I’ve always liked the idea of finding a clean, cheap, un-killable dual-sport I could use to bomb around the fire roads by my house or jump on during those days of early spring before the salt’s been washed off the roads. You’d think rural New York’s Craigslist would be flooded with just that kind of bike. Not so. Call me crazy, but in no world should a 10-year-old Suzuki DR650 with a fuzzy pink seat be the same price as an adult-owned GSX-R750 in pristine condition.
But for $4,499, you can get a brand-new Royal Enfield Himalayan: no seat cover seemingly made from a pink Sesame Street character; no off-colored plastic that makes the bike look like it was stored in a smokehouse during the peak of deer season. I mean, I love venison jerky as much as the next guy, but I’d prefer my crotch didn’t smell like smoked doe rump after sitting on my bike for an hour.
The Himalayan is as inexpensive as a lot of used bikes, but more significantly, it offers an alternative take on motorcycling in the 21st century. Call it a retro dual-sport; a lightweight ADV; or an entry-level, Indian-made motorcycle brimming with historical gravitas (clearly, there’s a reason I’m not in marketing…). The Himalayan is an unpretentious, easy-to-ride motorcycle that suggests that maybe New Delhi and New York aren’t worlds apart.
It sounds cliché, but the Himalayan’s basic-ness as a salve to modern complexity is one of its greatest merits. Unless you consider the bike through a similar lens and enjoy it for what it is, you’ll miss out on why it’s special.
Here’s the deal: This is not a fast motorcycle. It has less than 25 hp—about the same as a Honda CRF250L, but at more than 400 pounds it’s about 100 pounds heavier than the non-ABS Honda. The throttle’s about as responsive as a cheap budget rental car, and it only revs to 6,500 rpm, so you’ll be hitting the rev limiter on occasion. It takes a longer stretch of pavement than any I rode in Texas to hit top speed, and don’t expect much more than 80 mph with the throttle pinned. But, it’s a $4,499 motorcycle.
Even though it will keep up with traffic, this is a bike that’s made for 45-mph speed zones. As one Royal Enfield employee confessed to the cop who pulled her over, “I wasn’t speeding. I’m on a Royal Enfield.”
Its docile motor invites the rider to enjoy a world of low-speed touring long forgotten by most Americans. Instead of blasting down freeways only to break for a quick fill-up and a guzzle of Gatorade at an anonymous truck stop, the Himalayan rider is transported to a time when traveling through America entailed seeing more than exit signs and off-ramps. It’s not like riding a Himalayan is as absurd as using a 49cc scooter in an ADV rally, but it’s likely more evocative of that experience than touring the globe on a modern high-tech adventure tourer.
After becoming accustomed to throwing a leg over ADV bikes and nearly pulling my groin, the Himalayan’s 31.5-inch seat height is a real treat. For beginning riders, being able to place both feet firmly on the ground and confidently maneuver at low speeds is a definite boon. With upright, relaxed ergos, a cushy seat (which may be a bit too cushy for all-day comfort), and a small but effective windscreen, the Himalayan makes a practical urban commuter and a tempting companion for longer distances.
One aspect of motorcycling most riders aren’t nostalgic about is braking performance. Unfortunately, I found the Himalayan’s front brakes were reminiscent of a bike from the ’70s, requiring too much effort at the lever to bring proceedings to a halt. Given the hardware arrangement, performance is as expected, but I think brushing off speed with more urgency is paramount. But it’s a $4,499 motorcycle.
Off-road, however, the brakes were great for my skill level. I didn’t have to worry about throwing myself over the bars with a panicky stab at the front brake, and I could lock up the rear without fearing major catastrophe.
The chassis, designed by the famed Harris Performance (now owned by Royal Enfield), is one of the bike’s strong points. It offered plenty of feel on the low-speed Texas back roads and remained stable at top speed. The suspension was compliant, poised over rough surfaces, and tracked well in the dirt and ruts. Its long-travel, softly sprung suspension made great fun of swooping through corners. Will it keep up with your friend’s Yamaha MT-07 through the twisties? You shouldn’t even have to ask that. But it’s a $4,499 motorcycle.
Off-road, its relative light weight and predictable powerband made it an effortless ride. On a big ADV, I would have expended a ton of effort. On a competition dirt bike, I’d have probably scared myself and had less fun.
So you won’t win a race to the summit on the Himalayan, but you’ll still make it to the top.
Ordinarily, a motorcycle used by the masses in a developing nation would seem incongruous in America. But as India’s economy continues to grow, and the complexion of the American motorcycle scene evolves, perhaps we‘re meeting in the middle. The Himalayan was designed to be ridden through the congested streets of Delhi, into the crooked roads of Himachal Pradesh, and up the vast and varied terrain of the Himalayas. The attributes that make it suitable for that landscape make it ideal for the American looking for a no-frills daily commuter that, come the weekend, can be packed to the hilt and ridden through the backcountry for a couple of nights under the stars.
It turns out, you don’t have to put a foot on every continent to make the world seem smaller.
In that way, it’s a phenomenal introduction to a life on two wheels. Maybe it’s even a great second or third bike for the experienced rider who wants a basic machine to tool around on. Plus, it doesn’t come with a pink fuzzy seat.
It’s not an aspirational machine; it’s an inspirational machine. And it’s a $4,499 motorcycle.
|ENGINE||411cc air-cooled single|
|CLAIMED HORSEPOWER||24.5 hp at 6500 rpm|
|CLAIMED TORQUE||23.6 lb.-ft. @ 4250 rpm|
|FRAME||Tubular-steel split cradle|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||41mm right-side-up fork; 7.8-in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Monoshock adjustable for preload; 7.0-in. travel|
|FRONT BRAKE||ByBre 2-piston calipers, single 300mm disc|
|REAR BRAKE||ByBre 1-piston caliper, 240mm disc|
|SEAT HEIGHT||31.5 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||4.0 gal.|
|CLAIMED WEIGHT||421 lb. curb|