It’s an epic trip. Riding an iconic Royal Enfield from the mountain resort of Manali right up into the achingly beautiful Ladakh region, crossing the three highest motorable passes on the planet is all part of the experience on our Himalayan Heights tour. And with the 2017 tours nearly full, we’re already taking bookings for 2018 and beyond.
This is a life experience you don’t want to miss
But many of our potential customers are asking us why we are sticking to using the Royal Enfield Classic 500 rather than the all new Himalayan model released to much excitement at the end of last year.
Surely the all new model is specifically designed for the terrain, with better suspension, more modern technology and altogether more suitable geometry to the rigours of the roads in the region. When the surfaces can vary from smooth tarmac to washed out riverbeds, choosing the Himalayan would seem to be a no-brainer …
The Himalayan should be ideal for the job
But while some might think this Bike is the ideal bike for our tours, we won’t be jumping ship to the Himalayan any time soon. And this isn’t just a case of our heart ruling our head – it’s both of them choosing the Classic every time. No contest whatsoever.
CLASSIC Vs HIMALYAN: Choosing with your head
So on paper, the choice should be obvious. The Classic 500 is a bike that was essentially designed in the 1950s. OK so it may have all new fuel-injection and electronic ignition, but strip that away and this is a motor that your Grandfather would recognise, and possibly still want to ride! The iconic air-cooled single with the deep-finned cylinder, the low-slung exhaust, sprung seat and two-tone paint with hand-finished pin-striping is firmly set in the past.
But the Himalayan takes all that and brings it up to date. With the new adventure bike, Royal Enfield had hoped to catch the wave that is sweeping through the motorcycle industry. A modern adventure bike that could compete in a packed market place at a fraction of the cost. At least that was the plan.
But recent press reports from India suggest that far from competing with the likes of the Triumph Tiger and BMW F800, the Himalayan is struggling with faults in just about every department.
Indian owner Mr Puneeth bought one of the bikes, but was unsatisfied with the faults the bike developed. When the supplying dealer seemed unable or unwilling to help, Puneeth took his complaint straight to Royal Enfield HQ in Chennai. Despite engineers from the company inspecting the bike, no proper solution was offered and it appears that RE refused to compensate him for the issues with the bike.
With no other option, Puneeth took the manufacturer to court, supplying some 62 examples to prove that the bike had been supplied with faulty or defective components. Faults allegedly included rusting of many parts, leaking fuel tank and carburettor, oil leaks from the engine, stalling problems, idling issues and problems with the gear selection.
The faults reported appear to replicate the experience of many owners of the new model. While many new bikes experience some unexpected teething issues in the first model run, this was above and beyond the normal.
In what was a surprising response to a serious complaint, Royal Enfield initially failed to send a representative to the court, but they later sent an advocate on their behalf. His input was clearly of little use as the court found in Puneeth’s favour, awarding an undisclosed sum to be paid to him as compensation for his problems. The company have said they may appeal the decision, but to do so would only serve to further protract what must be an embarrassing situation.
Clearly with this backdrop of potential issues with the Himalayan, the decision to stay well away from using the bikes for the customers on our tours was not difficult.
Compared to the Classic 500, there is simply no competition. The 500 has tried and trusted technology, a dependable and virtually bomb-proof engine and sturdy cycle parts. And with the whole of the Indian motorcycle market dominated by reliable and sturdy 350cc and 500cc versions on the air-cooled and old-school Royal Enfield, parts and components are widely available across the entire continent. Every village has a guy who can do everything from mend a puncture to a full engine rebuild on his kitchen table.
Break a footpeg in Leh and you’ll be able to find a replacement within ten minutes. Enough said?
CLASSIC VS HIMALYAN: Choosing with your heart
Just spending time riding bikes with your mates – priceless
Now if we are talking making a decision with your heart, the choice is just as simple.
A trip to ride in the Himalayas is a life-affirming experience. The chance to ride through the epic landscapes of this incredible country is not something many will have. And doing it on a classic bike with a group of old mates or new friends is part of the experience to be enjoyed. Most of us have got modern bikes at home , so the chance to ride an iconic, chugging, big single-cylinder classic through this land is what it’s all about. Yes the suspension travel isn’t great, yes the bike isn’t that fast but all that doesn’t matter. This is the bike that rules India, coming from a line of bikes that used to rule the world – and you are living the experience 100%.
Even if the Royal Himalayan was entirely without faults, the reality is that it would not be anything like as good as the Japanese, Austrian or German equivalent. Choosing it for a trip like this would be like going into a Rolex shop and coming out with a Casio. If you are not going to go for the full classic Indian Enfield experience, there are far better bikes to choose than the Himalayan.
But when you finally reach the summit of the Khardungla Pass at over five kilometers on that 500 Classic designed sometime last century, you’ll understand that it was the only way to do it …
Life does not get much better than this
So that’s the long and short of it. An epic trip on a trusted and iconic motorcycle is what we are staying with.
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