Ride Impression: Honda Africa Twin
The adventure bike market features some of the most technologically advanced motorcycles available. So when Honda decided to refocus their attention on the genre for 2016, they were intent on getting it right. But just how good is the all-new CRF1000L ‘Africa Twin’? Transmoto’s John Pearson took the new Honda for a weekend’s adventure ride with some mates to find out.
First Impressions Count
If you’ve been around for a while, chances are you’ll initially think the all-new CRF1000L Africa Twin has a retro look about it. From the vertical front screen to the dated-looking rear-end, you could be forgiven for thinking this 2016 Honda is simply a more stylish version of their 1990s adventure offering, the NX650 Dominator. However, that’s where the similarities end. Sitting on this 1000 cubic centimetre beast gives you a whole new appreciation for just how far the adventure bike market has come in recent years. Standard in this class nowadays are features such as ABS and traction control, adjustable suspension, and all manner of electronic gadgetry to make life behind bars safer and more comfortable. Our test in the NSW Northern Tablelands would ensure this machine was put through its paces. And it didn’t take long to establish that this new Honda feels well grounded and really stable, and will handle pretty much anything you can throw at it.
The Test ‘Loop’
Thanks to Armidale-based Honda dealership, SuperMoto New England, we got our hands on an ABS model for this ride impression. The planned route would take us from the Northern NSW Tablelands city of Armidale towards the escarpment, dropping down through the Styx River State Forest and past some little gems called Lower Creek and Bellbrook, before coming out for lunch at the famous Willawarrin Hotel. This jaunt runs through some of the most scenic and mountainous dirt roads NSW has to offer. And with steep downhill sections and a virtual non-stop run of switchback corners, it proved to be some of the most enjoyable riding I’ve ever done. The return trip then took us southwest, up and over the picturesque Carrai Plateau before blazing back into Walcha for a well-earned beer.
Would You Like Fries With That?
The optional extra package that comes with the up-spec model is what sets the Africa Twin apart from its siblings. Traction control comes standard on the ABS and ABS-DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) models. Gone are the clumsy selections you scroll through on the dash in order to find the right ‘type’ of traction control that suits you. The options are easily selected as either OFF, 1, 2 or 3. Set on #1, the bike can be ridden aggressively, to a point, and becomes a load of fun before the computer cuts in to ensure you don’t overestimate your ability. Setting #2 is slightly less exhilarating, but still enjoyable. Setting #3 is like North Korea’s media laws – heavily restricted! It all but stops the rear wheel spinning up. If you want real control, OFF is the best setting in my opinion. The Dual Clutch Transmission allows manual shifting from the handlebars or numerous automatic shifting modes. The “G” switch on the DCT model acts as a slipper clutch of sorts and virtually eliminates stalls. The new system also features incline detection, which adapts the gear-shift pattern to match the grade of the incline.
“Sitting on this 1000 cubic centimetre beast gives you a whole new appreciation for just how far the adventure bike market has come in recent years.”
Another awesome feature is the selectable ABS on this model. Turning the rear wheel ABS off allows you to back the machine into sweeping corners before power-sliding your way to inline twin-induced heaven. If you don’t like the look of a wet road, or if your skill level isn’t quite there yet, you have the ABS to help stop you locking up and kissing the blacktop. Most riders on our trip preferred both the TC and rear wheel ABS set to ‘off’ to give a more natural feeling to the ride.
The Africa Twin is big without being burdensome. The most striking thing I found was how big this bike looks compared to how small and manageable it feels to ride. It is very manoeuvrable, and the low, wide seat offers a stable platform from which to command this vessel. The instrument display is neither complicated nor rudimentary, giving you just the right amount of information without overwhelming you with useless facts. Twin 310mm discs on the front help to restrain the big girl, while a single 256mm disc keeps the rear in check. Both models come standard with a thin alloy bashplate, but a sturdier aftermarket version would give much better insurance off-road. The wheels are wire-spoked, which is a major plus as it enables the wheel to be re-trued if a rim becomes damaged. The fuel tank holds a respectable 18.7 litres (which should get you most places before you run dry, but is hardly massive by adventure bike standards) and the Africa Twin is like any other 1000cc bike when it comes to fuel consumption – if you twist the throttle, you’ll use plenty of juice. Lugging this thing around and short-shifting will give you a decent fuel range of around 400km. And with the centre of gravity down low, the increased stability helps give the chassis a confidence-inspiring feel in difficult terrain.
“My test ride soon confirmed that very few of Honda’s lofty PR claims are misplaced. This machine lives up to the rumours, and then some!”
My only real issue came after about 100km of tightish trail, all of which I spent standing on the footpegs. The CRF100L’s pegs are a narrow, short version of narrow, short footpegs, and they left my feet screaming for something wider. And as the pegs are topped with rubber, it became a real issue to control the bike when water or mud was added to the equation.
All Things Considered
At first, I found myself being sceptical of the hype surrounding Honda’s 2016 Africa Twin. But my test ride through a variety of terrain soon confirmed that very few of Honda’s lofty PR claims are misplaced. This machine lives up to the rumours, and then some. The Africa Twin shone like the headlights of an oncoming car. Rough corrugations and steep, water-washed firetrails were no real drama for it. Boulder-filled creek crossings were easily traversed with this well-balanced and forgiving bike. The stock tyres are capable off-road, but an upgrade to more lugs would be advantageous when the conditions turn damp – as a number of our group found out. It’s a comfortable ride that allows you to spend bulk time enjoying this machine the way Honda intended.
An equally important point for most will be the price. At $15,499 for the Standard model, $16,999 for the ABS-equipped beast, and $17,999 for the big girl, Honda has priced this all-new machine competitively to ensure it takes a lion-sized bite out of the adventure bike market. For example, in comparison with BMW’s F800 GS ($18,990 ride away), the Africa Twin is likely to raise some eyebrows among owners of several European brands, whose often stratospheric service and parts costs help make the Japanese equivalent that much more attractive. With Honda’s reputation of producing top-quality machinery that will stand the test of time, the CRF1000L Africa Twin will be a hard bike to walk past without at least thinking twice.
So, from the adventure riding community: welcome back, Honda!