Thursday, August 17, 2017

Test riding the new Royal Enfield Himalayan
It is definitely not love at first sight, the bike piques your interest though. Not immediately pleasing to the eye like say, a Ducati Scrambler; it looks like a purposeful instrument, where form follows function. It has the long travel front suspension, handle bars are reasonably wide and high, disk brakes at both ends, a small front screen, meaningful appendages to attach panniers. Design cues seem to be from Triumph Tiger or Honda Africa twin, may be? The small sub-frames surrounding the tank for attaching small petrol cans are a nice touch, but I could not see the plastic cans that are supposed to be attached. 
The concept brought many things to mind, mostly nostalgia tinged with regret. Feelings like, "this front fork with 200mm travel would not bottom out"; "this would have freed me from lugging two plastic cans of petrol in the Karolbagh made Ladakh-special carriers"; " this silencer would not get battered by the every odd boulder while crossing streams" etc. In short, the Himalayan is purpose built with one thing in mind for the enthusiast who aims for biking nirvana, that is the mandatory Leh trip, or other roads less travelled! 
I had expected it to be significantly higher and may be heavier than my current Classic; it is not on both counts. The handle bar is reasonably and comfortably wide. The front rake seemed a little more than the old Classic. The front shockers look substantial and more robust with much less flex than the current Classic/Electra/Standard. The front .screen does deflect the air away from the chest, but sends it towards the face, especially the eyes, and I had this funny experience of my old prescription Raybans doing an odd hippie-hippie shake on my nose! The instrument pod is interesting, but it beats me as to why there should be a compass? The only possible places where it might be of any use: Rann of Kutch- you do not want to be heading towards the border which has been contested over 50 years or the featureless, dust laden Moray Plains on your way to Leh from Manali. For that matter, an altimeter may be more useful. The designer may think about a small frame above the steering head bolt to support a large phone or tablet for consulting Google Maps for directions, even in everyday use and a small 12V USB port would very useful too, for charging the phone/tablet, specially you may be stuck with low battery in a remote location when you need Google maps the most! Good advice: by the USB from Karolbagh and get a small frame fabricated for your tank-top. 
The engine is entirely new, being a SOHC, something the RE have never tried before after persisting with pushrods for what, nearly 80 years. In keeping with the hallowed RE tradition, this too is an under-square engine that develops usable torque almost from idling. The only grouse I had was the tinny farting sounds the rather good looking upswept silencer, all brushed stainless steel, made when you let off the throttle. Very much in contrast to the throaty whoosh which even the new silencers make. May be that is just an old Bullet-lover speaking! This is a new bike, with a new frame, new engine, new geometry. Ah yes, the frame is a twin cradle frame that goes round the engine and has a bash plate too! Could the designer think of small crash guards fitted to the twin tubes of the frame, like those on Yamaha RX100s? After all, if you expect to be riding in the Himalayas and not even have one fall? This would be a great improvement on three generations of Bulleteers who have attached crash guards to the single down tube with U-clamps that twist as soon as you fall, and do not protect your feet at all! 37 years of riding an 3 Bullets, yours truly can attest to that,
No kick start, like the Cafe Racer and the engine did give a healthy growl, but I am told you can put it in to 2nd and declutch and push start it! The gear lever is small, with no heel-shifter extension and the shifting is smoother, compared to even the new UCE Bullets. The extra 60-odd ccs do make a difference to the power, although I would not recommend overtaking at high speeds in 5th gear. Shift down a cog, accelerate, overtake and shift up after being back in your lane. No frenetic driving please, after all the bike has a legacy! Apparently the engine can take punishment, says one friend who did Spiti Valley in the thick of monsoons in July. The rear disk brakes are a great source of comfort, given the state of the rear drum brakes in the current crop of Bullets in their various sub-avatars. But, though I like the shape of the enduro-style rear brake lever, it is too small and a little too close to the engine body. It required me have my feet toe-in for effective braking, With big muddy boots on, it might require that extra fraction of a second to point your boot inward, and may cause your feet to slip. It just needs to be another half-Inch outside. 
On sudden acceleration, a metallic noise emanated from the engine, which I thought came from the crank. Not so, assured the mechanic. I liked the headlights, and they seemed similar to those on the new TBird.
Enfield lovers, this is not a Bullet, so stop comparing, this a specialist tool! On the whole, good package, but the engine could take a couple of years to get refined, the small design kinks to get ironed out. Just like the graffiti seen on a Tata Ace, Himalayan can say " बड़ा  होके  मै  Triumph Tiger बनुंगा 

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