Ever since Honda made the ground-breaking, if somewhat conservative step of mixing the upright seating position of an off-road motorcycle to the sensible pricing of a commuter motorcycle the adventure bike was born.
Adventure motorcycles that are capable of anything are the latest big trend although the actual machines being produced have ventured further off the trail than the actual bikes ever will, or even ever could. We have Honda making fully faired things with road tyres, BMW putting wheels on ocean-liners and China making bamboo bikes with chocolate engines. Triumph wanted a slice of the pie and now supply potential customers with a new and exciting chance to break down in far off places where previously only KTMs dared to blow themselves to pieces.
Sometimes though, a company gets it right. Yamaha made the 660 Tenere, a machine from left-field which very nearly gave us a bike that was actually good. BMW made some fine Rotax-powered singles that actually worked and didn’t cost more than your mortgage and Suzuki gave us the Strom which never pretended to be a hardcore dirt-plugger, just a road bike that could handle the odd rough track.
And then Enfield came up with the Himalayan.
It’s hardly a ground-breaking design. It’s got the style and charm of a brick to the side of your face with the ergonomics of a tumour. It’s got a small 400cc engine making the power of a restricted 250cc, it’s basic, it’s available in only two basic colours, which, being black and white, couldn’t actually be more basic if you tried really hard. In fact, you could draw the entire spectrum of available options with a piece of paper and a black crayon.
It has a steel frame wrapped around an engine, a tank slapped on top and a seat to sit on. Your money doesn’t buy you upside down forks, you don’t get a lightweight chassis, you don’t get sophisticated clocks with computerised electronic gadgets, you don’t get anything but a bike, and one so ugly that when you go to your garage in the morning you’ll offer it money to leave through the back door.
This is all a major problem to people who think that the BMW R1250GS is the ultimate overland touring machine. Luckily for Enfield, the majority of the people who buy BMWs just use them to ride to the local coffee shop and the only off-tarmac they see is when they pull up on the gravel parking lot.
The Enfield actually is what an adventure bike should be. If you’re doing it right, you won’t care about the gadgets, the name badge, what colour your frame is or how pretty your bike looks from just the right angle. If you’re on an adventure, your bike is loaded with everything you care about and the only thing on your mind is keeping moving. Anything more is just a trick to separate the fools from their money.
From that point of view, I actually like the Himalayan. It looks like a bike, it doesn’t try to be sexy or cool. It just tries to be what you actually need. This is, of course why it probably won’t sell.
Of course there is a point where all this falls down flat and in spectacularly glorious style. The big problem with this bike is the fact that it is an Enfield. This is an Indian company who’ve been reproducing copies of a horribly unreliable British motorcycle for decades. They have a reputation which isn’t entirely positive, breakdowns are common and parts are difficult to source. In fact, during the preview video, a footpeg actually fell off while the machine was being used. Not a terribly good start.
The engine is only a 400cc which many would consider to be too small and it makes power which is disappointing at best. This is a slow bike and really should be thought of as a very heavy 250cc that probably uses too much fuel. The engine design looks decidedly old-fashioned. That might be a good thing in terms of durability but it’s more likely a lack of innovation and a failure to include what’s actually good about modern motorcycles since Enfield have precisely no experience building them.
Although a machine getting back to the roots of motorcycling is a step in the right direction we’re seeing it from the wrong place. This is no coffee-shop poser’s bike, it’s built to be the real deal and for that, I’m impressed.
What’s wrong here is that the first thing an adventure motorcycle needs to be is reliable. We need to trust it completely and with Enfield’s track record, I doubt anyone would be willing to do that. Parts supply is going to be sketchy. In countries selling other Indian bikes, it’s hard to find spares and they are, sadly, often required.
At this point, it’s a machine to watch but not a machine to buy. It’s equal to the Chinese offerings. It might be great but they just don’t have the track-record to tempt anyone away from Japanese bikes. I’ll be seeing how they perform over the next two years but I wouldn’t consider buying one with my own money.
My guess is they’ll sell adequately in India but won’t be taken seriously outside. I also suspect they’ll price themselves out of the market, this bike needs to be very cheap. It competes with lightweight Japanese motorcycles in the 250cc range which are now very well built and quite cheap to buy and run. This thing is going to have to be priced very competitively, considerably cheaper than other machines.
On the plus side, the bike is getting a lot of attention. Let’s hope other manufacturers listen to what people actually want and stop trying to peddle Vista-laptops with wheels, masquerading as adventure motorcycles and actually start making solid machines which ignore the image and get back to being what they really should be.