Royal Enfield Himalayan Review: The New Bullet?

In Motorcycle Reviews by Julian6 Comments

With the entire motorcycle industry falling over itself to conquer the Adventure bike market, it came as no particular surprise to see yet another contender in the ring. But can the Royal Enfield Himalayan hope to square up to the big boys in the showroom? Ride Expeditions headed to the Ladakh region of Northern India to find out.

Reviewing the Royal Enfield Himalayan in the Himalayas
RIDE EXPEDITIONS REVIEW THE HIMALAYAN IN THE HIMALAYAS – OBVIOUSLY!

ALL NEW YET STILL OLD

Once Royal Enfield had decided to build an adventure bike, you might think that they might have played it safe like virtually every other manufacturer. The risk-free option is to take an existing engine from the present range – say the 500 Classic – and then build an off-road biased frame around it. From Honda to Triumph, Moto Guzzi to Ducati – this is standard practice, and if you look at bikes like the Explorer 800 or even the diminutive yet capable Honda CRF250L, it’s very effective.

Royal Enfield Classic
USING THE ENGINE FROM THE CLASSIC MIGHT HAVE BEEN EASIER

But not the Royal Enfield design team who took it on themselves to build this bike from the ground up, not using a single component from existing models. Although some might applaud this approach, the decision to ignore already tried and trusted components in favour of new, or in some cases, older technology seems to have been a questionable decision, especially given the numerous issues with the machine in the early product run.

Royal Enfield Himalayan

And if you might be thinking that all kinds of new tech might have found it’s way on to the Royal Enfield Himalayan, then stop right there. Save for a good looking and clear dashboard that has some digital elements, the Himalayan is still firmly rooted in the 1950’s, from it’s chunky steel frame to it’s metal fuel tank and old school carb on the first year’s bikes. If this bike were a film, Marty McFly would be the main character…

THE CHASSIS

According to the Royal Enfield website, the half-duplex cradle frame is robotic welded for precision and strength, but with this type of manufacture standard across the manufacturing world, it’s not that unusual. What is unusual to see on a modern machine is such large and clunky looking tubes joining at the headstock. The site also alludes to the frame design keeping the weight close to the centre of gravity, but with such a large engine sitting between the rear and front down tubes, it seems more likely that this, not the frame may have the final say.

For suspension, the Royal Enfield Himalayan is right there with technology fresh from the 1980’s. At the back there’s a single shock actuated through a linkage, although the only adjustment you can make is for pre-load. Up front we have a conventional set of ‘right way up’ spring forks, but if you are thinking of adjusting them, that’s not going to happen.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Review
THERE’S MORE HEAVY METAL HERE THAN AN IRON MAIDEN GIG

Of course what the new suspension and frame does offer compared to the rest of the Enfield range is not only the ability to absorb some of the terrain without channelling it direct through the rider, but also some element of ground clearance. The Himalayan boasts a modest 220mm, which in comparison to others in the market may be small, but for India, it’s almost at supercross levels.

With this focus on it’s improved off-road and on road ability, you might have either expected the design team to have opted for the industry standard 21/18 combination on the wheels, thus allowing the full choice of off-road rubber and giving the necessary agility on the rough stuff, or kept with a more road based 19/17 combination like SWMs Super Dual to ensure the best on-road manners. But again, Royal Enfield throw the curve ball and opt for a 21/17 set of hoops. It looks odd, but maybe it will make sense on the road. The tyres are CEAT – a brand that clearly does not have a presence outside the Indian subcontinent. At a glance, they appear to have more focus on durability than elbow-down cornering potential!

The Royal Enfield Himalayan
The Royal Enfield Himalayan from above
The Royal Enfield Himalayan from behind

For the brakes, it’s a 300mm disc with a twin-pot floating caliper up front and a 240mm version at the back, grabbed by a single piston caliper. That combination says off-road competence rather than motorway speed.

Finishing off the chassis dimensions, we have an 800mm seat height, 15-litre fuel tank, 1,465mm wheelbase and a kerb weight of 191kg – that’s just over 420lbs.

