2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan review: Intro to adventure
Royal Enfield's tall-roader makes an excellent first bike for both on- and off-road adventure. It's so good it may be your last bike, too.
Tim StevensFormer editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
What's old is new again in the world of motorcycling. Sport classics like the Ducati Scrambler and BMW R NineT are bridging the retro divide with modern features at accessible prices. But when it comes to mixing heritage with value, Royal Enfield is the one wearing the crown.
The brand built its first motorcycle back in 1901 and while it has certainly seen some significant changes since then -- not the least of them being a shift to Indian ownership and production -- all that really matters in a bike is how well it fares in the modern world.
2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan brings big value to adventure
And that brings me to the Himalayan, a motorcycle very thoroughly designed for just about everything you're likely to throw at it on an average day. And then some. Though it shares a few styling cues with the Continental GT (not that Continental GT), the Himalayan is very much its own thing, not even carrying the company's ubiquitous 500-cc, single-cylinder engine.
Instead it's a 411-cc single making a whopping 24.5 horsepower. Yes, twenty-four point five. You know it's not going to be a particularly roaring ride when there's a decimal point in the power column. That fractional lump is paired with a five-speed transmission. These basic numbers help keep the price astoundingly low: $4,999. That's little more than half the cost of the cheapest Ducati Scrambler, and while the Duc has twice the power and choicer trimmings, it doesn't have anywhere near the same kind of adventure chops as this little Enfield.
The Himalayan's suspension boasts 7.9 inches of travel up front, keeping a 21-inch, 90 section-width tire on the ground. Dual-channel, switchable ABS comes standard in 2021, as does a tall windscreen that's sort of adjustable (by about a quarter inch). A skinny skidplate sits below the motor while some beefy brushguards surround the tank. That pipework and the exposed frame are festooned with plenty of mounting points for all the lights, boxes and other adventure-minded accessories you could ever want.
That said, I'd advise not saddling this thing with too much stuff. I did mention that 24.5 horsepower figure, right? That's less than my wife's 16-year-old, 250-cc Kawasaki Ninja makes, though the Himalayan's 23.6 pound-feet of torque is about 50% higher. And, if you had to choose between the two figures for off-road duties, you'd of course take the torque.
Keeping that in mind, my first impression is that the 31.5-inch seat height makes this an unusually accessible adventure bike. That's about 3 inches lower than the standard seat height on BMW's F 850 GS Adventure, for example, despite the Himalayan only coming up 1.2 inches short on front suspension travel. Meanwhile, its 8.6 inches of ground clearance is 1.4 short of the Beamer.
And I'd say that the reality of the standover is even lower, because the Himalayan has an unbelievably plush seat. This means you'll not only be more stable flat-footing it at traffic lights, you'll be more comfortable motoring between them. But the real reason for that padding is a little more... mechanical. The Himalayan's motor vibrates just as much as you'd expect it to, mirrors quickly turning into a blur as you gain revs. That seat, and some similarly well-padded pegs, ensure your contact points are well-isolated.
You only really feel the vibes if you squeeze the tank with your knees. The solution is, of course, to not do that. I quickly learned the Himalayan is best enjoyed with relaxed everything, knees hanging in the breeze, cruising through corners rather than attacking. That's needed on asphalt thanks to the incredibly soft, nonadjustable suspension. That, combined with the dual-sport nature of the Pirelli MT60 tires, does leave the bike occasionally feeling a bit vague, though never uncertain. It dives into and glides through smooth corners at a reasonable pace, then effortlessly absorbs the worst potholes you can find afterward.
After just a few miles of aiming for every asphalt imperfection, I stopped standing on the pegs and just let the suspension do its thing, further turning this into a relaxing, comfortable ride. You sit bolt upright on the Himalayan, reasonably well sheltered from the wind and knees at a comfortable extension. That soft seat will create some circulation issues after long enough, but the high bars make standing on the pegs easy, so a little extra bloodflow is easy to get. Big miles won't be an issue. And, since I managed 64mpg despite some aggressive use of the throttle, with a four-gallon tank you won't need to stop too often.
When the asphalt ends, the Himalayan really comes into its element. The blue-and-white Enfield is a lovely companion on heavily rutted logging roads. Its light weight means I can throw it around a little more than I would have with something like a monster GS, while its skinny tires easily find purchase, cutting through loose gravel to the harder stuff beneath.
What about the power? I definitely have to make use of that five-speed box more than I might on a more powerful bike, dropping a gear or two before most hills, so thankfully it shifts cleanly and confidently. Sure, more power would be nice, but there's joy to be found in wringing the neck of a bike yet still feeling totally in control. I'll also say that I never found myself wishing for traction control.
I would, however, like better brakes. The single, 300-millimeter front disc squeezed by a two-piston caliper brings me stationary a few feet later than I'd like; I even rolled past a stop sign at one point. Leaning more heavily on the (revised for 2021) rear brake than I typically would helps some, and the stoppers never lacked power on the dirt, but on the road I quickly switch from two fingers to four on the brake lever.
And what about the all-important aesthetics? Bikes with heritage have to look good, too, and I'm in love with the Himalayan's new cerulean and white tank and its purposeful shape. The high front and rear fenders, the wire wheels, the minimal badging, it all works. It's a bike you'll definitely take a few extra moments to admire -- though I will advise potential buyers not admiring too closely. The switchgear and other components aren't exactly top-shelf stuff.
But then what the heck do you expect for $4,999? All my minor complaints about the Royal Enfield Himalayan are instantly erased when cost is factored into the equation. This thing is cheap enough to buy and easy enough to ride that it would be an amazing first bike for anyone who has their mind on adventure. More importantly, it's good enough that you may never want to upgrade.