This past weekend, at The Classic Moto Show here in Bogota, I finally got a chance to ride the Royal Enfield Himalayan. It has been a long time coming. I first saw press images nearly two years ago, and though it is still not available in the US, we have seen more than a few on the road in Latin America, where it has been available for a while. I was asked to share my opinion, so here it is.
From the moment the bike was announced, I was smitten. In its graceful profile I saw an unabashedly romantic motorcycle that embraced the aesthetic simplicity of a golden age of machines that hadn't yet been given minds of their own. It harkened back to the early days of adventure motorcycling, when BMW was just beginning to experiment with setting a big bike loose in the sand dunes of Dakar. Then, the motorcycle was a humble beast and the rider, her master. It was for my own pursuit of simplicity that I set out for Ushuaia on a 33 year old classic, ignoring the lure of the ABS brakes, computer-controlled suspensions, fuel injected cylinders, traction control, automatic tire pressure sensors, and more, boasted of by modern bikes.
In recent years, adventure motorcycle makers like BMW and KTM have been freebasing testosterone in their race to produce the fastest, meanest, strongest, toughest, smartest set of wheels ever to pull into the parking lot of a Whole Foods. And certainly these bikes are incredible works of engineering. They are almost unfathomably complex and capable of feats far exceeding all but the most accomplished of their riders.
It is into a crowded arena of hyper-muscular gladiators that Royal Enfield introduced their modest Himalayan. I won’t detail the bike’s specs. You can find them elsewhere and, suffice to say, by modern standards they are not impressive. A rider of big modern adventure bikes might say that the engine is too small, the acceleration is weak, the handling is middling, and the suspension is short and stiff. But I don’t ride big modern adventure bikes, I ride old, beat down and revived BMW Airheads. And I admit, after a lap around the track, I agree with the others. The Himalayan feels the way it looks, from a different era. When I dismounted, I was already ogling the KTM 1090 Adventure. Perhaps the retro Himalayan reminded me too much of the bikes I am already familiar with, and Saturday I was looking to be wowed. After all, how could this $5000 Royal Enfield hope to compete for my attention with bikes over three times its price?
But therein lies the rub. This bike isn’t competing in the big bike race. It isn’t racing at all. And I think if we’re honest, most of us aren’t terribly interested in racing either. If BMW and KTM have been successful in convincing us that we need more speed and more power to be happy, the Himalayan quietly reminds us that we don’t. We really don’t need much at all. We just need a heart hungry for adventure and a humble bike to ride. And for that, maybe Royal Enfield has given us just what we need.