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ADV BikesFirst Ride: 2018 Honda Africa Twin ‘Adventure Sports’

First Ride: 2018 Honda Africa Twin ‘Adventure Sports’

 A taller, tougher, more-refined ADV Bike from Honda ready for long journeys.

Published on 05.15.2018

It is well known the pitfalls of forgetting the past. And Honda made sure that we, the motorcycle media, did not neglect the history of the Africa Twin with the launch of the new Adventure Sports CRF1000L2. To put us in a historical mood, we were gathered in Prescott, Arizona, which was the first capital of the Arizona Territory in 1864. The motorcycle history didn’t go that far back, but for 2018 Honda is recognizing the 30 year anniversary of the Africa Twin with the first major update since its re-launch in 2016.

First seen as a prototype at EICMA, the Adventure Sports is not only a new model in the Africa Twin family, it shows Honda’s commitment and focus on the adventure bike category. While this bike is sure to excite the long-distance, comfort-craving riders out there, we are also hopeful that Honda follows through with the Africa Twin Enduro Sports prototype for plain ol’ dirt-riding gnarly-ness.

New On Both CRF1000L and CRF1000L2

2018 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports

First off, the CRF1000L2 is not replacing the CRF1000L and for 2018 many of the new features on the Adventure Sports model are shared on the standard 2018 Africa Twin. If you want to get technical about it, there are now four different Africa Twin models: CRF1000L Africa Twin ($13,499), CRF1000L Africa Twin DCT ($14,199), CRF1000L2 Africa Twin Adventure Sports ($14,999) and CRF1000L2 Africa Twin Adventure Sports DCT ($15,699). Quick reminder, DCT stands for Dual Clutch Transmission which basically means the bike is shifted electronically by either paddle shifters manually or by utilizing four different automatic drive modes.

Starting with the performance changes, the air box has a 20mm longer funnel that is said to increase throttle response, and the muffler went from a three-stage to a two-stage system, making it simpler, smaller, and, therefore, lighter. Inside the engine, the balancer-shaft weights are 10.6 ounces lighter for “added character and feel in power delivery.”

2018 Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L2 Adventure Sports airbox
On both models, the 998cc parallel-twin engine is updated with a new airbox, now featuring a 20mm longer funnel length and matched to redesigned exhaust internals.

The biggest change in the performance area is a new throttle-by-wire system. This opens a whole host of options for electronic control over the way the engine performs. There are now four ride modes – Tour, Urban, Gravel, and User. These are not to be confused with the ‘DCT’ drive modes which are D, S1, S2, and S3. Drive modes only affect shift points when you are riding a DCT model in non-manual mode. Therefore, a DCT bike will be in a drive mode and a ride mode simultaneously. This is way less complicated than it sounds.

The ‘User’ ride mode lets you fully customize all of its settings, while the other pre-programmed ride modes (Tour, Urban, Gravel) only allow you to change the HSTC (Honda Selectable Torque Control) setting. The HSTC is Honda’s version of traction control and while there were three (plus off) levels previously, the new Africa Twin now has seven levels, plus off.

We asked Honda how the seven levels line up to the previous three and they said that it broadens the range and adds some levels between as well. Level 1 (least invasive/most wheel spin) is lower than the previous level 1, level 2 is the same as the previous level 1, level 3 is between, level 4 is the same as the previous level 2, level 5 is between, level 6 is the same as the previous level 3 and level 7 is the most invasive.

2018 Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L2 Adventure Sports
Throttle by Wire is new for 2018, opening the door to four individual riding modes and an expanded HSTC system.

The ride modes (Tour, Urban, Gravel, and User) have three components. One is the HSTC mentioned above. The other two are “P” for Power and “EB” for Engine Braking. The Power setting has three levels, level 1 being most aggressive and level 3 being the most tame. Honda explained that this just controls the abruptness of the power delivery, not overall HP or power output. The Engine Braking setting also has three levels, level 1 being the most and level 3 being the least.

Lastly, the dash is set at a shallower angle to make it easier to read while standing, a new lithium-ion battery shaves 5.1 pounds off the bike, and the rider foot pegs are wider while passenger foot pegs are mounted differently to allow for more room and better grip.

