In the midst of another lockdown to counter the deadly second wave, the humble Himalayan has turned five. I think back to all the negative attention the motorcycle garnered in its early days. Luckily, mine persevered and with a little help from Royal Enfield, we managed to overcome mechanical and quality issues. Five years on with some minor upgrades, it has remained a fun, endearing and purposeful motorcycle. Here’s to many more rides ahead!
On the horizon…
It’s December, 2020 and here in India, scientists say, we have peaked the pandemic. We have learnt to live the ‘new normal’. Being cooped up, working from home, ordering groceries in and living the socially distanced life, takes physical and mental toll. Eventually we got fed up. We started venturing out, with due precautions, either for a drive to my sister’s place out of town or for a spin around the neighbourhood. I also started riding, mostly on Sundays, with a group of old friends from the workplace.
Motorcycling is a great way to maintain social distance. Inside my helmet, behind my mask, I’m in my own little world, away with thoughts, munching miles at 70 kph. I’m comfortably snug in my riding gear, the tall visor doing a great job of deflecting windblast. The big hearted Italian twin I’m riding is purring gently along the highway that connects Bangalore to the west coast. A slight twist of the throttle, catapults me to 168kph in a heartbeat. The torque on this engine, is enormous! And man, this stallion is fast, as is sure footed. I’m riding my friend’s Ducati Multistrada 950, while he’s trying hard to keep up on the bike I switched, a Honda CBR 250R. The little quarter litre single is smooth and can whack up a good pace, but its 26 horses are no match for the 113 raging stallions of the Italian. It’s such a beauty, this gleaming red firebird on wheels, and I can’t help but grin from ear to ear, everytime I feel the torque wave.
We are headed back to the city from an early morning ride to Belur Cross. Today was a good day, out here in the open, after many dull, housebound days. A long ride out in the country, was just what the doctor ordered. For once, I did not wake up to more depressing news, but was up at dawn with eagerness that befits a long awaited motorcycle ride. We have two friends on Ninja 650s, and another Ducati 950 Multistrada to keep us company.
At Belur cross we stop for coffee. I take the newer Ninja 650 for a quick spin. This is such an incredibly friendly bike. It puts you at ease immediately. The bike is extremely flickable, and I remember an earlier occasion where I rode comfortably through town in dense traffic, without breaking a sweat. The second big positive is the heat management- I never felt the engine heat near my legs. I would venture so far to say, that the cooling system is better than any other similar bike I’ve ridden. I prefer the bigger bike feel and touring friendliness of the older model – we had a 2013 model on the ride with us. This one with its single sided rear monoshock, taller windscreen and flamboyant green and black livery, is to my mind, a beautiful motorcycle. This would have also been a great bike to pick up as a second owner, had it come with ABS as standard. In this day and age, for a decently agile and fast sports tourer like this, it’s a big miss. The latest Ninja 650 has righted these wrongs, and is a delight to ride, but somehow is not as evocative as the previous model.
This breakfast ride in the company of larger bikes, and a subsequent one on which I rode my Himalayan to TM Hills, with the gang, got me thinking. While for the moment, the Himalayan is an answer to all my motorcycling needs, some time in the near future, I do aspire to add a larger hearted sibling to give it company. Which then, would be the second set of wheels I should start planning for?
When thinking about the another bike, I’m certain about this. The bike has to be a machine for everyday use. I know enough motorcyclists, who’ve spent big bucks to acquire their dream machine, but use it sparingly on weekends to avoid struggling in city snarls in the ever evolving traffic situation. The seasonal condition of our highways dictates the route chosen for these weekend outings as a straight run down the interstate to a coffee stop and a boring, straight run back. Head off the highway, onto smaller dirt roads, and the bikes start showing their limitations. If they’ve bought a large cruiser (read Harley Davidson), its a beast to handle. If they’ve bought a sports bike, it starts showing its delicate side. The suspension’s not up for it, and neither are your wrists or butt. Granted, my friends on their Multistradas would be grinning and gunning at this point. But they would be cautious too, as the trail gets tougher- the last thing they can afford is the thing ending up on its side. This is where I feel, the Himalayan has been a really good fit for me. Its a daily use bike. And it can take punishment without punishing your wallet. But it has its own limitations. On good roads, I need it to be generating upwards of 40 horsepower, which it woefully does’nt. And its fabled low end torque, is just not enough for a full fledged tour with pillion- as many folks have told me.
All this ruminating has got me convinced, what I really need is decent middle weight. A 500cc to 800cc twin cylinder motorcycle that does’nt weigh a ton. A bike that’s as easy to flick round a street corner, as round a bend in the trail. A motorcycle that has enough torque to carry rider, pillion and hard luggage all the way to Timbuktoo, at a decent clip. A bike I can improve my DIY skills on. A machine to look long and hard at, every time I come back from a ride. A machine to love more, every single day. A choice of wheels that does’nt warrant second thought for the tarkari run to the bazaar, or to a client meeting in Bangalore’s Central Business District. A vehicle that’s always preferable to my car.
