Another ‘Real Rider Review’. This time Freddie Sheddington, a very experienced long-time biker has treated himself to perhaps the Adventure bike we actually need as opposed the the one we actually are told we want…
It might have been September 2020 when I bought a Royal Enfield Himalayan but the story behind why really starts at its launch back in 2015. It was immediately apparent that it represented the distilled essence of motorcycling for me: Simple, affordable and , capable….what’s not to love? The concern for me was reliability, not a word often associated with Royal Enfield in the past. It’s something they have worked hard to improve in recent years, and they have even moved R&D to the UK in a purpose built state-of- the art facility. Frame building legends, Harris Performance have also joined the RE family to help develop their bikes. All this investment has paid off and certainly shows in the quality of their more recent bikes such as the extremely successful 650 Interceptor .
Bumpy start for the Himalayan
The Himalayan got off to a rocky start with reports of cracked headstocks on the early Indian bikes amongst other issues. A now infamous promotional video even showed a foot peg fall off. By the time the Himalayan was launched in the UK/European market Royal Enfield had solved these and other issues. Reports since then on reliability have been mostly positive with the likes of Nathan Millward, Itchy Boots and others racking up some serious miles on their beloved Himalayans.
In 2019 I was planning a trip of a lifetime (UK to Singapore) and looking for a bike for such a trip. Contrary to popular belief the majority of overland travellers favour smaller capacity, lighter, and less technology laden alternatives. With 850 GS’s, KLR 650’s and CRF 250L’s being popular choices. It seems amongst this crowd the Himalayan had gained a following. It was one of two bikes at the top of my list due to its mechanical simplicity, off-road capability and an unintimidating seat height of 800mm. An important factor being only 5’6.
Keen to see if it was as good as owners claimed, I found myself on a wet autumnal morning gazing at the bike that I hoped would carry me to the other side of the world. A quick glance showed it had everything I would need. It had chunky tyres, reasonable ground clearance, the ability to fit luggage and a lack of technology that could go wrong.
So is it any good?
My first reaction when swinging a leg over was “I can flat foot this”, a joyous revelation for someone of my size. The 2-hour test ride flew past. Riding a mixture of twisty B roads, bumpy single lanes and some dual carriageway. Despite the pouring rain the Himalayan made me smile so much my face was hurting. Its 24.5bhp was enough on the majority of roads allowing me to keep up with traffic but it also made riding engaging changing gear frequently to keep it on the power. If you want a bike for motorway miles the Himalayan is not for you, it will do an indicated 80mph but is happier cruising at 65. Considering its power, the low-end torque is impressive, a real benefit to those wanting to take it off road. There are some small vibrations through the bars and pegs but not enough to cause any discomfort. They add the character, something which it has in abundance. The brakes are more than sufficient for the Himalayans size and pace but don’t expect Brembo performance. I also found out the ABS works well when having to do an emergency stop on a wet and greasy road. The suspension handled the lumps, bumps and potholes really well and it proved stable and nimble in the corners.
The ergonomics mean an upright riding position with legs just under 90 degrees perfect for serious stretches in the saddle. The seat is very comfortable despite a slight tendency to slide you towards the tank. The screen did a decent job of keeping my head out of turbulent air whilst providing gentle airflow which would be most appreciated to keep cool in warmer climates.
Needless to say, I walked away from the test ride know this was the bike for me. It had far surpassed my expectations in every way. The downsides being the compass not working and the standard exhaust being virtually inaudible with ear plugs. I’m a petrol head, a little noise is always a good thing.
It even has a actual compass!
Unfortunately, due to the events in my life the Big Trip was no longer possible despite this I wanted a Himalayan more than ever. Fast forward to September 2020 and I found myself with a redundancy cheque in my hand, and a need to cheer myself up. Needless to say, I did what any responsible person would do, went straight to the dealership and bought a Himalayan.
The late 2020 models have shorter side stands, improved rear brakes (both common complaints of owners) as well as a blue backlit display. Whilst the Indian and American bikes also get switchable ABS, Royal Enfield have confirmed this will not come to the UK / European market.
Early Days but the signs are very positive
The Himalayan has a pretty restrictive run-in period. I was advised to keep it below 3,000 rpm (40mph) until the first service (due at 300 miles) and 4,000 rpm (50mph) until it has reached 1,000 miles. After the first service it needs valves checking every 3,000 miles with oil and filter changes every 6,000. Due to its simplicity the normally costly valve checks with an Oil and Filter change than are less £200 from a dealer. I covered the initial service period in three weeks, the advised 40mph was in no way dull as I feared. You notice a lot more at a slower pace and tend to ride smaller roads you previously ignored.
The 700 miles I have covered so far have not been trouble free. The gauges mist up in cold weather and my bike kept stalling when starting with a cold engine. For some reason the idle was set lower than it should have been. Like every Himalayan it will probably transpire that the factory didn’t put enough grease on the headstock bearing.
Despite the issues I have loved my 700 miles of ownership it still makes me smile like a man possessed. Owners say it improves further as the engine loosens up around the 1,000-mile mark. It is a simple, fun, grin provoking motorcycle.
The Himalayan certainly isn’t perfect but the imperfections give it a certain character. It is often described as the Land Rover of the bike world. It is not the fastest nor the flashiest, but makes every ride feel like an adventure. What more could you possibly want?
Words and pictures: Freddie Sheddington
Royal Enfield 650 Interceptor review:
A more mainstream alternative?
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