Let’s not get into what has already been said about the Royal Enfield Himalayan. Let’s not get into how great it is off road. Let’s not get into the fact that it is a revolution not only for its maker, but for the world of adventure motorcycling. Let’s not get into how this is a brand new engine, and a brand new frame and a brand new design direction. Let’s not get into how minimal the Himalayan is. But how can you not?
It had been almost 10 whole months since I had my first taste of the Royal Enfield Himalayan around the ranges in Shimla, and there I was now – peering at clogged traffic ahead of me on my way to work at the peak of the rush hour. The sun was unusually harsh for a winter morning – soon getting into the onset of the afternoon, making its way overhead. I spotted a gap to the left. Handlebar turned. Clutch let out. Throttle blipped. I made my way to the extreme left and cut through into another stream of bikes sneaking slowly past – inches away from the cars on the right. I looked beyond – the tarmac ended and the shoulder dropped by almost a foot to the jagged, unpaved dirt lining the side. My eyes lit up. How can you not get into how good the Himalayan is off road?
But let’s not get into what has already been said about the Himalayan. This time, the Himalayan was in for a city test – and such things as fuel efficiency and rideability through traffic and quick turn-ins are still the parameters, no matter how much they may have been overshadowed by the sheer go-anywhere-ness of the motorcycle. One thing is clear – this may not be the motorcycle for everyone – no matter how much everybody wants one. There are pros, and there are cons and it would be best to weigh each of them in before coming to a conclusion.
As with most buying decisions, practicality comes first – unless you have an unlimited budget that grants you the blessing of multiple motorcycles in your garage. The Himalayan fits that role, maybe not perfectly, but with a bit of a bias towards a penchant for trail riding, it does. It’s tall on the front thanks to the massive 21-inch wheel up front and 200mm of suspension travel on the 41mm front forks. The handlebars are flat and wide, but the seat is low – 800mm of saddle height is good enough for a five-and-a-half-foot me to get both feet flat on the ground. The equation isn’t magic – it’s engineering and the freedom of packaging that a single cylinder upright engine offers beyond the fuel tank.
The equation means that it is as easy to ride in the city as it is in the outdoors. There’s loads of torque for those overtakes and no matter what you roll over on the road, it stays stable. There’s loads of room for a pillion, and luggage – with or without the aftermarket panniers. The wide handlebar makes cutting in and out quick and the rather neutral riding posture makes riding it slow extremely easy – without having to put your foot down even. All that means that stop and go traffic isn’t a problem. What is a bit of a concern is the gearbox.
The transmission, while perfectly smooth when rolling on at speed, turns into a menace at lower revs. Finding Neutral at standstill wasn’t a problem, but start rolling slowly in first gear and getting into second is a task that requires precise control of the revs. Unless you master that, you’ll end up either being stuck in first or kicking into Neutral instead of second – at least that’s how the test bike behaved. The only other issue I had, which may be because of my own height more than anything else, was the fly screen. The top of the visor ends exactly where my line of sight was in traffic, which means it messes with the vision of the preceeding car’s brake lights and eventually fuzzes up judgement of how far ahead the motorcycle’s front wheel is. But the visor is essential – especially when you’re touring around at higher speeds – so personal suggestion – get used to it.
A large consideration for me on a motorcycle is also how it behaves at night – and unlike what most people think, it makes a huge difference. The 12V H4 60/55W headlamp bulb along with the round reflector is a boon in the dark – lighting up everything perfectly ahead of you, and when you need more range, there’s always that high beam. The engine runs with a rhythmic thrum in higher gears that isn’t too intrusive and that helps keep things comfortable inside the helmet – loud enough to let people know you’re around and yet silent enough to not block out anyone honking at you from the rear. I’d have liked Royal Enfield to re-engineer those mirrors though – a bit more visibility in them is more than welcome.
Confession – I didn’t bother calculating the exact fuel efficiency I was getting riding around in the city, but observational ability made me know that it’s not exactly on ‘Fill it, Shut it, Forget it’ levels – and it doesn’t need to be either. The Himalayan does get thirsty in traffic where operation is mainly in the lower gears and you stretch the revs far to overtake one too many times. Out on the highway with longer stretches, it settles down and the analog fuel gauge behaves itself worthy enough of a 400cc tourer.
The Royal Enfield Himalayan is a good motorcycle – but like I said, it’s not for everyone. The maker of the Bullet was definitely on to something big this bike – kickstarting a revolution of sorts with being the first entrant in the medium-capacity adventure motorcycle market. There are many others following suit – as EICMA and Milan showed us last year. For now, this spartan motorcycle is the most practical bit of engineering for motorcyclists worldwide who want to go exploring on the weekends – get off the beaten path on a Sunday and get back to the vagaries of their daily commutes for the rest of the week. For now.
When I called Royal Enfield to ask for the Himalayan for a few days I had one question in mind – was this bike worth its salt in everyday riding scenarios? But at that moment, when the front forks smoothly compressed under the gravity of a one-foot drop, I knew my question was irrelevant. Ground reality hit me hard – we may be moving rapidly towards the middle of another century and technology may be the buzz word in India, but infrastructure is still a long way from hitting home. We may have better roads now, but they’re nowhere close to what they should be and so ground clearance will always be a concern. Suspension travel and riding comfort through undulations will always be a question. How far you can go and how quick is just a matter of choice.