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Royal Enfield Himalayan Ownership Experience: Easy Going, Capable, Frustrating, & a Badass

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Royal Enfield Himalayan
Royal Enfield Himalayan

It’s been well over a year and a half since I have a Royal Enfield Himalayan. I bought it brand new in July 2019 - it’s a BS4 version with fuel injection and non-switchable ABS. Against the latest BS6 version, my Himalayan gains and loses in a few areas. The new one has a tripper, which basically shows the direction to your destination and switchable ABS that can be turned off at the rear wheel. Also, it has slightly redesigned side grills to better accommodate the legs of taller riders (not my concern, I’m 5’7). Among these, the switchable ABS is something I’d like to have, but the difference that matters to me most is that my Himalayan weighs 191 kg - that’s eight kg lighter than the BS6 version.

This is my second Royal Enfield. My first one is a Bullet Electra 5S which is still parked in my garage and hasn’t been ridden for a few years now. While the Bullet is a reminder of where the company had been stuck for a long time, the Himalayan is the sign of progress, the first fundamental shift. With the Interceptor and the Continental GT 650, RE is setting the bar even higher for itself and the Indian motorcycle industry as a whole. Owning a Bullet made me realise that it was indeed infatuation what I thought was love. It made me realise how flawed that motorcycle is and how stubborn RE had been in moving on. Anyway, thanks to the Himalayan and the 650 twins, I have actually started to believe that Royal Enfield is capable of making good and desirable motorcycles.

Why did I buy a Himalayan?

Royal Enfield Himalayan
RE Himalayan is a looker without a doubt

I had a 2015 KTM RC390 which I rode till July 2019, that’s when I went for the Himalayan. The RC was a great bike, it was the sportiest bike I had owned, and it is still the most aggressive one in its segment.

The KTM was great fun and well-equipped with upside-down front forks, aluminium swing-arm and radial mounted front brake callipers. The overall performance was something that could envy anyone within the same segment. But after riding it for four years, I wanted a different riding experience, especially in terms of comfort. I decided to replace it.

The Himalayan wasn’t my only choice and I was also looking at the Interceptor and one of the Dukes. In the end, I settled for the Himalayan because - I wanted to see how an adventure bike feels and the Himalayan was not only easy to get in every sense, it is capable, and it looks pretty good too.

It was clear I was more excited about the upcoming riding experience on an adventure bike than anything else. That feeling alone was almost most important to me. So, here comes the Himalayan, in ‘Snow,’ that’s a matte white!

The first day experience

Royal Enfield Himalayan
Looks good anywhere you park it. Here, the Rashtrapati Bhawan is in backdrop.

I live in Delhi and the showroom I bought it from is surrounded by a packed residential colony and there’s a flyover within a couple of kilometers away. The monsoon season was upon us, rain clouds were spread like a blanket, and I was hoping there would be no rain as I didn’t want my new motorcycle to get wet on the first day itself. In India, if you’re out on the road on a rainy day, you just don’t get wet, you get covered by the muck as well. And I really, really didn’t want that to happen to my new motorcycle.

Anyway, I rode away and straightaway found myself in a traffic jam, something you don’t want to get into on a brand new motorcycle. My wife was sitting behind me and the Himalayan was every bit of fresh air. We both felt so comfortable on it that the stop-n-go movement didn’t bother us. But you don’t want to stay in traffic, so we exited the road and took a narrow residential lane which was hardly well-maintained. And while we were naturally going quite slowly, the Himalayan just glided over everything.

The suspension felt well sorted and especially with the extra weight of the pillion, the rear link-type shocker felt fantastically tight. It was smooth, I could feel it wasn’t going to bottom out at all and it carried the pillion like its second nature. Especially after experiencing the RC, my wife wasted no time in telling me how comfortable the Himalayan felt to her.

What impressed me most was when it started to climb the flyover. I mean, it’s a normal city flyover, there’s nothing remotely extreme about it. Yet, the ease with which the Himalayan pulled on the incline, at about 30 kph in fourth gear with a pillion, was so obvious that it couldn’t be ignored. Instantly, I mentioned the same to my wife. The easy-going and effortless nature of RE’s new single was as clear as the daylight to me. This engine is leaps and bounds better than everything else made before it. And this is another great example of how different engines make power, or in this case, torque.

Royal Enfield Himalayan
Royal Enfield's first single cylinder engine which is good.

