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Review: Royal Enfield Himalayan Dual Sport

411cc classic utilitarian low seat adventure bike for just $5,000

By Jean Turner, Photos by Laurette Nicoll and Jean Turner
2/24/2021

Royal Enfield’s retro-styled modern classic Himalayan is the kind of bike that makes me want to put on jodphurs, stuff my treasure map in a canvas knapsack, and ride toward the jungle. The $4,999 Himalayan is an homage to motorcycling the way it used to be—before electronic suspension, ride modes, and traction control. This utilitarian do-it-all bike gets the rider where she or he wants to go while enjoying the raw motorcycling experience.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport jean turner
The Royal Enfield Himalayan glides along for an incredibly smooth ride on the pavement. It is a delight and surprisingly capable both on and off the beaten path. Whatever route leads you to your treasure, the Himalayan will get you there.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport jean turner off road
Standing up, a technique used while riding off-road, is very easy and comfortable to do on the Himalayan. The tapered seat and tank allow for a comfortable standing position. A low center of gravity and 439 pound weight offers stability and maneuverability both on and off the road.

I had been dying to ride the Himalayan the moment I saw it. For its style and low price tag, it struck me as simply amazing. But it comes as no surprise that the price is a trade-off for technology.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport red right
The Himalayan is powered by an air-cooled single cylinder 411cc engine, not nearly as slick in the function and features as some of its competitors. But I wouldn’t want it to be. The Royal Enfield’s basic design is part of its appeal.

This is a motorcycle in a class all its own. The Himalayan is not trying to compete with its more advanced counterparts such as the entry-level dual-sport BMW G 350 GS WRN reviewed here. Yet that doesn’t stop it from “wowing” riders with its great road performance and surprising off-road prowess.

The Himalayan is ready to be outfitted with Royal Enfield accessories like aluminum panniers, hand guards, body guards, touring seat, and more so you can easily and comfortably head out on a transcontinental trek (there are people doing that on this bike), or maybe even mount a surfboard. Or perhaps shed some weight and go flat tracking like the women in the Royal Enfield Build! Train! Race! Program.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport overlander
The Himalayan’s windshield and dash is mounted on bars that dip below and wrap around the sides of the tank, offering yet another cool feature that adds to the bike's "overlander" style (The term overlander refers to traveling to remote places while being self-sufficient.) You can mount auxiliary fuel cans or fresh water cans up there and perhaps still have room to mount your machete and utility shovel. Because once you find the treasure, you’re probably going to have to dig, you know.

While it might be a bit more rugged, the Himalayan isn’t uncivilized by any means. The dash offers the traditional look of dials instead of a screen (speedometer, tachometer, and fuel level), but also offers digital functions including a gear indicator, trip meters, clock, and ambient temperature.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport windshield
The modest windshield provides more protection than you might expect, offering good coverage for the bike’s upright seating position.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport cockpit
The Royal Enfield Himalayan dash features everything you need, including a digital compass, which I love. Doesn’t every intrepid adventurer need a compass?

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport jean turner seat
The standard two piece seat is very comfortable but a touring seat is an optional accessory.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport jean turner seat height
With a 31.5 inch seat height (which is very low for a dual-sport or adventure motorcycle), the Enfield is very approachable. The seat is a bit low for my 5 foot 8 inch height and 32 inch inseam, especially off-road when switching from sitting to standing. But average height riders will appreciate being able to reach the ground more easily than on almost any other stock dual-sport motorcycle.

The bike’s low center of gravity has its benefits, making handling on the road easy and fun, and rocking from side to side through the turns takes very little effort. The motor hums along in a remarkably smooth note thanks to a crankshaft counterbalancer.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport engine
The Himalayan’s air-cooled engine means no radiators or cooling system—one less thing to worry about.

This bike may be air cooled, but the 411cc single isn’t completely devoid of modern technology. Fuel injection and an oil cooler keep things running smoothly even when you climb in elevation.