Adventure Sports Ride Modes Chart

ModePowerEngine BrakingHSTC
Tour126 (adjustable)
Urban226 (adjustable)
Gravel336 (adjustable)
User1-31-31-7

Just On the CRF1000L2

Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L2 Adventure Sports ride-by-wire

Since the Adventure Sports model is positioned to compete with the other premium, big ADV machines on the market, it has some extras that the standard Africa Twin doesn’t. Honda simply explained that the L2 is a bike designed to “go farther” and “go anywhere.”

Starting with the “go farther” part, there are some range extending features such as the 6.37 gallon tank, up from the 4.97 gallon tank on the standard AT. There are new fairings to accommodate the larger tank. Also, the windscreen is all new with a 80mm taller profile and slightly tinted material. To make things a little more comfortable, it has heated grips and comes stock with a 12-volt accessory socket standard.

Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L2 Adventure Sports

Then the “go anywhere” part comes in with the longer-travel suspension and higher ground clearance (10.6 inches from 9.8 inches of clearance). The Showa 45mm cartridge-type inverted fork has 9.9 inches of travel (up from 9.1 inches) and the Showa shock has 9.4 inches (up from 8.6). Both the fork and shock have new springs and valving to deal with the heavier machine. Honda also said that the suspension is set up for more aggressive off-road riding, meaning stiffer and more hold-up, rather than the original Africa Twin that was set up a little bit more on the comfort side. To deal with gnarlier terrain, it also has a larger skid plate and aluminum crash bars.

Changing the rider position to an even more upright stance are the higher bar mounts, new bar with more sweep, and flatter, taller seat. With the extended suspension and taller seat, the Adventure Sports seat height had to go up as well. The L2’s standard seat height is 36.2 inches which is almost two inches taller than the standard AT’s 34.3 inch seat height. You can still drop the standard seat almost an inch by putting it in the lower position and on the L2 that lower setting is still high at 35.4 inches.

Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L2 Adventure Motorcycle

The Adventure Sports gets an all new rear rack/passenger hand hold. The size and shape of the rack is smaller and simpler, allowing for more luggage options. On top of that, the rack is completely removable to make it easier to install enduro style soft bags, or large U-shaped soft luggage. There is also a small storage pocket on the right side of the rear section.

On The Road

Now to the riding, which was on the DCT version Adventure Sports – Honda said they wanted the media to really focus on all the new electronics and the best way to do that was on the DCT model. While it might sound like you need a graphing calculator to figure out all of the ride, drive, HSTC, etc., after a few minutes on the road, we got pretty comfortable with switching them around. The new dash (still standard digital, not TFT) is pretty busy compared to some of the other premium bikes in the adventure segment. Honda has to pack a lot of information in the same amount of space as before since each ride mode has three new adjustments. But toggling through them is simple enough and, unlike TFT dashes that have selections inside of selections that you can get lost in, the Honda dash has all the ride and drive information available all at one time.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports on road

Also when you turn off and on the bike, it remembers the last setting that you were in. And ‘User’ ride mode settings are saved so any time you go to that ride mode, it will be the same as the last time you set it. The only electronic options that won’t be “remembered” are what Honda says are safety related. Meaning, if you turned off ABS, when the bike is shut off and on, you will have to turn off ABS again, each time. The same is true if you turned HSTC off completely. But, if the HSTC was selected at any level from one to seven, it will remember that setting.

Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L2 Adventure Sports digital dash

Hopping on the bike for the first time, the taller seat height is extremely noticeable. Our tester is 5’ 8” and could just barely touch both toes to the ground, and that was with the seat in the lower position. In fact, Honda set all the seats to the lower position and no editor moved it to the higher position all day. There was a worry that with the seat in the lower position the rider’s knees would be too bent and would feel like they were sitting too deep in the bike, but that really wasn’t the case. With the higher profile seat, the lower position felt like the previous normal position.

We think the only riders that will run the new seat in the normal seat position are those north of 6 feet tall and those riders that know that they are going to be standing most of the day on gnarly off-road trails. For tall riders, a taller seat reduces fatigue by shortening the distance you have to stand up when transitioning from the seated to standing position all day. It also reduces leg cramping by decreasing the knee bend angle while sitting for long distances on the highway.

The stock tires were left on the bike for this intro and they are street biased, which was great for the twisty road sections. Sure, this bike is tall but it can lean over really easily and the extra weight of the bigger tank and protection wasn’t noticeable from a handling perspective. The throttle-by-wire does smooth out the bottom end hit that the cable actuated previous models had.

