Fast forward to 2010: Royal Enfield is finally selling bikes in California. I immediately went to my local dealership to test one out and relive my youth, and…I couldn’t believe it was the same bike. At the time I was riding a BMW K75C and the Bullet felt like a toy.
My test ride was a disappointment, but it was entirely my fault – I had the wrong expectations. I chalked it up to the classic rule of “don’t meet your heroes”, and then I pretty much gave up on RE’s offerings in the US. Over a decade later, the company announced an all-new model, and I was intrigued by the idea of a low-cost adventure bike. So with all that said, I’m warning you – I really wanted to like this bike. No, I wanted to love this bike. Was my optimism rewarded?
Last year, I discovered Reward Mine as part of a story with the LA Times in the White Mountains. Since then, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to take some friends back there. Seeing as the Himalayan is supposed to be all about cost-effective exploration, I figured my excuse had finally arrived. I invited Nathan, his wife Ellen, and a few other friends to check out Reward. We had two goals: see if the Himalayan could make it to the destination and then experiment with some fun images inside of the mine. Come along for the trip and see how the Himalayan did in the process!
The Himalayan comes equipped with luggage racks, but we needed something a bit bigger to carry the whole crew plus all of their camera equipment and camping gear. The kind folks over at Toyota loaned us a Tacoma TRD Off-Road to solve that problem, so I’d just like to give them a special thank you for the assist. Nathan will have a review on the site later of what the Tacoma was like as a motorcycle support rig compared to his usual battlewagon, a 2015 4Runner.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss Royal Enfield’s newest creation!
What I don’t like:
The best production bike Royal Enfield has built in decades. But what does that title mean when you're competing with BMW, Honda, and Kawasaki? The Himalayan is a competent backcountry exploration tool that's efficient, unique, and fun. It's also slow, and while that isn't an issue when you're out in the wilderness, it's a pain when you're on the freeway trying to get to the good stuff. That's a dealbreaker for me - my personal situation requires lots of time on the interstate before I can hit the dirt, so I would go with the Versys-X 300. But if your adventures are local (or you don't mind cruising at 65), I think the Himalayan is the most interesting option.Check out the Royal Enfield Himalayan!
Photos by Nathan May.
The standout number with the Himalayan is price. $4,499 is damn cheap. Consider what the Himalayan’s competition would set you back:
For even more of a pricing perspective, remember that Honda wants $3,999 for the upcoming 125cc Monkey (review here), a bike that California will not allow on freeways because it’s too small and too slow. Give Royal Enfield just $500 more and you’ll have a bike that can go anywhere…in theory.
Some specifications were changed from the Indian bike to better suit American riders, such as fuel injection in lieu of carbs, but you must remind yourself that this bike was designed for a country where 60% of the roads are rural and over 60% of those rural roads are unpaved.
So just be mindful of who and what this bike was built for. Will that be helpful when you’re struggling to pass someone doing 75 mph? No, not really. But context is important!
What does $4,500 buy you? For starters, it gets you RE’s first all-new motor since 1955. Output numbers are 24.5 horsepower (I guess when you’re looking at less than 30, you claim the .5) at 6,500 rpm and 24.6 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm. Redline is at 6,700 rpm. The power number isn’t impressive, but the torque figure is pretty good compared to what the rivals make – 16.7 lb-ft from the Honda, 19.2 lb-ft from the Kawasaki, and 20.7 lb-ft from the BMW. That’s encouraging, though the Himalayan is a little porkier than the competition with a curb weight of 421 pounds.
Take “Long Stroke” and round the 411cc displacement down to get the motor’s nickname of LS410. It’s the first Indian-built RE with a counterbalancer as well as an oil cooler to help with vibration and heat, respectively.
The list of firsts doesn’t end with the motor – the Himalayan also represents RE’s first implementation of a monoshock. This may be more interesting than the motor tidbit to some of you, as certain riders know that when it comes to an adventure bike, the engine can be incredible but it won’t matter if the suspension is garbage. Budget bikes like this typically scrimp on forks and the shock, but the Himalayan gives you 7.9/7.1 inches of travel front and rear. Plus, you off-road types will appreciate that the wheels are 21″ front and 17″ rear so there’s lots of options for more aggressive rubber once you burn through the first set of tires.
