First Ride: Royal Enfield Himalayan - You've Come a Long Way Baby!
My first experience on a Royal Enfield was riding around Mumbai on the back of a Bullet in 2007. Fast forward more than a decade and it's clear Royal Enfield has undergone major changes since then. In the past 20 years they’ve grown from selling 30,000 to over 800,000 units a year, which puts them firmly in the category of the world fastest growing motorcycle brand. Dating back to 1901, they’re also the oldest.
Royal Enfield’s recent growth of industrial resources and product vision has culminated in the new Himalayan, which stands as a significant milestone in the company’s evolution. As a cross-purpose budget friendly bike with classic styling, what can $4,500 get you in a new motorcycle these days? A lot more than you might expect!
• Comfort / Geometry / Equipment
Mounting the Himalayan is a pleasantly easy affair. The bike is squarely targeted at fitting a wider swatch of riders than the average 37" seat height dirt bike or over 500-pound heavy tourer. Tall or short, the 31" seat height is very manageable for flat footing despite the 21/17-wheel size combo that often makes bikes precariously tall for shorter riders. An optional low seat takes the seat height to just under 30 inches. The saddle is well sculpted and comfortable enough for all day long riding stints. However, heftier riders, over say 250 lbs., may be wishing for a roomier rider notch.
Like any adventure touring-oriented bike, your back is upright, with your legs in a chair-like position. Transitioning to a standing riding position is very easy and natural even for a six-foot rider. Those taller than six feet may see some benefit from bar risers, but even with stock bars you’re not heavily leaning over the gauges when on the pegs. The fairing is minimal and protects the gauges but doesn’t give much protection at highway speed.
We expect the aftermarket will soon address that issue and the Himalayan in general is a wonderful platform for all types of customizations.
“What we want to be is authentic and accessible. We can be a new vintage motorcycle for the 75-year-old guy who used to own an Interceptor in the ‘60s or the 16-year-old who’s just learning to ride. We cannot be everything to everyone, but we can surely bring a personal sense adventure to every individual and help empower them to experience it for themselves.”—Rod Copes, Royal Enfield North America President
To read our interview with Rod Copes, CLICK HERE!
Although it’s not really an issue, if we had a wish list for future versions of the Himalayan it would be to move the brake light further back on the fender and then extend the rear seat and frame rails another six to eight inches. Then, removing the rear seat would expose an area ideal for directly mounting luggage. At the same time, with an elongated seat pad there’d be a more generous pillion seating surface for sharing some quality time with a riding partner or loved one.
Another marked improvement centers around the controls and instrumentation. Gone is the brittle pot metal clutch perch of yesteryear’s Bullet. Instead, all handlebar co
ntrols now feel more on par with what you’d expect on many modern Asian bikes.
The gauges have also been updated and modernized. There’s way more information now than your traditional idiot lights, two dials and an odometer. Now you have a gear shift indicator, fuel gauge, thermometer, clock and multiple trip odometers as well as a digital compass showing your current direction with an arrow always pointing north.
For less than $5,000, many testers weren’t sure what to expect from the suspension on the new budget-priced Himalayan. Based on recent test of the new Versys 300, I knew it was possible to have firm yet compliant suspension without having to drop thousands of dollars on a fully adjustable setup. Would the Himalayan meet this mark?
On paved twisties, the 21" front wheel shod with Pirelli Scorpion MT60s do a wonderful job of providing very neutral and predictable handling. The turn in was nice and gradual, perfect for beginning riders or anyone who simply wants a relaxed and confidence inspiring riding experience. The front 41mm forks are plenty rigid and combined with the integrated fork brace helped handling both on and off road.
The real surprise, though, is the spot-on suspension tuning. Ten years ago, we would never have seen a ride this good on bikes costing twice as much. Royal Enfield really got the fork and shock tuning right on the Himalayan. Testers were jumping the bike over rail road tracks and on a dirt motocross course. Landing was a highly composed affair for under $5,000.
Off-road handling is fun, no doubt aided greatly by the 21" front wheel and Pirelli tires. Several laps on a muddy motocross track tested the bike’s composure in slippery tight turns and steep hills. The inherently comfortable standing geometry becomes more usable off road, and when combined with the torquey single cylinder it almost makes you feel like you’re riding a traditional thumper dual-sport.
Another off-road friendly feature is the exhaust pipe runs next to the frame and not under it like many “street-turned-ADV” models. The two upper tank guards, which also serve as the headlight and instrument cluster stays, do a great job of protecting the tank in a tip over. One test rider had multiple drops on the motocross track resulting in no damage to the bike. Just dust off and go. Ultimately, the well sorted suspension, wheel sizes and riding geometry are some of the most surprising features on a new bike at this price point, for which there are no other direct new competitors.
• Power/PerformanceSo, what about the new fuel-injected 411cc motor? Granted, it’s not the most cutting edge or highest output thumper available. That said, the newly fuel-injected motor sports a 9.5:1 compression ratio and will get you up to speed quickly enough to be safe on most North American roads. Many of the complaints are about the first generation’s carburetion and adopting fuel injection has resolved many of those issues.
