The monsoons have made some impressive trails and it’s time to get dirty! Which of the ‘budget’ off roaders should you be spending your money on?
A recent trip to Hamley’s got me wondering about having a ‘toy’ for the monsoons with a motor. And two-wheels, of course. It must not be easily breakable, have an adequate shelf life and must fit my budget, after all I am not Ambani’s heir. And last but the most important bit – it must appeal to the eight-year-old in me.
Everything with a motor is unleashed on the tarmac during monsoons. But those who can tread the beaten path are special; these are the toys that bring joy to us petrolheads during the monsoons. One such toy is the Royal Enfield Himalayan which has been keeping the Indiana Jones’ on two-wheels happy for quite some time now. Although, it does have its quirks including its unpredictable reliability woes. But now there’s a new toy to please kids like us – the Hero Xpulse 200. It not only costs almost half the money but brings almost the same goodies and then some more. But shopping for toys is not as easy picking groceries, is it?
The go-to ADV for budget buyers – the Himalayan hasn’t had a great outing till date. It started on a great note but reliability issues ensued and what followed was sales dropping to three-digit figures. Then came the BSIV variant with ABS sometime last year which showed massive improvement over its predecessor, bringing hope for Royal Enfield. The sales may not have picked up but it has definitely won the hearts of enthusiasts. Credit where it’s due; the ergonomics are the most sorted on any of the entry-level ADVs, bettering even the BMW G 310 GS. Yes, it’s BMW who invented the ADV segment but Royal Enfield has hit the bull’s eye when it comes to the riding position. The slightly rear set pegs combined with a low saddle (800mm) and perfectly placed handlebar equates to a superb riding position on the highway. Not just that, even when you’re sending it on the trails while standing, the Himalayan makes it as simple as a kid playing around with his Fisher Price walker. The analogue cum digital cluster may seem dated but the layout as well the clocks have a charm of their own, especially that compass. And the story continues when it comes to that engine as well.
On paper, the Himalayan costs 75,000 rupees extra but it gets an engine that packs in more than twice the displacement of the Hero Xpulse. The long stroke engine is obviously low on power with just 24bhp on tap. However, the max torque is massive at 32Nm and is developed way down the range. The engine has a very low compression ratio too at just 9.5:1 which clearly shows in the way it behaves. The mechanical soundtrack of the air-cooled motor lends it a very likeable character, which the Xpulse clearly lacks. The way it moves is symbolical of a tourer with loads of low-down torque. The max power is developed at a lowly 6,500rpm but the tall ratios allow it to hit 100kmph in third gear itself. Take the case of Xpulse for example. It hits 100kmph in fifth gear at 7,500rpm, which makes it very uncomfortable for touring. The Himalayan does it at a sublime 4,000rpm. Things aren’t so rosy as they seem as the Himalayan too is uncomfortable at such speeds but it still does it better than the Xpulse. Where it loses the most points is its weight though.
At 194kg, the Himalayan is heavier than the Xpulse by all of 40kg. And because of the same; despite its longer suspension travel, it manages to bottom out, especially the rear. The main stand too hits occasional stones on trails. The ride quality is brilliant though and you can do faster speeds than on the Xpulse on bad roads without crashing through potholes. On trails, you definitely won’t like the additional weight to lug around but the engine along with the ergos add to the riding experience.
The Himalayan is still not perfect and is susceptible to problems but packs in so much character and old school charm that you just cannot dislike it. It’s still a strong contender but has definitely lost the title of the best Made-in-India off-roader.
The Hero Xpulse definitely looks more modern thanks to its Street Twin-like LED headlamp and purposeful knuckle guards. Let’s not forget that at some point in life, we were all enamoured by the Impulse. The Xpulse derives a lot of elements from its predecessor, minus the problematic stuff. For example, the pegs have been moved up for improved ground clearance and the handlebar is wider too. The cluster is fully-digital and also gets Bluetooth connectivity, allowing for Google Maps’ based navigation and call alerts. Unlike other gimmicky clusters, this one works brilliantly. And the Xpulse costs 75,000 rupees less than the Himalayan!
While the Himalayan still feels more like a relaxed ADV, the Xpulse tilts towards the dual sport side of things. The taller saddle at 824mm isn’t really too high but definitely a lot higher than the Himalayan’s. The pegs are forward placed and the tank is too slim to hold onto. The riding position is very aggressive and is almost like an MXer. The handlebar too is lower and thus it doesn’t feel natural to stand and ride the Xpulse.
The chink in its armour is definitely the engine. The 2V, 199.6cc engine makes 18bhp and 17.1Nm. Derived from the Xtreme 200 R’s motor that is tuned for commuting, you can’t really expect much from the Xpulse. It all comes into play only after 5,000rpm. The low down torque on the Himalayan spoils you to the core and the Xpulse leaves you wanting for the same. The third ratio however is superbly done and allows the Xpulse to hit speeds as low as 15kmph at 1,500rpm. Wring the throttle and she’ll get going albeit with some fluttering of the knuckle guards. In fact, the third gear is all you’ll need for the city. On the highway, the cruising speed is good at abut 85kmph after which things get stressful. We managed to hit 121kmph on the speedo before the limiter cut in. The Himalayan too struggled past 120kmph but managed to go all the way to 137kmph.
The engine scores low marks on trails for the same reason. However, where it shines is its chassis and the suspension setup. The ride quality is simply mind blowing and owing to its lightweight nature, the Xpulse simply glides over everything in its path. The handling too is a lot more neutral than the Himalayan and the Xpulse is not only a lot more fun on the trails but around twisties too. Even cutting through traffic is fun on the lightweight Hero. Aided by brilliant brake setup that has been optimised for off-road usage. Which means, the braking is progressive with a lot of feedback from the lever as well as the pedal. Unlike the Himalayan, the Xpulse gets single-channel ABS which works in its favour, in off-road conditions. All of which, makes the Xpulse superior off the road.
Allow me to confess something. I have already bought my toy; not from Hamley’s but from a Hero dealership. At the first ride in Bengaluru, we rode the Xpulse under the watchful eyes of Hero MotoSports' Dakar champ, C S Santosh. And when he started riding the Xpulse like his 450 dakar bike, I was so impressed by its off-road abilities that the first thing I did after getting back was to make a call to the Hero chaps and pay the booking amount. After a two-month wait, Hero finally delivered my white coloured FI.
For several reasons; the primary being its off-road capability. The neutral handling is reminiscent of the Impulse at every level, making it child’s play to control the bike when on gravel or ruts or even humps. The ride quality is impeccable and so flawless that you’ll actually enjoy going over bad roads. The features and build quality too is at par, especially when you consider the price. The ergos aren’t perfect though and I’ve already bought handlebar risers. However, the bigger problem is the engine. It lacks the much needed low-down grunt making it not only difficult in low speed situations but also on the highway. But if you're starting out, you wouldn't want a bike that's too aggressive, would you?
On the other hand, with the Himalayan, for an extra 75,000 rupees, you’re not only getting a bike that offers touring abilities but a lot more space for panniers and the pillion too. It’s flawed but has an old school charm that makes it irresistible. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll definitely make fewer trips to the Royal Enfield workshops as well, but that is a lottery. For the long rides you ask? My long term Interceptor satiates my needs. But if you are willing to compromise on the off-roading capability, the Himalayan could be the one bike you'll need. You are spending extra money for sure, but rather than spending money on a second bike, wouldn’t you prefer a toy that does it all?
The Xpulse, on the other hand, is the off-road toy that’d help me discover new trails. And the winner of our 'monsoon special' test.
Read our test ride review of the Hero Xpulse 200 and Xpulse 200T - here