Riding the new Royal Enfield Himalayan 450 on the tarmac twisties of Himachal

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The new Royal Enfield Himalayan 450 is a lightweight and capable traveller’s motorcycle that can be ridden across countries and continents



The ‘all new’ Himalayan 450 that will be launched at MotoVerse Goa later this month is truly brand new—not a bolt has been carried over from the previous Himalayan 411.

The Himalayan, first launched by Royal Enfield in 2016, was envisioned as a purpose-built, capable motorcycle purely for those keen to explore the changeable and mountainous terrain of the Himalayas. While it came with its own gremlins, it found fans not only among explorers of high-altitude mountain trails, but also in the Americas, Europe, Australia and South East Asia, and has been ridden to the South Pole and to the inhospitable heights of the Karakoram.

On a recent trip to Ladakh in June this year, the most common motorcycle I saw loaded with luggage and often a pillion rider was the Himalayan 411. Royal Enfield realized they had a remarkable platform on their hands—a lightweight adventure tourer that is versatile, incredibly adept, and easy to ride over all kinds of terrain—and knew there was scope for an evolved version. The company took to the drawing board to design and develop the new Himalayan 450 as early as 2017, just a year after the Himalayan 411 debuted.

I have ridden the old Himalayan from the high-altitude tarmac of Tibet to the bone-rearranging dirt tracks of Mustang in Nepal and along the gravel hairpin bends of Zanskar, and, just by comparing the technical specifications and features of the old and the new, it is apparent that the new Himalayan is an evolved one.

When I first saw the Himalayan 450 parked outside the Sitara Himalaya, a lovely hotel above Manali, it tugged at my heartstrings. It is such a handsome motorcycle. The 17-litre fuel tank is as burly as a barrel-chested body builder and gives way to a slim contoured seat. The seat height is adjustable from 825 to 845mm with an optional low seat adjustable from 805 to 825mm. The engine’s cylinder block is angled forward, compared to the old Himalayan’s straight up position. It sits on a combination of 21-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels. It has an all-new twin-spar frame with the engine as a stressed member. The front suspension duties are done by an upside-down (USD) open cartridge fork and there is an adjustable preload monoshock spring at the rear.

Swinging a leg over it, I fired up the engine. Christened as the Sherpa 450 in honour of the hardy inhabitants of the Himalayas, this 452cc liquid-cooled engine develops 40 horsepower at 8000rpm and 40nM of torque at 5500rpm, which is a huge jump from the older 411cc engine that makes 24.3hp and develops 32nM. Add the 196kg kerb weight and you get a 204hp per tonne power to weight ration. The old one stood at 122hp per tonne. More simply put, more muscle on tarmac and generous grunt at high altitudes.

This extra power was apparent when I rode the tarmac twisties up from Sitara to the Atal tunnel. I remember a few years ago, when I was riding the old Himalayan on the tarmac roads in Tibet, my gripe was that it was a sitting duck, straining at 100kph. The new Himalayan 350 will barely break a sweat at 120kph.

With its sweetly tuned suspension and dynamics I could carry the speed of the straights into cambered corners, leaning the motorcycle to foot peg scraping angles. At times, when I shifted down two gears mid-corner, the slipper clutch kept things neat and tidy by ensuring that the rear wheel didn’t momentarily lock up.

The 4-inch circular TFT display is light-sensitive and  gives you all the information you need at a glance.

The 4-inch circular TFT display is light-sensitive and gives you all the information you need at a glance.

Riding these curvy roads, I explored the new 4-inch circular TFT display. TFT or thin-film transistor is used in LCD screens to make the images look brighter. The Himalayan’s TFT is light-sensitive, meaning it goes bright when it’s dark and vice-versa. In fact, it is so sensitive that it constantly switched from night to day mode as I rode that morning through dark shadows and bright sunlight. I found this quite distracting but fortunately, there is an option to set it to either night or day mode irrespective of light conditions. The beauty of this colour display is that it gives you all the information you need at a glance. For the cluttered and monotone cluster of old Himalayan, you needed the cognitive capability of a fighter pilot—which, let’s face it, most of us don’t have.

The four-inch round display runs a Google map engine that syncs with the Royal Enfield app on your smartphone via wi-fi and you can switch between a full map display or a smaller turn-by-turn map display. The latter mode also displays engine rpm, speed, and gear speed with an indication to shift up or down and the music playing on your phone.