In general, the specifications are what you’d expect for the entry price. It’s no world-beater, but no reasonable person is expecting that. I’m just hoping the Himalayan lives up to its slogan: “Built for all roads, built for no roads“. Going to Reward Mine will be a suitable test, as it requires the Enfield to conquer freeways, 2-lane routes, graded dirt roads, rocky trails, and of course, going inside the mine itself. But before we hit the road, there’s one last thing…
Because the motor design is simple, the LS410 valves are thankfully adjusted with screws and locknuts instead of dealing with shims. I didn’t have to worry about it during my time with the bike, but I know I would find this annoying if I owned one because I’m not much of a mechanic and I’m lazy when it comes to bike maintenance. You may feel differently. An additional 30-60 minutes during each oil change is time I should be spending finding bikes for you to buy, right?
Leaving Los Angeles with the goal of achieving solitude typically requires a few hours of droning on the highway, and this trip will be no different. Reward Mine is 225 miles away from my front door, and all but 8 of those miles will be on pavement, usually with a speed limit above 65. This is going to be the tedious part of the journey, but I have to suffer through it to get to the good stuff. At sea level on flat ground, the Himalayan is content to cruise at 75 miles per hour, and I don’t have anything to complain about.
If anything, I’m pleasantly surprised. I thought I was going to hate the highway slog but the motor is keeping up and my 6’2″ frame is tremendously comfortable thanks to a plush seat and upright riding position. When I first sat on the Himalayan, I thought the handlebars and tank were too narrow. After just a few minutes on the road, they feel like my new normal. It’s an excellent place to sit for hours at a time, and I only found one minor issue: my knees would bump the tank racks fairly frequently. Later on I would realize it was partially due to the Roadcrafter I was wearing with its bulky knee armor. Wearing thinner gear such as armored jeans eliminated the problem, and if you’re shorter than me, you probably wouldn’t encounter any troubles, no matter what you wear.
As I head north, the elevation rises and the wind speed picks up dramatically. The stock windscreen isn’t particularly large but it is effective at blocking the wind from attacking my chest. Unfortunately, it’s not able to help with 20+ mph crosswinds, which force me to ride at an angle even though the wheels are tracking straight.
The elevation also brings the Himalayan’s power output into the crosshairs. As you know, oxygen concentration in the atmosphere decreases as you get higher, and that will have an effect on how your oxygen-dependent internal combustion engine will run. Did you know there’s a rough formula to calculate how much horsepower you lose with altitude? It’s (elevation in feet x 0.03 x horsepower at sea level)/1000. So as I head north through Mojave and the elevation approaches 3,000 feet, it’s like 2 of the 24 horses have passed away. It may not be a huge difference, and it’s definitely not a RE-specific problem, but as I’m trying to ride uphill fighting a headwind at elevation, I can no longer maintain 75 miles per hour. In fact, I can’t keep the speedometer needle pegged at 65. I have to downshift to 4th gear (the transmission has 5 speeds) just to be able to hold steady at 55. Now things are starting to feel tedious.
At this point, some of you are saying, “Duh”. The slog of highway miles is obviously going to be the weakest part of the Himalayan, so hopefully you won’t have to cover too many to get to the fun stuff. I don’t want to belabor the point, so I’ll just say that I hope Enfield considers slapping their upcoming 650cc twin into this package in the future. Back in the present, the Himalayan gets where I want to go, just slowly. The good news is that the motor sat just shy of redline for hours at a time with no problem at all in terms of performance or vibration – the counterbalancer works very well.