The Himalayan makes 32 NM of torque between 4,000 RPM and 4,500 RPM. On the other hand, the RC390 makes more torque - 35 NM - which it makes at higher RPMs. Most of all, the Himalayan’s 411cc 2-valve single is a long-stroke engine (more Stroke, less Bore) with 86 mm Stroke and 78 mm Bore. Now, long-stroke engines are, by nature, better when torque is a priority over high revs. The RC390’s engine is a short-stroke engine with 60 mm Stroke and 89 mm Bore and this architecture is preferable when high-revs are a priority over maximum torque. Of course, these are the basic characteristics of different engine architectures and the quality of parts, construction, and the overall tuning of an engine decide how it performs in the end.

It was an impressive first ride on my new Himalayan. There was no unnecessary sound or clattering noise, only the pure rumbling exhaust note. For the money, the Himalayan is a motorcycle that’s put together quite well, better than anything else before it.

Around 13,000 km and almost two years later

Royal Enfield Himalayan
Handles better than you might think it does.

It has now been nearly two years that I’m riding the Himalayan and I can say it has more or less lived up to my expectations. In some cases, it has done better, in others, not so much.

I have covered around 13,000 km on it and the ongoing pandemic has put a brake on the progress for a good few months now. That’s just sad. That aside, most of my riding has been the daily office commutes and the leisure rides on weekends. I have done an 800 km trip to Binsar and back. I wanted to do a couple of more such trips at least during this time but they’ll have to wait anyway. Hopefully, the situation will get better soon enough and we will be riding again. Missing it all so much.

One of my earliest observations, and the one that I’m constantly reminded of, is how well the bike handles in traffic. At 191 kg, the Himalayan isn’t really lightweight, but it is not a big motorcycle as such. There is enough space and I feel the wheelbase is short enough (even though it’s longer than the Adv 390 & the G310 GS), making it responsive to rider inputs. The 21-inch front wheel never really poses a problem even when navigating through tight traffic. It is easy to manoeuvre and its surefootedness further increases rider confidence while moving between other vehicles.

I strongly feel that putting a link-type mono-suspension at the back is one of the best decisions RE has taken with the Himalayan. It keeps the motorcycle composed over uneven and unpredictable road surfaces. This behaviour contributes to its handling. The motorcycle sticks to the road nicely and the rear suspension doesn’t squat while cornering. By nature, link-type suspensions are more progressive and better at preventing shock transfers to the chassis. So they generally do a better job at keeping the bike stable. Once again, these are the basics of the set up and it is imperative that the shocker is tuned well enough to do its job. But the simplicity of the rear shocker tells you everything about how good and effective a link-type set up is. Overall, it is a confidence inspiring ride.

Royal Enfield Himalayan
Pretty good riding position there.

Another display of how well the basic chassis and suspension are in sync with each other is when you lean into corners. Whether it is tight, twisty mountain roads or long sweeping corners, the Himalayan just feels good. I weigh around 70 kg and I haven’t felt the need to change the stock preload setting yet for road riding. The ergonomics are good - with the seat height of only 800 mm, you sit low with an easy reach to the ground and due to the nice upward curve of the 15-liter fuel tank, you feel like you’re sitting in the bike rather than on it. This creates a big-bike impression of what is otherwise one of the smallest adventure motorcycles in the world.

It is commendable that for their first ever adventure motorcycle, Royal Enfield has got the basics right at least. And the company is showing that it's learning from its mistakes and is ready to build better and likeable motorcycles. The Himalayan was introduced with great expectations but the original BS3 version suffered from serious issues - gear shifts would become extremely hard, the front end felt unnecessarily heavy, there were build quality issues with questionable construction right down to the chassis - that didn’t do much to improve RE’s dodgy reputation. The production felt rushed and it seemed that the bike wasn’t properly tested in the real-world conditions raising questions about RE’s quality control.

But something had changed within Royal Enfield as for the first time it felt like the company was not prepared to let this one go out of hand. The uproar surrounding the issues in the Himalayan was enough to make RE halt the production and sale of BS3 version much before the scheduled launch of the BS4 variant.

I, of course, waited patiently for the “improved” Himalayan which also promised better features such as the fuel-injection and the two-channel ABS. Personally, I do like to wait around a year before going for an all-new motorcycle because I expect them to have issues. And it’s with more or less every manufacturer. The first year gives companies the time to fix any manufacturing defects with the bike, at least the major ones. Anyway, I never thought of buying a Himalayan at the time of its launch. It didn’t floor me in any way and it wasn't love at first sight! But yes, it was the first RE that I liked from the beginning. And it also convinced me, eventually, that the company is finally starting to change for the better.

