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First Ride: 10 Things to Know About the New Africa Twin by ADV Pulse

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Key takeaways after testing the new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin.

Africa Twin Test

It’s hard to believe the day has come but the Africa Twin has finally landed on US soil after a long 28-year wait. Two years ago, when the news first broke about a new Africa Twin, there was much speculation about the bike. Rumors flew about a revolutionary new liter-class model with the weight and dimensions of a middleweight.

Honda put huge efforts into developing a true heir to one of their most popular models and after years of development and testing, they were finally ready to release it to the public eye. While most fans of the Africa Twin couldn’t be happier with what they saw, for some, the spec sheet wasn’t quite as impressive as they’d hoped. But specs can often be deceiving and much about a bike’s true nature can only be learned through a test ride.

Recently, we got a chance to test the new Africa Twin at Honda’s US Press event held in scenic Moab, Utah. Here are 10 key takeaways from our Africa Twin test after two days of hard riding, both on- and off-road:

1. It’s Very Compact

Africa Twin Test

Honda has paid a lot of attention to making the CRF1000L as compact as possible. The use of a Parallel Twin motor allowed engineers to move heavier components like the ABS unit and battery behind the cylinders, which wouldn’t have been possible with a V-Twin configuration.

Additionally, a four-valve Unicam design borrowed from the company’s CRF motocross line, results in a smaller and lighter head design. Weight and height of the motor were reduced even further with water pump and crankcase innovations. Even the choice of high-strength steel over aluminum in the semi-double cradle frame design, helped give the bike smaller proportions.

Adding to the smaller feel is a relatively low seat height (33.5 inches in the low position) and a slim area at the front of the seat that makes it easier to touch both feet down for riders in the 5’7″ to 5’9″ range. Considering the Africa Twin has a 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel combination along with 9.8″ of ground clearance, it’s impressive how well it fits shorter riders. Even so, the Africa Twin is still roomy enough for taller riders (I’m 6’2″) with the seat in the high position (34.3 inches).

All of Honda’s work on centralizing mass and lowering the Africa Twin’s center of gravity has resulted in a bike that feels smaller and lighter than any of the other available liter-class adventure bikes. Leaning the bike from side-to-side, you immediately notice it feels lighter and less intimidating than you would expect a 500+ pound adventure bike to be. For comparison, it feels closer in weight and size to the BMW F800GS than it does a KTM 1190 Adventure.

2. It’s Not Underpowered

honda africa twin test speed run

The Africa Twin’s 998cc 8-valve Parallel Twin powerplant produces 94 horsepower (70 kW) and 72 lb-ft (98 Nm) of torque. That may not seem impressive in a class where new adventure bikes are regularly released with 150 horsepower (112 kW) and 100 lb-ft (136 Nm) of torque, but the numbers don’t tell the full story.

The engine uses a 270° crank that improves grip by giving the tire time to grab traction between bursts of combustion, while spot-on fueling gives perfect throttle response and smooth torque throughout the powerband. It may not have the turbo-boost acceleration of some of the SuperBike-engined ADV Bikes in the class but it will never be left far behind. The CRF1000L accelerates hard enough and feels faster than many of the heavier adventure bikes in the category with more horsepower.

The Africa Twin’s motor has plenty of character too. Thanks to the 270° crank, the exhaust note has a throaty growl similar to a V-Twin and the sound becomes addictive after a while. Practically speaking, it has all the horsepower you will ever really ‘need’ for adventure riding, and a less high-strung engine usually translates into improved reliability and fuel efficiency.

3. DCT Exceeds Expectations

New Africa Twin with DCT wheelie test

What’s the best thing about DCT? Riding a block-long wheelie as it shifts seamlessly through the gears.

DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) is Honda’s automatic transmission that replaces the traditional clutch and foot shifter. Shifting is incredibly fast and smooth compared to clutch shifting and it allows the rider to focus less attention on gear changes and clutch modulation while riding. The system is very sophisticated and has several different modes to match the needs of different riding situations.

During two-up riding, wet weather or casual rides, DCT can be set to “D-Mode” (standard drive mode) that offers ultra-smooth shifting at lower RPMs. For a more spirited pace, the rider can select from three different “Sport Modes” that offer firmer and faster shifting at higher revs. Off-Road you can turn on “G-Mode” (Gravel Mode) to change gears with less slippage and a more connected feeling to the drivetrain. DCT is also incline/decline aware when choosing optimal shift points and it does so surprisingly well.

DCT retains the option of manual shifting with left hand paddle shifters, similar to using steering wheel paddle shifters on a supercar. You can either temporarily override gear selections or put it in full-manual mode for total control over gear changes. For the first 20 minutes or so you’ll catch yourself reaching for the foot shifter, but once you get used to it, manual-shift DCT offers an entirely new riding experience.