I didn’t have to use the brakes on the highway very much, but I wasn’t very happy with the front setup. In my “Out of Office” post, someone asked about the brakes and my response was, “I often hear about ‘wooden’ brake feel in reviews, and I never really knew what that meant until now.” You have to really exert your will on the front brake lever to stop. I thought the rear brake was just fine. The braking system is from ByBre (Brembo’s Indian sub-brand for small displacement bikes). BMW uses the same manufacturer for the G310R/GS, and I thought those brakes were more than adequate.
I can’t emphasize enough how comfortable I was on the Himalayan. It took about 5 hours to get to the turnoff for Reward Mine, and I felt like I could have doubled that seat time and still felt good. In fact, the only ergonomic issue I had was with my right wrist, simply because I basically had to have it pinned the whole time. But it was all worth it, because I was rewarded with a hell of a view.
Royal Enfield’s CEO, Siddartha Lal, describes the Himalayas as “an escape…it’s beauty, it’s hundreds and hundreds of square kilometers of barren land, of craggy mountains, of gorges”. Our playground was the Sierra Nevada mountain range – they’re only half the height of the Himalayas, but the similarities are evident.
But height is not the axis I’m worried about – today is about depth into the mine. So we turn east towards the Inyo Mountains on a road that connects the former Manzanar internment camp and the former town of Reward: it’s the imaginatively-named Manzanar-Reward Road!
Finally, I get some dirt on the Pirelli MT60 enduro tires – this is where the Himalayan should excel. Despite the $4,499 MSRP, this bike comes standard with features you won’t see on ADV bikes that are twice the price, including a centerstand, front and rear luggage racks, and an aluminum skid plate.
Within a quarter of a mile, the road bisects two intersecting runways of approximately 5,000 feet each. It seems as if a top speed run is in order. One runway shows the ravages of time while the other seems to still be in decent shape, making the decision of which strip of pavement to exploit an easy one. A slow scouting run doesn’t reveal any serious issues with the surface, so I tentatively line up at the southern end.
My AGV AX-8 Evo Naked helmet has a jet-fighter feel to it, and I’m tucked into the cockpit of the Himalayan with my one-piece Aerostich suit. Barreling down a runway with the throttle wide open, I momentarily feel like I’m a pilot that’s about to take off. The dream is impolitely interrupted when the motor kisses redline in 5th gear. A quick glance at the speedometer reveals a very un-jet-like speed of 85 miles per hour. I’m not concerned – my time on the highway made it clear that top speed is not the priority here. This bike is about having an adventure, and how often do you get to hit Vmax on a runway?
It’s an enjoyable diversion, but the dirt road calls my name. It’s in such nice shape that it presents no challenge to the Enfield, and soon I’m flirting with runway-level speeds again. Some sections of washboard provide the Himalayan’s suspension with its first test, and at this speed the soft shocks use up a lot of stroke to keep the rider comfortable. The rare hard bump demands more than the suspension can offer and sends some impact energy into my joints, but if I’m being honest with myself, I should probably be going slower. The road continues in this condition for 5 miles, and I find myself wondering why I brought a dual-sport to ride something that a Toyota Camry would have no problem tackling.
The off-road gods hear my complaint and reward me with an instantaneous change of terrain. The flat-graded dirt road gives way to an uphill doubletrack infested with rocks, and now it feels like a proper adventure. It also feels like I may not have brought enough spare tubes. At least I won’t see any Camrys.
On paper the Himalayan is built for this kind of stuff, but I start off slow. The Enfield isn’t fazed – it just lazily plods up and over rocks with such ease that, at one point, I refer to it as a billy goat. After a successful scouting run, I turn around and head back down the hill. This is too easy, and I want to see how the bike handles the trail when I’m being more aggressive. I go up and down the trail multiple times, and my speed increases dramatically as my confidence in the bike improves and as I learn the best line through the tougher portions of what I now consider my personal obstacle course.
My fifth run up feels like a personal best, and I savor the final slalom through rocks bigger than the radius of the 21” front wheel until my left foot reaches for an upshift and grabs…nothing. A couple of additional upward stabs with the toe box of my boot do nothing to alleviate my confusion. It isn’t until I come to a complete stop that I notice the bent shift lever.
