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ADV NewsHonda Africa Twin: 6 Things You Might Love [Or Hate] About It

Honda Africa Twin: 6 Things You Might Love [Or Hate] About It

A dive into the strengths and weaknesses of Big Red’s flagship adventurer.

Published on 12.04.2023

You may know the Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin as the tech-loaded, big-bore adventure bike that’s been a popular seller in the category since it was reintroduced in 2016.

But this modern adventurer was born from the world of rally racing. The inaugural street-ready Africa Twin debuted in street-legal format in 1988, echoing the design of the 1986 NXR750, a four-time champion of the Dakar Rally.

Part of the CRF1100L’s allure lies in its all-around versatility, both touring and off-road, while promising Japanese quality and reliability. But like many of the bikes we love, the Africa Twin possesses both thrilling peaks and some quirks. 


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From testing the Africa Twin to listening to owners across social media and events, here are six things to love and six things you might not like about this liter-class ADV contender.

Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin — Things You Might Hate

1. Underpowered for a Liter-Class Bike

Africa Twin on the road.

For a motorcycle boasting a weighty 505 pounds (manual transmission), the Africa Twin often feels like it’s straddling two different realms. It aspires to be in the liter-class league, but when you dig deeper, you find the CRF1100L punching slightly below its weight. The competitors, especially midweight powerhouses like the Husqvarna Norden 901, KTM 890 Adventure, Ducati DesertX (937cc), and the new BMW F 900 GS, overshadow it in horsepower. Even the mild-mannered Suzuki V-Strom 1050DE is stronger.

Massive horsepower isn’t such a factor off-road, but it surely adds to the enjoyment when twisting the throttle on the asphalt. 

Don’t get me wrong, the Africa Twin isn’t a slouch by any stretch. Beneath its chassis beats a 1084cc heart, which, on paper, makes it sound like it’s ready to spar with the heavyweights. 

But with its offering of around 100 horsepower, it seems more akin to a middleweight contender in the ring. This makes you wonder: is it the agile, nimble boxer dancing around the big hitters, or does it aspire to deliver knockout punches that it’s not fully equipped for?

In a world where motorcycles are often classified by their power output and sheer performance specs, the Africa Twin finds itself in a unique space. It seems to be caught in an identity crisis—is it the nimble David ready to outmaneuver the Goliaths, or is it aspiring to be a Goliath itself but without the full arsenal? It’s perplexing for a bike with so much potential.

Well at least the 2024 Africa Twin gets a modest bump in the form of 5 ft-lbs of torque (horsepower stays the same) at 82.6 ft-lbs rather than 77.4 ft-lbs. 

2. Tech Learning Curve

Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin

Settle into the cockpit of the Africa Twin, and you’re greeted by loads of buttons, switches, and not one but two display screens. While the technological strides made by Honda are undeniably impressive, they come with a steep learning curve that might leave you flustered. 

Remember that time when you mistakenly honked instead of signaling? That’s the Africa Twin initiation for many.

The daunting 350+ page manual, with a good chunk dedicated solely to the TFT display, doesn’t ease the intimidation. It’s a clear indication of the bike’s intricate electronic configurations. 

With four preset ride modes and an additional two customizable ones, riders can adjust many settings, from engine braking and ABS to traction control, power maps, and wheelie control. 

And if you opt for the DTC, you’re looking at three more settings and the off-road G-Switch (which simply lets out the clutch faster). Add to that the cruise control and Apple Carplay, which seamlessly integrates with the screen for music and navigation (every OEM should offer this!). 

Also, the 2024 AT now has an electronic suspension option, adding even more complexity. It has 5 available damping modes (SOFT, MID, HARD, OFF-ROAD, and USER) and multiple preload settings that are all configurable and customizable through the TFT.

These features are meant to enhance the rider’s experience, but when the onboard computer takes a sluggish 20 seconds to wake up, often outpacing your readiness to hit the road, it’s a tad frustrating. 

The bottom line? The Africa Twin offers a buffet of tech customizations, but not all riders have the appetite or patience to indulge in all it offers.