It’s a tall ask. And these are trying times. However, 2020 has been the year of some promising new launches. And 2021 promises to be even more so. So I’ll keep adding to the brief. And hope that some day soon, in sunnier times, little Himalyan can ride out with a bro he can really look up to.
If you can’t ride, read.
I can imagine how frustrating the current situation might be for an avid motorcyclist. Coronavirus has affected several countries around the world and the motorcycling fraternity in many of these countries would be raring to ride out at the slightest easing of restrictions.
Out here, for a good part of three months, I did not even look at the motorcycle. I stayed home, stayed put, stayed safe. Come June, with the lockdown lifted, I did roll the bike out. It needed a battery replacement, which got done. And on 16th June, we quietly accomplished 4 years of being together through thick and thin. To celebrate the occasion, I went for a quick highway run with my cousin, who also owns a four year old BS3 Himalayan. The short ride, gave us a chance to reflect on two things-
1. How much we had missed not riding
2. We were really among the last of the breed, with our BS3 Himalayans. With the success of the EFI Himalayan in the last couple of years you don’t see many of the older ones about. I felt lucky to have this simple forerunner of a machine. And it felt great to have it running so smooth and true four years on.
However, aside from this small outing, for most of the Lockdown, I consoled myself browsing through some of my favourite reads on the shelf.
Looking through them brought back nice memories of my own rides and good times with the bikes I’ve owned and ridden.
Here’s hoping that the world overcomes this crisis soon, and we find ourselves back on our machines, rolling happily into the new millennium.
Bike setup for the long haul. Dry run on a 200kms circuit.
Himalayan, 15000km Review.
This post might interest potential Royal Enfield Himalayan buyers. My Himalayan is now more than two and a half years old. The bike crossed 15000 kms last November. Here’s a summary of what you can expect, long term, should you decide to buy this motorcycle. Some of the points below have been touched upon in the Himalayan 10000km update
The carburetted, long stroke engine, with a counter balancer, is easily one of Royal Enfield’s most sorted singles till date (Power 24.5 bhp, Torque 32NM). Whether on an everyday commute or on a longer ride, the motor performs flawlessly. I changed to a lifetime BMC filter more than a year ago, which has lent some smoothness to the mill, and a deeper grunt to the exhaust. Sweet spot for my bike remains in the 80-110 kph zone, when I’m in 4th gear, taking on a curve and revving up to slot to 5th. Its rev happy, provides oodles of torque and a great rumbling note, making this bike a delight on winding back roads.
The bike’s limits are more evident when you travel on an intercity six laner. As soon as you rev past 100kph, you feel the torque tapering off. Hit 120 kph, and you know you really don’t want to keep this up for too long. The engine isn’t exactly on song. There’s good amount of vibrations creeping in on footpegs and near the tank. Under favourable conditions (sunny day, smooth road), I have touched 130-135kph. It wasn’t a very enjoyable experience.
Throttle happy thrill seekers? No sir, not your cuppa.
Lazy tourers who believe in all day riding? Aye! Grab an easy chair, this is for you!
Earlier in the ownership experience posts, I had raved about how smooth the engine is, and in one report, compared the motor to the CBR 250R. Two years on, I can confirm that the RE engine has a few rough edges, fares poorly against the butter smooth Honda, and can’t sustain a top end whack. All moving parts have since settled in, and roughness is at bare minimum, but its there. The upside is that the UCE Engine, doing duty on all other RE single cylinder motorcycles, feels primitive compared to the Himalayan’s mill.
Current lot of Himalayans being sold worldwide (post 2018), feature fuel injection and have better response. Maintaining speeds in the range of 100-120kph is decidedly smoother as well. They also feature dual channel ABS, which should give riders more confidence at these speeds.
RIDE AND ERGONOMICS
Ergonomics on the Himalayan are well sorted, as is the long travel suspension. All day rides on all manner of surfaces, is a breeze. This is one Royal Enfield, where the bar and the seat positions, need no tinkering with at all. While they did get the ergonomic triangle right, the bar and seat, can do with better quality. I have opted for a braced handlebar which is a lot better finished and feels sturdy. The stock seat starts hurting the insides of your thigh after 3-4 hours of continuous use. The cushioning on the seat is beginning to deteriorate. Time to look for a replacement.
CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT
Fiddling around with the look of the bike, I felt this bike is better off as a scrambler. It meant stripping it down as much as I could, without investing in any real customisation. Most of it was DIY on weekends. Now when I’ve stripped this bike clean, it’s so much more accessible. It’s easier to see where the front wheel is going. There’s less stuff on the bike to worry about. And there’s decent amount of weight reduction as well. Read more about these changes at Reduce to evolve
At present, I’m riding with these accessories, which I will strongly recommend:
- Upgraded the handle-bar to the Braced Handlebar Kit (Part no. 1990206). The handlebar weighs 20% less than the stock bar, is beautifully finished, and Made in Taiwan. From Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout, Bangalore.
- Installed Bar-End Finisher Kits (Part No.1990220) for the same handlebar. From Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout, Bangalore.
- BMC Lifetime Filter for the Himalayan- Sourced from Big Bear Customs, St. Marks Road, Bangalore.
- Brake Reservoir protector from the Continental GT (535). (Available at most Service Centres)
- Continental GT (535) Rear View Mirrors. (Available at a few RE Service Centres)
The following upgrades are in the pipeline. I hope to get these on before crossing 20000 kms on the Odo.
- Touring Seat (Part No. 1990208) (From Royal Enfield Accessories)
- 90×90/21 (Front) and 150×70/17 (Rear) Tyre setup. Brand Options- Metzeler Tourance, Pirelli Scorpion Rally, Pirelli Scorpion Trail. (Researching online Sources, Dealers)
On this bike, highs last and lows don’t. I was lucky that most technical issues, were quickly sorted out by my friendly neighbourhood service centre. There’s some things to be conscious of, which I have highlighted below:
Tyres– The stock tyres (Ceat Gripp XL 90×90/21 F & 120×90/17 R) are capable of taking on quite a beating. I’ve run them through all kinds of roads and trails and not suffered a single puncture to date. But they also wear out quick, compared to other tyres serving this category of motorcycles. My rear tyre, almost featureless at 15000km, had to be replaced. The front tyre, seems like it’ll live for another 5000 kms, tops. These tyres are not an easy find either. If you’ve loved the stock tyres on the Himalayan, chances are, you’ll not want to deviate from this spec. Unless you have moolah enough to invest in 21″ and 17″ Pirelli Scorpion Rally doing duty on Tigers, BMW 850 GS and Africa Twins. I’ve also shortlisted Metzeler Tourance and Pirelli MT 60 as possible upgrades. They are expensive upgrades which will need some forethought. Won’t offer a lot of mileage in Indian conditions, either. Roadholding and cornering ability is said to improve tremendously though.
Wear and Tear– Face it, if you’ve owned a Royal Enfield, chances are, you’ve made your peace with fading paint, rust issues and low life rubber parts. The Himalayan can be said to be a notch better. Engineering that qualifies it to be an adventure tourer, is mostly spot on- the suspension, brakes, wheel hubs, chain drive, general body balance and tightness, have fared well. There’s a beautiful acquired patina to the cast Aluminium fittings on the bike, revealed after each wash. What could be better, is the quality of rubber parts, especially fork boots, wire housings, bolt washers and connector caps. These have frayed visibly. The right fork seal was the latest to give in. Rusting is one of those subjects that’s talked about vigorously on the Internet, but has not been a major issue on my bike so far. The paint’s holding up.
DIY Friendly- This aspect of the bike is hard to beat. A simple bike, that a novice like me can take apart with basic tools. I can strip it down to chassis (with some bits like the battery and electricals still on the bike) in about 20 minutes flat. Here’s a list of things I’ve done, which I have never ever dared to do before on any other motorcycle.
– Stripping the bike of tank, seats, fender and number plate and tail light assembly.
– replacing the air filter
– removing the carburettor/ cleaning it
Furthermore, I have observed the following activities being done- and am confident of doing it myself because of how easy the Himalayan is when it comes to maintenance.
– Removing/ fitting the rear tyre
– Engine Oil change
Now if you look at the list above, there’s a good bit of DIY maintenance covered. I’m excluding instances of pannier mounting, chain lubing, carb tuning and other bits of easy maintenance which, for me were not new ground. But attempting the above list on the Classic 500 was a straight no, no, only to be trusted to my mechanic. Engaging with the bike, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, has taken on new meaning.
Touring and commuting– Having heard enough stories of how far folks are travelling with the Himalayan, I realise I’ve not used the bike to a quarter of its potential. I will vouch for it as a fantastic commuter. And most days of the year, for my 40km chaotic commute, the Himalayan has been my weapon of choice. On a few tours that I have done, the machine has been a comfortable mile muncher. The longest ride, was a 1200km plus two day sojourn round Wayanad, (Rolling Through Wayanad). The bike fared admirably, taking on offroad sections, twisties and high speed straights with equal aplomb.
So I think I’ve covered most of the aspects about the bike that I wanted to talk about. In the year gone by (2018), I’ve seen a lot of serious motorcyclists appreciating the Himalayan for what it really is- a no nonsense, do it all, everyday and everywhere motorcycle.
