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Royal Enfield Himalayan review, road test

20th May 2016 10:49 am

Royal Enfield claims that the Himalayan is rugged, long legged and a daily runabout, all in one package. We find out if it delivers on the promise.

  • Make : Royal Enfield
  • Model : Himalayan

The Himalayas have always been a favourite haunt for Royal Enfield riders and it was just a matter of time that the company came up with a bike that was specifically designed to tackle this terrain. Given the nature of Indian roads and highways, a mid-capacity adventure tourer that has the chops to handle the rough stuff seems like a no-brainer to appeal to the “touring bike” market in our country. But, Royal Enfield is pitching the Himalayan as a lot more than just a motorcycle for the highways. The bike maker claims that it is the ideal bike for daily duty in the city too. While our first ride around Shimla did prove the Himalayan’s off-road prowess, a thorough week-and-a-half-long test ride through the highways, twisties, city roads and occasional dirt tracks in western Maharashtra allowed us to answer the second part of that question.

When it comes to adventure motorcycle designs, more often than not, you’ll see that form follows function. Few bikes make a stronger case for this than the Himalayan. The overall design is extremely purposeful and yet, at the same time, the bike comes across as rather handsome and extremely proportionate. With its 21-inch/17-inch front/rear wheel combination, ample suspension travel and ground clearance, it has a certain go-anywhere demeanour that is almost unmatched by any other bike in the Indian market so far.

The exceedingly functional design of the Himalayan includes a neat round headlight up front, flanked by metal frames on either side, which have been specifically designed for mounting jerry cans to carry either extra fuel or water when on long-distance rides. Apart from the small, high-mounted secondary mud-guard and the rear fender, the 15-litre fuel tank is the primary part of the bike that reflects the bike’s colour scheme, which is so far only available in matte white or matte black. Our test bike was painted in white and the matte texture of the tank was a dirt magnet, but we do believe that the Himalayan looks handsomest in this colour.

The instrument cluster is a very interesting design and features multiple pods for a plethora of readouts. The large speedometer, which features a digital readout for the trip, odometer, clock, ambient temperature readout and gear position indicator, is surrounded by a smaller tachometer, fuel gauge and digital compass. You can also find a smattering of other tell-tale lights on the instrument cluster along with a button for the hazard lights. Overall, this new dashboard design looks quite good, especially with the backlights on at night, but we found the tachometer a bit difficult to decipher in broad daylight. The digital compass, in which the moving arrow always points north, while the readout indicates the direction the bike is pointing in, can be a little tricky to understand for someone who doesn’t have much experience with compasses.

Mounted in front of the instrument cluster, you can find a tall fly screen that does a pretty good job of deflecting wind away from your body when you’re doing highway speeds. The windshield has a two-step adjustment as well, although you need tools to change its height. One very interesting design touch is the frosted lower part of this windscreen which hides the wiring under the instrument cluster.

One area which Royal Enfield has nailed bang-on with the Himalayan are the ergonomics. Both the rider and pillion seat are very plush and the rider’s triangle (the relationship between the seat, the footpegs and the handlebars) makes the riding posture extremely comfortable. You’re sat fairly upright, and the wide handlebars and slightly rearset footpegs provide a great connection with the motorcycle, giving you a sense of control. And even though the bike boasts a rather large ground clearance of 220mm, the seat height itself is a fairly low 800mm, ensuring that even riders of average height can get their feet down on the ground very easily.

Now, since the Himalayan has been designed with touring in mind, Royal Enfield has really done a great job of providing some integrated luggage solutions. You can get some aluminium panniers or saddle bags from the company itself which are designed to integrate seamlessly into the bike, or even mount your own luggage on provided mounting points. One bone that we have to pick with the Himalayan here is the design of the sari guard, which shares its mounting bolts with the chain guard. During our rigorous test ride, one part of the sari guard broke off, and not only did the tool kit not have the right sized Allen key to fit its bolts, once we did manage to take the sari guard off, we realised that the chain guard was impossible to mount back without the use of collared washers. But apart from this one niggle, the Himalayan is really well put together, managing to feel a lot more solid than any other bike from Royal Enfield so far.

