For what you pay and compared to vaguely similar bikes, Royal Enfield’s 2018 BS4 Himalayan comes very well equipped: centre stand; small tail rack plus tank sideracks; small screen; 15-litre tank giving a 400-km range; a small bashplate plus suspension that need not be instantly written off.
Most of those items won’t need improving, but when did that ever stop anyone? Below, I throw out some ideas to help turn the Himalayan into a functional overlander. As with all my project bikes dating right back to the XT500 of 1982, I like to experiment with new stuff and new ways of doing things, much like Enfield’s Himalayan itself.
It’s all part of the adventure and if nothing else, it’s good for the book.
Wheels & Tyres
Out of the showroom REH’s come shod with Brazilian Pirelli MT60s (right;
mine stamped ‘2012’…). The spoked rims are steel: 21 front, 17 on the back. The Pirellis would have been OK for a regular Moroccan ride, but because I’ll be heading into the sands this time, tread becomes a little more critical. Below, some tyres of interest: Motoz Tractionator Adventure; Anlas Capra X and Michelin Anakee Wild.
One thing I’ve quickly discovered is that none of the above tyres come in the stock 120/90 17 size. The only similar tyre I know of is Mitas’ E-09 which I tried on the XR400 in Algeria; a great desert tyre. Generally 17s tend to be low profile tyres suited to bigger, more powerful machines, and 18s are for traditional dirt bikes with taller profiles giving more ‘suspension’ or ‘footprint’ at low pressures. The above trio come no smaller than 130/80 17. There’s probably only a few mil in it, but if possible I’d rather not go overboard with a ‘bigger-must-be-better’ rear tyre. Too much tyre will make the Him even more sluggish.
Swingarm space with the stock MT60s (left) shows plenty of room to the sides but about an inch at the front so for a replacement, actual dimensions may matter. The MT60 is 122mm wide and currently 93mm high from the edge of the rim. The swingarm gap will increase a little as the tyre wears and the chain stretches. Ratio-wise, 120 x 90% technically = 108mm tyre height, while 130 x 80% = only 104mm, so a 130 ought to have a lower profile or height. So even a 10mm wider 130/80 17 tyre will easily fit the Himalayan. Interestingly, an Anakee Wild 130/80-17 M/C 65R TL weighs nearly 50% more than a Wild in 120/80-18 M/C 62S TT (5kg). An Anlas CapraX 130/80 B17 weighs 6.1kg. Motoz don’t know yet.
Fitting an 18-inch rim would greatly expand tyre choice at the slim 120/90-ish end. But with half an inch more radius in the rim, taller 18s could become a squeeze against the front of the swingarm unless a chain link is added to move the wheel back a bit.
An additional incentive to move to an 18 is a chance to replace the stock steel rim with an alloy rim which will be a bit lighter. Suspension and steering, as well as acceleration/braking all react more readily if the unsprung weight – red, below – is kept to a minimum.
I read on the inter net that the effects of unsprung weight includes the rotational mass of the gyroscoping wheel, plus – at non-rallying speeds – the less critical up-and-down mass the suspension has to control (image below). Additional unsprung weight takes more power to turn that mass, more brakes to slow it and better suspension to control it. This mass can be reduced by considering tyre weight, not just the size, tread and price, going tubeless (eliminating heavy-duty inner tubes), as well as lighter rims, chain, rear sprocket materials; forks/swing arms and braking components. I’ve always thought this is a much overlooked area of weight saving on bikes, where changing a pipe is often used as an excuse to save weight. I remember the alloy front wheel on my XT660Z weighed a ton, partly because of the OTT twin discs when one good disc was all that was needed. Cheap stuff can be heavy, even in alloy.
The image below illustrates how much greater the reaction forces are with heavier wheels. Put another way, it’s why your trainers weigh only 320g. ‘Add lightness’ as the old racing adage goes.
And if I’m messing about with rims it would be a shame not to go tubeless, for all the usual reasons. See the link, but basically it’s: DIY mastic as on my 660 Tenere, Outex tape (~£70, never tried), BARTubeless (~£320, as on the 500X RR) and Tubliss (~£180 a pair; as on my GS500R), or a suitable rim (rare/expensive).
If I go to an 18 I’m thinking of giving the 2nd generation Tubliss (right) another go as it’s an easy and inexpensive fit, but they only come in 21, 19 and 18 inch, not 17. Along with greater tyre choice and lighter alloy, that’s a third reason to convert the rear to an 18 inch rim.
Is this all going a bit far with a humble Himalayan, or making the most of its potential? Will I or the bike notice the difference of a lighter wheelset, once all the other junk is added? Unfortunately I don’t have enough time to get a solid riding impression of the stock bike before setting off.
One of the REH’s distinctive features are the tank racks which some mistake for tank protectors. They’ll do that too but to me they’re clearly a handy place to lash items or bags. The previous owner had a similar set-up using Kriega drypacks and helpfully wrapped the Royal Enfield badge in string to stop it getting worn away.
Kriega is one way of doing it, so is Lomo who’ve sent me a pair of their PVC roll-top crash bar dry bags to try (£39 pair). At around 6 litres each they look ideally suited to the racks. I plan to mount them semi-permanently and will use Lomo’s same-sized orange ultralight dry bags (£3) to lift everything out easily when lodging. In the US the more boxy, 3L Rigg fender bags (right) look like a neat fit too.