In auto-mode, there were only a few times when DCT selected a gear that wasn’t to our liking, but most of the time it got it right with smoother, faster shifts than most humans are capable of. What you gain is the elimination of stalls and missed shifts and it allows you to ride just as fast, but in a more relaxed manner. For those that are afraid DCT will ruin the fun or riding a motorcycle, give it a try first before judging it. Most of the testers during the press ride were surprised to find out they preferred DCT over the standard shift model.

While there may be some consumer resistance for a time, eventually we expect DCT to take hold. Interestingly, Honda says 65% of its customers choose DCT when it has been provided as an option on other models. The good news is that those opting for DCT only pay $700 extra for this amazing technology.

4. It Loves the Dirt

honda africa twin review

Off-road, the new Africa Twin feels similar in capability to the now retired KTM 990 Adventure R, but with a much lower CG and manageable seat height.

One of Honda’s top priorities for developing the new Africa Twin was that it had to be well suited for off-road use. With its 21″/18″ wheel combination, ample ground clearance, reasonable weight, compact size and class-leading suspension travel (9.1″ front/8.7″ rear), it has all the makings of a good off-road machine. However, one ride on the Africa Twin reveals the bike is even better than its spec sheet off-road.

Within minutes, you begin to get comfortable on the bike and it’s easy to settle into a fast pace. It offers excellent stand up ergonomics (after rolling the bars forward slightly) that even work for taller riders. The fully-adjustable suspension has a progressive feel that soaks up smaller ripples and big hits alike, all while maintaining its composure with excellent damping.

It feels light and agile for a big-bore Adventure Bike and it’s easy to manhandle on the trail. When things get a little wild, there’s room to recover, thanks to a low CG that makes tip-overs less likely. The Africa Twin’s turning radius is also unbelievably tight and it’s surprising how easily it can be turned around on the trail with feet to spare.

Honda Africa Twin Test

Through big g-outs, ruts and jumps, the Africa Twin’s sturdy frame and strong wheels absorbed the abuse and the suspension wouldn’t bottom out. On occasion, the front end got a little overwhelmed when pushing very hard but the rear suspension swallowed everything thrown at it.

For a more casual pace, you can ride with traction control (i.e. Honda Selectable Torque Control) set to level 1 and ABS enabled, and the electronics help keep everything nicely under control. If you ride more aggressively, the Africa Twin responds better in the dirt with traction control disabled and rear ABS turned off. With rear ABS off, it made it easier to slide the rear tire and set up for turns but you still retain the safety of front ABS for straight-line stopping.

Off-road, it feels similar in capability to the now retired KTM 990 Adventure R, but with a much lower CG and manageable seat height (although the 990 R does have more suspension travel in reserve). It’s at least as good as any of the current crop of dirt-oriented 800cc and up Adventure Bikes but we’ll need a head-to-head comparison to know exactly where it stands


5. It Can Make You a Better Off-Road Rider

Marc Marquez and Joan Barreda new Africa Twin test

The new Africa Twin is packed with features that will make off-road riders feel more confident on the trail. It all starts with a low seat height that doesn’t sacrifice suspension travel or ground clearance, and a low center of gravity that makes the bike easier to manage in technical terrain. There’s even a slipper clutch that helps avoid dangerous rear wheel lockup when downshifting too aggressively on slick surfaces.

While some adventure riders might snub their nose at any type of electronic aids that could potentially fail or add more weight to the bike, there’s no denying they can make you a better and safer rider. It takes years to master shifting and clutch control off-road, especially in a standing position. DCT removes any worries about stalling on a rough hill climb caused by improper gear selection or not slipping the clutch enough. It takes all of the extra mental processing off your plate so you can just concentrate on selecting the best line and maintaining proper balance.

Unless you’ve been riding off-road for years, it’s hard to anticipate how much grip different types of surfaces provide. The Africa Twin’s traction control and ABS systems are always aware of how much grip is available and can help protect you from making mistakes in judgement. Plus traction control setting 1 lets you do controlled powerslides and carry more speed through turns, so you can up your pace off-road with confidence.

All of these different technologies can help riders of all skill levels get to more remote places and ride more technical terrain. While the Africa Twin is still a big bike, you might be surprised where it can take you.

6. It’s a Beautifully Balanced Street Bike

honda-africa-twin-test-street

The Africa Twin is enjoyable to ride at a sport bike pace in the twisties.

You can easily set a sport bike pace on the new Africa Twin. Its agile handling carries over to the street allowing it to initiate turns effortlessly. The stock Dunlop Trailmax tires are grippy on pavement and there is plenty of lean angle available before pegs begin touching down.

During our street testing, we encountered rain in the morning that gave us the perfect opportunity to test out the Africa Twin’s traction control. With traction control in level 3 (most intrusive) and DCT in standard D-Mode, the Africa Twin traveled confidently over wet pavement. The bike maintained good traction, even transitioning over wet tar snakes on the throttle in turns.

The bike’s excellent off-road suspension made big pot holes barely noticeable. Yet the long-travel suspension doesn’t pogo excessively under hard braking and acceleration.