But this motorcycle has some issues that tend to spoil its long term experience. The biggest of them is the front brake. It is just not strong enough. The bite isn’t there and you need a firm squeeze to get close to the desired result. What this means is that you can’t rely on them especially in emergency situations and the Himalayan is a fine example that you need to use both the brakes regularly for effective braking. The only salvaging point for the front brake is there’s enough feedback to tell you how badly it’s working so that you know you can’t depend on it alone. The rear brake is not such a problem.

This is another reason why engine braking is even more important when slowing down or bringing the Himalayan to a stop from high speeds. At anything above city speeds and especially moving at 100 kph plus, engine braking is a critical factor in the overall good braking performance. You must understand, though, it is a gentle engine capable of cruising around 110 kph comfortably all day long whose soft state of tune doesn’t naturally create any engine braking. The engine is as slow in slowing down as it is in speeding up! You will have to downshift aggressively to build engine braking depending on what speed and gear you’re in.

What it all means is you have to carefully plan your braking as well as overtakes when riding on the highways. In a dense traffic situation where it is challenging to see far ahead, it is better to watch your speed in order to avoid panic braking. This is truer in the case of the Himalayan.

Then, it is the rider seat which is pretty good for normal daily commutes and short rides. But for touring, it gets a bit uncomfortable for the inner thighs. Also, while the seat is well padded, the shape is not completely ideal. It has a scooped shape which doesn’t allow you to move back and forth at all and that is a problem on longer rides especially if you start to get a bit sore. On my Delhi-Binsar-Delhi ride, I was accompanied by my brother who has a Duke 390 and as far as the seat is concerned, he was happier than I was on my Himalayan. Indeed, the Duke’s seat is better than it seems even on long rides. Compared to Himalayan’s, it is wider, equally well-padded if not better, and has a flat profile which allows you to move around easily. That particular ride was a good direct comparison of the seating comfort on both the bikes and we felt that the Duke’s seat was better.

Other than this, I started facing battery issues after one and a half years. The battery has gone down completely twice and I have never left the bike idle for more than three weeks. In my experience, that shouldn’t happen. It didn’t happen with the RC 390 that I had and my brother’s Duke 390 starts in a single crank even after a month of no riding. And RE’s service centre’s attitude is casual to say the least. According to them, this is absolutely normal!

The halogen headlight is also underwhelming. While it is borderline acceptable in the city, it is just poor if you have to ride at night on the mountain roads with no street lights or any other ambient light for assistance. An LED or projector light would improve lighting but I’ve noticed that stock headlights are generally inadequate in pitch dark situations that you can easily encounter in the mountains and many other places.

Royal Enfield Himalayan
If you take it easy, the Himalayan will take you through some pretty rough terrain.

Coming back to the suspension again, even though it is great for normal riding, touring, and soft off-roading, the bike is not designed to be a serious off-roader. And I feel this is something that some riders often forget. They simply overestimate Himalayan’s capability off-road. You must understand that this is an adventure motorcycle, not a dirt or an off-road motorcycle. This bike is not designed for jumps even when many videos continue to show the same. There’s a fine line here. You can, of course, have your front wheel airborne occasionally while tackling an off-road course; but, be smooth overall. Another thing, the 220 mm ground clearance is fantastic for normal riding and casual trail riding, but it falls short if you want to do serious off-roading. I have tried trail riding only a few times and even then on two occasions, the linkage of the rear shocker managed to hit some stone or bump protruding from the surface. It is not a rarity to get into such situations with the Himalayan.

The Himalayan is an adventure motorcycle designed to be easily approachable for maximum riders with a low seat height and a gentle single cylinder engine. Its suspension is tuned to handle bad roads and non-technical off-road sections with ease. There have been some reports of the Himalayan’s chassis cracking and breaking up at the triple clamp. Frankly, I’m not sure of the reasons behind it and I haven’t tried to find out, but I have been riding my Himalayan quite extensively and the bike is holding up well.

The overall fit-n-finish is acceptable, although it does appear unsophisticated overall. It is a proof that so many people admire and seek simplicity and industrial looks in a motorcycle. There are flaws, but overall, the bike just works well. If you’re gentle with it, the Himalayan will let you explore far and beyond. And among the ultra high end, fast, and powerful motorcycles that continue to break the technology barrier with every new launch, it has a place of its own.

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