THE ENGINE

As mentioned, Royal Enfield could easily have used an existing lump from their range. A bored out 350 would have easily provided the 410cc offered by the new unit but that was not the option chosen. The LS410 motor in the Royal Enfield Himalayan is a very sturdy looking piece of kit, and although actual figures are not given on the weight, we suspect it would tip the scales against at least two KTM EXC350 power plants.

Royal Enfield Himalayan engine

The long stroke motor, just like it’s siblings in the range, puts out a lazy power that is best at lower revs. Bottom and mid range are the only power this bike understands – there’s no high revving in this puppies diary.

The top end is an uncomplicated SOHC design keeping the width of the head fairly narrow, while the bottom end gets a three piece crankshaft with counterbalance.

As you might expect, Royal Enfield have kept with conventional air-cooling via substantial finning on the barrel, although they have added a substantial  – and fairly vulnerable – oil cooler on the left hand down tube to take some of the heat away from the wet stuff.

The Royal Enfield Himalayan oil cooler
WITHOUT ENGINE BARS, THAT COOLER WILL BE TOAST WITH THE FIRST OFF

The 2016 Himalayan’s were fitted with a carburettor, but the spec on the 2017 machines reveals that their new bikes get fuel injection – a huge improvement that we’ll come too later. The exhaust is a simple 1 into 1 pipe with a refreshingly modern look and an occasional ‘burble and pop’ on downshifts.

So what does all this new tech give you in terms of power? Well it all translates into an almost embarrassing 24.5 BHP at 6500 rpm, but a slightly more robust 32Nm of torque at 4,250 – is this ever going to be enough for a modern adventure bike?

THE ERGOS

For the most part it seems that adventure bikes need to be a tad on the ugly side. There’s almost a pride in not quite finishing off details that could be easily hidden – kind of a biking version of the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

So in these terms, the Royal Enfield Himalayan hits the buttons – it has a certain rugged functionality that seems to go with the territory. The side bars alongside the tank serve a dual purpose to protect the metalwork and also provide an up front attachment point for your adventure essentials. At the back there’s a dinky rack and of course there are plenty of factory made racks and boxes.

A large round headlight harks back to the old-school roots of this bike, and such a large expanse of glass doesn’t seem to make sense on an adventure bike. One of the bikes we used  models had been fitted with an LED bulb – it’s bright as hell but looks strangely out of place in this old-skool setting.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Left
Royal Enfield Himalayan Right

The front fender is a twin level design, which works well in the dry but would fail swiftly in muddy conditions. The lower unit attached to the forks via a cross-brace that clearly offers some stability to reduce flex in the relatively slim forks.

The side panels hide the air-filter and electrics but are not quick release, requiring a small Allen key to release four bolts per side.

Royal Enfield Himalayan seating position

The seating position is low for an adventure bike – fine for the short of leg, but with a deeply stepped seat, more difficult for average to tall riders. This might be OK for road work or two up riding, but the inability to vary riding position on a long ride is not a fantastic asset to any bike with off-road pretensions. The image used by Royal Enfield on their site to illustrate the Himalayan’s supposedly optimal position is little more than three lines superimposed on a rider – the riding position is road based and low. End of.

Hey, WE RUN MOTORCYCLE TOURS - THAT'S WHAT WE DO!

and we love it!

We run the best motorcycle adventures across Asia – from traversing winding mountain roads on a Royal Enfield in the Himalayas to bashing through the jungle on a dirt bike in Vietnam. It’s what we do, and we do it very well.

RIDING THE ROYAL ENFIELD HIMALAYAN

Royal Enfield Himalayan Review: OK so with the details of the bike sorted, it’s time to get testing. And as this bike is named after them, it seemed only appropriate that we should test the new bike in the Himalayas. If it could cope with the demands of the challenging North Indian Roads it would be doing well. If it could handle the highest motorable road on the planet – the Khardung La Pass – it would have fulfilled the brief set out by the name on the graphics.

Royal Enfield Himalayan riding image
WATER, TRUCKS AND EPIC SCENERY – FAIRLY STANDARD FOR INDIA

The Ride Expeditions team had been riding Royal Enfield Classics  and a couple of the Himalayans on a tour from Manali and through the Spiti Valley before heading up to the capital of the Ladakh region, Leh.

