Since '02 xBhp is different things to different people. From a close knit national community of bikers to India's only motorcycling lifestyle magazine and a place to make like-minded biker friends. Join us
It’s been raining since the previous night and so the water is staying on the road. I am on a twisty Himalayan back-road astride a totally new bike, the helmet visor cracked open a shade to keep it from misting over, and find myself swishing through the turns at a pace I would call ‘brisk’ for such conditions. The wet tarmac demands caution but then as long as the bike feels composed and stable, I am game. I’m riding the all new Royal Enfield Himalayan and boy! Does it feel all new? This doesn’t feel like any of the Enfields I have ever ridden before. This one feels modern, taut, responsive and functional.
Edit: The Royal Enfield Himalayan has been launched at INR 1.55 Lakh ex-showroom Mumbai!
All right, let’s be a bit systematic in reviewing the bike and not jump the gun straight to conclusions. When I rode the Royal Enfield Continental GT almost 2 years ago in Goa, the chassis, its handling and brakes were revelations, being very unlike any previous product from the company. The GT was an indicator that Royal Enfield was looking beyond mere tradition. Probably believing in what a very wise man once said – tradition is a guide, not a prison. The company was changing its line of thought towards making their machines more ‘modern’ in the sense of being better handlers and well put together. The Himalayan, in my opinion, takes that theme through a proverbial leap across years and comes as a pretty pleasant surprise.
Design – Form from Function
The Himalayan looks the part it portends to play. The purposeful and functional design is actually what results naturally when one stays true to the projected needs the machine is to fulfil. Royal Enfield set out to make a bike that would make a traveller out of a commuter. And they do seem to have managed to produce the right tool for that. I have personally always seen beauty in function in motorcycles than in form and so am not really qualified to comment on the design aesthetics. But the overall look of the bike, with those wide handlebars, the exo-skeleton around the tank, the many purposeful bits and pieces that you keep discovering as you keep looking, the narrow windscreen all add to the newness as much as they do to function. But what comes across most strongly is the all-pervading sense of purpose in the design. The long travel suspension, both front and rear, when coupled with the high ground clearance speaks volumes about the ‘take anywhere’ nature of the bike. The engine looks tucked in well and good amount of thought seems to have been given to mass centralization there. And it shows when you flick the tall bike into switchbacks and it responds with alacrity. The seat, fuel tank, bars and the rear grab-rail all are discrete elements but also have a smooth blending between them. And the spoked wheels just add to the whole charm.
At 411cc, this single piston 2-valve OHC engine seems full of promise, more in terms of torque than outright power. Though with a stroke just 6 mm more than the bore, one cannot really call it a long stroke and the numbers thus appear to take away some sheen from the torquey expectations. But ride the bike and torque is what you actually find flowing through the throttle. Smooth and a seemingly endless flow of torque. No, nothing outlandishly dramatic there – just so very ‘functional’. I seem to be using that word just a bit too much here but that’s how the whole scheme of things is. Breathing through 2 valves and a CV carb, the engine has surprisingly good throttle response when you keep in mind that it has the Enfield moniker stamped on it. Twist that throttle as quickly as you can with the bike in neutral and you just cannot bog down that engine. It responds and gathers revs smartly. The apparently anaemic 24.5 Bhp does not seem all that anaemic when on the roll. But this bike is unabashedly about riding the torque curve. Those unusually tall gear ratios (you can do 40+ in first and 70+ in second gear!) show the confidence Enfield has placed on the engines’ torque delivery. With a primary counter-balancer spinning inside, the vibrations have mostly been taken care of, creeping in only at above 5.5k rpm. But then this bike is about riding between 2000-4500 rpm. The tall gear ratios allow you to do a whole lot within that rpm range.