A rock must have caused the damage, so it seems appropriate to fix it with the same implement, right? A few well-placed strikes with a carefully-chosen stone result in no discernable change to the angle of the shifter, so it’s time to open up my CruzTOOLS kit and improvise. Turns out the spark plug wrench is perfectly sized to slide on the end of the shifter and then bend it back into something that resembles the original shape.
The trailside tweak is a minor annoyance, but it gives me a moment to remember that most people who endeavor to conquer the trail I’ve just done too many times come prepared with Jeeps that have thousands of dollars in suspension kits and aggressive off-road tires slapped on to them. I’ve arrived with a sub $4,500 two-wheeler that’s 100% stock, and I’m quite impressed. As long as you’re not in a rush, it will enable you to explore your favorite backcountry sights…
The key to maximizing enjoyment on the Himalayan is your attitude, because this bike rewards patience and moderation. Off-road and at lower speeds, the lack of power is less of an issue (though you can still break the rear tire loose with some help from the clutch) and the better-than-average torque means you can just chug along to your heart’s content. The soft suspension makes for a plush ride, the gas mileage is outstanding, and you’ll have more smiles per mile when you’re going at a relaxed pace. Everything is better as long as you don’t need to be somewhere urgently. If the Himalayan could talk, it would probably tell you to stop and smell the roses. Or in this case, enjoy the view.
The town of Reward was officially established in 1900. That may sound like a long time ago, but the Himalayan isn’t impressed – Royal Enfield dates back to 1901, which makes it the world’s oldest motorcycle manufacturer in continuous production. Plus, RE has been quite a bit more successful than the town, as the local post office lasted just six years. These are all nice tidbits of information, but they no longer matter to me once I get to the mouth of the mine and look for some sort of welcome sign that will never come.
Even though I’ve waited for months and ridden for hours to get here, the rational side of me isn’t in a rush to ride into a pitch-black tunnel that hasn’t been maintained in decades. The top of the entrance is protected from rockslides by metal mesh, reminding me that this is a stupid idea that could make for a very embarrassing call to my insurance agent.
The mouth of the mine is a doorway to a different world. Outside, it’s nearly 100 degrees and the high desert sun somehow finds a way to reflect off every natural surface in an attempt to blind me. Inside, the temperature is 30 degrees cooler, but it’s so dark that I lose one of my five senses. Ten feet inside the cave is the perfect balance. A slow draft of cool air moderates the desert heat, while the last vestiges of light illuminate the jagged surface of the interior wall.
It’s time to see what Reward Mine is hiding, and the Enfield’s digital compass reports that I’m about to head south. It’s an unexpected piece of equipment at the price point, and it works well. The same cannot be said for the temperature gauge, which is eternally optimistic. Apparently the optimism is contagious, because I’m finally ready to head inside. Every movement is slow and deliberate. The tunnel isn’t straight, so the headlight only buys 50 feet of visibility at a time. The mine branches out occasionally, tempting me to explore dead ends. There’s no right answer, just excuses to explore more of the mine. Some detours reveal old wooden ladders that extend several floors up, teasing the fact that Reward Mine spans eight stories and over 500 feet.
It feels like I’m alone, but there are signs of other recent visitors everywhere. Graffiti seems to be the most common way for rude adventurers to leave their mark, while the calling card of the lazy ones seems to be the occasional empty can of cheap American lager. The best way to ignore all this is to go dark, so I turn the bike off and am instantly plunged into a void. It’s surreal, and my retinas get the same amount of information about the surroundings whether my eyelids are open or closed. The silence would be calming in any other environment, but in the absence of light, it is borderline ominous. I’ve seen horror movies – this is the scene where tragedy befalls our hero. I fire the Long Stroke thumper back up to life. In here, the normally-timid exhaust echoes thunderously, like a 411cc chainsaw. Maybe I’m the villain in this story.
