Thousands of books, and maybe even a thousand films, have told us stories of adventures that were born from quests for treasures. And they have the audience burning with curiosity to know the outcome, but what most of us often fail to realise is that the crux of the tale is not the end result, but the journey itself. Adventure motorcyclists (a bunch I am not the most familiar with) are not just accustomed to this, but live by it. For them, it’s all about the journey and the ‘treasure’ at the end doesn’t really matter as much.
To think back on it, never have I got on to a motorcycle and ridden out without knowing where I’d end up. Rishaad, on the other hand, loves the idea of riding into the unknown, and as a matter of fact, that is exactly what he had planned. One day in the office, he looks over to me while pointing at his monitor with a huge grin on his face, exclaiming that he had “found it!” The ‘it’ in question was a questionable looking trail on the map that climbed some unknown hill beyond Lonavala. Neither of us knew what we’d find at the top, and if Google was anything to go by, the route wasn’t motorable at all. But his enthusiasm totally drew me in – I was about to go for my first real motorcycle adventure!
The time to do this couldn’t be any better because we just got our hands on the Hero XPulse test bike. But what do we put it against? Sadly, there’s nothing like it at its price point, but if you widen your field of view, you’ll find one more off-road-ready machine available to adventure enthusiasts with a realistic budget – the Royal Enfield Himalayan. However, the Himalayan costs a good Rs 75,000 more than the XPulse, which makes now a good time to remind you that the Himalayan beat the much more expensive Versys-X 300 and G 310 GS in our last entry-level ADV bike comparison. Could it do the same when the tables are turned? Clearly, we had an interesting story on our hands.
At first light
Our day started early, really early. It was 4 am when I thumbed the starter of the XPulse to head to the meeting point to catch up with Rishaad, who was on the Himalayan. At these hours, it is only trucks that occupy the roads and the XPulse managed to filter through with ease despite its relatively slow steering because of the large front wheel. The Himalayan also has an equally huge 21-inch wheel up front, but it doesn’t feel as agile on its feet, although we’ll get to why that is in a bit. Riding at this hour also gave me the opportunity to test out the all-LED headlight,which does a decent job with an adequately wide and strong throw. The Himalayan still uses a halogen setup, which isn’t a bad thing, and it’s equally effective.
I arrived at the designated dhaba on the highway early and was sipping a piping hot cup of tea when I heard the Himalayan’s exhaust note from quite a distance. While this note isn’t the most pleasing, it sure is recognisable and characterful. The same can’t be said about the XPulse, as it produces a sound that is just too simple and commuter-like. Hero may have had restrictions with a size and character of motor used (you can thank platform sharing for that), but it could have added some burbles or pops; the kind that make TVS’ motorcycles sound fun.
Nevertheless, with their engines switched off, parked side by side, both motorcycles looked equally tall and commanding. Simple and clean designs are the theme here, but each takes a slightly different approach. The Hero has minimalistic bodywork, while the Himalayan stands out with a boxy and charmingly purposeful design. The Hero gets a long MX-style fender – something dirt bike enthusiasts are sure to like – whereas the stubby front end on the Himalayan is more common to the ADV bike segment. The Himalayan’s retro theme shows with a quirky, but functional analogue instrument console, along with a small digital display, while the XPulse goes full-digital. Adding to the sense of adventure, the Himalayan packs a compass, while the Hero laughs in response with Bluetooth enabled turn-by-turn navigation.
On the open road
It was time to stop admiring and get going. Our journey began on a smooth and fast highway giving us the opportunity to thoroughly analyse the bikes’ highway characteristics. It was, unsurprisingly, the 411cc Himalayan that proved to be the finer choice, and by some margin. Not only did it have a 6.1hp and 14.9Nm torque advantage over the XPulse, but more importantly, it had an edge in refinement. While the XPulse managed 80-85kph without a fuss, anything above was when vibrations started saying hello.
On the Himalayan, however, things were quite different. It just manages to hold 100kph with ease, and thanks to the 32Nm of torque on offer it builds and maintains speeds much more comfortably. It doesn’t struggle to overtake and rarely requires a downshift to gain momentum on the highway. Wind protection at those speeds is better on the Himalayan, thanks to its taller windscreen, but neither of them offers the protection you’d find on bigger, more expensive ADVs. In our hot climate, that’s actually not such a bad thing. Another aspect that plays a big role out on the highway are the seats, and it’s the Himalayan’s that is significantly more comfortable, since it’s not only wider but is plusher too.
We were still on familiar territory, but soon approached a section of road that the bikes weren’t intended to be familiar with – twisties! These tall and narrow motorcycles ride on skinny Ceat Gripp tyres with deep, chunky grooves, designed mostly with off-road duties in mind. That said, these tyres did really well and stuck to tarmac like nobody’s business. While the Enfield didn’t disappoint in any way, other than showing a slight reluctance to turn into corners and a main stand that touches the road occasionally, it was the XPulse that was one step ahead.