So with the Classics parked up for a rest, we took delivery of a trio of Himalayans to spend a few days riding over the pass, staying in the Nubra Valley and then back to Leh. While many of the magazines that have reviewed this bike have pottered around urban streets before a brief foray onto light gravel, our test would take on the challenges of urban Indian roads, steep inclines, endless hairpins, mud, rocks, water and of course the massive test of tackling a road that climbs to over 5 kilometres above sea level. This is not a ‘paint by numbers’ bike review …

REVIEWING THE HIMALAYAN IN THE HIMALAYAS

As mentioned earlier, the Himalayan does follow the herd with the rugged look. While it’s not ugly, it would take a strange man to say it’s pretty. If you can see past the side racks, the tank has echoes of Triumph Bonneville about it, and the engine follows those cues. The mismatch in wheel sizes looks strange, as does the twin level front fender. The front light and clocks are held away from the handlebars by the sidebars and,without any fairing or cowls, have a stripped back if vulnerable look.

The rugged feel continues from the front to the back, with plenty of tubular steel all over the machine. Royal Enfield own Harris Performance Engineering, and they’ve clearly been keen to uses their skills in frame welding!

Royal Enfield Himalayan in it's natural setting
INDIAN ROADS DEMAND RESPECT AND SOFT POWER HELPS

Sitting on the Himalayan, the centre of the bike is relatively narrow which bodes well for stand-up action, but straight away the low position of the seat compared to the bars feels odd. You feel like the little plastic man on a remote controlled motorcycle toy – arms bent and held in against your sides – maybe not the ideal position.

There’s no kick-start, and the motor fires easily on the button. The soft engine note is quieter than the 500 Classic, and lacks any note that makes your spine tingle with anticipation.

Setting off into the busy streets of Leh, the bike is immediately really easy to ride. The 25 bhp may be well down on ponies compared to Japanese and European levels, but for trickling through mad traffic, dodging stray dogs and wandering cows, the Royal Enfield Himalayan gets the job done without any fuss or drama. The pipe could do with a bit more bark to warn the surrounding vehicles, but the Indian default of near constant horn blowing does the same job.

Royal Enfield Himalayan takes on the water
WATER CROSSINGS ARE MUCH EASIER ON THE HIMALAYAN THAN ON THE CLASSIC

As we climb out of the city, the roads vary between tarmac and rubble, and compared to the road based Classic, it’s great to have some suspension to soak up the jolts and holes. The spec claims over eight inches, which seems ambitious, but either way it’s an improvement over the three inches and sprung seat option. The front feels a tad heavy thanks to the conventional forks – not something we’ve ridden with off-road for many years. With so much weight in this bike, any attempt to reduce unsprung weight through USD forks would be welcome.

When the road opens up, we get a chance to stretch the engines legs, and although it will climb to speeds around 110 kph, that’s about all it’s got in the motor. And getting there is not a swift process. In fairness to Enfield, this comes as no surprise – the long stroke motor is never intended to offer neck-snapping acceleration as that big piston simply doesn’t play that game and getting up to top speed is a leisurely process.

Royal Enfield Himalayan stretching its legs
THE HIMALAYAN CAN PUSH ON THE STRAIGHT BITS, BUT DON’T EXPECT MORE THAN 110 KPH

As the altitude increases as we climb towards Khardung La, two of our three bikes are definitely finding the height and lack of oxygen an issue. With the 2016 bikes relying on carburettors, the set up for altitude needs to be altered and it’s evident that these bikes have not had the time spent in the workshop. In an effort to redeem any power we have to remove the air filter on both machines – not an ideal situation. Later we discover that the third machine was only going well because it was already running without a filter…

Royal Enfield Himalayan with filter issues
DITCHING THE FILTER WAS THE ONLY WAY WE WERE REACHING THE HIGH PASS

The suspension continues to impress and allows us to bounce through the numerous water sections on the way to the top stood up and in full control.  It’s evident that Indian riders don’t stand up ever, so the sight of three of us coming through on the pegs is greeted with enthusiasm and almost adulation – it’s like we’re Supercross riders clearing a quad, rather than three Brits just using a smidge of trail riding technique! Save for a few tarmac sections, we ‘clean the road all the way to the police checkpoint.