The ‘Himalayan’ ride
The Himalayan looks tall and at first sight is kind of intimidating to those vertically challenged amongst us. The spec sheet though gives hope when one realizes that the saddle height is a tad lower than that of the KTM Duke. The ‘tall’ look is accentuated by the narrow proportions and the bike looks lean from all angles. Swing a leg over the saddle and you feel at home almost immediately. The bike has just the self-start option – no kicking it alive even if you want to. As of now the engine did start pretty effortlessly but I do have my reservations of the utility of the kick starter as a backup when the bike has been parked overnight at Sarchu in end-September minus 10 deg C weather. A very cold engine draws loads of amperes from the battery which is hard pressed delivering the electricity in very cold conditions. The concoction would not allow more than a couple of attempts – the engine doesn’t fire you’d better pushing it alive. I love kick starters. Anyways, thumb that starter and the engine fires to life with a thrumble. No it doesn’t sound at all like a Bullet or any of its kith and kin. It sounds like a – a modern 400cc single! Our cold morning start needed a minute of choke usage and then the engine settled to a steady idle. The clutch feels somewhat heavy to use but surprisingly it was not a tiring thing to use on a long 8 hour ride day in the hills.
The 5 speed gear box engages the bottom gear with a firm clunk (new bike syndrome?). The fun begins now. Roll the throttle and get moving. The tall gear ratios become immediately apparent as you are not pressured by the bike to upshift soon. Upshift at 25 kmph and the engine has just revved a little above 3000 rpm. The rest of the ratios are close but tall since the first one is tall. Of course those wanting quicker acceleration off the block can go in for a larger rear sprocket. The bike feels stable from a bare crawl onwards and the excellent leverage provided by those almost 3 foot wide handlebars makes directional control easy. As does the 21 inch front wheel. Engine braking is around to help when going downhill and riding the Himalayan is mostly about the throttle if you’re prone to smooth even if quick riding. The second and the third gears are where you live, while riding in the hills. It was wet and the back roads twisty so I couldn’t ride beyond 80 kmph (and that too only for a short burst). But neither was stability an issue nor did the engine seem to be anywhere near losing breath at that speed. I do need to ride it in the plains to really assess the Himalayan’s all-round touring capability.
Braking, Handling and Suspension
Brakes are good – loads of feel and good bite what with that largish disc up front and the steel braided hoses all round. Progressive and carrying good bite, I found myself using even the front brake quite frequently even on those wet and slushy roads. The rear brake is all easily modulated and serves its purpose well. Handling is this bike’s forte and it was impressive. Riding the twisties on the Himalayan was as simple as pointing it in the right direction and rolling open that throttle. The bike can be placed with inch perfect precision. The rigid frame and chassis (a big shout out goes to Harris from UK) did not reveal any tendency to flex on our day out with the bike in the hills. Yet to know how it will behave at elevated highway speeds though I do not expect any nasty surprises there too. The long travel suspension up front (200 mm) and the monoshock rear with multi-link suspension (180 mm wheel travel) makes short work of any irregularities the road throws at the bike. Comfort levels are high but more importantly the ruts and potholes don’t affect directional stability of the bike. It tracks true through the bumps and ruts, even when cranked over in a turn. Ground clearance is a high 220 mm and weight 182 kg dry.
Again the weather and road conditions didn’t allow me to try panic braking at its extreme. But whatever hard braking I attempted to test, both the brakes and the suspension, there was a controlled amount of fork dive, not a collapse of softness that doesn’t really allow quick weight transfer to the contact patch and so could lead the rider into trouble. The bike is easy to flick into and out of turns though not in the league of street-fighters like the two Dukes. The virtually non-existent frame flex means no tendency to weave when flicked through switchbacks. The overall lean proportions of the bike make even a 120 section rear tyre seem narrow! The spoked wheels look good and apparently do their part in improving the ride quality of the bike. The front forks (41mm down-tubes) look robust in build and the thoughtfully provided rubber boots will go a long way in prolonging the life of those oil seals. The solid front mudguard bracket also doubles up as a fork brace. The lower mud guard though seems too close to the tyre and for an adventure tourer, will tend to jam the front wheel when riding through slush, mud or even snow. Ideally it needs to be dispensed with all together and replaced with a high placed mudguard like those in off-road machines.
