Our first taste of Royal Enfield’s adventure tourer, the Himalayan, up and around Shimla made it amply clear that the motorcycle, although imperfect, was very versatile and capable. But, the unfamiliar roads and lack of open highways, not to mention torrential rain, near-zero temperatures and snow, made it harder to pin down the bike’s abilities. We had to wait a bit, but when the Himalayan turned up at our doorstep, we were packed and ready to hit the road again.
The plan is to thrash things out in the city before hitting an assortment of B-roads, twisties and highway bits on our way down to the coast. The idea isn’t to just crunch miles rapidly, we had carefully picked out some like-minded motorcycles to keep the Himalayan company. Mahindra’s Mojo, with its rich specifications and a sporty design, presents a different flavour of touring and a tough reality check for the Himalayan. The other motorcycle here is Royal Enfield’s Thunderbird 500. Although a cruiser, it has been used widely for touring purposes. However, the Thunderbird is here less as a direct competitor and more as a baseline to see how much of a step forward Royal Enfield has taken, if at all.
Lay Of The Land
Let’s get this straight, the playing field isn’t exactly level here. The motorcycles here don’t have the same displacements, or technology or nature. But there is sense in sticking them together. Crucially, the three motorcycles are packed within Rs 25,000 of each other, with the Himalayan being the cheapest and the Thunderbird the most expensive. When you look at the specification sheet though, the Thunderbird’s UCE motor helps it claw back some ground. The fuel-injected and air-cooled motor is the largest, most powerful and most torquey here.
The Himalayan, despite boasting an all-new engine, the LS410, is fairly simple. This long-stroke 411cc unit is air- and oil-cooled and carburetted. Although the engine has done away with push-rods and shifted to overhead cams, it continues to use two valves in the interest of better bottom- and mid-range performance. Unsurprisingly, its peak output of 24.8hp is the least of the three bikes here but its 32Nm of torque is just a shade more than the Mojo’s.
But it’s the Mojo that commands the most respect for its specifications. The engine is a liquid-cooled, fuel-injected unit that breathes through a four-valve head and this is the only motorcycle here that packs a six-speed gearbox.
When it comes to the chassis and suspension, there’s no doubt that the Thunderbird is the simplest. It uses a single down tube frame with the engine as a stressed member. It also uses twin shock absorbers at the rear while the other two pack monoshocks. Even though the Thunderbird is the heaviest motorcycle here, its 775mm saddle height will keep all but the shortest of riders at ease. The Mojo, once again, makes a statement with its equipment. It packs a tubular perimeter frame and is the only motorcycle here that comes with stout, upside-down forks. At 320mm, it also packs the largest front disc brake, while all three motorcycles use 240mm units at the rear.
The Himalayan, true to its class, is equipped for adventure. The core of the motorcycle is a rugged, half-duplex, split-cradle frame. Strapped onto it is its long-travel telescopic forks and linked monoshock at the rear. On-off road tyres wrapped on spoke rims promise true-blue off-roading potential. Now that we know enough about them, let’s hit the road.
Run From The Sun
The three tourers steer onto the streets of Pune and turn towards the western borders of the city. In the Himalayan’s saddle, my first realisation is that the bike is quite pleasant to ride at city speeds. Firstly, the suspension is really supple at these low speeds over broken city roads. The engine too, is game to amble along just as long as the revs stay upwards of 2,000rpm. The torquey mid-range encourages you to change gears less and this helps cut the fatigue caused by operating the weighty clutch. And the impressive range of steering lock makes sure that tackling city traffic is no hassle either.
My colleagues are keen to sample the Himalayan and so, I exchange the 800mm saddle of the Himalayan for the slightly taller 815mm saddle of the Mahindra Mojo. Strangely, despite weighing nearly as much as the Himalayan, the Mojo feels quite heavy at low speeds and a bit abrupt in the way it steers. As if to distract you, the Mojo emits an admirable sound from its twin exhausts – the volume, timbre and rasp are all just right. But the engine’s repertoire isn’t just limited to making music. Although the meat of the power on this four-valve motor builds upwards of 4,000rpm, there’s plenty of response available, even at lower speeds, to let it chug along calmly. The engine is smooth too with a light clutch and precise gearshift.
At the next stop, it’s my turn to hop onto the Thunderbird. I’ll admit, I’m a bit reluctant but, as soon as I plonk myself onto the saddle, I’m reacquainted with the Thunderbird’s charms. The forward-set footpegs and the high, swept-back handlebars create the sensation of being seated on a lounger. The Thunderbird’s suspension isn’t very adept at soaking up the bumps and a softer set-up would have made the going easier. Of course, the big single’s lazy thump reassuringly encourages you to play it cool.
Up in the forests, at the very western edge of the Deccan Plateau, the sun finally starts to feel bearable and the breeze cools down. The 40-degree heat of Pune is behind us. We’ve been running over smooth, albeit narrow, dual carriageways that sweep up and down the Western Ghats. Traffic is light, and as such, the environment is perfect to sink into these motorcycles and examine the nuances that set them apart.
On these open and smooth roads, the obvious favourite should be Mahindra’s Mojo. Yes, there’s no doubt, it is the quickest and the fastest motorcycle here. Its true top speed of 143kph is nearly 15kph up on the Himalayan’s 128kph. But outright speed isn’t of prime importance for these journeys. To live up to its tourer credentials convincingly, the Mojo requires taller gearing; the current setup just doesn’t feel at ease at your typical highway speeds. A slight buzz through the ’pegs makes the going less pleasing than it could be. At an indicated 100kph, the engine feels like it’s straining at its leash to go faster, and even when you do, it doesn’t really feel satiated. The engine is best enjoyed when ridden hard, banging through the gears to keep it in the meat of the powerband like a sport bike.
