came to the fit and finish. This is the first bike that I can recall having ridden that doesn’t have an adjustment for the clutch cable at the lever. My 1976 Honda CB550 has this basic feature (though as Lemmy will surely remind you in this year's predictions article, that bike is still not running). Mirrors are cheap and nearly impossible to see out of, the ambient temperature gauge regularly read 20 degrees warmer than what my gear suggested, the handlebar was spindly, and the speedometer needle had a certain “shimmy” to it that reminded me of my old Bonneville speedo unit (that is until the needle on my Bonnie simply fell off).

That being said, Royal Enfield deserves credit for including a slew of extras along with that base price. In stock form it provides protection in the form of a skid plate and upper crash bars, a centerstand for easy chain maintenance and tire repair, and a basic luggage rack for storage. The stock windshield even does a decent job of deflecting the wind off the rider’s chest when screaming down the highway.

Riding the Himalayan

A few readers had voiced concerns that we wouldn’t be provided with an adequate opportunity to test the Himalayan off-road, but Royal Enfield made sure that wasn’t the case. I was actually given so much time with the bike that I managed to launch it sideways down a gravel road, thus landing in the ER and nixing the video portion of the Royal Enfield review. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Royal Enfield Himalayan First Ride Review
Pride before the fall. Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

Our first day with the bike was split between street and dirt. Bree Poland, Royal Enfield’s Senior Marketing Manager, was able to secure a 1,000-acre dirt park known as TexPlex just outside of Dallas for us to use. They built a custom trail system to allow us plenty of room to get the Himalayan up to speed on what I imagine closely resembles the average rural road in India.  

Starting out on the street, my first impression of the Himalayan was the front brake. The lever offered a very stiff and wooden feel. I really had to clamp down hard to get any stopping “umph” out of it. I found myself regularly relying on the rear brake for additional stopping power, which is something I rarely do under normal street riding conditions. ABS is not an available feature.

In spite of the soft suspension, the bike steered through corners with a light touch. Handling is very neutral and the Himalayan is easy to ride, as long as the pace remains relatively moderate. It makes for a fun little mount for exploring the slower paced back roads of Texas.

Spinning it up on the highway, I was able to see a top speed of an indicated 85 mph in fifth gear. That being said, the Himalayan is much more comfortable on the 55 mph roads. I found that the sweet spot remained around 60 mph.

I think what impressed me the most was the lack of vibration usually associated with a single-cylinder engine. It felt smooth and relaxed until just before the redline, when some buzziness began to make its way to the handlebar and through the seat.

Royal Enfield Himalayan First Ride Review
Texplex park in Texas made for the perfect testing location for the Himalayan. Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

Transitioning from the street to the dirt at Texplex, I was eager to see how the Himalayan handled the off-road portion of the day.

My initial impression was the lack of feel and feedback from the front end. Running down some of the rutted trails, the combination of stock Pirelli MT60 tires and soft suspension had the front wheel regularly pushing out on me. While the stock rubber was fine on the street, I wasn’t a fan of these tires off-road.

I was not impressed with the stock Pirelli tires off-road. Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

Luckily, because Royal Enfield went with a 90/90-21 front and a 120/90-17 at the rear, there are a lot of better off-road options to choose from if you plan on getting off the beaten path. This is not the case with some other smaller ADV machines that are fitted with a 19-inch front wheel, limiting their tire options.

They’ve yet to build a motorcycle I can’t crash. • First day of riding the new @royalenfield #himalayan has been a blast, tomorrow we start filming. • The whole crew is down here in Texas for this one and @royalenfield_na has been kind enough to give us complete access to @texplexpark to have some fun ripping around on this bike. With over a thousand acres of dirt trails and tracks at our disposal, this should be a hoot. • Video by @brandon_lajoie • #madeitthefirsttime #gotcockythesecondtime #alwaysinfrontofthecamera #royalenfieldnorthamerica #comingtotheusa #comingtoamerica #adventuretime #adventuremotorcycle #adventuremototouring #adventuremoto #adventuremotorcycling #advrider #revzilla #ironandair #dualsport #dualsportlife #advlife #advlifestyle #dualsportadv #dualsportwomen #dualsportadventure @klimgear @klimmotorcycle @alpinestars @alpinestarsus @ride100percent @100percent_moto @scorpionexo

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I was getting a bit throttle happy after making a few successful passes around the track and through a particularly muddy section. They say pride goeth before a fall and I fell pretty good in the mud trying to hustle the bike a bit beyond its abilities. In this initial spill, the bike suffered no damage, aside from some mud caked under the foot peg. For those concerned with picking up a large bike, this little guy was much easier to lift upright than pretty much any other adventure bike I have ever crashed, and I’ve crashed a few.

