Royal Enfield is pursuing worldwide dominance in the middleweight segment. It has already achieved this in India, selling over 700,000 units in 2017. With annual growth in double-digit percentages, the factory was expected to manufacture over 900,000 motorcycles in 2018. Putting this in perspective, annual sales industrywide in the U.S. are expected to be about half that.
Royal Enfield’s growth can be attributed to its domestic market, but it has been making a strong push in exports, and has built a wholly-owned American headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2016. The HQ is mostly staffed by H-D expats, which gives the company a better understanding of the American consumer. Royal Enfield observed its domestic consumer using the Bullet model to go weekend off-roading in the Himalayan mountains.
Recognizing that this wasn’t the ideal bike for such an endeavor, the engineers set out to make a bike that was equally good in both urban congestion and in the native mountainous terrain. The design mandate for the Himalayan was to spec an all-new engine with strong low-end torque, good for powering up the side of even the tallest mountains. The bike also had to be lightweight, easy to work on, have a low seat height, and ample ground clearance and suspension travel. After several years of development, the Himalayan launched in 2016 with a carbureted 411cc engine, 31-inch seat height, over 7-inches of suspension travel and 8-inch ground clearance.
Unfortunately, the bike did not meet international homologation for emissions and was primarily sold in India and Columbia for its first two years. Consumer interest prompted the U.S. team to get the bike certified for import. The most important piece of that equation was adding fuel injection.
According to Bear Haughton of Himalayan Heroes, an early adopter and Royal Enfield influencer, who has been leading tours in the Himalayas on the Himalayan for the past two years, “The fuel injection is a game-changer; the carbureted bikes stall all the time.” The five-speed LS410 (long stroke) air-cooled, SOHC single makes roughly 25 horsepower and 25 lb.-ft. of torque, which may not seem like much, but, considering its target demographic, is enough to get the bike from A to B, if you aren’t in a hurry.
We took the bike to an indicated 75 mph on a brief freeway stint, but the entire package is very buzzy above 40 mph on pavement. Long stints on the highway really aren’t where this bike shines. The linkage-assisted shock and front forks both provide over 7-inches of travel, but neither are adjustable. While this makes for a bouncy ride on pavement, once the going gets dirty, the bike hunkers down into its happy place. Combining a street-light, 400-pound wet weight with long-travel suspension, a 26.5-degree rake, 21- inch front wheel, Pirelli Scorpion MT 90 all-terrain tires and a low seat height makes for a whole lot of fun.
We tested the bike at TexPlex in Midlothian, Texas, a 1,000-acre mecca of outdoorsmanship. On the property, customers can mountain bike, shoot firearms, drive earth-movers, take an airborne side-by-side ride (as a passenger) or ride various technical double-track trails. There was ample rain the week before, and several of the trails were closed by mud as deep as four feet. That didn’t stop Royal Enfield from cutting a trail through the woods and bogs, really putting the Himalayan through its paces.
The light weight and low-end grunt of the Himalayan are standouts when the going gets rough. The bike is easily maneuverable and powers through even the most difficult terrain. The suspension ate up berms, ruts, jumps and drops, though it isn’t a motocross bike and will never be mistaken for one. The fueling was superb and the bike never stalled, no matter what we were grinding it over or through, including foot-deep mud puddles. The only fail was taking a steep uphill switchback with a 100-percent (45-degree) grade, where the shifter rammed a berm, bumping it into neutral.
Balance failed and gravity won. While this all happened in reverse slow-motion, and there was zero damage to bike or rider, the same failure would have been far more eventful, and likely more painful on a heavyweight bike. The Himalayan reaffirms that light is right when it comes to serious off-roading. With a capable dual-sport bike, it is likely that Royal Enfield will position itself to make serious inroads on American soil. It’s quite remarkable that this bike is $4,500, and dealers still make a profit.