Once at the top, the ride down towards Diskit and Hundar beckons and it’s time to push the Himalayan.  The bike responds well to being hustled over the rough stuff, while the soft power ensures that we never get into difficulties when exiting those death defying hairpins with over 400m drops. Although Royal Enfield say the seating position allows you to transition from sitting to ‘Stand-and-ride’ with ease, in reality the low height makes it more effort than necessary. A high seat option at the same level as the pillion perch would make a massive difference to both seated and standing riding positions.

The brakes are adequate for the speeds that the bike reaches, but are some way off the power and feel of a fresh set of six-pot Brembos! The clutch stood up to any amount of abuse, but the lack of adjusters at the lever mean that any fade needs a spanner to to tweak out – not ideal.

Royal Enfield Himalayan in water mode
THE LOW SEAT MAKES TRANSITION TO STANDING MORE EFFORT THAN IT SHOULD BE

Once at Hundar, we took the Himalayan over the sand dunes to see whether it could cope with soft sand. While it took some of it in it’s stride, the combination of largely gripless road-based tyres and heavy weight meant that any type of Crusty Demons heroics was out of the question. This bike digs a hole quicker than an Olympic standard grave digger.

A Himalayan stuck in the Himalayas.
THE HIMALAYAN IS NOT THE BEST DUNE RIDER

With an overnight in the Nubra Valley, the return trip brings a chance to re-ride the roads up to the pass, and our earlier impressions are confirmed.  On the road sections and given India’s hugely variable approach to what actually constitutes a road, the Royal Enfield Himalayan copes with just about everything you throw at it. If the going gets too challenging, a move to the pegs takes out the jolts and given the fairly unadjustable suspension on the bike, it does it very well. With many bikes having infinitely adjustable suspension that owners will never adjust, maybe there’s an argument for just picking a good midline set up and leaving it there. The lack of punch can be frustrating at times, but given that the good tarmac never lasts long, is probably a life-saving feature rather than a point against the Himalayan…

Fancy riding a Royal Enfield with us in the Himalayas? Here’s a taste of what it’s all about…

Click this link for tour info…

ROYAL ENFIELD HIMALAYAN REVIEW – THE VERDICT

OK so you might gather that we approached this review with more than a dose of scepticism. With the Royal Enfield Himalayan being so far away from what western riders might consider to be a competent adventure bike, and with the more conventional Classic and Bullet having so much more presence and credibility, the new bike was always going to have a hard time.

Royal Enfield Himalayan in the forests
THE HIMALAYAN HAS ACHIEVED MUCH OF WHAT IT INTENDED TOO

Yet the Himalayan seems to have achieved what Royal Enfield intended. As a touring machine that can take on the mountainous terrain outside the bustling cities of India, the Himalayan does the job well. The problem with the early carburettor models is frankly inexcusable and Royal Enfield really should have fitted fuel injection from the get-go on a bike that is named after the mountain range, but as they’ve corrected their mistake then let’s leave that there. Bad luck if you bought the earlier version, but that’s inevitable if you rush to purchase the first batch of any new bike… People have frequently asked us why we did not buy a fleet of Himalayans when they were first released… this is why. However, we WILL be buying the new fuel-injected models for our Himalayan motorcycles tours

Royal Enfield Himalayan on a bridge
ENFIELD WILL NEED MORE THAN PRAYER FLAGS TO ACHIEVE GLOBAL SUCCESS

So the next question is whether the Royal Enfield Himalayan makes sense outside India. Can it really cut the mustard against the swathe of other adventure bikes, both small and large? The answer will depend on the type of rider you are, and how individual you want to be.

If you like the quirky side if things and are not interested in following the herd, then maybe so. You’d also have to be happy with quite poor performance and top speed once you are on decent tarmac, not to mention a very limited dealer network and potentially parts availability outside of India.

In reality we can’t see any real motorcycle fan choosing this bike over the vast and hugely competent competition. It might be cheap at just about £4000 in the UK, but given that’s just about the price of a new CRF250L and well within the scope of a good second-hand BMW F800GS, Triumph Tiger or even a KTM 690 Enduro.

Royal Enfield Himalayan static

Yes the gentle power makes sense on bumpy Indian roads where a bit of inappropriate whisky throttle could end your life in an instant, but outside those very specific constraints the Royal Enfield Himalayan really doesn’t stack up. It’s not got the history and classy looks of the 1950’s inspired models, it’s not got the performance, reliability and dealer network of the bigger brands.