3. More Tech, More Potential Problems?

Africa Twin Riding in Remote Areas

In an age where technology permeates every facet of our lives, motorcycles like the Africa Twin aren’t spared from the allure of digital evolution. The appeal, however, arrives with some risks. The digital age paradox? While the Africa Twin has proved to be a reliable machine, there’s always the worry that the more tech you cram into a bike, the more there is to potentially go wrong  — and this is a point of consideration with many tech-laden adventure bikes in this class.

Each button, screen, and software configuration, while designed to enhance the rider’s experience, also presents another potential hiccup waiting to happen. Just think about it: for every advanced setting that makes your ride smoother or safer, an underlying code or mechanism can falter. It’s akin to having a high-performance computer on two wheels, and as any tech enthusiast knows, with great power comes great susceptibility to bugs.

Nobody wants to experience technical glitches when adventure riding—especially while deep in the backcountry. This is not something you can fix on the fly and requires a visit (hopefully not a tow!) to your local dealership.

This technological tightrope we’re walking means that while the Africa Twin pushes boundaries in motorbike tech, it also challenges riders to be ever-vigilant, and prepared for the quirks of a machine as digitally advanced as it is mechanically sound.

4. DCT Can Take Some Getting Used To

Africa Twin With DCT

Thinking about going with DCT? There’s no denying the allure of Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) option—a system that promises seamless shifts and a smoother ride. But, like most technological advances, it can take some getting used to.

The history of the DCT reveals a decade-long journey of development and refinement, and its integration into the Africa Twin has been a talking point for many.

First up: the speed, or rather, the lack thereof when shifting. Those accustomed to upshifts and downshifts on demand might find the Africa Twin’s DCT lagging a bit or sometimes jumping the gun. To be clear, the gear change is very fast once engaged but the timing of when the shift occurs in the RPM range may not always align with your expectations. 

For those moments of uncertainty or impatience, Honda has graced riders with paddle shifters located on the left grip or optional (and expensive) foot shifter. It’s a handy workaround, offering an added layer of manual control that many riders will appreciate, especially when precise timing is crucial.

Diving deeper into the DCT’s offerings, you’ll discover the two primary modes: Sport and Drive. Now, Drive is your everyday go-to mode for most situations. But for those seeking a bit more excitement, Sport offers three distinct settings to suit your adrenaline levels. By tweaking these settings, riders can often find that sweet spot that aligns the DCT’s behavior with their expectations.

But it’s not all smooth sailing. At slow speeds, the DCT can exhibit a certain jerkiness. There’s a slight hesitation, a delay that, to the discerning rider, lacks the fluidity of a traditional clutch.

Lastly, for all its technological prowess, the DCT has a physical downside: an added weight of about 24 pounds. It’s a weighty consideration, especially for those who value agility in their ride.

While the DCT is a marvel of modern engineering, promising riders smoother shifts and less manual hassle, it requires adjustment and understanding. After all, no matter how advanced, every innovation has its quirks to proverbially iron out. And remember there’s always a manual transmission option available.

However, for 2024, the DCT system on the Africa Twins has been refined to benefit from the engine’s increased performance, shifting down earlier. Honda says the system also benefits from improved cornering detection and now features a more natural ‘feathered’ feel on initial take-off and between first and second gears for increased feel and rider feedback.

We’ll know if this sentiment is true once we put the 2024 through some testing.  

5. Wind Protection Problems

CRF1100L Africa Twin Windscreen

One of the biggest quirks for many adventure bikes is wind buffeting from stock windscreens. And the standard Africa Twins can undoubtedly be improved, although this may not be the case for riders shorter than six feet or have longer torsos. 

Honda’s design choice is commendable from an aesthetic standpoint. They’ve given the standard model a compact, enduro-style windscreen, which evokes a sense of ruggedness and adventure. It’s a design that might serve average-height riders just fine. But the windscreen’s protection feels inadequate for those over 6 feet, leaving them more exposed to the elements. Also take note that there’s zero adjustability on the screen, so spend time finding the proper screen that works—the aftermarket is loaded with options. 

