Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin: Full Test and Review from the initial global launch held in South Africa (By Marc Potter – Potski Media UK)
Honda claim the new CRF1000L Africa Twin offers true adventure with the comfort of a tourer and the agility of a commuter and the ability to make dirt roads a joy. All we know is the legendary Africa Twin name is back, and we’ve ridden it in South Africa.
Africa Twin Full test and review
HONDA are properly serious about the new CRF1000L Africa Twin being a proper adventure bike. So much so that within ten miles of getting on the stunning new older brother to the original Africa Twin, that we were blasting down a fast South African gravel road at 70mph. And yes, South Africa. Where else could you launch to the world’s press Honda’s all-new adventure bike?
In near 40-degree heat and with standard Dunlop Trailmax tyres (complete with tubes) on and the standard manual transmission bike doing the work, instead of the fancier and more expensive DCT model which we’ll come to later, the bike was immediately impressive. All big roosting sideways drifts and the supple fully-adjustable conventional suspension soaking up the gravel and sandy roads.
You’ve probably seen and heard so much about Honda’s True Adventure concept in the last few months that you’re tired of it. Don’t be. First shown as the True Adventure concept at EICMA in Milan back in 2014, the Africa Twin is now on sale. It’s quite a bike. They say True Adventure, and Honda are true to their words. This is one of the most impressive big adventure bikes you could ever want to ride off-road. It took three and half years from the initial idea of bringing back the much-loved Africa Twin, to production, but every one of those hard-earned months has been worth it.
Where some big adventure bikes feel a bit unwieldy and like they’re leading you up the gravel path, when off-road, the CRF1000L Africa Twin is a bonafide impressive adventure bike from the word go.
And that’s in the next generation DCT twin clutch transmission or in manual, old school, foot on a gear lever mode.
But this is Africa, so today we were briefed to watch out for the baboons, occasional Wildebeest and random wild tortoises. If you ever wanted to test the levels of ABS control off-road, a baboon running out in front of you on a gravel road will do it. It doesn’t get any more ‘adventure’ than that.
It might share the name with the original and some of its styling DNA of the 57bhp Honda XRV650 of 1988, and the later 1990 XRV750 Africa Twin which made 61bhp, but they are totally different machines.
The new CRF1000L Africa Twin combines the Africa Twin heritage and style cues but uses the best of Honda’s current technical philosophy. So there are two bikes. One using a DCT automatic gearbox with a mesmerising 80 possible mode settings from traction control and power delivery to levels of gear selection and hill control. And the second, a more basic but blindingly good manual bike.
The price, and the spec of the 93.8bhp inline twin cylinder motor and it’s fancy Unicam system and 270 degree crank, puts the new Africa Twin right in the middle of bikes like the R1200GS and the F800GS. Both versions of the Africa Twin use the same CRF450 Rally bike inspired frame design and that fluid, linear twin cylinder oversquare motor. It’s no surprise that the bike’s chief designer, Italian Maurizio Carbonara, said the bike’s styling combines CRF Rally bikes and the original Africa Twin inspired lines.
It’s 1000cc for a reason. One because it’s the headline halo bike of Honda’s adventure range which includes the NC750X, the CB500X and the Crosstourer and Crossrunner, and two because it should make buyers question if they really need a 1200, or would a 1000cc do just fine? And if you’re looking to buy an 800 like the aforementioned BMW, or Triumph’s Tiger 800, then maybe a 1000 could be on the cards for a bit more dollar. It’s cleverly pitched.
Compared to a BMW R1200GS which makes around 125bhp, the Honda has rightfully been criticised for being under powered. A KTM 1190 Adventure making around 150bhp would smoke it. But that’s not the point. It slots neatly in the middle somewhere. And it can ride anywhere, just as Honda intended. You want escape? You want an Africa Twin.
Road, off-road, town or country. The Africa Twin is a great bike. Escape? It’s right there in this picture. Compared to an 800 there’s a load more torque, a load more bottom end and plenty of grunt, both on the DCT bike and the ABS manual bike.
The dual-clutch transmission is immediately obvious because the engine case sticks out slightly further, and there’s no clutch lever. Just a parking brake in its place, tucked away behind the handguards.
