PREPARATION is key to any successful motorcycle adventure.
It will take you on the best roads, teach you where to avoid and ensure you remember all the essentials – essentials like trousers, for example.
Unfortunately trousers didn’t make the cut on a recent trip I took with my boyfriend/photographer/mechanic Leo. And Leo was left with only his Cordura twat suit to preserve his modesty as we headed out for dinner.
Luckily, we weren’t on any great riding odyssey. Instead we were testing Royal Enfield’s Himalayan on a three-day tour around England’s answer to its namesake, the Lake District. And while Leo was reunited with his jeans a couple of days later, the situation stuck in my mind as somewhat apt considering the bike I was riding.
Now, I’m not saying Royal Enfield’s Himalayan has forgotten its trousers, but it’s certainly lacking something in that department. Top-end torque, high-speed handling, 21st century electronics – you name it, the Himalayan doesn’t have it. But it doesn’t profess to be the best at anything. In fact, the humble Himalayan doesn’t boast any outrageous claims – apart from being ‘India’s first true adventure machine’. It’s not out to rival Triumph’s Tiger 800, Suzuki’s V-Strom 650 or even Kawasaki’s lightweight Versys 300, instead occupying a Shoreditch-styled league of its own. And its basic nature is actually quite endearing.
Designed with the mountains in mind, the Himalayan promises adventurous capability in a simple, affordable package. It features a 411cc single cylinder air-cooled, fuel injected motor, making 24.5bhp and 23.6lb-ft at 4,250rpm. Housed in a half duplex split cradle frame, this unit is the manufacturer’s first single overhead cam engine, and hopefully it will follow in the Royal Enfield trend of being bulletproof.
Early on our 250-mile road test it became apparent that the Himalayan isn't suited to long motorway slogs, for the aforementioned reasons. Finger-numbing vibrations thrum through the bars, while the 21-inch front wheel developed a tankslappy twitch at anything above 75mph. When it came to overtakes in higher gears, the little bike didn't have the grunt to do so swiftly and safety and I frequently found myself getting left behind by Leo on his BMW F800GS. With the engine’s long-stroke configuration, torque fades significantly higher up the rev range, leaving the bike feeling a little puffed-out.
The clutch is light and acceleration is smooth from the get-go, although you need to keep those revs up as I found my test bike prone to stalling. Surprisingly, the Himalayan has a good ol’ fashioned choke and while we didn’t need to put this to the test, we did have to bump-start the bike after leaving the headlight on for a 10-minute photoshoot.
Off the motorway and the Himalayan was immediately happier. It coped admirably on the twisties, turning in relatively smoothly and sharply and felt well-balanced at slow to middling speeds. However, that 191kg wet weight made its presence known when accelerating up hills or out of corners. The basic spec suspension – conventional telescopic 41mm forks and a monoshock at the rear – was solid and unforgiving, and I felt every blemish (of which there was plenty following February’s big freeze) on the broken Tarmac, while the front felt somewhat disconnected from the road.
Brakes are accounted for by a twin piston calliper up front, grabbing a 300mm disc and a single piston calliper with a 240mm disc at the rear. Produced by ByBre, Brembo’s Indian brand specifically dedicated to small-to-medium displacement machines, these brakes seriously lack bite and I found myself adjusting my stopping distances to suit. Dual-channel ABS is standard and while unobtrusive on the road, was a little overzealous off.
Wide handlebars with good lock, a low seat and low centre of gravity boost manoeuvrability, and slow speed riding, which was great off-road. And off-road is where the Himalayan excels. I’m not talking Dakar-type terrain, but instead the gravelly tracks you’ll find crisscrossing England’s green and pleasant land.
The off-road standing triangle was perfect for my five feet and seven inches, but I imagine taller riders would struggle. The engine’s ample low-down torque came into its own in deeper sections of gravel, allowing me to pull away in second.
Longish suspension travel of 220mm upfront (that’s 75mm less than a Honda CRF250 Rally, but 20mm more than a BMW G310GS) and 180mm at the rear absorbed big bumps, but it still felt a tad too firm for my 56kgs.
Pirelli MT60 rubber looks good and perfectly matches the Himalayan’s off-road ability. And speaking of looks, the Himalayan is at home off the beaten track. With the front and rear auxiliary frames, and a 15-litre fuel tank it looks rugged and utilitarian, and somewhat bigger than its 400cc.
It has an undeniable adventurous capability, although questionable build quality makes me wonder whether it has the durability to make a round-the-world machine. While RE has recently opened a UK technology centre, the Himalayan pre-dates this and the rough welds, leaky pannier, condensation in the speedo, weird rattle at around 5,000rpm, paint-brush finish and poorly fitting pannier-frame shows it.
Another sticking point was the digital dash compass, which appeared to have got its East and West confused… However, a Royal Enfield associate promised us that this was just a ‘calibration issue’ and that to fix it you just had to ‘ride a couple of figure of eights to allow it to get its bearings’. Interesting…
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