The chassis felt more dynamic and the bike was eager to dive into corners with more confident mid-corner stability. This doesn’t come as a surprise as the Hero has a huge weight advantage – 40kg to be precise! Suspension on the XPulse also proved to be better tuned for the corners, while still being slightly more comfortable than the Himalayan on the road. The weight advantage also translated to better braking performance. In our tests, the XPulse went from 60-0kph in just 18.63m, while the Himalayan took 19.80m. Not only did the brakes on the Hero perform better, but they felt better too. In comparison, the Himalayan felt like its brake pads were made out of plywood.
The road to nowhere
Not long after, we had reached the turn-off to ‘the’ road. The initial stretch (by that I mean the first couple of hundred metres) was a badly pothole-ridden tarmac road, half of which had already turned into gravel. With excited anticipation, we stood up on the pegs and both bikes hammered through without any effort – India-ready these two are!
Suddenly, the tarmac came to an end and we were now on a gravel road which began climbing. Quite quickly, the surface deteriorated to the point that we could no longer call it a road, with the climb only getting steeper. Rishaad, who was on the XPulse, was clearly putting more effort into it than I was. The lack of grunt from the 200cc air-cooled motor meant he often had to downshift into first and sometimes even had to slip the clutch. Meanwhile, I was happily chugging along in second, having to dip into first only on the most extreme of inclines.
The climbing didn’t stop and the path got narrower and densely tree covered. We were truly on a road less travelled, as reaffirmed by the occasional smacks on our helmets from the overgrown tree branches. Those weren’t the only obstacles; we also had to dodge large rocks, and sometimes even go over them, luckily both bikes come with 220mm of ground clearance and sturdy metal bash plates that did their job well.
Solid metal bash plates on both can take a beating; The XPulse’s full-LED headlight has decent throw.
Sooner than we knew it, we had reached the top, and both of us were shocked at the spectacular view on offer. The air was cooler and the view was of buildings and cars that were now the size of ants. It was a humbling reminder that we humans are just a blip in the grand scheme of things. Moving this philosophical thinking to the bikes – isn’t it a great time we are living in, where we have two sub-Rs 2 lakh models that can happily explore the abundant nature around us?
We weren’t done just yet though; these bikes still had to take us back down, which wasn’t as simple as it sounds. You would think it would be the XPulse that would be the idiot-proof option because of its huge weight advantage. But this one only gets single-channel ABS and sometimes things could get quite tricky when the rear locked up. I found the Himalayan’s dual-channel system much more reassuring, but more experienced riders will be annoyed that the Himalayan’s ABS can’t be turned off.
The treasure at the end
Choosing between these two is not easy as they both have a few qualities that the other lacks. To wrap things up, if you can make the stretch, the Rs 1.8 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) Himalayan is the more accomplished motorcycle. It’s a much nicer partner over a long distance and it can handle difficult off-road situations very well too. And while it’s hard to convey this in words, the Himalayan packs an affable sense of character that the XPulse doesn’t quite match.
On the other hand, the XPulse makes for a nice commuter and it is more fun for short and technical trails, especially those right outside your city and don’t require a long ride to get to. The Rs 1.05 lakh asking price for the fuel-injected model we have here is fantastic value, but the engine is a bit disappointing and we both agree that we’d have paid more money for a more involving powertrain.
As for me, my first motorcycle adventure taught me that me I shouldn’t be that sceptical of riding into the unknown. While this one did present a beautiful view at the end, it is only a small part of what we’ll remember from this day. I’m convinced we definitely need more motorcycles like this and I’m now doubly excited at the thought of the upcoming KTM 390 Adventure!
|Royal Enfield Himalayan||Hero Xpulse 200|
|Engine||411cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled, FI||199.6, single-cylinder, air-cooled, FI|
|Power||24.5hp at 6500rpm||18.4hp at 8000rpm|
|Torque||32Nm at 4250rpm||17.1Nm at 6500rpm|
|Power to weight||126.28hp/tonne||119.48hp/tonne|
|Fuel tank ||15 litres||13 litres|
|Front suspension||41mm telescopic fork, 200mm travel||37mm telescopic fork, 190mm travel|
|Rear suspension||Monoshock, 180mm travel||Monoshock, 170mm travel|
|Front brake||300mm disc||276mm disc|
|Rear brake||240mm disc||220mm disc|
|Tyre size (f/r)||90/90-21 / 120/90-17||90/90-21 / 120/80-18|
|Royal Enfield Himalayan||Hero Xpulse 200|
|20-50kph in 2nd ||2.88s||3.31s|
|30-70kph in 3rd ||5.32s||6.96s|
|50-80kph in 4th ||5.58s||7.27s|
|60-0kph (distance) ||19.8m||18.63m|
|Royal Enfield Himalayan||Hero Xpulse 200|
|Price (ex-showroom, Delhi)||Rs 1.80 lakh ||Rs 1.05 lakh|