To use the DCT you simply start the bike, push the right-hand button into D for drive, or S for Sport and engage one of the three new sport settings. S1 is the entry-level to sports mode, then there’s S2 which hangs on to gears longer, and S3 which is used for more extreme sports riding and hangs onto gears till the redline.
Add in a G button for improved connection with the bike and the throttle when off-road, and the hill climb and descent technology which changes gear depending on the ascent or incline.
We rode on loads of fast, gravelly fire road sections on both the DCT and the standard ABS bike and were impressed. Seriously impressed.
Off-road the motor revs so flat and the delivery of it is so linear that it manages to feel connected to the rear tyre and yet find grip in a way no other big adventure bike can. There’s no big peaks so if it gets sideways on gravel then it just sorts itself out with the torque curve. And that’s without traction control on, Switch that on and at level 3 the bike could be ridden on ice and not slide, on level two it intervenes reasonably early, and on level one you can feel like a drift king. You know it’s working but it never gets in the way. In the manual bike it hangs in there until you decide to shift gears.
On the DCT bike it shifts seamlessly through the box, probably better than most humans can, so there’s no change in weight transfer. It just shifts, the number on the dash changes and the engine note changes. You can adjust it manually by using the forefinger and thumb buttons for + and – if you want to manually override. There’s even the option of a foot lever which is in the conventional gear lever place near your left foot, but acts as a switch, rather than physically moving cogs.
Adventure bikes are all things to all men, so one moment they need enough ground clearance to ride off-road, the next they’re two-up with a pillion going touring. They need to be ridden fast occasionally and do the regular commute. So it’s all credit to Honda they’ve managed to pull of such an accomplished bike that ticks all the boxes.
On the road the engine is smooth, the power delivery creamy. There’s not huge amounts of excitement. No big power steps, it’s just always there when you want it and it sounds really good for a bike that has to meet strict Euro 4 emissions and noise laws. But that hasn’t stopped me wanting one. It’s so incredibly capable.
Honda describe the exhaust noise as an angry CRF450. I’d say it’s more like a slightly miffed CRF450 with a tea towel down its exhaust, but it sounds good all the same.
Around town the manual bike is smooth and has plenty of chug, no chain lash and is really well-balanced at low-speed. DCT or manual. This is the manual bike. It’s all about looking around, waking up somewhere new each day. Oh, and it will do the daily commute too. The DCT bike is as easy to ride around town in ‘D’ (for drive) as a dodgem car at the fair. Just twist and go. At first it feels complicated. Like there are too many buttons and switches, but it soon becomes second nature. Only when riding really fast did it take some getting used to. On the way into corners, hard on the brakes I felt like I needed to switch manually down to third gear to give some more engine braking and get it on its nose, before the bike realised I wanted to be in second. It’s a small detail and one that you would soon adapt too. Test Project Leader Tetsuya Kudo, one of the men behind bikes like the RC30 and the CB1000R, tells me the DCT bike weighs 10kg more and this affects the weight bias on the front slightly, but not so much that I could notice.
In touring type riding, the DCT bike is a revelation. It gives you mental space to read the road, take in the spectacular mountain scenery and not have to think very hard about the bike at all.
As you might expect for a bike that’s all things to all men and fulfils the routing role perfectly, the riding position is ultra-comfortable. You sit very upright with big wide bars and somehow it feels reminiscent of the original Africa Twin’s riding position, a bike I was a big fan of in the nineties right up until it finished production in 2003.
Everything is easy. It all works and once out of town there’s enough stomp to make it entertaining. It’s not a powerhouse but there’s just enough go. Ride it in a leisurely touring fashion at it’s doing around 70mph at 4000rpm, though you’d need to shift down to overtake something at that speed. But it’s relaxed, smooth and the kind of bike you can do a lot of miles on. And more importantly, it feels right. There’s a subtle pulse to the engine and a good feeling from the throttle which feels direct.
I love the design of the bike, It’s aggressive looking, hints just enough at Dakar bikes, and the LED lights on the DCT bike give it a really distinct face when you see it on-the-road.
