It’s important to understand that Royal Enfield bikes are not typically designed for the American market. With the exception of the INT650 Twin and GT650 Twin, Royal Enfield makes single-cylinder, low-displacement motorcycles well-suited to heavy urban use and the occasional longer jaunt. Globally speaking—and certainly in India, where Royal Enfields have been entirely manufactured since 1962—this approach makes sense as the populations of dense cities understand that commuting on two wheels is efficient. Here in America though, motorcycles have traditionally been perceived as toys for leisure rather than tools for a job, which makes sense if one considers all the open spaces to take a big cruiser bike out and our collective fixation on speed.
That said, there has been a noticeable shift toward dual-sport bikes in the motorcycle community over the past decade—and in the last five years since Royal Enfield entered the US marketplace, the industry has taken note. What that means is that riders have options ranging from inexpensive dual-sport bikes based on off-road specific platforms to the vaunted do-it-all adventure bikes that cost as much as a new compact car. Royal Enfield’s Himalayan motorcycle appears to have more in common with the former, but it absolutely possesses the spirit of the latter. And for just under $5,000, this rugged little rig offers plenty to riders.
During our many outings on the Himalayan, we considered what was missing from the package rather than what was there. Power is the most apparent thing we found to be absent, but by the end of our time with the bike, we actually didn’t miss it. While it’s especially obvious when coming off some other bikes that have two, three or four times the displacement of the 411cc air-cooled single cylinder the Himalayan uses, one can adjust their riding style accordingly and enjoy every minute. We certainly didn’t yearn for more power when testing the Himalayan’s brakes. There is ABS (that can thankfully be turned off when on dirt) and we didn’t have any close calls due to the effort needed to bleed off speed, because the bike doesn’t encourage you to build up much speed in the first place. There’s an argument to be made that having a mushy front brake isn’t the worst thing for novice off-road riders, as an ill-advised grab of the handle won’t quickly toss you over the bars, but more confidence-inspiring brakes would be a valuable addition to the Himalayan.
We were charmed by how approachable of a machine the Himalayan is, and how it encourages riders to test its ability to function in a variety of settings. Ease of use begins with the 31.5-inch seat height—a welcome change from the typically tall ADV saddles that are literally a stretch for average height people to swing a leg over. The seating position is upright and comfortable, offering a clear view of what’s ahead whether it’s traffic or trail. At 421 pounds it’s not a featherweight dual-sport, but is far more manageable than upper-crust ADV bikes, and there’s the added benefit of being able to have both feet planted firmly on the ground when stationary.
The chassis is better than it has any right to be at this price point too. Designed by the famed Leicestershire, UK outfit Harris Performance (which Royal Enfield bought in 2015), it is plenty responsive and notably stable when wringing out the engine on pavement. This means getting to your chosen off-road playground can be a damn good time, which is hardly the case with street legal dual-sport bikes dedicated to dirt. The Himalayan blazes trails easily thanks to the softly sprung long travel suspension, 21-inch front wheel and versatile Pirelli MT-60 tires.
With the “Sleet” color tank, black bash-bars around it, and rear mounting bars equipped, the bike looks straight out of a Bond movie set in some icy remote locale. It easily gets the theater of the mind going and always left us wanting to ride further and push it harder.
When choosing the best tool for a job, people typically look for the one that’s best suited to the task at hand, and most of the time it makes sense to go with a specialized option—something that has been specifically designed to do one thing really well. However, there is a strong argument to be made that the best tool for a job is one that has range—equipment that boasts various functions and can perform in a variety of situations. When the job is finding joy on and off pavement with a motorcycle, the Royal Enfield Himalayan makes a very compelling case that it’s the right tool.
Images by Andrew Maness