We’ll be using them on some of our tours in Northern India, but as for getting carried away and bringing one home to Blighty, that’s not going to happen…

PLAYING THE LONG GAME

While Royal Enfield may be a newcomer to the adventure game, it’s by far not a newcomer to making motorcycles. In fact, it’s the oldest brand in the world, having been founded a full two years before Harley Davidson or Husqvarna had produced anything resembling a motorcycle.

Royal Enfield 1904

The Enfield Cycle Company rolled its first motorcycle from its premises in Redditch, Worcestershire in 1901, and it’s iconic model ‘The Bullet’ remains the longest-lived design ever made.

But while the English arm of the company fizzled and died in 1978 under the Japanese onslaught that would kill so many brands, the sister company set up in partnership with Madras Motors in 1955 has gone from strength to strength. Originally importing parts from the UK, after just two years the company purchased the tooling to self-produce components and from 1962 everything was made in the factory in Chennai.

Fast forward to 2017 and the company has a truly staggering dominance in the Indian market. Save for the smaller mopeds and 125s, Royal Enfield is the bike of choice across the entire continent. From the 350s to the 500s, Classics to Bullets, if you hear a bike coming up behind you anywhere from Mumbai to Kolkata, it’ll probably be an Enfield.

COMFORT

The Royal Enfield Himalayan is a comfortable ride over short to medium distances, but the stepped seat means that a solo rider can’t move back at all. The wide frame at the footpegs means that you feet feel splayed when standing.

DURABILITY

Try as we might, we can’t see the Himalayan as a bike that will still look great in five years time. As for residual value, outside India the second-hand price will fall quicker than an anchor…

VALUE

Bought in India, this bike is cheap like all Royal Enfields. Taken to the UK, US or Australasia, import taxes double the price. It’s still cheap, but in reality the quality and reliability may reflect that.

APPEARANCE

As adventure bikes like to be ugly, the Himalayan is bang on the money. But if you like your bikes sleek and beautifully finished, then this may not butter your teacakes!

RIDE EXPEDITIONS REVIEW RATING: ROYAL ENFIELD HIMALAYAN

The Royal Enfield Himalayan seems on one hand to be a good first attempt at an adventure bike from a company that has been making essentially the same machine since 1955. But on the other, it’s an opportunity missed to produce a bike that could have been so much more. To have achieved such little power from such a big engine is a triumph of engineering that could only occur in India…

If you consider the bike just in terms of riding in India, it makes sense over the Classic or Bullet, but lacks the feel and character of those bikes. Outside of the continent this bike is more of an interesting curiosity rather than a genuine contender to the already packed adventure market.

IT’S GOOD, BUT NO CIGAR
Royal Enfield Himalayan

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So have you ridden the Royal Enfield Himalayan? Or do you own one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…

Comments

  1. Great to read well written review by actual adventure riders in actual adventure riding conditions!

    The wheel sizes are certainly nothing unusual in the adventure market – Tiger 800 XC, F800GS and loved classics R100GS, DR650. I thought this seemed like a bit of a dig but I’m sure this wasn’t the actual way it should be read.

    1. Author

      Cheers Tom

      Yes fair point on the wheels, but it does look odd and we didn’t pick it out as causing any particular issue when riding.

      Julian

  2. I was so enamoured about this bike when it first appeared but not being able to acquire one is perhaps a blessing!
    I still want one though. Could the engine be improved? Weight reduced?

    1. Author

      Hi Joe

      In short – no – not much. It’s such a big piston and a long crank then trying it to go faster would end in catastrophic failure. If you are in India – it’s OK, altjough many mechanics have no experience of the new engine. Outside the UK – I’d buy something else – a Japanese bike from 25 years ago is still more advanced than the RE!
      Julian

  3. Joe, Royal Enfield is launching their new parallel twin 750cc engines at EICMA and they’re going to use it in the Himalayan. So a bigger Himalayan is in the works.

    1. Author

      Hi Vernon

      We can’t help thinking they need to fix the reliability and builds issues with the existing machine rather than throw money at a new one! There have been rumours about a lack of popularity with the current model – maybe that has been a driver for a new machine?

      Thanks for getting in touch

      Julian

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