Adventures of a lifetime

Do we dream of hopping on a glorious two-wheeler and leaving it all behind? With Royal Enfield’s new Himalayan, there is one less reason to sit on our hands. And where better than Nepal for THE RAKE to put the bike to the test...

Adventures of a lifetime

Lifelong biking buddies Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman really started something with the release nearly 20 years ago of Long Way Round, the documentary about their 19,000-mile ride eastwards from London to New York on mighty BMW R1150GS motorcycles. The film and its 2007 sequel, Long Way Down, sparked a fire in people who had long harboured thoughts of getting out there and discovering the world by following its roads less travelled from the vantage point of a bike designed specifically for the job. 

Sales of so-called ‘adventure sport’ machines soared, with BMW’s GS models topping the charts for years to come and prompting rival manufacturers to follow suit with other large-capacity on/off-road bikes equipped with long-range fuel tanks, long travel suspension, all-terrain tyres and purposeful aluminium luggage systems. 

But in 2015, the Indian marque Royal Enfield put the cat among the pigeons by introducing a bike that promised to do the same job using a far smaller, 410cc engine and costing a lot less money. It was lighter and more nimble, too — and much easier to pick up on a rocky track in the boondocks when things inevitably went wrong. 

It was called the Himalayan, after the world’s longest and most formidable mountain range, the roads and tracks around which India’s military had been patrolling on the brand’s legendary single-cylinder Bullet road bikes for 60 years. 

Royal Enfield started life in 1851 as a maker of sewing needles before winning a contract from the Royal Small Arms factory in Enfield, north London, to create precision parts for firearms. The deal gave the company both its name and its motto, ‘Made Like a Gun’, which alludes to the quality of the motorbikes it began to build in 1901 and which it later exported to India in large numbers for police and military use. 

By 1955 the Bullet model was so in demand there that Madras Motors began assembling machines from parts imported from England under the Enfield of India name. Within two years it was making components in-house and building bikes from the ground up under licence — and, although the original U.K. marque went bust in 1970, the Indian operation has continued as an independent entity ever since. 

From 1994 Royal Enfield has been owned by the giant Eicher Motors engineering group, who acquired it as a loss-making concern that was shifting fewer than 20,000 machines per year and was in danger of the axe. 

Siddhartha Lal, the son of Eicher’s owner, was handed the reins to Royal Enfield in 2000, at the age of 26, because, he says, “things couldn’t have got any worse”. 

In the intervening near quarter of a century, he has worked on improving build quality and reliability; modernised the Bullet (which remains a transport staple in India); introduced new designs to expand the Royal Enfield line-up to 11 models; and large potholes and where getting from A to B often involves going via Z on surfaces that range from gravel to stones and sand to snow. 

Simon de Burton, The Rake’s Motoring Editor-at-Large, on the trail through the Himalayas with Royal Enfield.

It is, as Royal Enfield say, the terrain that “built the Himalayan”, and the way the bike handled it was impressive, whether making the most of open stretches to ride at speed or trickling slowly through more winding, technical sections. And, on the rare occasions we found smooth tarmac, the Himalayan demonstrated near-sportsbike handling despite its long-travel suspension and upright riding position. 

It really is, as the marketing spiel puts it, “built for all roads — built for no roads”. If you’ve ever dreamed of chucking it all in, saddling up and taking off on your own ‘long way round’ adventure, the Himalayan would do the job with aplomb. 

The first models are due to go on sale in the spring of 2024, and although prices have yet to be announced, we predict a figure around the £6,000 mark — a small price to pay, we think, for the freedom such a bike can bring, and peanuts compared with the Himalayan’s bigger, heavier, harder-to-handle adventure sport rivals. 

Available simultaneously will be a full range of accessories, including all-important aluminium luggage sets, additional engine protection, sump guards, and a higher ‘adventure’ screen. 

For full details of pricing and availability, keep an eye on in the coming weeks. In the meantime, get your map out and start planning... 

“The suspension, front and back, is leagues ahead of the old Himalayan, and considerable thought has been given to the bike’s off-road usefulness,” De Burton writes.

Read the full story in Issue 91, available now.