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Honda set out to bring the world 'True Adventure' with a do-it-all motorcycle. Did they Succeed?
The project team at Honda had been well aware from the time of conception that a bike inheriting the name 'Africa Twin' and entering the booming and highly competitive adventure bike market needed to be something special. They simply could not get this one wrong.
Starting with a two word concept of 'Go Anywhere' the new bike would be built from the ground up to possess all round ability. The vision was a rider feeling at home when commuting in a busy city, scratching around A roads, continental touring or setting off on a round the world escapade. In addition, the bike needed to excel in off road conditions. In short, Honda were working on a wish list of Holy Grail proportions.
What grabbed me from the outset was how small and lightweight the new Honda looked for a 1000cc adventure bike. In reality it's not that small or lightweight it's just that the design and construction combine to create the illusion of being less of a bulbous battleship and more of a dashing destroyer.
It's also quite obvious that the smaller capacity off road CRF model has played a major influence in the looks department, a fact that's been confirmed by the inclusion of the 'CRF1000' moniker in the full title. In my book the new Africa Twin looks more like the big brother of the CRF450 than the son of a 2003 XRV750RD07A (the last motorcycle to carry the name Africa Twin). That's no complaint, I'm very much a fan of the sleeker, more modern appearance.
Adventure Bikes tend to have a high seat with a lot of shorter riders finding it impossibkle to plan a firm foot on the ground, not so with the Afria Twin. At 6ft 2in I was able to get both feet, from heel to toe, planted on the floor. No tip toeing what so ever and even the shortest riders on the test group (5ft 9in) were able to plant two boots on Terra Firma from the standard seat hight of 850mm.
Sticking with the seat hight, Honda have pulled off a bit of an engineering whiz with the new Africa Twin where you get the coveted combination of a reasonably low seat and good ground clearance (250mm) on the same bike.
The seat/clearance objective has been achieved by clever engineering where the oil tank and pump, which would normally add to the height of the engine, are located in the crank. Essentially then, what Honda have managed to achieve is an adventure bike that is going to be manageable and comfortable for both tall and shorter riders.
And the ergonomics are spot on too with a foot, butt and hand triangle that's both comfortable and commanding in layout and that applies when standing or sitting down. A big additional aid to this control and comfort is the narrow design at the front of the seat where the riders knees are not forced out whilst sat down and it's easy to leg grip when standing up.
Looking down at the control layout on the DCT version is a daunting first experience. The number of buttons and controls are legion. When I tell you that there are a possible 80 different riding mode combinations on the DCT version of the bike, you may start forming a complex and complicated picture. And, in the first instance, there's no getting away from it, you'd be right.
However, it's not as complicated as you may think and once you understand the various combinations of traction control (4 including off), sports modes (3), drive mode, MT mode, ABS on or off plus the 'G' switch it quickly becomes second nature.
Essentially you can dial in any combination of the above to achieve a custom setting that suits your particular riding style and/or the terrain you're riding on. On the other hand you can ignore all the buttons, look straight ahead, twist the throttle and ride with nothing more to do.
In reality Honda have managed to make switching between the multitude of modes pretty damn easy, in fact a lot more user friendly and logical than some bikes with just an on/off traction control switch. Within the first 15 mins I'd mastered the layout and combinations and was happily changing modes on the fly – with the exception of ABS where you need to be stationary.
The problem with incorporating all these modes and info into a motorcycle is that to get best use of all the functions they need to be displayed clearly and understood instantly. Honda's solution is a multiple split screen set up where the essential need to knows are kept apart from the nice to knows and they've done a good job.
If I have a complaint, then it was certainly highlighted by the intense sun on the test ride. On quite a number of occasions I found the displays difficult to read whilst on the move. I felt there needed to be more contrast between the screen and data or more powerful back-lighting or more probably a combination of both.
The first section of the road ride was on high speed straights with the occasional long sweeping bend. With visibility as good as it gets and the riding non-technical it was a great opportunity to get to grips with all the modes and concentrate on the form and function of the bike rather than the road ahead.
With a 1000cc parallel twin pumping out 98bhp the new Africa Twin was never going to be the most sportiest of adventure bikes. The performance felt more akin to the current crop of 800cc machines rather than one that was going to compete with the 1000cc plus brigade. There is nothing like the bottom end catapult effect of the BMW GS1200 nor the arm ripping higher rev thrill of the KTM 1190. The power is delivered in a smooth, non-threatening linear fashion right through the rev range. Never the less, cruising at motorway speeds is a no stress experience.
High speed stability is good, the seat is comfy and the small front screen does such an effective job that buffeting and wind noise are not distractions. What you do get is quite a significant front fork dive under heavy or unexpected breaking.