Seat, ergonomics and functional bits
The rider seat is comfortable, at least for the better part of the day I spent on the saddle. It did seem a little soft to me but then that can be addressed to on a personal basis. I say that because I weigh substantially more than the Average Joe. Seating is upright and the ergos spot on for long days on the saddle. The narrow windscreen up front did induce some buffeting around my helmet at speeds above 70 kmph though I couldn’t hold those speeds for long anyways. The screen does vibrate at certain rpm’s and needs to be stiffened up. The kick stand as well as the centre stand are solid and well placed. The frame provided for luggage mounting is again robust in look and feel with clean welded joints. The almost universal use of Allen bolts all across the bikes will make for a smaller tool kit and easier assembly/disassembly of accessories. The hard case aluminium panniers put up as an example were of good quality though mounting them is a game of dexterity with Allen keys and patience. The front extra fuel tanks have a quick release though which makes removing and putting them back on an easy task. The instrument console is not just a looker but also pretty functional. The MFD below the speedo has trip meters, average speed display, gear position, a clock, outside air temperature etc. No there’s no Distance to Empty reading because this is a carburetted engine and so there’s really no way one can reliably measure the amount of fuel consumed and relate it to the average speed. The compass remains a mystery to me but it sure looks good and so for the time being good enough for me.
The switch gear is good quality as are the round retro RVM’s. The round headlight has a good spread but illumination intensity is not really up to the mark. With a 170 W alternator spinning away inside, there should be enough power either for higher wattage halogens or maybe a switch to high intensity LED’s. The tail lamp and trafficators are bright enough. The horn once again is a wimp. Makes you feel like someone begging for attention and not asking for it. Fuel consumption is claimed to be in the 30s which would mean a 400 km + range from the 14.5 litre tank.
In all fairness there cannot be a real verdict without the price being known. For that we need to wait till the coming 16th of March. But technically and as a machine, the Himalayan holds a lot of promise for its prospective owner. The entire machine has been well put together and with the rider and his needs at the forefront. It is solid, right up there in specifications (if you can unbias yourself from seeing 24.5 Bhp as ‘measly’) and a pleasure to ride. Royal Enfield has a sure winner on their hands if they can get the pricing right. This is one bike that will not just encourage touring on motorcycles but also redefine it in terms of benchmark specs that a touring rider can expect from his motorcycle.
Royal Enfield Himalayan Review: Technical Specifications
Type Single cylinder, air-cooled, 4 stroke, SOHC
Bore x Stroke 78 mm x 86 mm
Compression Ratio 9.5:1
Maximum Power 24.5 BHP (18.02 KW) @ 6500 RPM
Maximum Torque 32 NM @ 4000 – 4500 RPM
Ignition system TCI, multi-curve
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Gearbox 5 speed constant mesh
Lubrication Wet sump
Fuel supply Carburettor with throttle position sensor
Engine start Electric
Chassis and Suspension
Type Half-duplex split cradle frame
Front suspension Telescopic, 41 mm forks, 200 mm travel
Rear suspension Monoshock with linkage, 180 mm wheel travel
Wheelbase 1465 mm
Ground clearance 220 mm
Length 2190 mm
Width 840 mm
Seat height 800 mm
Height 1360 mm (flyscreen top)
Kerb weight 182 kgs
Fuel capacity 15+/- 0.5 lts
Brakes and Tyres
Front tyre 90/90 – 21″
Rear tyre 120/90 – 17″
Front brakes 300 mm disc, 2-piston floating caliper
Rear brakes 240 mm disc, single piston floating caliper
Electrical system 12 volt – DC
Battery 12 volt, 8 AH VRLA
Head lamp 12V H4 60 / 55 W
Tail lamp LED