On the day we bought the 1997 BMW F650 two years ago, my wife and I had looked at two bikes. The second was the F650. The first was a fairly new Royal Enfield Chrome Classic 500. The RE was less motorcycle, more expensive, and had some surface rust on the fasteners from being stored under a tarp in a damp place. Still, I was drawn to it.
I can’t help myself. There’s a place in my brain that is sort of owned by Royal Enfield motorcycles, probably in the same neighborhood as apple pie and Walter Cronkite.
So I was intrigued to learn that RE has a new bike just now appearing on the scene in India. It’s called the Himalayan, a reference to the expeditions RE riders take up into the Himalayas, and to the fact that the bike has many of the enhancements often found on those expedition-modified machines. And some new features as well.
A Royal Enfield with a counterbalanced engine? With a rear mono-shock suspension? Overhead cam? Take a look.
The bike weighs about 400 lbs with 4 gallons of fuel, giving it a range that approaches 300 miles. 21 inch front wheel with 8 inches of fork travel, 17 rear with over 7 inches of travel for the mono-shock suspension, and disc brakes front and rear. Plenty of ground clearance. Engine is a counterbalanced, air/oil cooled, 411 cc, two-valve, carburetor single. The smoothest RE engine ever built. And yet it still has that signature long stroke for good low-rpm torque.
The Himalayan is different, simple, visceral, bordering on crude. I like it.
Hopefully, a version of this bike will show up in the USA. Reports indicate 55 mph to be an ideal cruising speed, so you could ride it all day long on the secondary roads of New England, for example. It’s not going to be too happy on the interstate.
Nonetheless, with attachments for various bits of luggage, good range, comfortable seat, smooth engine and good fuel economy, it’s a legitimate medium-speed adventure touring machine. Not to mention just hauling stuff locally.
In the USA, we bought about 2.5 million new pickup trucks in 2015 alone. Mostly, they just haul the occasional tube of caulking from Lowes. Even a Himalayan is overkill for that.
The bike is more off-road than street, which aligns it with the $6500 DR650S here. The DR is lighter, faster, more powerful, and proven. You can get a new leftover model for $5500. But it doesn’t have the character and “approachability” of the Himalayan.
With the same single-cylinder engine displacement, we have the streetier $5000 KTM Duke 390, which is smaller, lighter, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, faster and more powerful. It has the upright riding position of a dual sport, but also the 17-inch wheels and shorter wheelbase of a sport bike. A thoroughly modern design. Not as good a comparison as the DR, but it shows what you can buy for $5K.
At $4300 -$4500, the Himalayan would fit nicely into the market here, and not in a small way. At a higher price, you move into the space occupied by the classic RE bikes. Not competitive technically, but oozing character. If I bought a Himalayan today, I can imagine still owning it in 10 years. I can’t say the same for the other two.
In the USA, you can buy a new fuel injected RE Bullet 500 for $5K, and it’s possible the Himalayan could work in that price range also if it had good build quality, fuel injection, and maybe slightly more power.
A few days from now, I’ll be riding 250 curvy blacktop miles up into the North Maine Woods, followed by another 20 miles of dirt into the “back of beyond”, hoping the log cabin is still there.
Which is probably why that part of my brain is chanting, “Himalayan. Himalayan. Himalayan.”