The five-speed gearbox includes a tall first gear that requires a very steady release and the gaps in the gearbox are a bit wide. But once in the Himalayan’s sweet spot—I’d say 4th gear at 4,000 rpm—it’s smooth as glass. As I swooped through the twists and turns on a newly repaved road heading through, in, and out of oak tree tunnels, the bike could have rocked a baby to sleep. However, a sixth gear would make riding on the highway a little more comfortable and relaxed.

It’s a bit of work to keep the Himalayan on its toes; there’s a lot of shifting and using the clutch to keep it in the powerband. The jump from second to third gear is especially tall. As I got to know the Enfield, I decided to leave it a high gear and let it chug. But because of that ultra-smooth counterbalancer there’s no chugging. Once I stopped all that shifting and just let the low power do the work I could relax and enjoy the scenery. You won’t get there the fastest using this technique, but you’ll get there.

The mellow power and hefty weight (compared to a dirt bike) results in a very planted and predictable ride. Even on hard packed fire roads, which can be quite slick in the turns, the Royal Enfield is pleasantly stable. Torque builds in a very steady manner which allows the Himalayan to maintain good grip and keep you moving forward.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport footpeg
The Himalayan’s footpegs feature rubber inserts that can be removed. With the rubber installed, vibration will be kept at bay making a more comfortable road ride.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport off road peg
Remove the rubber when going off road so the pointy teeth help keep your feet planted while standing on pegs and going through bumpy terrain.

The suspension works well and while the fork tubes on the Enfield aren’t super beefy, they provide very useful flex in the front. The front end eats up choppy bumps and grips well. The chassis geometry and the ability to stand up straight and put more weight over the front end make the bike surprisingly capable in the dirt.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport jean turner front wheel
The Himalayan is outfitted with wire-spoke wheels—21 inch front and 17 inch rear—a feature that is typically reserved for more premium motorcycles. Along with good ground clearance and a sturdy skid plate, the Enfield can take a royal beating on dirt roads.

A new feature that comes on the 2021 Himalayan is switchable ABS that allows the rider to shut off the rear ABS completely, a welcome feature for the dirt-minded buyers. However, I didn’t find the ABS very obtrusive (and as an off-road rider who despises rear ABS, that’s a generous statement). The ABS doesn’t activate as quickly as other bikes I’ve ridden and certainly didn’t amount to any frightening incidents even though I didn’t bother turning it off in the dirt.

review royal enfield himalayan dual-sport jean turner riding dirt
You’re not going to win any drag races on the Himalayan, but the juice is there if you know how to squeeze it. I'm shown wearing the Firstgear women’s Contour jacket, Firstgear Sirocco mesh overpants, Gmax AT-21 helmet, Fly Racing Patrol XC gloves, and TCX X-Street Lady waterproof boots.

The basis of this bike’s appeal, besides the low price, is the visceral experience of riding a classic motorcycle. Because you need to work for the power, use the brakes harder, and push the shifter until you feel the “clunk,” it doesn't make for the easiest "first motorcycle to get started on." On the Himalayan, you’re going to feel the wind at speed and hear the rattling off-road. Get it right and you’re gliding on glass. Push the boundaries and you’re climbing mountains. The surprising capability of the Royal Enfield Himalayan is my favorite thing about it. Treat it right and the reward will come to you.

Specs At A Glance: 2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan
Engine Size: 411cc
Seat Height: 31.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4 gallons
Dry Weight: 439 pounds
Colors: Granite black, Snow white, Sleet grey, Rock red, Lake blue, Gravel grey
MSRP: $4,999

WRN Recommendation: The Royal Enfield Himalayan is an excellent mid-sized adventure bike with minimal frills and lots to love. Best for riders with some experience who are looking to ride on and off the road, if you enjoy the analog fashion of a do-it-all motorcycle and the modern classic style, the budget-priced Himalayan is ready to take you on a grand adventure.

Check out Jean Turner's YouTube video here to see the Himalayan in action.

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