Africa Twin Adventure Sports performance

On one hand, the throttle-by-wire takes away a tiny amount of excitement, but the engine is no slower than before, and, if anything, it is easier to ride. It is still a 1000cc parallel twin with that great sounding 270° crank and torquey power. While the bottom end is a notch mellower, the mid-range feels stronger which was the aim of the new intake and exhaust system. It keeps making impressive power up to the red line, if you are brave enough to keep the throttle open that long. Also for those sporty ADV riders out there, even on the DCT model, there is autoblipping down shifting which sounds and feels awesome.

One the highway, the bike gets up to 75 mph without breaking a sweat and will gladly and aggressively accelerate from cruising up to passing speeds with ease. It is very smooth at a cruising pace and the DCT clicks through the gears with shifts faster than any human could with a clutch and shift pedal. Drive modes change how aggressively the bike shifts and doesn’t affect power at all. The “D” mode is the most economic and shifts the fastest into higher gears, basically keeping the bike in the lowest possible RPM at any given time. The S modes all hold gears longer and downshift sooner when decelerating. The S3 mode is the sportiest and mimics how we would shift going through the twisties pretty accurately. It down shifts as you apply the brakes (autoblip!) before a turn and holds that lower gear longer as you accelerate to the next apex.

The bigger tank isn’t noticeably wider in the knees, but it is definitely wider closer to the front of the bike — sort of BMW R1200GS like, but not quite that big. The larger windscreen has much more coverage and gives the rider a comfortable, buffer-free bubble. It was 94° F when we rode the bike so the heated grip test will have to wait for another ride.

In The Dirt

Africa Twin Adventure Sports off-road

With the new bar mounts and bar bend, standing on the Adventure Sports is effortless. Not that the previous models where difficult to stand on while riding, just that the higher and closer bar position is very natural and we felt it gave an abundance of control while riding off-road.

The dirt section of the ride was comprised of grated dirt and gravel roads and didn’t have anything (rocks, roots, ruts) to test the longer-travel suspension. We did, however have plenty of time to play with different ride modes and the traction control. The Gravel preset ride mode puts the Power setting at 3 (lowest), Engine Braking at 3 (least) and HSTC at 6, which is very high. After just two turns into the dirt section, we dialed the traction control back to 4 — at 6 it would barely let the bike accelerate out of turns. As soon as the wheel started to slip, the HSTC would kick in and hold the RPMs at a steady rate even though we were giving it more throttle.

Africa Twin Adventure Sports CRF1000L2 trail ride

The power in Power mode 3 is very smooth and the RPMs climb slower than 2 or 1. The engine still feels torquey and powerful, just smoothed out. The Engine Braking setting didn’t offer a huge difference between settings and in level 3 it didn’t turn into a two stroke or anything.

The biggest difference we felt between the new CRF1000L2 DCT Model and the previous DCT model was the clutch engagement. Obviously, we aren’t talking about the clutch lever. We are talking about when the bike is stationary and idling and you give some throttle to get going. We have a 2017 Africa Twin DCT test bike we’ve ridden quite a bit in technical terrain. One our few complaints is that there is a lurch, a sort of little jump, right off idle. This isn’t an issue any other time, just when in first gear getting on and off the throttle, the engagement point is a little vague and jerky. This can be frustrating when really trying to pick your way through tight, bars-to-the-lock type of riding.

Africa Twin Adventure Sports CRF1000L2

But, with the new throttle-by-wire, any and all hesitation is gone. We really tried to test this by cracking the throttle the smallest amount we could possibly twist. On the older version, you’d hear the RPMs start to rise, then feel the bump of engagement. But the Adventure Sports starts to inch forward very, very slowly before you even hear the engine register the throttle input. The transition from stopped to moving is buttery, velvety smooth. We are making a big deal of this because, without a clutch, having confidence in when and how the auto clutch is going to engage is vital to technical riding.

2018 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Motorcycle

That being said, there wasn’t any hard off-roading on this intro but riding through some rolling elevation changes, we did notice the Adventure Sports would downshift later than we’d want when climbing a small crest. As with previous DCT models there is a finger trigger (upshift) and thumb button (downshift) to take the shifting duties into your own hands. At any time, in any mode, you can use the trigger/button to override the system and shift, or you can take full control with the Manual mode. No need to let off the gas, just click, shift, and go!

