Honda spent lots of money on desert racing in the 1980s and they were pretty good at it too – winning the Paris-Dakar Rally four years back-to-back from 1986 onwards. To celebrate their achievements they built the Africa Twin. There are three variations but only two ever came to the UK officially. The first incarnation was built up around the Transalp 650 twin engine, this is commonly known as the RD03 which is a rare find these days. In 1989 the RD04 version was launched and joined the Honda UK line up as an officially imported model.
The 750cc Africa Twin was initially a big hit and, other than the Yamaha XTz750 Super Tenere, there wasn’t too much in the way of direct competition. The Africa Twin looked superb. There was acres of bodywork and the twin round headlamps gave it a distinctive look but the bike was more than just a pretty face. The 750cc engine was still a tight angle V twin like that on the original 650cc version but power wasn’t anything to write home about, with a claimed bhp of just 60 horses. In the real world this boiled down to around 50 ish. Putting that in context, that’s roughly the same as a Diversion 600. Other than a model update in 1993, the Africa Twin wasn’t meddled with too much. It lived on until 2003, although by then it was largely overlooked and unloved. How times change. With adventure bike sales dominating the market it was a no brainer for Honda to reintroduce the nameplate back to their line-up.
Finding an original Africa Twin is still possible. With that long model run it means that there’s plenty out there, although your biggest problem is going to be the asking price. The days of cheap ones are long gone, decent bikes appear with prices around £3,000 to £4,000 attached to them. That’s the same kind of asking price that much younger comparable bikes are appearing on the market at. That’s your proof of just how loved this big and bouncy Honda has become.
Living with an Africa Twin.
If you like your bikes big then the Africa Twin will tick that box, but if you enjoy dollops of horsepower you might need to look elsewhere. The thing is, the power that is available never feels like you’re being short changed. The riding position puts you in command of the road ahead of you, taking one of these bikes off road isn’t a good idea. Despite its looks and pretence, to try dirt trial riding would be a mistake as this is very much a street bike, albeit a very capable one. The engine is a corker with enough low down torque to make every journey a pleasant one. Despite its bulk the skinny front wheel gives you plenty of control, it’s a very light bike to steer. That big tank offers you a range of 190miles, but you might want to fit an aftermarket saddle to avoid comfort breaks if you want to go from full to empty in one stint. The twin discs are adequate, braided lines are a must to get the best from them. You can see why they are so popular, they are a brilliant package, both in appearance and function. Many owners will fit luggage, in fact not too many bikes remain 100% stock. Find a good one, pay the money and look after it, and it’ll look after you.
What to look for?
We called Vinny Styles from Peterborough Honda dealers, Wheels Motorcycles, to get some tips on what to keep an eye out for when buying an original Africa Twin.
“The obvious thing to spot is any cosmetic damage, there’s lots of bodywork to touch down, whether the result of an accident or simply rolling off the side stand. Beyond that it’s good to check the frame, there are some areas that are prone to corrosion but it’s easy enough to correct. The engine will do big mileages and most owners keep servicing up to date too. Poorly adjusted chains will lead to output shaft problems, any sign of fresh oil around the front sprocket area is a tell-tale sign. On the whole, they never get into the wrong hands and with prices bouncing back for older bikes, many owners tend to look after them.”
What goes wrong?
We contacted Chris Tombleson at Grumpy 1260 who gave us his knowledge on the subject. He added: “We service a few of these; there are a few areas where that legendary Honda build quality doesn’t shine. Wheel rims and spokes are prone to rot, the rims are also quite soft, always check the spokes for decent tension and that rims are solid. The problem is they rot away from the inside out so makes it a tougher issue to see. Fuel pumps on high mileage bikes are prone to packing up, replacements aren’t a problem though. Like other Honda bikes from this era, the regulator can fail without warning. The engine is very sought after by Honda Bros owners as the 750 lump can be fitted into the 400 Bros frame!”
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