While the Africa Twin scores high on many fronts, its wind protection measures could be revisited. For riders who frequently embark on long highway stretches or those who brave various weather conditions, it’s a factor worth considering.

But it appears Honda has listened once again here. For 2024, both models feature a front fairing redesign to improve upper body wind deflection and aerodynamics. Moreover, the standard model now has a 5-way adjustable screen that is larger. Again—we’re anticipating the test to see how it functions!

6. Fragile Off-Road Protection Pieces 

Africa Twin CRF1100L Hand Guards

When you invest in an adventure bike, particularly one from a prestigious brand like Honda, you’re not just investing in the machine—you’re investing in the promise of durability, reliability, and resilience against the trials of both urban and off-road terrains. However, even the mightiest of bikes have their Achilles heel, and for the Africa Twin, some of its components can feel a tad fragile out on the trail.

The handguards—the bike’s first line of defense against branches, debris, and the occasional accidental brush against other vehicles in urban traffic—don’t always feel up to the task. Instead of being robust protectors, they appear more cosmetic than functional. Due to the use of thin plastic, heavy brush or fall might see them crack or even snap off, leaving the levers and rider’s hands more exposed than they should be.

Also, like many other adventure bikes, the skid plate, an essential piece for any bike that promises to take on rough terrains, feels less sturdy than one might hope. The plate uses thin metal and features minimal coverage around the header. This design easily dents in rocky terrain, and is vulnerable to expensive engine damage. Riders might find themselves second-guessing before taking on more challenging terrains.

Other components too, share this fragility. Some riders have voiced concerns about the durability of the side panels and the footpegs when the bike is put to the true adventure test. 

While these pieces can be replaced or upgraded, it does add to the ownership cost. It might detract from the overall riding experience, especially for those who’d prefer a ride ready to tackle anything right off the showroom floor.

While the Africa Twin boasts many strengths, it’s essential to be aware of its delicate components when hitting the trails. Thankfully there’s a robust aftermarket for this machine. 

Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin  — Things To Love

1. DCT: Better Than You’d Expect

Africa Twin DCT

The DCT has, in recent times, polarized the motorcycle community. Traditionalists swear by the old-school clutch lever, citing the raw, unfiltered connection between man and machine. However, enter Honda’s Africa Twin and its DCT, and the narrative shifts slightly.

Let’s address the elephant in the Africa Twin room: DCT. Yes, it does come with its set of quirks, as discussed earlier. Yet, it would be unfair to let these minor hiccups overshadow the transformative off-road experience it delivers, largely due to its innovative DCT system.

Off-roading often means navigating tricky terrains, which requires quick decisions, precise throttle control, and the right gear choice. Here, the DCT shines. Its rapid, seamless shifts ensure that the engine’s power is optimally utilized, allowing riders to maintain momentum through varying conditions. 

Be it gravel, mud, or steep inclines, the DCT system seems to intuitively understand the demands of the terrain and, more often than not, makes a better gear choice than you might have to ensure smooth traversal.

However, it’s essential to remember that the DCT, while innovative, is still a machine. It can momentarily become unresponsive in specific scenarios, especially during intense off-roading maneuvers that need the nuanced touch of clutch slipping.  But how many times on a ride do we make mistakes ourselves and stall the bike at an inopportune moment?

This aspect can feel out of place, especially when you’re pushing the bike and expecting it to respond as fluidly as it does in other conditions. But the DCT’s journey over the years provides insights into how much it has been refined.

Here’s the thing: the Africa Twin’s DCT is like that brilliant student in class who gets a B+ occasionally. Yes, there are moments when it might be less than 100% on the mark, but its overall experience, sheer convenience, and futuristic feel make it a game-changer.

So, while it might take a ride or two to adapt and trust the system fully, the DCT on the Africa Twin offers an engaging, innovative experience, pushing the boundaries of what we’ve come to expect from adventure motorcycling. If you’re open to embracing the future of motorcycling, the Africa Twin’s DCT may become your new best friend on those long, winding trails.

According to historical data, the demand for DCT technology remains strong. In 2023, DCT versions accounted for 49% of Africa Twin sales and more than 240,000 DCT-equipped motorcycles have been sold across Europe since it was first introduced in 2009.