Bottom Line

2018 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports dual sport

Is the new CRF1000L2 Adventure Sports better than last year’s Africa Twin? It really depends on what your definition of better is. For many, the extra features, better suspension and the throttle-by-wire/DCT combo are a major step forward. Although if weight is very important in your decision making, waiting for the 2018 standard CRF1000L Africa Twin to be released with the updated electronics package may be the better option. Honda took some efforts to drop poundage, but the Adventure Sports DCT model weighs in at 555.8 pounds (49 pounds heavier than the standard Africa Twin).

The taller seat height of the CRF1000L2 might be a deal breaker as well for the inseam challenged ADV riders out there. But the increased suspension travel and ground clearance means that it can clean gnarlier, more haggard trails and take you places you might have avoided otherwise. Plus, 6.4 gallons of gas helps ease range anxiety for those that want to do longer-distance, globetrotting adventures. The additional comfort, range and protection will also be appreciated on longer journeys but more features means more money, so you’ll have to decide what you really want and for what price.

2018 Africa Twin Adventure Sport Specs

Engine Type:Liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve parallel twin with 270° crank and uni-cam
Displacement:998cc
Bore & Stroke:92.0 x 75.1mm
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Max. Power Output:93.8 HP @ 7,500rpm
Max. Torque73 ft-lbs @ 6,000rpm
Induction:PGM-FI electronic fuel injection (Throttle By Wire); (2) 44mm throttle bodies
Ignition:Full transistorized ignition
Starter:Electric
Fuel Capacity:6.37 gallons (24.2 liters)
Fuel consumption:51 mpg
ClutchMT: Wet, multiplate with coil springs, Aluminium Cam Assist and Slipper Clutch; DCT: 2 Wet multiple clutches
Gearbox / Transmission Type:Constant mesh 6-speed MT / 6-speed DCT with on and off-road riding modes
Final Drive:O-ring sealed chain – 16Tx42T
Frame Type:Steel semi-double cradle type with high-tensile strength steel rear subframe
Dimensions (L x W x H):92.3 in. x 36.7 in. x 61.8 in. (2,340mm x 930mm x 1,570mm)
Wheelbase:62.2 in. (1,580mm)
Seat Height (Low/STD):35.4/36.2 in. (900/920mm)
Ground Clearance:10.7 in. (271mm)
Wet Weight:Manual: 535.7 lbs (243 kg); DCT: 555.8 lbs (252 kg)
Turning Radius:8.53 feet (2.6m)
Suspension (front):Showa 45mm cartridge-type inverted fork with hydraulic preload and damping (compression & rebound) adjuster, 9.9 in. (252mm) stroke, 8.8 in. (224mm) axle travel
Suspension (rear):Cast aluminium swing arm with Pro-Link linkage, hydraulic preload and rebound damping adjustment, 9.5 in. (240mm) rear wheel travel, 101 mm stroke
Wheels Front:Wire spoke with aluminium rim
Wheels Rear:Wire spoke with aluminium rim
Rim Size Front:21M/C x MT2.15
Rim Size Rear:18M/C x MT4.00
Tires Front:90/90-21 tube type
Tires Rear:150/70-R18 tube type
ABS system type:2-Channel with rear ABS off switch
Brakes Front:310mm dual wave floating hydraulic disc with aluminium hub and radial fit 4-piston calipers and sintered metal pads
Brakes Rear:256mm wave hydraulic disc with 1-piston caliper and sintered metal pads. Also Lever-Lock Type Parking Brake System on DCT model with additional slide type 1-piston caliper
Instruments:Rally style negative LCD instrument display including: Riding Modes, Speedometer, Tachometer, Fuel, Gear position, ABS, HSTC, Odometer, Trip and Clock
Headlight:Dual LED (1 High/1 Low)
Color:White/Blue/Red
Pricing:Standard ($14,999); DCT ($15,699)
Sean Klinger Author ProfileAbout the Author: With his sights set on doing what he loved for a living, Sean Klinger left college with a BA in Journalism and dirt bike in his truck. After five years at a dirt-only motorcycle magazine shooting, testing, writing, editing, and a little off-road racing, he has switched gears to bigger bikes and longer adventures. He’ll probably get lost a few times but he’ll always have fun doing it. Two wheels and adventure is all he needs. 

Author: Sean Klinger

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