These are what I think are the most stand-out differences (good and bad) between the Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 and the Himalayan.
Ever since I posted my recent Vlog about my ride through the Himalayas on the Royal Enfield Himalayan, a lot of you have been asking me whether I found the motorcycle to be better than my long-term stead – the Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500.
I don’t really have a simple answer to this question. There is no clear winner for me. In my opinion, the motorcycles are designed and built very differently and therefore have their respective pros and cons. In this blogpost, I’ve jotted down some of the key differences (good and bad) that I noticed between the motorcycles.
The larger and heavier body, bucket seat, swept back handlebar and front-set foot pegs make the riding posture on the Thunderbird very comfortable to ride on smooth highways and well-paved mountain roads. When the roads begin to vanish, however, it can get a bit uncomfortable. Manoeuvrability also becomes a bit more challenging on rough terrain because you can’t really apply much pressure on the handlebar or body to control the motorcycle.
The riding position on the Himalayan, on the other hand, is a lot more terrain agnostic. What I mean is that it works better for all kinds of terrain – on smooth roads, the saddle is comfortable and when the going gets rough you can simply stand up onto the foot pegs and allow the motorcycle to take the majority of the impact without transferring it to your body. It took me very little time to get used to the upright seating position (it is very straight, maybe with the slightest lean forward), which was another indication that this worked well for me.
When it comes to any Royal Enfield, vibration is a pertinent aspect to consider. While this is not much of an issue for people who do short rides, when you ride one of these machines over a long distance, you begin to feel it a lot more.
The vibrations on the Thunderbird are very noticeable. While the motorcycle is reasonably well-behaved at lower revs, once you hit cruising speed, it is not uncommon to feel constant shudders running up through your arms (from the handlebar) and your legs (from the foot pegs).
On this front too, the Himalayan proved to be a lot better. The motorcycle that I was using was reasonably old, and yet, the first thing that I noticed when I was riding it was that there was no vibration coming through the handlebar or the foot pegs. Finally, there is a RE that does not shake up your insides! This was something that made the ride very comfortable.
If you were beginning to think that the Himalayan is the better motorcycle on all fronts, this is where you need to stop in your tracks.
So, here is the biggest disappointment (for me) about the Himalayan. The motorcycle feels extremely underpowered, particularly at higher altitudes. This bike is said to have been built to ride through the mountains, but in my experience, it tends to struggle on the uphill climb (particularly in higher altitudes). I’ve ridden through Ladakh on my Thunderbird 500 and I can tell you that the power delivery on that motorcycle is far superior. This is something that the Thunderbird 500 wins hands down.
It’s relevant to mention here that the proposed shift from a carburettor to electronic fuel injection (which is expected in the yet to be launched new Himalayans) is likely to help the Himalayan (the TB 500 already has an EFI engine). This is something that definitely needs improvement.
On the build quality front, the Thunderbird again has seemed better to me. The core parts of the Himalayan is designed and built quite well. The chassis feels well put-together, the shock absorbers do they’re job quite brilliantly (I really like the rear mono shock) and feel sturdy and the basics of the bike seem to hold together. But when ridden hard, some of the ancillary parts on the motorcycle began to fall apart (literally). On our ride through Spiti, the Sari guard on the bike I was using broke and fell off. On some bikes, the gear lever came right off (but only after a fall or two). On a motorcycle that’s supposedly built for this terrain, I would have wanted these things to also feel more sturdy.
The Thunderbird 500 has held up a lot better despite all the various kinds of terrain that I’ve ridden it through. Yes, my silencer dropped off while I was riding to Gurudongmar Lake (in North Sikkim), but for the most part, I haven’t had too many issues with the TB. So, it does better on this parameter as well, for me.
The mileage on the Himalayan is surprisingly low. When I used the bike, I was getting a mileage of less than 20 kilometres per litre. I know people who have got less than 12 kmpl on their Himalayans. That, in my opinion, is simply way too low for a 400cc motorcycle.
The low-mileage and smaller fuel tank imply that range is also very limited. This can prove to be a challenge if you;re planning to take this motorcycle to places where fuel isn’t easily available. It isn’t really practical to carry a whole lot of extra fuel either, so this again is something that, if improved, could make the bike a lot more touring-friendly.
The TB 500 performs far better on this front as well. My motorcycle gives me mileage of between 30-35 kilometres per litre. On a full tank, I can usually run between 350 to 400 km (sometimes a little more) depending on the terrain that I’m covering. This is a very comfortable range for long-distance touring in India.
Another common issue that several of us faced on the Himalayan was a lack of grip in the rear, especially when braking. My guess is that this is because the bike is quite light at the back. I had to be very careful in order to not lock up my rear while braking.
I find that the TB is a lot more steady and generally offers more grip at the rear, while riding and braking. The ergonomics of the bike definitely help on this front and the difference is quite apparent.
However, I must mention that the brakes on the Himalayan seemed a lot more effective than those on the TB. With the TB, when you hit the brakes you sometime aren’t sure whether the motorcycle actually wants to stop or not. But with the Himalayan, you always know that the brakes are working.
Since the Himalayan is an adventure motorcycle, it’s design is such that it won’t be as easy to carry luggage on. If you’re a weekend tourer who travels with a tiny(ish) piece of luggage, the limited luggage loading space/design on the Himalayan will work for you. If you’re planning to do longer rides, you may find it harder to carry additional luggage. Of course, you can probably devise and design your own luggage panniers and boxes onto the Himalayan frame, but chances are that no matter what you do, you can’t match the luggage-loading capabilities of the TB 500.
This isn’t really a drawback per se, but it’s definitely relevant to consider based on what you want to use your motorcycle for.
The TB 500 is a mini-truck and with just a simple Ladakh Carrier added-on, you can carry your whole house with you. It’s definitely more practical for longer motorcycle touring, especially if you carry camping gear .
After-sales service is something that a lot of us RE owners have been struggling to work around (irrespective of the motorcycle that we own). The Thunderbird 500 has been a challenge to maintain. Quite often, the mechanics at the authorised service centres either don’t know how or don’t have the parts to fix problems with the bike. So much so, that over time I’ve started learning and figuring things out for myself.
Overall. it really isn’t easy to choose the better of these two bikes because they are, at the end of the day, designed and built for very different purposes. But if I have to provide a verdict (of sorts) this is what I would say:
If you are someone who travels light (short trips) and likes to hit dirt trails and do some off-roading, there is no doubt that the Himalayan is the more comfortable machine to do that on. It is also a lot more fun for these things. But, you should expect to be disappointed on the power front (as of now).
For the long-distance motorcycle (moto-camper?) tourer, the Thunderbird 500, in my opinion, is currently the better built and more capable motorcycle. But, I must mention here that I’ve had to deal with some hefty maintenance bills. And, you won’t have the ride comfort of the Himalayan.
Lastly, let me say that I am eagerly awaiting the launch of the newer fuel-injected BSIV Himalayan. I’m really hoping that the new version is more powerful and also addresses some of the drawbacks that I’ve mentioned above. Because, if they can do that, we would definitely have a much more promising contender on our hands.
Thanks for reading 🙂