2. A Capable Big-Bore Adventure Bike Off-Road

Africa Twin CRF1100L Off-Road

When you hear the term “big bore adventure bike,” what often comes to mind are large European machines designed to traverse continents, highways, and occasionally some light trails. But it sets itself apart from this stereotype, as evident from the Africa Twin’s storied history. It’s not just another highway cruiser that dabbles in dirt; it’s a competent off-road machine with big-bore credentials.

Starting with its suspension, the standard Africa Twin’s fully-adjustable front and rear settings for compression, rebound damping, and preload allow for a tailor-made ride. 

Depending on the rider’s preference and the terrain’s demands, one can optimize the suspension setup, which proves invaluable on off-road excursions. The generous 9.1″ travel at the front and 8.7″ at the rear ensures the bike can soak up significant bumps, ruts, and obstacles, making even challenging terrains feel less intimidating.

The choice of wheel size also speaks volumes about Honda’s off-road intent. The 21/18 wheel configuration is a tried and tested formula in the off-roading world and with good reason. 

Larger front wheels roll over obstacles more efficiently, while the 18-inch rear provides ample tire choices and a better footprint for traction. It’s clear that Honda didn’t just add these for aesthetics; they’re functional choices rooted in genuine off-road performance.

However, the aspect that truly makes the Africa Twin stand out in the crowded adventure segment is its unique positioning. Despite its big-bore credentials, in terms of size and weight, it leans more towards the upper range of the middleweight category, giving riders the torque and power they crave without the hefty weight often associated with larger adventure bikes. This balance makes it more nimble and manageable on trails than many of the other liter bikes in its class, reducing rider fatigue and increasing confidence.

While some might argue that the bike is tuned slightly on the softer side, a softer setup can be more forgiving on unpredictable terrains, ensuring less fatigue at the end of the day. Add to this the robust chassis, which gives it the necessary rigidity while maintaining flexibility for off-road demands, and you also have a stable and precise handling bike.

For many, the Honda Africa Twin defies old stereotypes for what to expect from a big-bore adventure bike. It’s not just content being a jack-of-all-trades; it shows a clear bias towards off-road, making it a compelling choice for riders looking to explore beyond the tarmac while still offering enough power to stretch its legs on the highway.

3. Seamless Bluetooth Integration

Africa Twin Bluetooth Integration

In the modern age of motorcycling, connectivity is more than just a luxury; it’s an expectation. With many devices at our disposal, the demand for seamless integration between our tech gadgets and our rides has never been higher. Honda’s Africa Twin rises to this challenge impressively with its state-of-the-art Bluetooth capabilities.

At the heart of this is the faultless operation of the system. Anyone who has grappled with finicky Bluetooth pairings knows the frustration it can bring. But with the Africa Twin, connectivity is simple. Once paired, the bike remembers your device, ensuring every subsequent ride begins with a hassle-free connection.

One of the standout features is the Turn-by-turn navigation powered by Apple Carplay integration. For riders, the importance of reliable navigation cannot be overstated. Gone are the days of fumbling with physical maps or trying to balance looking at a phone’s screen while managing the controls. 

With the Africa Twin, directions are displayed on a full-sized on-screen map, providing clarity and confidence in navigation. This eliminates the need for an additional phone mount, ensuring the cockpit remains uncluttered—for iPhone users, anyway. 

Beyond navigation, the simple and intuitive phone interface ensures riders can access phone features without distractions. Whether it’s changing a song, answering a call, or accessing other apps, the system is designed to be user-friendly, even with gloved fingers.

And speaking of user-friendliness, including a touchscreen further enhances the interaction. Responsive and clear, the touchscreen adds another layer of convenience, ensuring riders have everything they need at their fingertips.

The Bluetooth integration on the Honda Africa Twin is a testament to Honda’s commitment to integrating modern technology with traditional biking. It’s not just about adding features; it’s about enhancing the riding experience, making every journey more connected, and ensuring riders can focus on the road while still having the world at their fingertips.