Following on from the flowing A road was a much trickier and twistier Alpine Pass which proved to be the perfect testing ground to establish the good points and limitations of the Honda DCT automatic clutch.
I've been a fan of the DCT automatic dual clutch since first riding on the Honda Crosstourer a few years back. In essence it turns a motorcycle into a twist and go scooter, where the bike makes all the gear selection decisions and you concentrate on the ride. However, issues can arise when you ride at speed on routes with 180 degree bends where you quickly establish that the DCT algorithm does not work in tandem with the right side of your brain.
The DCT will not hang onto a gear like you would between bends nor does it change down as rapidly and aggressively as you may wish to engage engine braking when approaching a high speed corner.
More often than not I found myself entering corners at overrun speeds. The DCT would also change up at inconvenient points mid bend when I would have held onto the revs. I could have overridden the system by self selecting gears through the paddles on the left hand grip or I could have engaged 'manual' mode and made all the decisions, but my objective was to check the limitations of DCT.
At the crest of the pass I slowed the pace for the ride down to the lunch stop and this is where the DCT came into its own. At a leisurely or relatively fast paced ride the DCT is superb. Automatic gear changes are so smooth and unobtrusive I was constantly checking to see which gear the bike was in. This was touring at it's finest where I could concentrate on the road ahead and the scenery and let the Africa Twin make all the decisions, which it did with impeccable manners and choice.
After lunch it was back up the pass at warp drive on the manual version of the Honda. I don't for one moment think that anyone's going to buy the new Africa Twin for ultra fast paced Alpine road scratching but if you are then this is the only occasion where I would favour the manual version over the DCT.
Day two was all about testing the off road credentials of the Honda. The route for the day was 50 or so miles of genuine technical trails. We were promised sections of deep sand and ruts, loose rocky trails, gnarly hill climbs and fast paced undulating piste with unexpected drop offs and water cuts. The sort of conditions that would make all bar the off road elite very edgy on a bike over 400cc.
It was here that this heavy 1000cc bike showed its true adventure colours. The suspension performs to the point that I could forgive the front end dive which occurs under heavy braking on-road. The stance, smooth power delivery, balance, excellent fuelling and throttle control, low seat hight, high ground clearance, 21in front and 18in rear wheels, effective traction control and an ABS system which allows you to switch off at the rear whilst remaining on at the front all combine to produce a bike that defies it's size and bulk.
Make no mistake, the manual version of the Africa Twin has raised the bar in big bike off-road performance. And the bar is raised more with the excellent DCT.
I'm well aware that at 232kg (fuelled) a motorcycle should not be taken seriously by the masses as an off road machine. But there's now an exception and Honda have achieved it through a combination of clever design, engineering and features.
Size wise, sitting or standing on the bike it feels more like being on a lower version of a Tenere 660 than on, say, a GS1200. The exception is whereas the Tenere feels and is top heavy the Africa Twin does not and is not. Honda have worked hard at centralising the mass of this bike placing all the heavy items as low as possible. The effect is a low centre of gravity and balance which had us riding these bikes in technical conditions more like you would an enduro than overweight adventure bike.
I can say with confidence that the novice or average off road rider will not feel nowhere near as intimidated by the Africa Twin as they would with any other 1000cc bike should they choose to head off in the dirt. And when you throw in the DCT which works near perfect in off road conditions you can forget having to find the gear lever when standing up or trying to work out which gear you need to engage to work through the deep mud or sand up ahead – the Africa Twin will do it all for you. All you need do is pick the line and enjoy the experience.
You may be detecting a vibe that suggests I liked the Africa Twin and you'd not be wrong. This is the most impressive big bore 'true' adventure bike I've ridden to date.
|Bike Tested||Honda CRF1000 Africa Twin|
|Engine||998cc liquid cooled parallel twin with 270 degree crank|
|Frame||Steel semi-double cradle|
|Suspension||Front 45mm fully adjustable USD fork, 230mm of travel. Rear fully adjustable shock with 220mm of travel|
|Brakes||Front twin 310mm wave floating discs, four-piston calipers. Rear single 256mm wave disc|
|Wheels||Wire-spoked 21" front and 18" rear|
|Tyres||Dunlop Trailmax front 90/90-21 front, rear 15/70-18 tubed|
|Seat Height||Options between 820mm-880mm|
|Kerb Weight||232kg; DCT version 242kg|
|Fuel Consumption||Honda claim 61mpg|
|Tank Range||Honda claim up to 250 miles|
|Colours||Tricolour: black: silver: Victory Red|
|Price||£10,499; DCT version £11,299|
- Written by Carole Nash Editor
John Bloor was born in 1943 in a small village in Derbyshire. In 1983, the English property developer was on the hunt for his next building site and visited the grounds of a derelict factory in Coventry. The factory turned out to be the former site of legendary Triumph motorcycles...and the rest.