The Thunderbird 500 has a true top speed of 133kph, faster than the Himalayan. But, that number is purely academic because prolonged exposure to the vibrations that emanate from the motorcycle at that pace can get annoying fairly quickly. No, seriously. Trying to keep up with the other two motorcycles as they settle into their near-triple-digit cruise speeds push the Thunderbird to the edge of its comfort zone. Instead, I dial down the pace, settle into the engine’s sweetspot and let the soul searching begin. On the Thunderbird 500, you could spend an entire day hovering below the 3,000rpm mark and never feel the ride is wasted. At a steady 80kph, with the thump for company, the Thunderbird transports you to the Zen temple you were looking for in the first place.
I hop off the Thunderbird and onto the Himalayan and it seems like they are unrelated altogether. The engine is like nothing I have seen on a new RE, as there are barely any vibrations! Even though power trails off just over 5,000rpm, you could let the rev needle sweep past the 7,000rpm mark on that small, hard-to-read dial as often as you feel like. However, one aspect of the Himalayan that annoys each one of us no end is the combustion roar from the engine. Without this coarse, unwelcome rumbling soundtrack, we all agree, we could make peace with the rather tepid horsepower.
On the road, the Himalayan feels like a lot more than the sum of its parts. Its ability to hang anywhere around 80-110kph and feel right at ease makes it immensely enjoyable. At a faster clip, you could decide to stick to 5,000rpm in fifth gear all day and not feel any worse for the wear. With enough pep in the mid-range, passing vehicles doesn’t require too much effort either.
Soon we are descending the Western Ghats, and as the road coils and writhes in front of us, all three riders go into attack mode. One serious disappointment on the Himalayan is the dull front brake. Pushed hard, they feel sorely lacking in feel and the level of effort required to get the full bite from the brakes make them tiresome. But, in every other way, the Himalayan is an ace. It steers with precision and confidence and strings corners with grace and fluidity. Although shod with Ceat’s Gripp XL on-off road tyres, the kind of lean angles the Himalayan carries are seriously impressive.
The Mojo’s front brake is also vague and inconsistent in its feel, but there is solid bite on offer from the brakes. The rear brake, in fact, faces just the opposite problem, for it needs only to be feathered gently to stop safely, as it is really prone to locking up and sending the bike into dangerously unwanted slides. The Mojo should have been the sportiest handler here, but sadly, it falls short. Around corners, the chassis’ shortcomings become all too apparent as the Mahindra bucks and weaves its way around corners. Riding it around corners smoothly is exasperating, as to counter the chassis’ vagueness, it requires quick and constant steering inputs, bravery, and ultimately, belief that the Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tyres will take care of the rest. Which, they often do, thankfully. Disappointingly, the tendency to weave can also be experienced when riding in a straight line.
The Thunderbird walks its own path at its own pace. Even when it is rushed, it is easy to appreciate the lightness and predictability of its turn in. Its front brake is also the most feelsome and makes braking into corners much easier. However, don’t expect it to corner hard as it sits much lower than the other two motorcycles.
Rocking To The Coast
As always, the descent is over before we know it and we find ourselves streaming towards the coast. The closer we get to the coast, the worse the road surface gets. At these faster speeds, the Thunderbird, although still fairly pliant, starts to feel a bit lumpy. Aside from that, its seating position and saddle do well to take the edge off the long and hot day.
On the Mojo, the day feels a bit longer than it is. Its ergonomics are a strange combination of commuter-like, forward-set foot pegs, which puts it at odds with the handlebars. The seat, we all realise, induces a sore bottom. The unresolved suspension setup doesn’t help either. Although the Mojo’s suspension muffles sharp edges and is quite absorbent at low speeds, when you go faster, it can feel quite rough and harsh over bumps.
Meanwhile, the Himalayan is pampering us. The long-travel suspension absorbs a lot of the road’s roughness with composure and some of the broken sections seem to vanish under its wheels. The seating position is perfectly judged and even at the end of a long day, its terrific ride quality would have you feeling fairly fatigue-free, a thought that’s echoed by all three of us. With impeccable straight-line stability, the Himalayan feels like a natural at long-distance travel.
The bikes are finally resting, watching the waves lapping at the shore. As I reflect on the ride and the motorcycles, it feels amply clear that the Thunderbird 500 shouldn’t be threatened by the Himalayan. If anything, it should be thankful, as it can now be comfortable in its own skin as a charming, laid-back cruiser. True, ridden back-to-back with the Himalayan, the difference in build quality is all too apparent and a sore point in what is otherwise a very enjoyable old-school cruiser.
The Mojo is a motorcycle with much promise, but whether it’s the suspension, ergonomics or the performance, this Mahindra doesn’t quite cut it as a tourer. Sure, you could argue that the Mojo is a sport tourer, but its flawed chassis puts a sizable hole in that argument.
Finally, we come to the Himalayan. This ride confirms its shortcomings and its strengths. Yes, the engine noise is absolutely annoying, the clutch is too heavy as is the brake lever, and more power would be welcome. But other than that, this package has performed as well, if not better, than expected. The Himalayan has delivered better than expected comfort, sensible, all-round performance and a chassis that amplifies its versatility. Yes, the Himalayan is imperfect, but in so many ways, it is just so right.