4. Honda’s Perceived Reliability

Honda Reliability Riding In Mexico

When one thinks of Honda, a few things immediately come to mind: innovation, quality, and, above all, reliability. For decades, Honda has meticulously carved a reputation as one of the most dependable brands in the motorcycling world. Their mantra seems simple yet profound—to build machines that last, stand the test of time, and deliver consistent performance no matter the conditions.

This unwavering reliability isn’t merely a talking point for Honda; it’s ingrained in their engineering DNA.  Every major component, and every mechanical system are designed with longevity in mind. 

For adventure riders, especially those keen on treading uncharted territories, reliability isn’t just a preference—-it’s a necessity. Consider the Africa Twin; it’s meant to traverse deserts, climb mountains, and weave through dense forests. In such environments, the last thing a rider wants is a mechanical issue. 

With Honda’s track record, riders can embark on such adventures without constantly worrying about potential breakdowns. The peace of mind knowing that your machine is less likely to fail in a remote area is priceless.

This perceived reliability isn’t just anecdotal; it’s also reflected in tangible ways. For instance, Honda motorcycles tend to fetch higher resale values than many other brands. This is not merely due to their iconic status but is a direct consequence of their lasting performance and lesser propensity for major mechanical issues. Buyers in the second-hand market recognize this, making a well-maintained Honda a sought-after commodity.

Furthermore, the brand’s reliability is often juxtaposed with some European brands known for their high performance but occasionally finicky nature. While many Euro brands have made strides in reliability in recent years, Honda’s consistent track record over decades gives it an edge in public perception.

Honda’s reputation for reliability is a culmination of years of engineering prowess, consistent performance, and a brand ethos that prioritizes the rider’s peace of mind. It’s not just about having a motorcycle that runs; it’s about running dependably, mile after mile, journey after journey. And that, in essence, is the Honda promise.

5. Many Ways To Customize Electronics

Africa Twin TFT Display

In today’s age of rapid technological advancement, motorcycles have evolved beyond just engines, frames, and wheels. Modern bikes are infused with electronic systems that offer riders unprecedented control over their machines. Honda’s commitment to this evolution is evident in its myriad of customization options, particularly on its recent models.

At first glance, the electronic suite might appear daunting. With many settings, configurations, and modes, one could argue that it’s an information overload. However, beneath this labyrinth of options lies an opportunity for riders to truly make the bike their own.

For instance, the absence of a predefined ‘Sport’ mode, a staple in many 2023 motorcycle models, might initially seem like an oversight. However, this apparent omission is, in fact, an invitation for riders to dive deep into the electronic configurations and tailor-make their version of what a Sport mode should feel like. From throttle response and engine braking to traction control and suspension dynamics, riders can tweak and adjust until they find that perfect balance tailored to their style and preferences.

The versatility of these electronics caters to a diverse range of riders. Those who prefer a gentle, relaxed ride can dial down the aggressiveness, resulting in a bike that’s as tame and docile as a domesticated feline. But for those who crave raw power and razor-sharp responsiveness, they can amplify the settings to tap into the bike’s racing pedigree, echoing the robust spirit of the Dakar Rally.

Of course, this level of customization might only be for some. Some purists might argue that a motorcycle should be experienced in its raw, unfiltered form, free from electronic interventions. But the possibilities are boundless for those who see the potential in merging man, machine, and technology. It’s not merely about making the ride easier; it’s about enhancing, refining, and perfecting it.

While the sea of electronic customization options on modern Honda bikes might appear overwhelming, it’s a testament to the brand’s forward-thinking approach. It empowers riders, granting them the tools to mold and shape their riding experience. In an age where personalization is paramount, Honda ensures that their bikes are as unique as the individuals who ride them.

6. Distinctive Exhaust Note

Honda Africa Twin CRF1100L Braaaping

Sound and motorcycles have always shared a symbiotic relationship. From the rumble of a big cruiser to the high-pitched wail of a sportbike, the exhaust note plays a crucial role in shaping a rider’s emotional connection to the machine. 

In the case of the Africa Twin, its exhaust note isn’t just a random byproduct; it’s a carefully engineered symphony that adds to its character.