Backing off the throttle made the Himalayan more manageable in the dirt. It’s almost like it was trying to politely remind me that it isn’t a performance machine.

“Slow down, Spurg. Smell the roses. I’m not a KTM, after all.”

And so I backed off, for a bit. After the initial day of riding, Royal Enfield let us ride away on one of the bikes for some additional filming. After a second fairly uneventful session of street riding, we were setting up to get some shots running the bike through a gravel corner.

As my team was getting into place, I took a practice run and lost the front end going through the corner.  I couldn’t have blinked before I hit the ground, the Himalayan on top of my right knee, sliding down the road. That, as they say, was all she wrote. 

The bike fared much better than I did. For those concerned with the Himalayan’s durability after the infamous video of the bike’s footpeg breaking off during testing, it handled the crash like a champ. Other than a cracked mirror, a bent handlebar, and a broken rear brake pedal, there was barely a scratch on the bike, which immediately fired right up. Even the front brake lever remained intact (unlike my KTM levers, which essentially just eject themselves from the bike at the first indication of an impact with the ground). Though the Himalayan was ready to keep going, my knee wasn't, so that's why you're not seeing a video accompanying this review.

The competition

So what should you compare this bike to?

If you’re going on price alone, the Himalayan’s $4,499 MSRP is closest to Yamaha’s TW200 or Suzuki’s VanVan, both of which are $100 more expensive than the Himalayan. I think when you stop to consider that fact, the rough edges of the Royal Enfield begin to look a bit more acceptable.

If you want to compare it against other similarly sized dual-sport or ADV machines, you’d be looking at the Honda CRF250L at $5,149, the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 at $5,349 without ABS, or BMW’s new G 310 GS for $5,695. While I think there could be arguments made for the advantages in performance and fit and finish these other options will offer over the Royal Enfield, keep in mind that the Himalayan is going for affordability and approachability.

Royal Enfield Himalayan First Ride Review
The Himalayan's unique style sets it apart from the rest of the adventure crowd. Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

For someone shopping at this price point, the difference of around $1,000 is going to be a much more prohibitive increase than for someone shopping at a higher price point. Another thing the Himalayan has going for it is its style. Unlike the aforementioned bikes that either look like dirt bikes or tiny versions of their larger adventure counterparts, the Royal Enfield stands out in a crowd. It’s going to appeal to riders who are fans of the retro/scrambler craze, which is still going strong.

Conclusion

I wasn’t in the saddle of this bike for more than five minutes when my thoughts immediately turned to "Long Way Round," the show that did more for BMW’s adventure segment of motorcycles than any amount of traditional advertising could have hoped to achieve. What always baffled me about that show was that everyone watching saw Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman struggling their asses off with those big Beemers and thought to themselves, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do!”

Am I the only guy who watched that show and thought that Claudio, the cameraman, was the damn genius of the group? Destroying his GS and buying that tiny no-name Russian motorcycle just before the road got super challenging? While the other guys were struggling to keep their bikes upright, there went Claudio, just plodding along like a champ. The Royal Enfield Himalayan is the “Claudio” of adventure motorcycles.

Royal Enfield Himalayan First Ride Review
The Royal Enfield Himalayan is the "Claudio" of adventure bikes. Photo by Brandon LaJoie.

Is this the most ambitiously advanced motorcycle we’ve ever tested here at Common Tread? Not even close. Is it a performance dirt bike that is going to have you riding it like a motocross machine? I don’t think so. Will existing adventure riders be lining up to trade in their GSes, 1090 Adventures, Africa Twins, or Tigers? Probably not.

But the Royal Enfield is approachable and affordable. And that alone might be just enough to nudge a few more people into the world of adventure riding who may have previously been afraid to try it out. If that ends up being the Himalayan’s legacy in the United States, I would expect the folks at Royal Enfield would be pretty pleased with their decision to bring this bike to our shores.