Midlothian, TX – A good motorcycle can be both a tool and a toy. And that’s exactly what’s offered in the latest intro from India-based Royal Enfield, the Himalayan.
While 410 cc’s, a single cylinder, and 24 HP won’t set your pants on fire, it will – if designed properly – be a lot of fun to ride. In this case, we rode the new Himalayan for only a couple hours, too short of a time to make more than an initial impression. But that initial impression suggests this: the bike could take me a lot of places I want to go, and be a decent day rider and commuter as well. In other words, the Himalayan is an all-around motorcycle, fully capable of getting me to work on weekdays and out into the deserts or mountains on weekends.
[Photos from Alan Pease]
On the launch, we rode on back roads around the areas south of Dallas. Some were paved, some were gravel and some were dirt. Most were a mix of all of the above. All were small. We rolled off the throttle as much as we rolled on. We hit an easy 80 mph or more where we could, and the bike delivered the same easy confidence as when we were going slow. After about an hour on road, and once we had the feel for this machine, we hit the off-road courses at TexPlex (texplexpark.com), designed to show the skeptics among us that 24 HP might actually be enough.
At TexPlex we blasted down dirt and mud trails, through water holes, around trees in curves on narrow off-camber dirt and mud paths, and finally we rode through deep mud bogs and over rocks for an hour or more.
In other words, we had a lot of fun. We just did not have enough fun. No one wants to quit having fun. For a serious evaluation we’ll have to wait until we get the bike for an extended test period, which hopefully will happen very soon. It’s one thing to ride for a couple hours, but quite another to ride for a couple of days or a couple of weeks.
In addition, everyone rode one-up. There were no pillion riders. No luggage. No added weight of any kind. All of which can make a huge difference in your day. That said, my ideal adventure bike is not necessarily one I would load up with hundreds of pounds of extra weight (if I can help it). I much prefer riding to a destination, leaving all but the necessary essentials in a hotel room, and taking that same bike out over whatever roads I want to ride. That’s why I’ve owned a BMW R80GS since they first came out. I want to go places and I don’t want a lack of pavement to stop me.
Royal Enfield is the oldest motorcycle manufacturer on the planet. It was founded in 1901. In 1955 they began using motorcycles to traverse the Himalayan Mountains for the army. Fifty years later, they were using motorcycles for civilians seeking adventure in the Himalayans. Ten years after that, they were designing a motorcycle specifically that could go up and over 18,000 ft passes. (For a look, google Himalayan Odyssey).
Today, Royal Enfield is a company on a mission. Last year it sold fewer than 1000 motorcycles in the US, although the company sold over 850,000 in India, where they are based. This coming year they hope to double that number. That’s not exactly a tall order, but their philosophy is to get it right, not get it fast.
All Royal Enfield motorcycles are pre-delivery inspected at one facility near Fort Worth. Every bike is uncrated and assembled there, each one having to pass a 100-point inspection. According to Royal Enfield, this has cut initial warranty claims by 90%. And the thinking behind this is both simple and genius – have one facility do all the initial work and make sure the bike goes out to the dealer and customer ready to ride.
Once the bike has been inspected, it won’t go to a dealer until the dealer wants it. This is another break from the norm. Bikes won’t stack up at dealerships waiting for customers. Currently, there are 75 dealers throughout the US. Royal Enfield would like that number to rise to 125. In addition, Royal Enfield selects dealers in an unusual way. While some dealers are already selling other brands, Royal Enfield also enlists dealers who have small shops. The main thing is to have dealers who are enthusiastic about the brand.
Royal Enfield operates two technical training centers for dealers and mechanics, one in Fort Worth and the other in Milwaukee. In addition to its dealer network, Royal Enfield has authorized service centers in Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and Provo, Utah. Royal Enfield’s U.S. bikes come with a two year, unlimited mileage warranty.
I thought it was properly fitting that the Royal Enfield Motorcycle Company hosted the traveling press in a courtyard, even if it was a Courtyard by Marriott. We were wined and dined with BBQ and brisket, and more brisket, and we rode a shuttle bus between our hotel digs and the TexPlex facility. We were offered opportunities to shoot skeet, ride jet skis, play with earth movers and shoot 9mm pistols. (There was also a dealer event later in the week and dealers – especially car dealers – really enjoy that stuff).
Me, I like to ride. I didn’t shoot anything, move any earth, or get wet on a jet ski. And I still had a good time! As off-road legend Malcolm Smith put it, we eat, sleep, breathe, live, love and dream motorcycles. Here’s to you, Malcolm! And here’s to Royal Enfield. It looks like they might have just brought back the reason so many kids once threw a leg over a motorcycle, kicked an engine to life and never looked back!