At the heart of this distinctive auditory experience is the bike’s 270° phased crankshaft. In motorcycle engineering, the crankshaft angle can significantly influence how an engine feels and sounds. Traditional parallel-twin engines, with their 360° or 180° crankshafts, have their unique sound signatures. However, the 270° phased crankshaft takes things up a notch.

Honda ensured that the Africa Twin would stand out in the auditory department by opting for this specific design. The uneven firing interval results in a rhythm different from other twins – it’s a beat that carries a hint of a V-twin’s thud but with the complexity of a parallel twin. This means that the Africa Twin doesn’t just sound like any other bike; it has a cadence that’s instantly recognizable to those familiar with it.

This distinction goes beyond mere aesthetics. For many riders, it’s also a source of pride and identity. When you’re on a machine with such a unique sound signature, it elevates the riding experience, making each twist of the throttle not just about acceleration but also about reveling in that distinctive roar.

And it only gets better for 2024 thanks to an updated tune. The 2024 gets 7% more torque—thanks to tuned intake and exhaust systems— that improves acceleration response, especially when fully loaded, and produces a richer sound. Honda says the 2024 muffler delivers a pleasing pulse note at lower RPMs and a stronger bass tone as revs increase.

We can’t complain about that!

Final Thoughts

The Africa Twin isn’t just a motorcycle; it’s a melange of highs and lows, intricacies, and straightforward joys. In short, its contrasting qualities are what lend it a distinct personality.

And remember—this isn’t just one rider’s perspective; this is the noise across many forums and social media platforms. 

Honda is always listening, though, and seems to have addressed some of these quirks in the 2024 Africa Twin recently unveiled. 

Have you swung a leg over this machine? Share your thoughts, praises, and gripes in the comments below. After all, the beauty of motorcycling lies in our shared experiences.

Photos by Stephen Gregory, Jon Beck and Honda

Author: Ron Lieback

Ron Lieback began his motorcycle journalism career in 2007, and has since written well over 10,000 pieces of content for various publications and traveled overseas extensively. His main focus was once sport bikes and sport touring, but over the past decade his focus has pivoted to riding larger adventure bikes quickly both on the road and the trails. Besides riding and writing, Ron also collects race-focused motorcycles, and is an entrepreneur that owns multiple businesses.

Author: Ron Lieback
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J. Braun
J. Braun
December 4, 2023 10:21 am

I have an RD03 and RD07 Africa Twin imported from Europe. No tech and reliable as a stone ax. No distractions from screens and switches. They shift when I move my left foot and the engine revs when I move my right hand. When I get to the top or bottom of a hill I know it was me and not some robot function.
Across Mexico and the US they have gotten me where I wanted to go when I wanted to get there and always gotten me home. I work in a Honda shop and I wouldn’t trade either one for a new Africa Twin.

PXL_20231104_161032082
Cad
Cad
December 5, 2023 3:48 am

Hi Ron, excellent, informative article. I think you may have confused torque and HP above the “2. Learning curve” photo.

ADV Pulse
ADV Pulse
December 5, 2023 7:47 am
Reply to  Cad

Thanks Cad! we have added a parenthesis there to avoid confusion.

Bob
Bob
December 5, 2023 3:31 pm

I considered one of the 1100 series AT. The user forums were talking about problems with the new displays leaking water internally, and rust on brand new cycles on the rims and spokes. Mud packing into the closely spaced front rim was causing the plastic front fender to crack and break at the front brake mount. Some were also saying the cycle dumps heat on the rider. There is a fix for that, an optional peice of plastic ductwork could be mounted to duct heat away from the rider. But it was extra money. I don’t know if Honda solves these problems with this iteration.

RobertSix52
RobertSix52
December 11, 2023 10:29 am

I’ve had a 2009 BMW GS1200, a 2017 one liter Africa Twin and three KLRs (one each gen2, gen2, gen3). I couldn’t warm up to the BMW. Frankly I think it is grossly overrated. I loved the AT and called it the best giant dual sport ever made but I’m 68 and it was getting to be a handful so I went back to the old favorite, a gen 3 KLR and I have no regrets.

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