Cycle World|Issue 3 - 2020
The 3,500-Mile Royal Enfield Summer

If somebody had told me 10 years ago, when I was doing track days on a Ducati 996 and tearing around the backcountry on a KTM 525, that I’d end up spending almost an entire riding season seated quite happily behind the handlebars of a 24 hp, 411cc, $4,700 adventure-touring bike made in India—leaving the other bikes in my small stable almost unridden—I might have been quite puzzled. Editor Mark Hoyer certainly was, as were several of my riding buddies. So, perhaps some explanation is due.

It all started with Alaska.

About a year ago, my wife Barbara and I took an Inside Passage cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage, and we managed to quit eating and drinking long enough to get off the ship and do some exploring of the interior by foot, rental car, and railway. And, of course, I was predictably knocked out by the vastness and beauty of the Alaskan landscape. Gobsmacked, as our British friends might say, and often do. By the time we lifted off from Fairbanks on the flight back to Wisconsin, I looked out the window and announced to Barb, who was already nodding off, “I’m coming back here on a motorcycle.”

She mumbled something in her sleep that I interpreted as “Great idea!”

But what bike? I had a long flight to think about it. And a long winter ahead.

Friends who’d ridden in Alaska had described summer as “road-repair season,” and said to expect occasional stretches of mud and gravel, even on normally paved roads, and suggested that being able to pick up your own bike (while recovering from a slight concussion) was a very good thing. None of this sounded ideal for my 2009 Buell Ulysses, which is a great highway and gravel-road bike, but something of a tall and heavy handful in deep muck.

My 2016 Bonneville T120? Out of its element and too shiny to drop.

Several people suggested that my DR650 Suzuki would work fine, and it probably would, but the DR has a tiring engine resonance that makes Canada look very wide. Also, it’s not much fun in deep sand when heavily loaded—as I discovered while riding in Texas’ Big Bend National Park this past winter.

I’ve recovered quite nicely from that crash. Thank you for asking.

So I spent the following months haunting motorcycle shops to look at alternatives. I was searching for some elusive combination of low, smooth, light, and simple, and not really finding it. Aesthetics mattered too. I’ve never bought a bike I don’t like to admire in the garage. It’s my off-season entertainment.

While making my rounds, I tried several new midsize adventure tourers but seemed to find them, variously, too tall, chunky, high-tech, pointlessly futuristic, or expensive for my simple Walden-esque soul. I guess in the back of my mind, I was really looking for something with the rider-friendly dimensions of the old Honda XL350 I once rode on the Barstow-to-Vegas dual-sport ride, but with modern brakes and suspension. And fuel injection. Yes, the cleaning of clogged carburetor jets has finally lost its glamour for this cowboy.

Toward midsummer, I stopped by our local Triumph/ Royal Enfield dealership for a look around and told the owner, Todd Ligman, about my search. He said, “Have you tried the new Royal Enfield Himalayan?”

I told him no. I’d always liked the looks and character of the Indian-built Royal Enfields, but had heard they often required a bit of fettling to correct their hand-built idiosyncrasies. Ligman assured me that was no longer the case. “We haven’t seen any problems at all in the new Himalayans or 650 Twins,” he said.

It’s a bike that’s comfortable going absolutely anywhere, at least anywhere I have the ability to ride.

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