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Feature: Trails and trials!
Two of the smallest adventure bikes available in the world, endless trails and a question that begs answering. Need any more reason to ride?
Many many moons ago, my friends and I had an idea. A couple of us decided that it would be fun to head into the mountains on some motorcycles. But then came the big question – what motorcycles? All our lofty ideas of big BMW GS Adventures were shot down eventually. What we ended up with were a couple of little commuters, none of them over 125cc. We took them up to one of the highest inhabited villages in the world. Did we have fun? Hell yes! It was an adventure of epic proportions. But did we wish we were on motorcycles that were built for the job? Yes, to that too.
The adventure motorcycle exists for a purpose – to bridge the gap between the highway-loving mile-muncher and the short-geared, knobbly clad enduro. It does a bit of what both of these formats do and a lot of what they each can’t. My biggest problem with these ADVs have always been that they were too heavy. It’s all great when you’re on black top, but the moment you hit the trails, you just cannot get those 300 odd kilos out of your mind. Imagine having to hike down to the next village to rally troops to help pick up your fallen motorcycle. It’s embarrassing, inconvenient and, quite honestly, a massive pain in the backside. Not to mention, if the damn thing falls on you. “Here lies Ashok. He thought he was strong enough to lift a 300kg motorcycle. He wasn’t.”
In my handbook of adventure motorcycling, the lighter the motorcycle is, the more I like it. Of course, I could just head to the gym and build some strength. But ain’t nobody got time for that! Not with so many movies to watch, books to read and trails to ride. What I need is a motorcycle that is light, has decent weather protection, has enough performance and isn’t ugly to look at. Until a few years ago, this would have been just a dream. But with whole world starting to downsize in engine capacity, we now have two very capable contenders. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 and the Royal Enfield Himalayan!
For two motorcycles that are built to do pretty much the same things, they are really quite different. The Himalayan, for example, has no time for any makeup. It’s a motorcycle that knows what its role is and is dressed only for that. In that sense, it’s pretty basic. Personally, I prefer it over the smooth, sleek-looking Versys. There’s something very purposeful about it. Of course, it again depends on personal taste and there really is nothing wrong with the way the Versys looks. In fact, out on the road, it looks like a much larger motorcycle. The dimensions feel a lot closer to a full-size ADV than the Himalayan.
But that doesn’t mean the Versys feels like a big motorcycle. In fact, the little Kawasaki is quite adept at hiding its 184kg kerb weight. The moment you swing a leg over it, you realise how easy the motorcycle is to ride. The seat is wide enough and there are enough contact points for your legs to keep yourself locked-in while riding. This is in addition to the super-light steering that makes it a breeze to pilot off-road and in tight urban conditions. Of course, the light-weight aluminium rims deserve credit too for lowering the unstrung weight and allowing some added agility. In comparison, the Himalayan, although it is lighter by two kilos, feels like a handful. Direction changes require quite a bit of effort and, especially in the city, hustling the bike doesn’t come as effortlessly as it does with the Versys.
Where the Himalayan does shine, though, is when the roads disappear completely. While both motorcycles use similar suspension setups, the Himalayan is slightly more off-road focused. The setup itself is softer and it gets 70mm and 33mm more travel at the front and rear respectively. This means, when you catch some air, the Versys tends to compress its legs completely and make uncomfortable noises while the Himalayan just shrugs at everything and goes about its business. The 21-inch wheels help too, giving the Himalayan slightly better ability to clear obstacles and not get deflected from its intended line of travel. So even though the added inertia of the heavier front wheel setup does affect on-road flick-ability, the gains in off-road rideability are large enough to justify the extra effort.
The tyres too tip the scales in the Himalayan’s favour. The IRC dualsport tyres that the Versys comes with are adequate for most of the off-roading you will get up to, but the Himalayan’s CEATs are just slightly more capable off the road. And when you combine this with the fact that you cannot switch the ABS off on the Versys, it makes for some slightly hairy situations once the speeds go up on the trails. However, the light nature of the bike’s handling does leave you less tired than you’d be on the Himalayan.
Where the Versys scores way ahead of the Himalayan is in performance. My problem with the Himalayan has always been that it remains a thumper at heart. With an engine that is limited to 8,000rpm, the Himalayan does not leave you with a lot of room to stabilise on low-traction surfaces. The 411cc single makes just under 25bhp and isn’t as high-revving as the Kawasaki’s 296cc twin with its 39bhp. That’s right, you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out which motorcycle has the advantage here. In real life, while the Himalayan does make more torque on paper, the gearing of the Versys delivers more torque at the wheel. And with an engine that revs to well over 11,000rpm, wherever the Himalayan runs out of revs and limits your progress (on sandy corner exits for example), the Versys’ engine keeps revving long enough for you to power out of the tricky bits.
Aside from this, the Versys is also more refined and more conducive to high-speed highway use. Where the Himalayan will barely manage 120kph on the speedo, the Versys can clock 150kph with room for a bit more. The gearing does leave the Kawasaki screaming its lungs off at those speeds, but that doesn’t translate to harshness at the ’bars, pegs or any other part of the bodywork. What I can tell you is that neither of these motorcycles are perfect. They do some things better than the other and some things worse. But then, there is a rather large elephant in the room and it’s time to address that.
The Himalayan, priced at `1.67 lakh (ex-Mumbai), is incredible value for money. As a gateway drug into the world of ADVs, the price works perfectly. And this is where the Versys’ biggest problem lies. The Kawasaki Versys-X 300 costs a whopping `4.60 lakh (ex-Mumbai). For the price, you get the motorcycle, some basic crash protection, auxiliary lights, a charging point and one pannier. Yes, one! Besides, for `50,000 more, you will be able to buy a 650cc motorcycle from the same stable. And for `1.9 lakh more, you can have the bigger Versys. Again, you don’t need to be Einstein to figure out that this pricing just doesn’t make sense. And because of that kicker, the Versys (despite being an excellent motorcycle) can just not win here. No matter how many accessories you throw in with the Versys, there is just no justifying this price. The three odd lakhs you’d save with the Himalayan will be enough to fuel it for almost a hundred thousand kilometers! The Versys’ price, well, it’s too damn high!