By Bruce Mike
Sometimes we are offered unique opportunities at Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly. Reviewing the Royal Enfield Himalayan was one of them. At the time of this review, there were only two prototypes of the bike in North America. On a Friday in late August I got to ride one. I had to go to the new headquarters of Royal Enfield North America which is in Milwaukee. A great city to call home for a storied motorcycle company like Royal Enfield.
The first Royal Enfield motorcycle was built in Britain in 1901 by the Enfield Cycle Company. The company was responsible for the original design and production of the Royal Enfield Bullet. A bike that is still in production today. In 1955 Enfield Cycle Company partnered with Madras Motors in India and formed Enfield of India. They have been building bikes ever since. In 1970 Royal Enfield in the UK stopped producing motorcycles and the company was dissolved in 1971. In 1999, Enfield of India switched its brand to Royal Enfield.
I took my nephew to Milwaukee with me to make sure there was someone there to take pictures. We were meeting Bree Poland, Marketing Manager for Royal Enfield North America, at their corporate headquarters. Because the bike was a prototype, Bree would be our chaperone. That was all the info I had. We had some riding gear, a camera and it was a beautiful day. We got there and found out there would be a bike for each of us to ride. We got some time on the Continental GT as well as the Himalayan. It couldn’t have worked out better.
Every once in awhile I manage to go through a day with a positive attitude and no expectations. This was one of those days. I have been “chaperoned” on rides before and more often than not, it sucks the life out of the ride. This was not the case with Bree. She took us for a real world riding experience. I’m not saying we were out racing around doing wheelies and burnouts but we weren’t going 10 mph under the speed limit either. It was nice to wander around Milwaukee with a rider and not just someone who sells motorcycles.
When I think of Royal Enfield, I think of retro-hipster-cool basic transportation. I had ridden a fuel injected Bullet before and I had seen and sat on the Continental GT. I’ve always liked them for what they are, middleweight, relatively inexpensive, fun-to-ride motorcycles. The Himalayan is a whole different Royal Enfield. It’s still a middleweight, and with a projected US price of $4000 to $5000, it’s very affordable. There is nothing retro about it. This is a whole new motorcycle.
It has an all-new, air-cooled, carbureted (it would be fuel injected if sold in the US) 410cc single-cylinder unit construction engine (UCE), an all-new frame, and shares no parts with any other Royal Enfields. It produces a claimed 24.5 hp at 6,500 rpm and 23 ft lbs. of peak torque at 4,500 rpm. Power is sent through a five-speed transmission. These are not awe inspiring specs but they make for a very easy-to-ride and comfortable motorcycle.
The suspension and brakes are not going to blow your mind either. The front fork is a 41mm and in the rear is a monoshock with adjustable preload. The front wheel is a 21 inch and the rear is a 17 inch. There is 8.6 inches of travel both front and rear. The brakes consist of a twin-piston floating caliper with a 300mm disc up front, and a single piston floating caliper/240mm disc in the rear. I never had any fear of flying over the handlebars but the bike stopped when I wanted it to.
Riding this bike was great. I have a 30 inch inseam and with a seat height of about 31.5 inches, this bike was a perfect fit for me. The riding position is upright and the ergonomics were right. I could easily do some touring on this bike. It weighs a little over 400 lbs. but it’s balanced really well. It’s a fairly narrow bike, even with a nearly 4 gallon fuel tank, it never felt unwieldy or clumsy. It had plenty of torque and throttle response was good. I never got a chance to take it on the highway but I have no reason to believe it wouldn’t have performed well.
I like to categorize bikes and I would put this one in the “Everyday Bike” category. I spent my riding time in Milwaukee on city streets and the Himalayan was great. The suspension wasn’t too hard or too soft, there was plenty of acceleration and maneuvering around potholes was a breeze. I don’t think it would do well with hardcore off-road riding but gravel roads and basic trails, you could do all day.
Royal Enfield’s goal is to become the leading middleweight motorcycle company in the world. The Himalayan may be the missing piece in accomplishing that goal. With the Continental, GT, Classic and Bullet models already available, the Himalayan fills out the line perfectly. Now we just have to get it available for sale in the US.
If you’re a new rider looking for a really cool looking, easy to afford and easy to ride motorcycle, check out what Royal Enfield has to offer. They are sold locally at Go Moto in Minneapolis, 3346 N Washington Ave. The folks at Go Moto are long time riders so they don’t sell bad bikes. If you are in Milwaukee, check out the North American headquarters at Royal Enfield of Milwaukee, 226 N Water St. They would be more than happy to sell you a bike too.
Rod Copes: President of Royal Enfield North America
By B. P. Goebel
MMM: What brought you to Royal Enfield?