I have compiled below, a list of youtube feeds, from across the world. These happy owners are on a roll with the new 2018 Himalayan. Their stories are inspiring, and in some cases eye-opening. Enjoy!
New lid on the block
Got myself a brand new Bell Qualifyer helmet. Wifey and me just fell in love with the retro themed stripes. Already appreciating some of the finer detailing compared to the outgoing MT Axis, I have used for more than 2 years. Will poke in a review soon!
Spoilt for Choice
As my bro- in- law road trips somewhere Down Under, I use his CBR250R for my office commute, every other day. All my excitement about the free revving and smooth nature of the Himalayan’s engine disappeared once I started riding the CBR on a regular basis. The CBR 250 R is indeed a gem, and at the time of its launch in India, had few equals among bikes which could be used as Sport Tourers. It’s only real competition at the time was the Duke 200 and the Ninja 250. While the Ninja offered similar performance at almost double the price, the Duke 200 lacked the finesse and touring capability that the CBR offered.
So on this crotch rocket with a super smooth mill, all I’d want is a pair of handlebar raisers. I still find the ergonomics too committed for more than an hour’s commute, what with the stop and go traffic in Bangalore, giving you a stiff neck in just about 15 minutes.
I suppose the bikes couldn’t be more contrasting, even when compared on a simple office commute. On the Himalayan, you are perched high over everything else, and have to barely crane your neck to figure out an exit path between car rooftops. You feel exalted and mighty, capable of taking on both the traffic and broken road surfaces at full throttle.
On the CBR, you are crouched low and wary, watching out for gaps between careening cars, estimating closing distances, flicking the bike with your thighs and body weight, and admitting, grudgingly so, that you are actually going faster than you would dare on the Himalayan. That said, the CBR, being the more involving motorcycle, also therefore is the more demanding one. You need to be more careful, you need to maintain body posture, lean in and out in sync and always be super alert. Sums up to an hour, give or take, before you start asking for that all day comfort and rider friendliness of the Himalayan.
Still, until my brother in law returns and claims rightful ownership of his red and silver winger, I pause every morning before the household key bowl, jangling first the RE, then the Honda keys in hand, contemplating the hour’s commute ahead of me, and wonder if I should ride low and hard or tall and easy. 😊
They are drop dead gorgeous. Just watched the launch at EICMA. The Interceptor (California Cool, in the words of CEO Siddharth Lal) and the Continental GT 650 promise to herald a new age of ‘easy and accessible, pure motorcycling fun’. Let’s see what the future holds… for now, I’m rubbing my hands in glee and me eyes are jest feastin’ on them beauties… har har!
More info to be found here
Of heathlands and monoliths…
This Diwali, the long weekend came about promising at least one day of riding fun. I headed out with my cousin (who also owns a Himalayan), towards Manchanbele dam, for a lunch ride. To make the regular route a little more interesting, we chose a detour featuring a beautiful back road between Kanakpura and Mysore highways.
The day forecast glorious weather with long sunny spells. This time of the year heralds the start of the riding season in South India, with late October through to February generally packed with organised tours and riding events. So it felt good to be back in the saddle, even if it was for a short spin.
The short route to Manchanbele from Mysore highway passes through open country that features a lot of heathland like un-farmed land. This year the monsoon strayed well into October, so everywhere we looked, we saw green. At Manchanbele, there was a fair crowd. Entry to the dam is restricted, taking vehicles down to the water is prohibited, so all you could do was stare at the water from higher vantage points. On an earlier occasion, I had been able to park by the water. So there wasn’t much to do but carry on. Savandurga, one of Asia’s largest monoliths, loomed high above the water. I had always wanted to see it up close and we decided to head there.
The road to Savandurga monolith cuts through the lovely Savandurga State Forest, and both in the forest, and on its fringes, we found great spots to stop, shoot and chill :).
Savandurga, is majestic and towering. I had never come close to a monolith before. All I had was childhood memories of leafing through my geography text book and marvelling at the splendid isolation of Ayers Rock. I had always imagined giant monoliths to be far off the grid, in places that existed at the very edge of the map. Savandurga, is no such thing. There were tourist stalls at the parking lot and a temple at the top. We were lucky that there wasn’t much of a throng, so we found ourselves a green spot close to the base and lingered for a while.
The highlight of the ride home, was this shot at dusk, which I feel captures so well, the essence of motorcycling. This is a good start to the riding season. 🙂
Trails in my backyard
A couple of months ago, my cousin and I discovered a great little trail off Shoolagiri, no more than 40 Kms from my doorstep. A small stretch of forest (Samanav Forest) before Shoolagiri, offers an unmarked trail leading to a little rivulet. Keep a lookout for this on the left when returning to Bangalore, a few klicks after the MacDonalds at Shoolagiri. If you are on a Himalayan, you are bound to have a good time!