Either way, it’s less than a quarter mile to the mining equivalent of a large room, and now it’s time to have some fun. The headlight and taillight provide the only illumination in the mine, a wash of red and a ray of white that reflect off all surfaces, including the “Snow” bodywork that contrasts against the black crash protection of the Royal Enfield. The Himalayan has conquered a mine. It looks purposeful, waiting for the next challenge and without a concern of what the next move might be. I, on the other hand, have to be very careful where I go. Every step displaces a fine layer of dust. This is useful for visualizing the headlight beam but not ideal for human lungs.
Years ago, my friend Erik Smith introduced me to the concept of light painting with steel wool. It is one of the main inspirations for this trip, as Nathan and I figure the mine would be an excellent place to experiment. We’ve got steel wool, a string, and a lighter. A long exposure and a flick of the wrist is all it takes to create a wall of fire. Normally I’d find this surprising, but the Himalayan has proved that simple tools can still get the job done and simplicity has its charm.
If you find this stuff as fascinating as I do, then Erik suggests you check out this Instagram account for some other great examples. Or here’s a little behind the scenes when Nathan tried it with the truck:I also tried to write out the stylized R that’s displayed on the engine case, but I don’t want to admit how many attempts this took me…
After the impromptu light show, the Enfield and I emerge unscathed from the mine. Once my pupils have finally adjusted to the sun again, I see the Himalayan in a whole new light. Sure, it’s slow. It’s also capable, comfortable, efficient, cheap, unique, and most importantly, fun. It is, by far, the best motorcycle Royal Enfield has made in over 50 years.
Everyone has different needs out of a dual-sport motorcycle, so I hope my thoughts help you figure out if the Himalayan will work for you. Living in Los Angeles, I usually have to spend at least a couple of hours on the freeway before I can enjoy some off-road adventures. That’s why the Versys-X would be my ideal choice in the ~$5,000 enduro market – it’s the best at chewing up highway miles (it will top 100 and easily cruise at 80) and it’s still passable in the dirt. But if you can get to the good stuff in just a few minutes or if you have the patience to sit in the slow lane, the Himalayan is well worth a close look and a test ride.
If you’re interested in this bike or the company, you’ve surely seen stories about how Royal Enfield started a wholly-owned subsidiary out of Milwaukee with the intent of growing their US presence. The Himalayan is clearly a great step in that direction, as I’ve had more interest in this bike from you as a readership than almost anything else I’ve written about in the last year and a half. Royal Enfield isn’t stopping there, either: in the next few months, they’re going to release a new 650cc twin powerplant that’s confirmed to power an updated Continental GT and a rebirth of the Interceptor – not to mention the potential to put it in the Bullet or even this Himalayan. Here’s a little preview for you, and you can skip to 1:50 if you want to get an idea of what it might sound like:
A quick internet search will turn up stories regarding quality issues with the previous generation of the Himalayan, but as Mark Wells, RE’s Head of Product Strategy and Industrial Design, puts it, “We’ve improved vastly in the last 18 months. We’re not burying our heads in the sand.”
Whether it’s accurate or not, perception is reality, so it has to be dealt with. And that’s what RE is doing, both with claimed improvements to the manufacturing processes and plants in India, as well as with the establishment of a Pre-Delivery Inspection (PDI) center in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Royal Enfield used to ship bikes directly to dealerships, but now everything gets sent to Dallas to get a once-over first. The manufacturer claims that they’ve seen a 90% decrease in “initial customer complaints and warranty claims” after the creation of the PDI. Check out this story on RevZilla for more details about RE’s plan.
Time will tell if Enfield’s work pays off, but it’s important that they’re addressing it.
Helmet: AGV AX-8 Evo Naked in Carbon Fury – $499.95
Suit: Aerostich Roadcrafter R-3 with Extra Forward Lean and Extra Forward Rotated Sleeves – $1,197
Gloves: Velomacchi Speedway – $149
Boots: Forma Adventure – $279
To carry all of the essentials, I sourced some luggage from Wolfman. The founder, Eric Hougen, had already equipped some Himalayans with his gear, so he knew exactly what would work for me:
Enduro Tank Bag – $119.99
303 Rolie Bag, Small – $69.99