Then, once I zip on my Giant Loop tank bag, most of my daytime needs will be in view and at arm’s reach, meaning what’s behind can be left strapped in place. It may even mean I can do without a daypack on my back, plus the crash bags will keep the wind and rain off my creaking knees.
For the back an Enfield pannier rack is has just turned from India for under 80 quid. Looks like a hefty set up – it weighs over 5kg. You’ll find them sold on ebay, or at twice the price from UK sellers. I’ve not decided what bags I’ll use on the side. At the simplest I can just lash on a couple of rugged PVC dry bags, as I did with the Rally Raid 500X a couple of years back.
And right at the back the narrow tail rack has taken my long-suffering Touratech tail bag – one of my all-time travel luggage favourites.
Having all these bags spread around the bike is handy for access, compartmentalisation and weight distribution but at, quite literally, the end of a day, it does mean more faffing about to get it all indoors when the parking is less than secure.
Comfort: handlebars; screen; saddle
The bike came with Oxford heated grips – luvlay juvlay. My old Barkbuster Storms will also get their nth outing on an AMW project bike, but it looks like they’ll require BTC 06 curved adaptor clamps (right) to get under the brake lines and so on (they didn’t fit).
Talking of which, with this ABS model (brake line goes under tank to the pump, not straight down to the wheel) I’m not sure there’s enough slack to get much more than an inch of lift on the bars, which means my 50mm Rox Risers may have to sit this one out (they didn’t). Non-ABS Hims ought not have this problem. As it is the stoop for me isn’t too bad and the general position is of course much better than the XSR. I only tend to stand when I must, but that’s partly because I rarely ride a bike where prolonged standing off road is comfortable. One way to dodge the stoop is to lower my height by removing footpeg rubbers. Wearing very thin socks also helps. Fyi: ABS switch hack.
The screen is better than nothing and has a tiny bit of fore and aft adjustment. It’ll be all that’s needed off-road; less so for a long cross-country ride. You can get those clip- or bolt-on deflectors like the adjustable MRA Xcreen (below right) which I had on a recent Tiger (we don’t talk about that bike) and which worked well for what it was. Or Hitchcocks Enfield specialists do a taller version, but only by 60cm. Changing a fixed screen is a gamble while others have found chopping it right down greatly reduces buffeting. Much depends on your helmet, height and attitude to discomfort. You’ll never get it right all the time and it’s all part of the biking experience, so unless you know what works for you, by far the best screen is something adjustable like the Xcreen or the Palmer I had on the CB-X.
It doesn’t feel like the seat will sustain my post Xmas mass, sprung or otherwise, for more than an hour or two. Nothing new there.
I’m getting a mesh Cool Cover to test. One good thing with fitted covers like this, as opposed to airbag seat bags, is that you can securely stuff added padding underneath without having to do a reupholstery job. I’ve got an old Aerostich lambs wool seatpad (right) which used alone may have had it’s day, but under the Cool Cover may add a bit more cushioning.
One good thing on the REH is the two-part seat; it makes any foam-hacking job a bit less terminal. On the right: an excerpt of AMH7 – looks like doing a good DIY job gets complicated. Here’s a nice Seat Concepts job from the US.
I’ve often wondered how much more it costs in time and money to make stock suspension which works out of the crate. There must be no shortage of data and algorithms, so maybe it’s the time in fine tuning an individual model where the costs pile up. We’re so used to regular bikes coming with great engines which can sing and dance in four time zones, but have adequate suspension which presumably is expected to work for most riders at moderate speeds. Crank up the speed or reduce the surface quality and composure soon slips away as suspension travel gets eaten up, as I found on my CB500X and XSR700. But on my BMW XCountry I discovered what decent suspension actually meant: not that obvious on road, but a whole new world of control as dirt turns gnarly. Problem is that’ll be no change from €1000 and trip to Holland, please.
Many reviews say the Himalayan’s suspension is pretty good for what it is, which is all the more surprising when you look at the seemingly spring-bound stock shock on the right. I read it’s not trying to be progressive but a dual rate spring and in fact there is a 2mm gap between the closely set coils.
Currently the only outfits offering shocks are Hyperpro (right; €500) and YSS (above left; made in Thailand). Unusually, both come with rebound damping but the YSS also has adjustable height and was just £270 from Wemoto on special. For that price it’ll be worth a shot and the option of dialling in a bit of extra height will be handy. As it is, the bike tends to sit a little too upright on the sidestand and adding a sandfoot won’t help. And also if I do go for an 18-inch rim where the tyre range is taller, a bit more space will be handy
For the fork YSS also make a kit (above left) costing not much less than the shock. It includes valve emulators (available separately for around £80), something I’ve read of but never tried. For the moment there’s nothing to be lost by starting with some Chinese ebay fork pre-loaders (£10; left; as tried on the XSR). After that I may move up to a firmer K-Tech spring if they’ll make me one. Firmer springs may be enough to bring the front end back up if an 18-inch rear rim is fitted.
I’ll hard wire the trusty Montana in and fit a RAM mount on the bars. I’ll also add a PTO for the Powerlet heated vest and type pump. The claimed 220w alternator output is nothing special, but some wattage has been freed up with dinky LED indicators and there’s a spare LED headlamp which came with the bike. Otherwise I plan to add a switch so the lights aren’t on 24/7. There are times when you don’t want to be seen too easily.
Last but not least, the Trail Tech engine temperature gauge from last year’s XR will get wired on to some very hot part of the Enfield’s engine. With an oil and air-cooled motor, even a low output one like the REH, it’s all the more important know how hot things are getting down in the engine room.