2018 Royal Enfield Himalayan: A Brand New, Old School Adventure Bike

Text: Brian Shaney • Photography: Royal Enfield

Like many others, I’ve been drooling over photos of the Royal Enfield Himalayan since they first began circulating around the internet a couple of years ago. A retro-styled, middle-weight adventure bike off-the-shelf. Did they make this just for me? How did they know? And finally, after what seemed like forever, and just when I was thinking it might never happen, the long-anticipated Himalayan arrived on U.S. shores. Maybe dreams do come true.

Starting from Scratch: Chassis and Powertrain

Although Royal Enfield has been making motorcycles in one way or another for more than a century, little has changed in terms of design. The company’s “Bullet” model has been in production since 1948 and holds the title for “longest continuously-produced motorcycle.” Other than a few recent updates, the Bullet hasn’t strayed far from its original form. The same can be said for the company’s other models as well. But none of that is true when it comes to the Himalayan.

The bike uses a new half-duplex frame, a new 411cc engine and it doesn’t share any components from other Enfields. This makes it the company’s first all new motorbike, not to mention its first ever adventure-style style motorcycle. Which seems a bit odd when you consider its country of origin, India, where by all accounts every ride is an adventure. 

With its upright seating position, twin front mudguards, front racks (which double as crash bars) and skid plate, the Himalayan definitely comes dressed to impress. Add to that a 21-inch front wheel, 9 inches of ground clearance, 7.9 inches of travel in the front and 7.1 inches in the rear (numbers similar to the BMW R 1200 GS), it’s more than just a “looker”, it’s fully prepared to take on those roads less traveled too. 

On and Off the Road

It’s safe to say that I haven’t been more excited to throw a leg over a new motorbike in as long as I can remember. With expectations set high we hit the road and right away I’m struck with the sense that the Himalayan seems somehow “familiar,” like a favorite hiking boot or an old friend. Throttle response is as expected and comes on evenly, and the bike’s 5-speed gearbox shifts smoothly and solidly through the range. With its relatively low 31.5-inch seat height and my 32-inch inseam, I have no trouble getting both feet firmly on the ground at stops. 

The instruments, a mix of analog and digital, are well sorted and well positioned. Along with a speedo, tach, and fuel gauge, you have a gear indicator, clock, trip meters, ambient temperature display, service indicator, side-stand indicator, and a compass. A wealth of information for sure. 

The Himalayan’s 411cc “thumper” cruises along surprisingly well at 70 mph with little vibration or sense of drama. Don’t expect much passing power beyond that, however; and while the non-adjustable fly screen does keep some of the wind off my chest, there’s some minor helmet buffeting at freeway speeds. I don’t see either of these as issues, as the Himalayan is not designed to eat up miles of Interstate. It’s more about enjoying the ride, not just getting to your destination. The large 4-gallon fuel tank and a claimed 70 mpg add up to a range of 280 miles—so taking the long way home shouldn’t be a problem. 

Off pavement, the Himalayan’s low center of gravity makes the bike easy to manage and it feels very much at home. The Pirelli MT60s, front and rear, provide excellent grip on pavement and do a good job in the dirt as well. Braking power is fitting for off-road riding and power sliding through a tight hairpin is not a problem. The low-end grunt of the Himalayan helps to power through mud and up hills while the large off-road style foot pegs and handlebar are well positioned for this 5’8” rider to stand quite comfortably over rough terrain, where the bike’s long-travel suspension is well suited. While the Himalayan may not keep up with a true “dual-sport” off pavement, and it would be wise to avoid catching large amounts of air, it performs quite well and most certainly put a smile on my face.

So is this for Me … I mean You?

Time to address the elephant in the room. With a mere 24.5bhp moving a 401-pound machine, can this be taken seriously as a “real” adventure bike? Absolutely. Granted, it’s not likely to compete at Dakar, but if you enjoy a back-to-basics approach to motorcycling and aren’t in any real hurry, its more than up to the task.

Optional items available from Royal Enfield include engine guards, hard luggage, etc., and knowing how adventure-bike riders love to farkle, they’ve provided 220 watts to power those farkles on the Himalayan. Things like heated grips, GPS, auxiliary lighting—or a bread toaster. In case you get hungry. 

Clearly the manufacturer is standing behind the Himalayan, as it comes with a two-year, unlimited mile warranty. And if you, like me, find comfort in doing your own service, or handling a problem should one occur, a bike-specific tool kit can be found under the seat. 

It’s difficult to compare the Himalayan to any other motorcycle currently being produced, not only in terms of styling, but in nearly every other category as well. So why bother? Standing on its own merits, the Himalayan has the one thing I look for most in a motorcycle: Character. It looks and feels like something I want to ride. Something more than just a machine. Something to help me fight and escape the zombie hordes. Something purposeful, rugged, and most importantly, fun!