The AT is just as comfortable being ridden at a more casual pace. Its Parallel Twin makes a soothing sound on the highway and there is more than enough power on tap for quick passes. Vibration in the bars is minimal thanks to rubber mounted risers, counter weights and bar inserts that kill off much of the vibration. Thankfully, Honda gave the Africa Twin spacious ergonomics and a good seat that ought to provide hours of comfortable highway riding.

Hours in the wind tunnel have also produced an efficient windscreen design that keeps the wind off head and chest for riders up to about 6 feet tall. However, taller riders may want to opt for Honda’s touring windscreen.

7. It’s Simpler Than You Think

Testing the rear abs off button on the new Africa Twin

Instead of developing a complicated off-road ABS system, Honda just offers a simple rear ABS off button.

While the Africa Twin is packed with clever engineering and advanced technology, in some ways Honda kept things simple. The electronics are fairly basic when compared to other big-bore adventure bikes from the top European manufacturers. There’s no ride-by-wire, no fuel maps or off-road-specific traction control. No off-road ABS either. If you don’t like the Africa Twin’s ABS, then you can only turn off the rear.

Other examples of its simple design (for the category) are the use of inner tubes instead of tubeless wire-spoke rims. There’s no fancy electronic hill hold control system either to keep the bike from rolling backward on steep inclines. Instead, DCT models have a mechanical hand brake.

The windscreen has no electronically controlled adjustment nor is there even a manual one. And the lack of ride-by-wire means that cruise control may not be an option we’ll see in the near future. Some may feel the Africa Twin lacks sophistication, but for many, a more simple approach will be a breath of fresh air.

8. There Are Few Nits to Pick

Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin Centerstand

A centerstand is not standard equipment on the Africa Twin and is only available as a factory option.

The new Africa Twin is an incredible achievement for Honda but it’s not without a few items to nit pick about. Truth be told, it took some digging to find any flaws and they didn’t reveal themselves easily. Which is even more incredible when you consider this is the first year of the model.

One of the minor annoyances about the bike is that anytime you turn the bike off, all of the electronic settings get reset. With so many electronic settings for DCT, G-Mode and HSTC, it can be a pain to reconfigure everything when you stop for a quick conversation. One trick we did learn during the test is that if you kill the engine by putting the kickstand down (activating the kickstand kill switch), it retains all your settings once you put the kickstand back up.

Off-road the bike’s handling was impressive, but it did exhibit one undesirable trait — a heavy front end feel. Honda claims the Africa Twin has a 49.1% front / 50.9% rear weight distribution but getting the front wheel to pop up over obstacles takes a little extra effort, even with traction control off.

Another minor gripe is with the windscreen. If you are a taller rider, it can easily get in your face when riding aggressively off-road. It also doesn’t block wind very well if you are taller than 6 feet. An adjustable windscreen that could be lowered for off-road riding and raised for the highway would be a great aftermarket upgrade.

While DCT is an amazing system, it’s not for everyone. The DCT bike felt slightly heavier than the standard model and a bit less nimble off-road. It didn’t impact handling in a major way but it was noticeable. The DCT model also didn’t seem to have the same direct connection to the road as the standard model. DCT also isn’t quite as smooth as an experienced clutch hand during slow-speed maneuvers.

Honda decided not to include a centerstand on the Africa Twin, which we’d say was an oversight. Whether this helped save weight on the spec sheet or keep costs down, we’re not sure. But a centerstand should come standard on any adventure bike over 500 pounds. Try heaving a big adventure bike over a fallen tree or balancing it on a rock next time you get a flat tire, and you’ll know why.

9. They’ll Be a Bit Hard to Get

New Africa Twin Test Review

While Europe has already started receiving the new Africa Twin since the beginning of this year, US shipments will start trickling in around June (although we’ve seen a few earlier arrivals). According to Honda, everything is on schedule for a June delivery but a few dealers will be delayed until August. Each dealer that put in an order is getting at least one Africa Twin, so if you were the first to pre-order at your dealer, your bike should be on its way.

The bad news is that two large earthquakes shook Japan last month knocking out the Kumamoto factory where the Africa Twin is produced. The plant isn’t expected to get back to full capacity again until August. At this time, Honda isn’t sure how this will affect orders but they expect it could delay replenishing showroom inventory later in the year.

10. It’s a Game Changer

honda africa twin review test

With the huge hype surrounding the new Africa Twin for these last two years, it was easy to become skeptical. But after our Africa Twin test, it was hard not to be left impressed. It’s an Adventure Bike that does pretty much anything you ask of it well. It can be your daily commuter, your sport bike, a two-up tourer or a dual sport. Best of all, you get this versatility and Honda’s top-notch quality all for a reasonable price.

All this should come as no surprise though. History has shown that when Honda brings its full resources to bare on a project, they are able to accomplish some pretty amazing things. And while it was a long time coming, you can tell Honda wanted to make sure every single detail was perfect before releasing the product. It’s been well worth the wait and with a base price of $12,999 for the ABS model and $13,699 for ABS/DCT trim, the new Africa Twin is going be hard to beat. Consider the game changed!

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