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ADV BikesFirst Ride: 10 Things to Know About the New Africa Twin

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

 Key takeaways after testing the new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin.

Published on 05.17.2016

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.


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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.
 

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Author: Rob Dabney
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Comments
 38

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38 thoughts on “First Ride: 10 Things to Know About the New Africa Twin

  1. I have $15,000 in cash sitting on my desk and the keys always in my pocket waiting for the phone call that its there. The bike is amazing by all accounts but still means nothing until it actually makes it here unfortunately. I’m running insanely low on patience now.

  2. Yes, the new AT is very compact, I own a XT660Z Tenere here in Central EU and I was suprised with ATs dimensions side by side. Seems very refined, well detailed and hardly could anyone tell it is an almost 1000 ccm ADV bike. It does 2008 vs. 2015. Personally still prefer the simplicity of a XT .)

  3. Wow I rode one and got a completely different opinion. But then I don’t have advertisers to please.

    I only rode the DCT version which I found to be clunky and when in auto mode didn’t know what gear it wanted to be in.

    The manual version would be better.

    Also found the power delivery dull. Felt similar to my Vstrom 1000 but nowhere near as exciting as my 1190 Adventure.

    But your right about the comfort and compactness. Great for shorter riders to get their feet on the ground.

    • Hi Guy. We have no problem pointing out flaws in this or any other bike we review, and we did dedicate a section in this article to the bike’s faults (including issues with DCT) in point #8. Like we said, DCT is not for everyone. But most testers preferred DCT or at least gave it high marks. There are several settings for DCT (S1, S2, S3, D, G) that determine shift points and smoothness. Possibly, what you experienced had to do with settings selection. As far as power, Yes the 1190 ADV has immense power and if that’s what you are used to, the Africa Twin might feel a bit dull. We love big horsepower too, but from a practical standpoint it’s more than adequate.

    • Ohhh…….now you’ve done it!!! Your really asking for it……calling it a “game changer”!! Let the hate mail begin! LOL

      Well, to those of us over the establishment and not happy where the markets been going, more of everything (gadgets, weight, hp, $$$), this IS the bike we’ve been waiting for…..simple, capable, reliable and low cost of ownership. It’s almost like bridging the gap between a KLR and a GS. Fantastic job Honda, wY to go!

    • I just did a 1000 mile trip on my 15 Vstom 650. Top speed 114 (on speedo) with dirt tires. Looking to get a bit closer to 130mph to stay up with my buddys on their BMW R1200GS, Ducati Multi, and KTM 1190 R. This doesn’t look like it will even come close. Anyone had this AT manual WOT?

  4. Great write up! I tested this bike and you nailed every single point. I’ve had a KTM 1190 for a while now but after riding the AT I was left so impressed I’m thinking about switching. Hopefully I can still get one this year!

  5. Pingback: Anonymous

    • Honda’s fuel efficiency claim is 51 MPG (21.8 km/l) for the DCT model. You might expect something closer to 40 mpg for mixed driving. The tank size is 4.96 gallons (18.8-liters), so that should get you somewhere around 200 miles range.

  6. The DCT sounds interesting… BUT… for those low-speed situations where you use the clutch more than the throttle to manage momentum, how’s that going to work? Without the clutch, you’re stuck trying to use the throttle, which is going to result in jerky movements no matter how good the EFI is.

  7. Pingback: Top 10 Heaviest Adventure Bikes - ADV Pulse

  8. I don’t find it surprising that when Yamaha came out with the 270 degree crank, parallel twin, everyone panned it as boring. Now that Honda has come up with this fantastic idea for an engine, it’s brilliant!

  9. I just love my new Africa Twin DCT. Honda did a great job. It might not have the power of the 1190 but to for a long offroad ride and you will feel the difference. Beside, with the AT you balls will stay nice and cold, not as on the 1190… I can say I am an experience enduro rider (ISDE silver medal) and since I got my AT my R1200 GS LC has been parked… A new set of footpegs, crash bars and a skideplate is all it needs…

  10. “In auto-mode, there were only a few times when DCT selected a gear that wasn’t to our liking,”

    I own a 2014 NC700XD. I’ve learned that if you don’t want the DCT in Auto mode to up-shift just tap the AT/MT switch with your right forefinger to keep it in whatever gear the bike is in at the moment. The NCXD will still downshift in Manual mode. Tap the switch again to return to whatever level of Auto the bike was in. Mid corner auto-shifts won’t upset the bike much. Maximum flexibility at any time while under way. The only thing the DCT won’t do is switch to Neutral while the bike is moving.

  11. its better than any other adv out there, i dont need big power hp, 90++ is fast enough for me, the most important, the comfort and engine & parts that can withstand years of overland. i cant wait!

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  13. Pingback: Is it Possible to get the Front Wheel Off the Ground on a DCT AT? - Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin Forum

    • We do it all the time Jarrett. You need to turn off Traction Control though. It stops it from wheelieing. Put it in sport mode and try rolling about 5 mph, then crack the throttle open with a little bounce and tug on the bars. It will come up high. If you get it high enough, it will shift super smoothly into 2nd gear with the wheel still up in the air.

  14. Pingback: 5 Reasons Why DCT on the Africa Twin Is An Asset Off-Road - ADV Pulse