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  • MotoringPulse

Royal Enfield - Keeping the Old, Becoming the New

Updated: Aug 22, 2019



For over One Hundred years, Royal Enfield has been making standard motorcycles built on technology that doesn’t adhere to today’s standards. Calling it crude won’t be wrong either unless you think it is rude or disrespectful in a way. The motorcycles that the originally-British company makes can also be referred to as Classics or Roadsters.


But for the major part of its existence Royal Enfield has been an Indian company and so it is known throughout the world today. The company initially supplied motorcycles to the Indian army and the Indian police in the 1950s and soon after made available to the public. Today, in order to develop its next-gen motorcycles, RE has its most advanced technology center in UK, but every motorcycle so far has been developed and made in its Indian factory located in the state of Chennai.


LIFESPAN and the BULLET

Royal Enfield prides itself as a manufacturer with the nonstop production streak since it began in 1901. This includes the phase when the originally British company was on its way to becoming Indian as “Enfield India” in 1955. This was being done to assemble the 350cc motorcycle for the Indian market. In 1957, all the tooling equipment was sold to Enfield India to begin full-fledged production. While Royal Enfield UK continued to make motorcycles, it was eventually sold to Norton-Triumph-Villiers in 1968, with motorcycle production stopped in 1970 and the company dissolving in 1971. Clearly, Royal Enfield has not only survived in India but has grown into one of the most sought after motorcycle makers in the country.

The company’s impressive lifespan has spawned one of the longest running motorcycles – Bullet. The Bullet has become so popular over the decades that it is casually used as a synonym to the name Royal Enfield itself. Naturally, it is a standard looking motorcycle built on absolutely basic chassis and suspension with 19-inch spoke wheels front and back and a round headlamp to complete the looks. The original 350cc engine was a Cast Iron unit. This motorcycle is so barebones that even today Royal Enfield doesn’t offer it with a front disc brake.


All these years, the Bullet has been the identity of Royal Enfield leading to a faithful fan base. And even though the company has tried to refresh its lineup whenever it has seen fit, the motorcycles haven’t really evolved the right way. It’s not that the intent is not there. The “Classic” is actually a good example and a good nod to the post war motorcycles. Almost all motorcycles that RE makes are built around the Bullet. Mostly, they look different and differ a bit in the cycle parts selection, but they all get one of the two 350cc or 500cc single cylinder, air cooled engines (except Continental GT’s 535cc engine which is derived from the 500cc unit itself).


But this has been until recently. While Royal Enfield is selling more motorcycles today than it has ever managed to do, it is regularly (and rightfully) criticized for overall poor quality control and uninspiring hardware that forms its motorcycles. For quite some time now, it has been believed as a certainty that Royal Enfield cannot build an all-new motorcycle out of its comfort zone. In 2016, this belief was shaken for good.



Pic courtesy: Royal Enfield website

THE ALL-NEW MOTORCYCLE

Himalayan. In over 100 years of its existence, Royal Enfield has at last made its first ever all-new motorcycle – Himalayan. It is so different from the rest of the motorcycles that if it didn’t carry a badge, nobody would guess it for a Royal Enfield.


Why did Royal Enfield make Himalayan?

From the day the company became Indian, Enfields have been extensively used for travelling across the gigantic Himalayas and for all kinds of long rides to anywhere in the country. But in more than one ways, these motorcycles are not the most ideal choice for long hauls. Mostly, the reliability has always been questionable owing to its outdated tech and that the riders are compelled to carry more spares than for other motorcycles is also a deal-breaker for many.


Himalayan is Royal Enfield’s first true effort in changing this image. The engine is all-new, as in, it is actually fully new right from the architecture to the way it sounds. It is Enfield’s first engine with an overhead cam – Single Overhead Cam (SOHC) to be precise – making it their highest revving engine till date developing its peak power at 6,500 RPM. Other than this, the Continental GT’s 535cc engine makes its peak power at 5,100 RPM. Himalayan’s engine is 410cc.


While the Himalayan’s engine is largely air-cooled (like all other RE engines), it gets an oil cooler for an overall more efficient cooling system.


Then there is the new chassis and suspension combination, the likes of which has never been seen on any other Enfield ever. Royal Enfield calls it the half-duplex split cradle frame and again, the chassis is robot wielded unlike the ones on any other RE motorcycle. It is designed to keep the ride height low since it is primarily meant for the Indian markets.


The front and rear suspension is tuned to soak up everything that the city and the highway roads can throw at a motorcycle, and then some more. Even though the Himalayan is far from a sure-shot dirt bike, it is capable of some impressive off-road shenanigans under a skilled rider. Simultaneously, having a low-powered engine (24.5 BHP) along with a low seat height of just 800 mm, it is extremely novice-friendly as well. For me though, possibly the most impressive element of the Himalayan is its rear suspension.


We are glad to see a link-type mono suspension rather than a conventional monoshock attached directly on the swingarm. We believe that a link-type setup helps in achieving a lower seat height. Also, theoretically at least, a link-type mono suspension works better compared to the conventional setup as the linkage prevents the jolts through the road from transferring directly to the swingarm – thereby keeping the ride more stable.


That aside, Royal Enfield deserve all the praise for the Himalayan that they are getting even though the initial lot suffered from reliability and build quality issues. (This is bound to happen when a company so used to enjoying the monopoly due to the uniqueness of its motorcycles, arrogantly milking us the outdated tech, finally gets its hands dirty with modern technology).


Nevertheless, the design of the Himalayan is original. It looks unlike anything on the road especially when it is so easy to take the styling cues from so many other motorcycles, but Royal Enfield didn’t do it. It is an original product and the unsophisticated feel in its design keeps it true to the Royal Enfield roots. We like it that the Himalayan looks a bit industrial. That goes well with its nature.


IMAGE MAKEOVER

The Himalayan is much more than an all-new motorcycle for Royal Enfield. It is their conscious effort for a complete image makeover. It is the first of many future motorcycles developed in Royal Enfield’s state of the art Technology Center in UK which means that the company is (finally) serious about incorporating modern manufacturing techniques. It is a truly multipurpose motorcycle and an appropriate tool for a variety of riding styles.


This is a motorcycle meant to be ridden longer and farther than anything else in RE’s stable. For the very first time, Royal Enfield has developed a thoroughly involving motorcycle from the ground up. No other motorcycle from the company, be it the Bullet, Classic, Thunderbird or even the Continental GT, feels as much inviting to ride.


What is the meaning of all this? Everything about the Himalayan – from its development to the kind of motorcycle it is – shows that Royal Enfield is intent on having more and more people to buy and ride their motorcycles. And they want to do this without abandoning their core customers because their other motorcycles will continue to be in production. For the first time, we have felt convinced that Royal Enfield is serious about making purpose built motorcycles that actually belong in the wild.


Funnily enough, Himalayan is Royal Enfield’s first step towards modern motorcycle building. And as we are beginning to enjoy this motorcycle, Royal Enfield is lining up the launch of its most powerful 650cc twins. The Indian motorcycle manufacturer is writing some very interesting chapters in its life and we are prepared to be happily surprised even more.

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