Royal Enfield Himalayan

Royal Enfield Himalayan

The Himalayan is a bike that I really want to like.

The styling is unique. The kind of look that begs for a cult following.

Named after the mountain range it was built to conquer, this 411cc dual sport/adventure motorcycle inspires visions of epic adventures.

I did my research before buying this bike for the riding school. 24 horsepower. Nothing that will get a new rider into any trouble. A seat height just under 32″ giving flat-footed confidence to riders of average height. A reputation for rugged durability in adverse conditions – rugged is definitely a required attribute for a motorcycle that is going to seat hundreds of different riders of varying skill levels every year.

As a bike for new riders it has proven to be a solid addition to our fleet of motorcycles, and a favorite choice for the ICBC road test. Anti-lock brakes and the kind of power delivery that completely removes any need for traction control (you couldn’t spin the rear tire if you tried!). This bike is solid on the highway and easy to handle on the side streets. Off-road, it is boring, but a real workhorse.

I get asked all the time by my students and other instructors if I would recommend it for new riders looking for a first bike. The short answer is yes, but the long answer is more complicated. I typically find myself answering this question with a list of positive qualities about the bike and then a couple of ‘buts’. I recently realized that my initial adulation for this bike had worn off when a buddy of mine asked the question in a slightly different way: “Would you buy another one?”. The speed at which I answered “No!” surprised me.

If you are looking for a great bike to learn on, this could be it. But… don’t be fooled by the hype. Here are the reasons why I wouldn’t buy another one.

  1. The hill climbing power off road is not what you would expect. I’m not just talking about a lack of the fun factor (ie. spinning the rear tire or lifting the front wheel). On a long, steep, rocky climb, high revs and a slipping clutch are required to keep the bike going. I found out while trying to climb a dry creek bed, that my previous adventure bikes would have had no trouble with, that the revs needed to be kept excessively high to have enough power to keep moving forward, and in order to keep the speed manageable at the high revs, a lot of clutch work is required. This is fine for 5 minutes at a time, but a long climb will require rest stops (not for the rider, but to prevent clutch overheating!).
  2. The bike might be ‘rugged’ and take a beating when necessary, but many minor parts seem prone to failure, such as the turn signal relay (replaced twice in the first six months), brake light switches, fuel guage, etc. These minor issues won’t leave you stranded in the mountains, but as a commuter bike, they might put you in a risky situation. When the first minor issues arose, I forgave the bike, thinking that it wasn’t the bike’s fault that some small part failed, but after 5 or 6 failures in the first year, I started wondering what was the benefit of buying a new bike if it had more issues than my 10 year old Honda?
  3. The tires and battery that came stock with the bike appear to be intended to save money. The battery was weak from day 1 and I replaced it after 3 months. The rear tire lasted a mere 5,000km.
  4. Outside of India, parts can be hard to come by. With Hondas, Suzukis, Yamahas and even Harleys, you can expect to pick up parts at the local dealer, or order on Amazon/Ebay and get a delivery within a couple days. Not the case, at least not yet, for the Royal Enfields. The first time my turn signal relay fried (2 weeks after purchase), the dealer in Vancouver was kind enough to take a relay from the display model as they didn’t have any in stock and expected a 3 week wait for arrival of the replacement part. The second time my signals stopped working a few months later, the dealer still had none in stock. I ordered an aftermarket part and spliced the wires to make it work. When a student dropped the bike while parking it and the brake lever broke, replacing it with a universal lever wasn’t an option and the delivery time was, once again, 3 weeks. A burnt out clutch… 5 weeks. A faulty fuel gauge, a leaky gas tank, a faulty front brake light switch, a weak kickstand are all issues that have been encountered in the first 12 months of ownership.

So would I buy another one? No way. Would I recommend it to new riders? Well, it’s a safe, rugged (not necessarily reliable), affordable bike that won’t get you into any trouble. If it appeals to you, and you can afford to have it parked while waiting for replacement parts to arrive from overseas, then it might be worthwhile, as there isn’t anything else that quite compares to it (combination of street styling, ease of riding, low seat for an adventure bike, low price and off road capable). But after one year and 10,000 kms, I’m over it.

*May 11 2023 – addendum: Since publishing this document, a new issue has arisen which will require warranty repair. If the hazard lights are turned on, the bike will start without a key!! Searching the internet I don’t see any other R.E. owners complaining about this issue, but I was a little shocked when I hit the hazard switch and saw my dashboard light up. Until I can get an appointment at the dealer to resolve the issue, I leave the bike double locked when on the street!!