When most of us think of Royal Enfield, we imagine the venerable single-cylinder, overhead-valve Bullet or Classic, somewhat quirky, retro-classic bikes with British roots in the 1950s. Those bikes are still staples in Royal Enfield's lineup, but the Indian company has been busy the past few years, remaking itself to take advantage of changing markets in the U.S. and its home country and staking its future on dominating the mid-capacity category.
2014 saw the introduction of the café racer Continental GT. RE India's first sporting single, it boasted a completely new chassis designed by Les Harris in England housing an enlarged, 535cc version of RE's familiar 500cc overhead valve single. Two years ago, RE pulled the wraps off the Himalayan, a completely new model sharing absolutely nothing with previous bikes other than its Royal Enfield badge, and this past March RE started shipping the new model to the U.S.
Aimed squarely at the growing "adventure" market, the Himalayan was designed to offer on- and offroad capability in a mid-sized package. Power comes from a new overhead cam (RE's first), fuel injected 411cc single. Rated at 24.5 horsepower, the unit construction engine features electronic ignition and a 5-speed transmission, with disc brakes front and rear.
A recent weekend aboard a Himalayan left impressions of a competent, well-sorted machine. Swinging a leg over the bike and settling in, the comfortable 31.5-inch seat height, which lets the average rider (I'm 5 feet 11 inches) plant their feet firmly on the ground, is immediately appreciated. The upright handlebar provides a classic and comfortable sit-up-and-beg riding position, and the ergonomics are excellent. Handlebar switchgear is simple and intuitive, and the instruments are easily deciphered. A large analog speedometer and smaller analog tachometer provide critical road and engine speed information. A digital panel in the lower third of the speedo shows total mileage and provides two resettable trip meters. It also shows ambient temperature, time and gear position, and there's a separate green neutral light in the panel between the speedo and tach. The cluster also features a fuel gauge and compass in the lower right hand corner. The compass on my bike was erratic, but as I later discovered that was likely due to me setting my tank bag with its magnetic holders on top of the cluster while refilling the tank, and it's easily reset.
My test bike was equipped with a set of Nelson-Rigg waterproof saddlebags, and optional aluminum panniers are available. The saddlebags had me standing on the left footpeg to swing my leg over the saddle getting on and off, but the Himalayan's sturdy sidestand (it also has a centerstand) appears to have been made in anticipation of that minor bit of gymnastics.
Starting is a simple matter of turning the key and hitting the button, the engine firing immediately and settling into a steady idle. A cold idle lever next to the left grip keeps rpms up when it's cold, but it was unnecessary in the 50-70 degree F temps I rode in.
Given its relatively small engine displacement, I expected lackluster performance, but the counter-balanced 411cc single is a willing performer, endowed with a nice, broad torque curve that makes takeoffs effortless and provides enough grunt for low- and midspeed takeovers. I managed a top speed of 80mph, yet during a 15-mile stretch of Interstate the Himalayan cruised effortlessly at an indicated 70mph, the engine humming along smoothly and seemingly unstressed. The bike's sweet spot is in the 60-65mph range, the engine running at 4,000- 4,500rpm, which is right where it hits its peak torque of 24 ft/lb. Redline is 6,500rpm.
The 5-speed transmission works flawlessly, with clean, crisp shifts between every gear and no false neutrals, and the well-chosen gear ratios take good advantage of the engine's mid-range strength. Dropping from fifth to fourth at 60-65mph produced perfectly adequate power for passing slower vehicles on the Wisconsin back roads I rode for most of my time. Gas mileage was very good at 60mpg.
The twin discs pull the Himalayan down from speed easily, aided no doubt by the bike's relatively light weight (RE claims 401 pounds wet), but the front brake feels soft, requiring a bit more pull than expected. It all works fine, it's just missing the progressive braking feel I prefer.
Light and agile, the Himalayan is an easy handling bike. The wide bars give good leverage for initiating turns and the Pirelli MT60 tires stick well, rain or shine. A 35-mile ride in pouring rain was utterly without drama, the small windscreen reducing buffeting while also helping to keep my tank bag dry.
The suspension is low tech but works well, with almost 8 inches of travel up front and 7 inches at the rear, numbers that should make it a relatively capable performer in the dirt. I can't speak directly to the Himalayan's offroad prowess, as outside of a few miles of gravel road my ride didn't present any options for even light trail riding.
Priced at $4,495, the Himalayan represents fun, affordable motorcycling, and buyers are lining up. Bolstering RE's assessment of the market in the U.S. for a mid-capacity adventure bike, the third shipment of Himalayans is already sold out. Easy to ride and especially appealing to new riders eager to join the adventure category, it's a solid, nicely performing machine that can also satisfy old hands.