Powering the Himalayan is Royal Enfield’s all-new LS410 engine. This air-cooled four-stroke motor boasts a cubic capacity of 411cc and the chain-driven overhead cam (OHC) architecture in the head is a radical departure from the pushrod-driven valve system prevalent on all of RE’s engines thus far. This switch to OHC allows this motor to rev higher than any of the company’s other engines (with a redline now at around 7600rpm). Peak power of the LS410 is 24.5hp at 6500rpm and a peak torque figure of 32Nm is made at 4000-4500rpm. As another departure from the RE convention, a shift to an external oil-cooling system has contributed to improved reliability of the motor and increased oil-change intervals to a whopping 10,000km! At the same time, Royal Enfield has focused on ridability and has stuck to what the manufacturer knows best, by maintaining a long-stroke configuration for the motor along with a two-valve head. This has kept the motor from becoming peaky in its power delivery and has allowed for more usable power and better low and mid-range torque.

With this new motor, the Himalayan is reasonably quick off the line. Zero to 60kph is disposed off in 4.10 seconds while the 100kph-mark comes up in 10.80 seconds. And these figures were despite the fact that our test bike’s clutch was slipping when doing an aggressive launch. If the slip were to be eliminated, we have no doubt that these performance figures can be easily improved upon. Now, in a broader perspective, these figures might only be comparable to today’s sporty 200cc single-cylinder offerings in the Indian market, the Himalayan can take solace in the fact that it is the quickest Royal Enfield at the moment.

On the highway, the bike can easily maintain a cruise speed of 90-110kph in fifth gear with the throttle only about half open, which leaves you enough juice to twist it and go for a quick overtake whenever you need to. And at these speeds, this engine feels surprisingly smooth, thanks to the use of a counter balancer on the crankshaft. In fact, there are barely any vibrations to speak of even when you have it bouncing off the limiter. However, any faster than 120kph and the motor really starts to feel strained. Here, we feel, an inclusion of a sixth gear would have really worked wonders in letting the bike feel even more unstressed at triple-digit highway speeds.

The motor’s biggest strength lies in its creamy spread of torque. Right from 2000rpm, the engine responds really well to any throttle input, although past 5000rpm, this response does start to diminish. Because of this, even in higher gears, roll-on acceleration from low speeds is quite strong. In fourth gear, the Himalayan can get from 30 to 50kph in just 3.86 seconds, while in fifth, it can get from 50 to 70kph in 4.68 seconds. This wide torque band is quite useful even when you’re riding off the road, as it becomes easy to keep the motor in its generous sweet spot, propelling it through the loose stuff with relative effortlessness. And there’s plenty of torque on tap to let the back wheel slide through off-road corners like an absolute boss.

But, one area where the motor feels like it falls short is in the noise it makes. Now, don’t get us wrong, the exhaust note is actually quite good. It’s the noise emanating from the engine itself, especially when you add load, which sounds like it’s knocking, and that certainly isn’t pleasing to the rider’s ears. While the Himalayan’s five-speed gearbox provides positive upshifts, it does tend to feel notchy when downshifting. But we think this has more to do with the inconsistent clutch action rather than the gearbox itself. Not only was the feel at the clutch lever heavy, there was a feeling that it wasn’t engaging and disengaging completely, leading to imprecise downshifts.

This new motor’s 24.5hp is a little on the lower side. And it is true that when compared to some of its contemporaries, the LS410 motor under-delivers with regards to its cubic capacity. While an extra 5 or 10hp would’ve always felt welcome, and might just have elevated the Himalayan to an even higher level, we honestly feel that the bike can do quite a bit with what power it already has. When you ride it around for a bit and discover this motor’s enjoyable, laid-back nature, there’s rarely a desperate craving for more horsepower. For the week or so I had the Himalayan with me for this test, I found myself gravitating towards it for pretty much all my riding needs, despite having faster motorcycles in the garage.

When it comes to handling, Royal Enfield has delivered bikes that are capable, though not exemplary. With the Himalayan, Royal Enfield takes the game to the next level. Harris Performance, the creators of the dual cradle frame for the Continental GT, now a part of the RE family, were tasked with creating this chassis as well. The half-duplex split cradle frame and the long travel suspension come together to create magic. Its on-road manners are truly exceptional, whether you’re riding through bumper-to-bumper city traffic, out on the open highway or carving some corners through the twisties.