You can also control your smartphone music apps via a four-way joystick button next to the horn button on the left hand side. This joystick flips through various modes and information, including fuel range, fuel consumption, battery voltage and engine temperature. But the joystick is so sensitive that I would often inadvertently move it in the wrong direction. My biggest grouse, though, is that the Google Maps engine ravages a smartphone battery like a cloud of locusts in a field of crops. While there is a USB-C socket to keep a phone charged, this means either having a charging cable run from the socket to the phone in your pocket, or mounting the phone on the handlebar—the latter is exactly what the TFT has been designed to do away with, so this phone battery greediness of Royal Enfield app when running the Google maps engine is an issue Royal Enfield will have to soon address. 

Royal Enfield has added provisions for accessories like luggage panniers, pannier rails and a mount for a rear luggage box. These have been designed alongside the motorcycle so that unwieldy bolt-ons won’t have to be added later as was the case with the Himalayan 411.

I knew that the throttle on the new Himalayan is ride-by-wire, meaning there is no cable, and it is a delight that also gives it four throttle modes: Performance with ABS on or off and a corresponding eco mode. In eco mode the throttle response through the first four of the six gears is gentle and gradual. More than fuel economy, this is great for a milder response to a twist of the wrist while riding on ice or gravel surfaces where traction is whimsical.

On that first day, I rode from Manali to Udaipur at the start of the Pangi Valley in Lahaul, a 204km fear-free trip along incredibly narrow roads with quick corners. It is here that I appreciated how much lighter and more powerful it is than its predecessor. When I arrived back at Sitara I was quite free of fatigue both in mind and body and I changed my scheduled deep tissue massage session to a 45-minute guided breath work session.

The Himalayan 450 is a motorcycle not only for the Himalayas but also for the roads leading to and away from the ranges.

The Himalayan 450 is a motorcycle not only for the Himalayas but also for the roads leading to and away from the ranges.

The next morning, I was back on the motorcycle and up in the mountains but this time on the road to Kaza through the valley alongside the Chenab River. Veteran travellers will know that the Gramphu to Chattru road is deceptive—it’s easy to be mesmerized by its stunning beauty and assume that the dirt road is gentle and forgiving. It is not!

On the day I rode that road, the devil had thrown everything into the cauldron to make the road a wicked concoction of black ice, fast flowing streams, boulder stretches, soft sand traps and loose gravel. The new Himalayan, with 10mm more ground clearance and a vastly improved suspension setup than its predecessor, was the Harry Potter of horsepower and like a benevolent wizard it kept me safe. Even when I got a little ambitious and started jumping over rocks to go airborne, the motorcycle would land gracefully.

After two days of riding the Himalayan 450 over tarmac and dirt my biggest take away was that while this motorcycle is definitely more forgiving on dirt, it is on tarmac that it shines. It will not only power through a stubborn sand trap at 12,000 feet but also provides more than enough grunt on smooth tarmac. It is a motorcycle not only for the Himalayas but also for the roads leading to and away from the ranges. This new addition to the Royal Enfield stables, though born in the Himalayas, has evolved into a motorcycle that is a globetrotter.

The Royal Enfield Himalayan Electric, the company's first electric vehicle, in the Himalayas.

The Royal Enfield Himalayan Electric, the company’s first electric vehicle, in the Himalayas.
(Courtesy Royal Enfield)

Himalayan Electric breaks cover

Royal Enfield unveiled its first-ever electric vehicle design concept at the EICMA Motor Show 2023 on 7 November 2023 in Milan, Italy, the company’s first step towards encouraging sustainable travel in the Himalayas so that generations of motorcyclists can enjoy these high mountain roads that are a bucket list trip for many. The Royal Enfield Himalayan Electric was showcased at the premier autoshow alongside the new Himalayan 450. The company’s Electric Testbed project uses rapid prototyping and iterative design with the objective of augmenting the experience of exploration by allowing the rider to listen to the soundtrack of the Himalayas: the voices in the villages, and the sound of wind through the desert lands. The specs of the Himalayan Electric have not been announced, and it will be a while before it hits the streets.

Rishad Saam Mehta is a Mumbai-based author, travel writer and budding travel video maker.

 

 

 

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