Honda’s new ‘big tank’ Africa Twin aims to make the world a smaller place.
Having entered the big-capacity adventure bike market in 2016 with the long-awaited all-new Africa Twin, it was only a matter of time until Honda gave fans of mile-munching adventure bikes a more rugged variation. For 2018 it has arrived in the shape of the Africa Twin Adventure Sports.
Following the tried and tested path set by BMW with their GS Adventure and mimicked by just about everyone else, the Adventure Sports version is aimed at riders who are looking at world-exploring. Featuring longer travel suspension (22mm more on the front and 20mm on the rear) for enhanced off-road ability the Sport also gains a 5.4-litre larger tank at 24.2-litres (Honda claim it is good for a range of over 300 miles) and a more encompassing fairing with an 80mm taller screen and heated grip as standard. And it doesn’t stop there…
Despite the Africa Twin having been out for only two years, Honda have given it a bit of an update for 2018 (more on this later in the week as we are also testing the stock 2018 Africa Twin model) and the Adventure Sport also benefits from these upgrades. A new ride-by-wire throttle brings with it three set power modes (Tour, Urban and Gravel) plus one user-defined mode while the Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) now has seven levels of traction control where before it only had three. As before it can also be disabled should you wish to spin the rear. Although the motor boasts the same 92.4bhp and 73ftlb of torque, a lighter crank and redesigned airbox gives it a bit more poke on the throttle and you can also adjust the level of its engine braking.
For fans of Honda’s dual clutch (which adds £950 to the bike’s price), the DCT version of the Sport comes with an upgraded system that while still featuring three modes (D, S and manual) as well as G for off-road use, has been revised with an updated ‘incline detection’ system for increased engine braking on downhill sections.
So in a nutshell, it’s an updated Africa Twin with a bigger tank, longer suspension, a few extras and a bit more of a rugged nature.
When it comes to adventure bikes, there are a few schools of thought. You can aim it more at road riding, like Triumph whose XC is just a rugged-styled Tiger, or focus on the off-road side as KTM do.
BMW’s Adventure and the Ducati Multistrada 950 tends to hover in the mid-way zone with more of a foot in the on-road camp, whereas Honda have been quite clever and in the Adventure Sport created a mild-mannered on-road bike that actually has more off-road ability than you may expect of a 243kg bike. But more of that side tomorrow.
On the road the Sports is a really pleasant bike to ride. The new adventure seat, which is flatter than the stock models, is firm, but still comfortable over distance and for taller riders the alteration to the Twinky’s riding position are really beneficial.
The Sports’ bars are 6.5mm closer to the rider while also sitting 32.5mm taller, which when combined with the 50mm taller seat height makes the Sport feel more substantial than the stock model, which is exactly the impression you want on a butch adventure model. There is a downside, at 900mm (or 920mm on its highest setting) the seat height is quite tall, but a lower seat is an official accessory.
One gripe I did have was the non-adjustable screen isn’t fantastic for taller riders and a touch more protection would be nice. But overall, you can certainly cover miles on the Sports. And the parallel twin engine remains a big selling point.
Sometimes adding ride-by-wire can ruin a bike’s throttle response, but with both Africa Twin models Honda have done a great job. The throttle connection is excellent and the electronics are good. In the wet the traction control can be pretty intrusive on its highest settings, but you can reduce its sensitivity while on the go and even turn it off if you set the TC to off in the user-defined mode. The parallel twin’s engine is a touch lacking in engine braking, which can give an odd sensation to start with as it will run-on in into bends, but you soon get used to it and the changes to the exhaust make it sound better than even – especially when the DCT system auto-blips down the gears… So onto the DCT…
DCT is a marmite addition – some love it, others hate it, but 45% of the Africa Twins sold have DCT fitted, so it is popular. The updated system is certainly an improvement on the old one and is far more willing to hold onto gears when you are going downhill, giving you much-needed engine braking where the old version would let the bike run away.
For my money the initial input when you pull away is still far too direct and fierce. The Africa Twin goes from stationary to moving with quite a jolt and I wish Honda would introduce something to calm this trait down.
I reckon some kind of electronic system that drags the rear brake slightly to help gently introduce the power would be ideal (this is perfectly possible with current ABS systems), but as it stands you just have to put up with it. And the Africa Twin Adventure Sports’ other silly irritations…
There is so much to like about the Adventure Sports, but by the same token it has some really daft annoyances. The heated grips have five levels of heat, but the hottest isn’t enough to be felt through winter gloves. And that’s despite owners raising this issue with Honda on the old model and them claiming to have upped the power. The ride-by-wire system means the Twin can now have cruise control, but Honda haven’t fitted it, and where is the adjustable screen?
According to Honda, the Twin is focused on off-road and these systems add weight.
And then there is the cubbyhole. Honda have given the Sports a neat storage compartment on its flank – great idea and a cool nod to the original Twin which also has one. But you need an Allen key to get into it as it is held shut by two threaded fasteners. Where is the Allen key located? Under the seat – doh! Why not use two ¼ turn fasteners so the storage is actually accessible? Guess what, the original model’s cubbyhole has a single ¼ turn screw that can be undone using the ignition key!!! And the new dash, which is updated in its style as owners complained about reflections, still reflects a slightly distracting view of the rider!
Overall, and despite these annoyances, the Africa Twin Adventure Sports is a really good bike on the road with some great features. It handles well, the motor is smooth with a lovely spread of torque and the riding position is comfortable enough to allow you to cover the big miles the larger tank promises to deliver. And the tricolour paint is seriously pretty while the crash bars, bash plate and pillion rail are rugged and effective. But as nice as it is, I’m a little irritated that having had two years, and 51,000 Africa Twin owners to speak to, Honda haven’t got it bang on. There isn’t really any excuse for the parts that don’t work aside from a lack of attention to detail, and that annoys me, especially from a company that is generally so good at these things. Come on Honda, this is an Africa Twin, get it right!
Today was the road ride, tomorrow we are testing not only the Adventure Sports off-road, but also the standard Africa Twin and the X-ADV. Yep, Honda have given their oddball adventure scooter a new off-road G-mode! What could possibly go wrong…. Find out tomorrow!
Price: £12,599 (£13,549 DCT)
Engine: 4-stroke, parallel twin, 8v, l/c, 998cc
Power: 92.4bhp @ 7500rpm
Torque: 73ftlb @ 6000rpm
Wet weight: 243 kg (252kg DCT)
Seat height: 900/920mm
BMW R1200GS Adventure
Price: From £13,400
Engine: 4-stroke, boxer twin, 8v, l/c, 1170cc
Power: 125bhp @ 7750rpm
Torque: 92.2ftlb @ 6500rpm
Wet weight: 263 kg
Seat height: 890/910mm
Triumph Tiger 1200 XCX
Engine: 4-stroke, triple, 12v, l/c, 1215cc
Power: 139bhp @ 9350rpm
Torque: 90ftlb @ 7600rpm
Wet weight: 268 kg (est)
Seat height: 835/855mm
KTM 1090 Adventure R
Engine: 4-stroke, V-twin, 8v, l/c, 1050cc
Power: 125bhp @ 8500rpm
Torque: 80.4ftlb @ 6500rpm
Wet weight: 230 kg (est)
Seat height: 890mm
Ducati Multistrada 950
Price: From £11,395
Engine: 4-stroke, desmo V-twin, 8v, l/c, 973cc
Power: 111bhp @ 9000rpm
Torque: 71ftlb @ 7750rpm
Wet weight: 229 kg (est)
Seat height: 840mm