PICTURE THIS. You’ve got four grand burning a hole in your pocket and you want to go on an adventure.
The salesperson in your local dealership upsells Royal Enfield’s new Himalayan, which promises adventurous capability and suits your budget spot on. But peering out from a dark corner, you spot the lopsided face of a BMW F800GS. Priced at £4,400, it’s a 2008 model – the first of the popular parallel twins – with nearly 25,000 miles on the clock.
It’s slightly more than you planned to spend, but does come with a fine set of Touratech panniers, and you’d budgeted £350 to spend on luggage anyway.
The mileage is high and with war wounds aplenty it’s certainly no peach. But, it has a full service history and with BMW’s reliable 798cc powertrain the middleweight GS has a well-established reputation as a fine long-distance machine, both on road an off.
Meanwhile, the Himalayan – all 411cc of it – is an unknown entity. It sits proud in the centre of the showroom but given the delays that plagued the model’s arrival in the UK and talk of chassis troubles, gearbox failures and flaking paint inside the fuel tank in its native market, you’re left wondering whether it will go the distance.
You thank the salesman and retreat to your Long Way Down-decorated garage where you ponder your options. What would Charley and Ewan do? Go for the well-loved GS, or take a step into the unknown with the Himalayan.
A tattered National Geographic map, pockmarked from months of route pondering, sits proudly on your wall. As it currently stands, you’ll be heading North to Norway, where you’ll join the Trans-Euro Trail, following it through Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania before cutting across Poland and Germany to Belgium. You plan to rejoin the TET in France and follow it North home. Your route is roughly 60 per cent tarmac, 40 per cent dirt.
Turning to the crowded whiteboard on the other side of your lair, you find a blank space and scribble a pros and cons list for each bike.
Royal Enfield Himalayan:
- Brand new
- Under warranty
- Looks great
- Low seat height
- Poor build quality
- Small capacity engine – underpowered
- New to the market, hasn’t been extensively tested
- No aftermarket panniers available yet so will have to go with Royal Enfield’s own.
- Larger engine - more powerful
- Excellent fuel economy
- Only cost £6999 new (with inflation that’s about 9 grand now) – has retained value and you’ll be able to sell it on for more later
- Quality components – brakes, suspension etc
- Touratech panniers
- A decade old
- No warranty
- More to go wrong
- Expensive parts that may be hard to find
- High mileage
- Tall seat – easier to drop
After a long weekend weighing up your options you’re no closer to making a decision. There’s only one thing left for it: a test ride. The Himalayan is up first.
Its 411cc single cylinder air-cooled, fuel injection lump makes 24.5bhp and 23.6lb-ft at 4,250rpm. It didn’t take long to establish that it’s no good on long motorway slogs, with vibrations and twitchy bars at anything above 75mph. And when it came to overtakes in higher gears, the little bike just didn't have the grunt.
But it was far happier at speeds more sedate. It coped admirably on twisties, turning in relatively smoothly and sharply and felt well balanced at a slow to middling pace. However, you could feel its 191kg weight when accelerating up hills or out of corners. The basic suspension was solid and unforgiving and the brakes were, frankly, shit.
But the Himalayan had a trick up its questionably manufactured sleeve when it came to off-roading. The wide handlebars, low seat and even lower centre of gravity were all conducive to manoeuvrability, perfect for tricky slow speed riding. And the engine’s ample low down torque came into its own in deeper sections of gravel, allowing you to pull away in second.
After the low seat height of the Himalayan, the GS’s height takes you by surprise. Luckily, this model has the low seat option fitted, but even so you’re stretched at 5ft10.
In the interest of fairness, you take the GS on the same test route. As expected, it has no problems on the motorway, with its 85hp, 61lb-ft 798cc parallel twin proving grunty and smooth – far smoother than the Himalayan’s single (understandably). It’s not quite as powerful as you expected, and you find yourself wringing its neck to reach triple figures. But it gets there, and the bars remain solid and the bike feels planted while doing so. The shorter screen doesn’t protect you from the wind as well as the Himalayan’s, mind.
It’s equally competent on twisty mountain roads – it weighs 16kg more than the Himalayan at 207kg but with more than three times the power is far lighter and more responsive. The brakes are nice and sharp too, causing the long travel forks to dive under heavy pressure.
Off-road the ABS kicks in, but unlike the Himalayan you can turn that off. The tall seat proves a hindrance here, as you put your foot down and feel the full weight of the bike on one leg. That will take some getting used to. But one you’re on the move, stood up on the pegs, the GS feels like an overgrown trail bike, and a brilliantly fun one at that. You’ve only tested it on a gentle gravel track but you know it can do so much more.
You roll back into the dealership with a grin on your face. You’ve made your decision. The two bikes really weren’t comparable – only in terms of price – but you’d entered the shop unsure of what kind of adventure you wanted, and now you knew. The Himalayan had far exceeded your expectations, but the old GS still had the edge. You pay the money, sign on the dotted line and roll off into the horizon.