Adventure riding in India..
With the launch of the Himalayan, Royal Enfield kick-started the ADV outbreak in India, which has actually brought around some great motorcycles.
Discovering the world of adventure bikes is an experience on it's own. Its hard to hold back your amazement (or amusement) when you stumble across any ADV. The massive yet thin front wheel stuck to some seriously tall suspension, a beak hovering over the front, the awkwardly shaped frame, dropping in height as your eyes glide over to the fat rear tire....... it looks as ridiculous as Sir Clarkson's "The Excellent".
Granted, these purpose built motorcycles are usually jack-of-all-trades (lacking in some) but their hideous design is hard to comprehend when you've spent most of your life admiring sport bikes, cruisers and classics.
Growing up in India, my introduction to ADVs was late, far later than what one could say was normal. It doesn't help that ADVs weren't a popular segment of motorcycles on sale, at least not the affordable variety. Thankfully, a lot of good players have unloaded some serious machines into the Indian market today.
Out of all the motorcycles available, I believe the best out of the collection for a beginner such as myself, or even experienced riders looking for inexpensive options, are the Xpulse and the Himalayan.
1. Hero Xpulse 200
Hero launched the Xpulse as the successor to the Impulse. Banking on a bigger engine, the Xpulse comes in as a great offering to the crowds of aspiring off-road riders, be it beginners or those undergoing a mid-life crisis. It's easily the cheapest option in the market, and a bargain at that, as Hero has gone to great lengths to turn this into a capable, yet accessible motorcycle. It comes equipped with a 200cc engine paired to a five-speed gearbox, a 21-inch front wheel and an 18-inch rear wheel. The BS6 edition loses a wee bit of power, but it shouldn't be a concern considering the goal for this bike. There's very little you can't do on an Xpulse, even though touring may not be very entertaining for the experienced.
2. Royal Enfield Himalayan
Royal Enfield took the bold step in introducing the Himalayan as the motorcycle purpose-built to handle the Himalayas. With Ladakh being the Mecca for Enfield enthusiasts, this was a step in the right direction for those yearning for a bike outshining a Bullet or a Thunderbird. The Himalayan offers everything both a beginner and intermediate rider can appreciate, and it might actually be good enough period. Royal Enfield introduced a fresh 411-cc single-cylinder, which might not turn in more than 25 hp but it does provide a hardy 32 Nm of torque. In other words, enough to tractor anywhere. With the BS6 update, they've not only added ABS to the package, but also made the rear-wheel ABS switchable for those good ol' dirt slides. The gearing is tall, well set for both touring and can fair quite well in the city. Another big talking point is the range, with the Himalayan offering nearly 500 km of range on a full tank.
When we compare the Himalayan with the Xpulse (an absurd notion, as the Himalayan is literally twice as expensive), it's easy to point out some differences when it comes to their drivetrain, design and weight.
The Xpulse is clearly an easier and more manageable bike. It's lighter, with enough power and short gearing to make city rides a breeze. This compliments the bikes performance off road as well. There are no surprises from the engine, but this drivetrain keeps things moving no matter what one throws at it. What also matters is the high ground clearance, high footpeg setting and taller seat, all contributing well to keep the Xpulse from scraping or bottoming out, unlike the Himalayan. Other advantages of buying the Xpulse are the cost of maintenance and availability of spare parts, as Hero is one of the biggest manufacturers in India.
The Himalayan is the better touring bike. The torquey motor paired to the tall gearing makes sense when you hit over 100 km/h cruising speeds. The bike has serious luggage carrying capacity, with Royal Enfield offering aluminium panniers as an option. The Xpulse with it's drivetrain can cruise comfortably around 80-90 km/h, and while it has some luggage carrying capacity, it's no match for the Himalayan. The Himalayan is good off road too, tractable and easy to ride through difficult terrain. The Xpulse may handle technical off road surfaces better, but the Himalayan outshines it on dirt trails. In the city, it may not be the best through stop and go traffic (tall gearing is a pain), but it is a better option if you ride with a pillion.
What both these bikes can do is glide over bad road surfaces, something that makes your daily commute a whole lot easier.
In my opinion, as someone who's just had his driving license delivered home, the Xpulse is a good option for me. Gaining some experience on two wheels is something that matters more, be it on road or off road, and on paper I think the Xpulse is perfect for this role. Don't get me wrong, the Himalayan is a beginner friendly bike as well, it' s just my track record of damaged MTB's clearly suggests there will be loads of tumbles I will endure, and thus a lighter and cheaper bike would be the smarter choice.
Obviously, there are some more motorcycles that deserve an honorable mention. These bikes are branded as entry-level ADV's, but somehow there is nothing entry-level about their pricing:
1. KTM 390 Adventure
2. BMW G 310 GS
3. Kawasaki Versys 300-X
4. Benelli TRK 502X