The large, 21-inch front wheel affords the bike massive amounts of stability in a straight line, though this means that getting the Himalayan to change direction quickly at speed exceeding 80kph takes a bit of effort at the handlebars. Thankfully, the handlebars are wide enough to provide plenty of leverage. This means it can just cruise down the highway feeling absolutely rock solid, with no worries of anything upsetting the bike. This stability is also a boon in the corners. Granted that quickly steering from one corner to the next requires the rider to work the 'bars, but once steered into a turn, the bike stays absolutely planted and gives you oodles of confidence to carry ridiculous lean angles. And it can do this despite the fact that it’s running off-road biased Ceat tyres (90/90 at the front and 120/90 at the rear) – their grip on the road is just shockingly high! When you slow things down, there’s also generous amounts of steering lock to make the task of manoeuvring through traffic and other tight spaces an absolute breeze.

As impressive as the on-road manners are, the Himalayan has also been engineered with some off-roading in mind, as evidenced by its 220mm ground clearance and long-travel suspension. The fat 41mm conventional front forks provide 200mm of travel while the linked monoshock affords the rear 180mm of travel. It’s not just the sheer suspension travel that’s impressive, but also the way it’s been set up. Ride quality at slow speeds does feel a tad on the firmer side, but the suspension’s ability to soak up almost any sized bumps and potholes that the roads can throw at it, is nothing short of remarkable. It’s this ability to unflinchingly take big hits that makes the Himalayan great to ride off the beaten path as well. Even standing on the pegs while riding over rough terrain is no problem at all, thanks to the wide part of the frame right over the pegs providing plenty of area to lock on to with you calves. While it has the surefootedness of a mountain goat when it comes to tackling the rough stuff, the bike’s ample 182kg kerb weight can sometimes throw a damp cloth on the festivities. Tossing it around willy-nilly in the dirt requires a methodical approach when carving the right path through the loose stuff.

With all its abilities, one aspect of the Himalayan that didn’t meet expectations was braking. The front brake, with its 300mm disc and twin-pot calipers, felt sorely lacking in feel at the lever. While there was adequate bite for the most part, the inconsistent feel was compounded by the fact that the lever pull was a lot harder than expected. This certainly has a tendency of leaving your right forearm strained after some continuous heavy braking. And it is a major hindrance when braking off the road, as it becomes rather difficult to predict exactly when the front will lock up. On the other hand, the rear 240mm disc brake provides solid braking when on tarmac, but feels a little too sharp when off-roading. There’s no ABS to speak of, even as an option, but it’s a feature that’s missed more on the dirt than on the road.

One minor annoyance when riding off-road was the main stand. This stand actually robs some of the Himalayan’s ground clearance and has a habit of clanging on bigger rocks or snagging on dirt mounds. It’s something that needs to be removed before taking on any serious off-tarmac excursions.

When pootling about in the city, through what inadvertently was bumper-to-bumper traffic, the Himalayan returned a fuel efficiency of 31kpl, which really isn’t too bad at all. On the open highways, the Himalayan delivered a marginally better 34.6kpl. However, a sixth gear would permit the bike to cruise at highway speeds with the engine revving at lower rpm, and boost fuel efficiency.

The Himalayan plays in a segment in the Indian market that has recently seen a lot of interest from potential buyers. A bike that can cruise easily on the highway, is comfortable for the long haul and can tackle the worst Indian roads can throw at it with aplomb, makes for the perfect sort of touring motorcycle in our unique conditions. And the beauty of the Himalayan is that Royal Enfield has delivered on all these aspects for the most parts, price included; which stands at a very attractive Rs 1.55-lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). To top things off, it works exceptionally well in the Indian urban landscape as well, making short work of any commute thanks to its comfortable seating and manoeuvrability. Yes, there are flaws, such as the rough engine noise and the unpredictable and heavy front brake. But for the most part, it's fairly easy to overlook these. Modern Royal Enfields haven't been taken too seriously with regards to their ability to upset the order in the Indian market and have been regarded as bikes for hardcore loyalists of the company. But the Himalayan is different and its appeal is a lot more universal. We feel it really is a game changer as we haven't seen a bike in India so far that has delivered so much in so many areas. It might not be the best in each individual aspect, but as an overall package, it really is hard to deny the strength of the sum of all its abilities.

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