Power output alone is not what makes a good engine. Properly mating the transmission with available power goes a long way in getting the most from your output. The five-speed transmission does this very well and can sustain a 65 to 70 mph cruising quite comfortably. However, it would certainly be nice to have a sixth gear.
Pradeep Mathew, head designer of the Himalayan, flew in from India to answer technical questions. He stated that in India a sixth gear is not necessary, and that in many parts of the world the roads are not well maintained, and speeds remain relatively low. Nevertheless, in current form I do not think many, especially new riders, would complain. Its "easy-to-live-with" performance will no doubt contribute to its reliability and affordability.
The new counter-balanced motor spins up fast and is arguably smoother than the DRZ400’s mill. It’s so smooth that you can hit your rev limiter in first gear without knowing it. Peak 24.5 hp comes at the 6,500-rpm red line, and 24.6 ft.-lbs. of torque reaches its apex at around 4,200 rpm. You end up playing between 3,000 rpm and red line so there’s never really a shortage of power in most riding conditions.
“Yes, we include the centerstand as a standard feature because people may need to service a bike on the road.”—Pradeep Mathew, Royal Enfield Himalayan Project Lead
Shifting has greatly improved over Royal Enfields of yore. The gears were easy to find and slipped into place nicely. Neutral was occasionally a bit tricky to find on my test bike, but it was no big deal and may have been that I was not yet familiar with the bike’s quirks.
Braking is an uncomplicated affair thanks to the standard braided stainless brake lines. ABS is not yet available in North America but is in other markets. If you’d like to see the Himalayan with other options like ABS option, we encourage you to contact them directly and share your ideas.
• SummaryWith any unfamiliar brand there’s invariably going to be social media haters who nitpick. This type of criticism may be contributing to what’s “wrong” with the current North American motorcycle market. Fortunately, neither ADVMoto or Royal Enfield believe most riders are like that.
For years new and experienced riders alike have appreciated simple, fun, friendly and affordable bikes; but their voices often seem to go unheard. The quest for bigger, faster, ultimately more expensive and complicated machines have left many without new bike purchasing options, only driving them to a second-hand market. It’s therefore no mystery as to why new bike sales are down in some markets—a statistic that’s curable by making, selling and promoting what people actually want to buy.
Royal Enfield clearly wants to spread roots in this underserved midsize segment. Royal Enfield North America President, Rod Copes, has 20 years of experience at Harley Davidson and fully understands that the Himalayan doesn’t have to be a bike meant to replace what you already have in the stable, but add to it. Old or young, new or experienced riders can find something to like about the new Himalayan, and at the $4,500 price point, it’s very strong competition to both new and used models.
“With Royal Enfield as a brand, it’s not about the transaction, and it’s not about ‘Buy our motorcycle and we’re done with you.’ We want to keep that customer in our family forever and we’ve adopted that philosophy here in the U.S. We want every single customer to know we appreciate them. We wouldn’t be anything without our customers.”—Bree Poland, Royal Enfield America Senior Marketing Manager
Even better, Royal Enfield is willing to put their money where their mouth is by offering a two-year unlimited mileage warranty on both parts and labor. Some of this confidence has come from their new manufacturing workflow process which, unlike many other brands, assembles and inspects bikes at a central warehouse/distribution center before being shipped to dealers. This process alone has dramatically reduced the amount of quality control complaints in North America.
Royal Enfield’s new Himalayan goes a long way in making adventure accessible, practical, easily affordable and fun for a wider range of riders. For the cost of more expensive bikes, you could get a Himalayan, some kit and upgrades while still have several thousand left over to finance an adventure.
When you add up the highly improved build quality, versatility, unique styling, comfortable geometry, capable suspension, off-road sized wheels and aggressive warranty—all for under $5,000—there’s not much left but to try one out for yourself. It may be the best new bike value on the market. While not a perfect bike, it's much like many adventure riders: already very cpapable with plenty of room to grow! RoyalEnfield.com/USA
• 2018 Royal Enfield Himalayan Specs
Suspension (front): Telescopic 41mm forks, 7.9 in. (200mm) travel
Suspension (rear): Monoshock; 7.1 in. (180mm) travel, preload adjustable
Seat Height: 31.5 in. (29.9 in. w/ low saddle option)
Ground Clearance: 9 in.
Wet Weight: 401 lbs.
Tires (front): 90/90-21
Tires (rear): 120/90-17
Brakes (front): 300mm single disc, 2-piston floating caliper
Brakes (rear): 240mm single disc, single piston floating caliper
Alternator Output: 220 Watts
Engine Type: Single cylinder, air-cooled, 4 stroke, SOHC
Max. Power Output: 24.5 BHP @ 6500 RPM
Max. Torque: 26 ft-lbs @ 4200 RPM
Fuel System: Fuel injected
Fuel Capacity: 4 gal
Fuel Efficiency: 70 MPG (estimated)
Gearbox: 5 speed
Colors: Snow and Granite