About a week ago I was given the opportunity by Charleston Triumph to take a 2020 Royal Enfield Himalayan out for a few hours while new tires were getting put on my Triumph Tiger. For some the name Royal Enfield screams horrible quality control and reliability similar to what Harley Davidson went through in the 70’s and 80’s. Well head back to 2016 and you will see that Royal Enfield started a unique program where their bikes were built in India however the quality control process was done in Texas. This helped them rebuild the image of their motorcycles and reinvigorated the brand in the United States. The Himalayan and the Continental GT were the two models that have benefited from this process as of late. Now the Himalayan has always intrigued me, due to price, its looks as a modern classic, and how they were designed. It seems like its a newer yet smaller version of a Kawasaki KLR.
The 2020 Royal Enfield Himalayan that I rode was very well equipped with many accessories from Royal Enfield’s accessory catalog. This bike had a pair of aluminum panniers, rear luggage rack, aftermarket exhaust, and a small windshield. With the accessories the Himalayan was priced pretty well at $5,200 dollars. At that price point with the accessories the Himalayan was the type of bike that would be great for a beginner adventure rider or someone that wanted to have a second adventure bike in the garage.
When I first brought the Himalayan home for the day I quickly looked at the bikes specifications. Royal Enfield put a 411cc engine mated to a five speed transmission into the bike. The 411cc engine has electronic fuel injection which showed Royal Enfield’s willingness to show that while their bikes may look like from years past they do have modern technology. Another great feature was switchable ABS which compared to my Tiger wasn’t as dynamic but for a small bike it doesn’t need to be. 21 inch and 17 inch spoked wheels are standard front and back and this bike had Pirelli MT60 tires mounted on it. As for the suspension it had 41mm forks in the front with a mono shock in the back that provided 8.6 inches of ground clearance. One of the great features with the Himalayan is it’s low seat height of 32 inches which it makes a great choice for shorter riders.
Since I’ve gone over all of the boring specifications and details now let’s get into how it rode. I took the Himalayan on an 160 mile trip towards some of the coastal islands south of Charleston. Out in the islands I rode it on a mix of paved and gravel/dirt roads and some two track trails thrown in. My ride started out down U.S. Highway 17 where I got it up to about 70 miles an hour but I quickly noticed that the bike preferred the range of 55 to 60. At highway speeds the Himalayan was fairly stable and it could pass slower traffic with some proper planning but make no mistake the 411cc engine is no rocket. Vibration was present but it was nothing that some bar end weights couldn’t take of and compared to many other bikes I’ve ridden it actually wasn’t to bad. On state and county highways the bike could hold it’s own however I wouldn’t feel comfortable riding it on the interstate. After roughly twenty miles on the highway I turned onto a gravel access road for Donnelly Wildlife Management Area and this was where I tested the Himalayan’s off road abilities.
I rode the Himalayan down several gravel and dirt roads before branching off onto a series of two track trails. In loose conditions the bike had a decent amount of traction but to me the MT60 tires probably wouldn’t have been my first choice for off road riding. For tires the MT60’s weren’t to bad on pavement and could take quite a bit on dirt and gravel roads but in some of the muddy and sandy sections they just didn’t offer enough traction. The 411cc engine had some pretty good torque through the first three gears and it could tractor it’s way up inclines and through tricky terrain with no issues. I felt that the bikes suspension was really soft at times but then again it probably wasn’t set up for someone of my stature of being 5’10 and 215 pounds. As for the ABS and stopping power, the braking system is nothing special compared to anything that KTM, BMW, or any of the Japanese manufacturers make. If I had to compare the brakes to another bike I would say they felt very similar to an older Kawasaki Ninja 250, they had a blocky wooden type feel to them. The ABS worked pretty well and when switched off the Himalayan was a lot more fun to whip around in gravel and sand.
After spending some time off road I jumped on a series of paved coastal roads and headed down towards Bennett’s Point, a small little island community where you can still buy shrimp and oysters fresh off a fishing boat. On these quiet coastal roads I pushed the Himalayan pretty hard and the bike took it very well. Through some of the sweeping curves the little bike held a nice line while on the straight sections it took my heavy hand on the throttle just fine. If their was ever a bike that fit the phrase “it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow” then the Himalayan was it.
After reaching Bennett’s Point I turned around and headed back to Charleston Triumph to pick up my Tiger. On the way back I put three gallons of gas in it’s four gallon tank and over the course of the day I averaged about 53 miles per gallon. From an adventure touring perspective the Himalayan has a pretty good range and the upper crash bars can also support small fuel cans if additional range is needed.
Overall, how did I feel about Royal Enfield’s Himalayan? Well I’m kind of torn on it but not in a negative way. When one rides this bike and looks at it you can certainly find it’s flaws. At times I did wish for a better suspension off road or more power on the highway but this little bike took everything I threw at it and was a lot of fun. While Royal Enfield did bring some modernization to the Himalayan in terms of fuel injection and ABS it’s still a pretty spartan bike with not a lot of creature comforts. As far as the Himalayan’s market competition it’s probably the best bang for your buck in terms of what you can do to it on and off road. I think the Honda CB500x is much better on pavement however, the off road manners of the Himalayan were something that can’t be ignored. For a brand new adventure rider or someone that’s looking at getting into motorcycling for the first time the Royal Enfield Himalayan is a pretty good choice in my opinion. It’s very easy to ride and quite unforgiving not to mention its very simple and easy to work on. To me, the Royal Enfield Himalayan can be a “jack of all trades” bike that can do anything…just not well. As more and more smaller displacement bikes arrive on the adventure scene the Himalayan will hold a place for a cheap simple alternative to some of the more expensive models like the new KTM 390 Adventure.
Wrapping up, riding the Royal Enfield Himalayan was a pleasant experience for the most part. One of the things that I really liked about it was how rugged it was with so many similarities to my KLR. From a visual perspective this bike screams adventure and off the grid travel and I would consider taking one on a Back Country Discovery Route or even the Trans America Trail in a heartbeat. Honestly, if I had the garage space the little Himalayan would be a perfect addition for a lightweight adventure bike for all kinds of adventures.