Rod Copes: I started at Harley-Davidson in 1993 and had an incredibly blessed career there for almost twenty years. Rotating around, eventually doing all different functions and ending up as an executive in sales and customer service. I left there four years ago and wasn’t sure I would ever be back in the motorcycling industry but about two and a half years ago the CEO of Royal Enfield contacted me. I helped bring Harley-Davidson to India. So I got to know him really well. Royal Enfield was at the stage in there development where they were growing very rapidly and that they wanted to expand globally. So he asked if I would take on the North America region and really, not just grow it, but really kind of almost relaunch the brand in the United States and Canada. So I came on and have been taking on that challenge and been having a lot of fun with it.
MMM: How was Royal Enfield’s middle weight machines received at Sturgis, Land of the Big Bore Cruiser?
Rod Copes: (Laughs) That’s probably the first time Royal Enfield has had a presence at Sturgis. Our reason for being there was just to get the brand out there. You know, we have hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts there. Let’s at least plant a seed in their mind. Everyone was pretty excited. Those that had heard of Royal Enfield were excited to see it again. Those that had never heard of them, we had a story to share. Royal Enfield is the oldest motorcycle company in continuous production, since 1901. Most people don’t know that. They were excited to see the kind of hand crafted, real metal tanks and fenders that give it it’s classic styling.
So it resonated with both populations, those that knew of Royal Enfield and those that had never heard. They were very intrigued by it and many thought “Wow. This is a cool bike, it’s got a neat brand, it’s got a neat heritage, it might be something that I buy as an extra motorcycle, or it might be one that I buy as I’m getting older or might buy one for a friend or family”. It seemed to really fit a number of different opportunities with that motorcycling population.
MMM: Can you talk about the challenge of marketing your machines in the US versus other world markets where Royal Enfield is already well known?
Rod Copes: I think it’s all the areas that you can imagine (laughs). The first is the ‘unknown’ of the brand. And so how do you effectively and efficiently get brand awareness without spending millions of dollars on advertising. We’re targeting social and digital media, as well as very localized events working with our dealer network to really get the brand out there. That is, I think, the biggest challenge. Then the other is the fact that in the United States people don’t buy smaller motorcycles. And so we’re kind of running against a motorcycle industry in the United States that has flipped from what we would call a normal motorcycle mix, you know, 70% smaller motorcycles and 25-30% larger motorcycles is what you normally see in a mature motorcycle market.The US is one that’s actually an inverted pyramid and is 25-30% small motorcycles and 70-80% large motorcycles. Everybody has chased Harley-Davidson over the past two decades building these very large, expensive, complex motorcycles. So we think, while that’s a challenge, its also a huge opportunity. We have a whole new generation and pool of motorcyclists who typically want to go to a smaller motorcycle first. They haven’t had that opportunity in the US because there are very few smaller motorcycles offered. That is, the opportunity and the challenge, all in the same.
MMM: The new Himalayan adventure bike styled by Pierre Terblanche is a radical departure. Why the new focus?
Rod Copes: The Himalayan was actually designed and developed in India for India. So when it was developed it wasn’t really designed for any other market outside India. But we really liked the bike. We brought two examples over into the US and had a number of different brand ambassadors and enthusiasts and media ride the motorcycle and they thought it was a great motorcycle and that it could do very well here. Again, it is a little bit small for our highways, but it’s large enough to be able to get to the off road locations. It’s almost like a 70’s old school enduro. It’s definitely not competing with BMW GSs’, the incredible, high end, expert adventure touring motorcycle, we’re really looking for someone who wants an everyday motorcycle that’s as good off road as it is on road. It could be for urban commuting but it could also be for the farm or for utility purposes. It’s such a broad based motorcycle we know there is an opportunity for that here in the United States.
MMM: Is this the first bike in the pipeline?
Rod Copes: We are pushing very hard for India to homologate that with EFI so that it can be sold here hopefully in spring of 2017.
There are other motorcycles that are in development that, I would say, are more geared to a mature motorcycle market. They will designed for highway riding, higher speed, more performance and fit with riding styles in Europe and North America.
MMM: What would you like the U.S. customer to know about Royal Enfield?
Rod Copes: The first is we’re back. If they have never heard of them(laughs), it’s a great story that we’d love for them to learn about. We think it’s a great opportunity for new motorcyclists as well as existing motorcyclists to participate in again, this return to pure motorcycling. It’s about simplicity, fun, and affordability and we think that resonates with any current or future motorcycle enthusiast in North America.
The Royal Enfield Continental GT
By Bruce Mike
As an unexpected bonus with our trip to Milwaukee we got to ride the Continental GT. I would call this bike Royal Enfield’s factory “Ton Up” bike.
It is pure, simple, motorcycle joy. You probably won’t win a whole lot of races on it and I wouldn’t want to drive it across country, but a day of riding twisties on it would be great.
It reminded me of a 1973 Yamaha RD350 I used to have. My RD was much faster but the riding position and overall feel were close to the same.
I think the Continental GT looks as cool from the factory as my RD did after adding a bunch of after-market parts. Plus, it’s fuel injected, has brakes that work and can go much further than 80 miles on a tank of fuel.
If you’re looking for a classic style cafe racer, check out the Continental GT. At around $6000 with a 2-year unlimited mileage warranty, I think it’s a heck of a deal.