Monday, May 11, 2020

Royal Enfield Himalayan test ride

The concept of owning an Enfield Himalayan has been going through my mind for a while. A good traditional all-rounder that I can work on myself, use for green laning, touring and just generally having fun on the local back roads. Obviously a lot of other people feel the same as the Himalayan has been a good seller.

Personally what attracts me to the Himalayan is:
1. A reliable, easy made for purpose on / off road bike that I can use in Motor Cycling Club long distance trials.
2. The brand (I'm in the Royal Enfield Owners Club and don't have a working RE to turn up to club events on).
3. The price. The Himalayan is a great value for money package, I've never bought a new bike before and quite honestly the Himalayan is about as high as I would go before choosing to go second hand.
4. It's a traditional machine that I can repair myself and is a looker.

With all this in mind I booked a road test at local Royal Enfield dealers Moto Corsa, hopped on to my Velocette and rode over for a try out. This was back in early March before lockdown.

Before I go a lot further this isn't a full on test report, you can read those plenty of places elsewhere. It is a just a few impressions from an enthusiast with an admitted soft spot for Royal Enfields.

As soon as you hop on you feel that the Himalayan is a very comforting bike, you know it is going to be forgiving, confidence inspiring and a sinch to ride. Pulling away confirms first impressions, the long stroke motor is nice and tractable, the bike well balanced, seat position low and there is nothing harsh about it in any way. An ideal beginners bike but charming enough to satisfy the more experienced too.

The Himalayan gets praised for having 'character' and this was part of the appeal for me too. As generally a rider of older machinery I often find a lot of more modern machines lacking in excitement. Perhaps riding over on a Velocette, the archetypal idiosyncratic British bike, gave the Himalayan an unfair comparison and I would struggle to say that I found it overflowing with character. I guess though compared to many other modern machines, particularly trail bikes, the Enfield does stand out as being different. It can be hard to pin down what character is in a motorcycle, when you think to put it in to words each attribute comes across as a bit negative - vibration, quirky engineering, foibles. Ultimately character in a machine is an undefined something that makes the rider attached to the bike and appreciate it warts and all. If you look at it this way the Himalayan succeeds, if you spent time with one I think it would be a grower. At least as long as sustained motorway blasts are not your thing.

So, on to performance. The Himalayan is a keep up with the traffic kind of bike. You would be a fool to expect any more from the specs and design brief. It accelerates adequately briskly, 'high' speed cruising seems to be happiest in the sixty to seventy zone and it has enough get up and go to pass lorries and average paced cars safely. The long stroke engine is very flexible and the charm is that you don't need to use the gearbox too much and the five speeds provided are plenty.

As my interest with the Himalayan stems mostly from its off road abilities I gave it a few flexibility tests. It is a regular test bike so I didn't go off road but I did my best to get a feel for flexibility and handling. The bike chugs nicely and without snatch, is very manoeverable and easy to do a clutchless u turn on a narrow road without problem. The pegs and bars are nicely placed to ride standing up and it gave every impression that it would be a competent off road performer. The one draw back to more serious off roading is the weight, just a look at the Himalayan and knowing its price you can't expect it to be a lightweight. The bike holds its bulk well and handles sweetly but you would need to be fairly powerful to pick it up solo having taken a tumble on a muddy trials hill.

Comfort-wise for long distance trials and touring the Himalayan is good. At a long legged six foot two I had a gripe that the slope on the tail of the riders saddle pushed me forward and made my knees then sit outside of the scallops of the pertrol tank. There would be no way around this for me barring getting a flat profiled saddle or, of course, just putting up with it.

The other factor I had particularly wanted to check out with the Himalayan was the build quality. I had read a few things online but separating out the usual trolls and being fair to the bike's price and keeping expectations realistic the particular issues I wanted to check out the general build, the rust proofing paint on the exhaust and potential rust issues around the steering head.

Firstly, general build is good. I want a bike that I can use through winter and clean with a pressure washer. I feel the Himalayan would stand up to this. It might be pertinent to keep an eye on the frame and swinging arm and perhaps wax them over winter. The lack of mudguard extension down between the swinging arm will allow a lot of dirt to get in to difficult places and that is something that if I owned one I would address pretty quickly.

The rust proofing silver paint on the welds on the exhaust is what it is. Not pretty but more than likely effective.

Finally, the steering head. Look at the picture below: there is definitely a potential water trap at the bottom bracing pressing where it is welded to the steerer tube and the down tube. It should be designed out but given that it is there I would personally fill it with wax and then put some black silicon sealant on top to cap it off.

So there it is, the Himalayan fullfills my criteria. It is a competent all-rounder with a charm that would certainly grow on you. It has a couple of foibles but that just adds to the character doesn't it? If I was about to undertake some serious overlanding I would undoubtedly opt for one of these and use the money I had saved from buying a BMW GS to give me another year of travelling. In my own limited time family man world where an adventure is a long weekend away or a long distance trial the Himalayan still fits the bill. So happy ending really, apart from having done the test ride just pre lockdown when things seemed rather more certain. I would still like one but am going to have to wait a little while to make sure I still have a job to pay for it....

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