It’s such an easy bike to get on and just ride, even if the scenery is this distracting. The wide Africa Twin 750-inspired ‘shoulders’ of the bike at the front and that small looking screen do a great job of keeping the wind off. It doesn’t look up tot much in the way of wind protection, but it must be incrediby well designed. I’m six-foot four and with a standard seat height and a standard screen I didn’t have any problems. It works incredibly well for something that appears so small. Other seat options to take the bike from standard seat height of 870mm to a 900mm high seat, or an 840mm low seat height are available as options. But for me, the riding position and comfort was perfect. The seat is narrow, but comfortable and the riding position feels natural.
Get it on to a twisty road and Honda’s claims of agility come true. The 21-inch front wheel means it’s more off-road biased than a BMW R1200GS with its 19-inch front and 17-inch rear, but it works on the road too.
Dual-purpose Dunlop Trailmax tyres give decent lean angles and feel, even in 40-degree heat when the road surface if melting. Though when riding really fast you could feel the 21-inch front almost tucking when you hit some oscillations in a corner a couple of times. Our guide, a local rider, says this is due to the road surface and not the bike. I took his word for it.
At the rear is an 18-inch which means plenty of proper knobble tyre options are available. I guess the tuck at the front when on the limit, is a warning not to over ride the bike, or try and ride it like a sports bike and shows one of the bike’s few compromises. It’s not easy being everything to every man.
On smoother, grippier roads it was never a problem and very impressive at goon riding. At 99 per cent, the bike can be hustled quickly. And it’s incredibly stable too. Again, it’s something when a bike is this agile and flickable on a tight and twisty road, yet so stable at high speed with a 43 degree steering head angle.
The motor performs best when kept above 5000rpm and running it up to around 7500rpm for maximum power.
Get it in the sweet spot and it will rev-on so you can blast between second and third gear corners using the bike agility to get it stuck in on the brakes and turned fast. The DCT in S3 setting holds gears nicely between corners too, letting you redline it before rolling off for the next tight bend. It’s not perfect but it’s very impressive and no doubt what the next generation of riders will be after. Something like 50 per cent of the nine bikes in Honda’s range with DCT available are now ordered with the system on.
The traction control is best dialled down to its lowest level at number one where you never know it’s there. It’s easy to adjust with your finger on what we traditionally know as the headlight flasher switch.
The ABS is perfectly in tune with the bike, it rarely comes in and works well with just the occasional tiny squeak from the rear tyre if you’re trying hard on the way in. It’s exactly what you need when riding on some of the world’s most spectacular roads with sheer drops either side and massive cliff-drops if you get it wrong.
The Africa Twin finds grip anywhere. This is 100kmh, or about 60-plus mph. Remarkably, and despite that enormous long travel suspension with 230mm at the front and 220mm of travel at the rear, it never feels like it’s pitching forwards and back when you ride it quickly. That’s quite some feat.
The Showa 43mm upside down front forks and Showa rear shock are all fully-adjustable, and work great and the chassis set-up is impressive in that it can hustle fast, yet has plenty of feel and control off-road. The chassis man needs a gold star. It may not have the option of semi-active suspension but it doesn’t need it either.
All-round Honda have made a seriously capable adventure bike that ticks all the boxes of anything you’d ever want from an adventure bike. It’s well-made, looks right on trend with its Dakar Rally bike inspired-looks and rides well on and off-road. At this price, and this quality you’d be hard pushed to recommend anything else. The Africa Twin is back. And in spectacular, highly competent fashion. If you want an adventure bike that can take the rough with the smooth and bring a smile to your face every time you ride, there’s a new option. And it has a Honda badge on the tank.
The Africa Twin makes mere mortals into dirt riding gods, for an adventure bike at least. Potter is more than pleased with this shot!
Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin with DCT tested on the dirt!
IF you’d told me that I’d fall in love with an automatic transmission system on an off-road adventure bike I’d have laughed at you. But there we are, on top of a small mountain having ridden the new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin with DCT on a challenging rocky, sandy and sometimes technical 14km loop and my left foot hasn’t done any work. Other than hang on and grip the frame protectors.
Engage Sport mode on the Africa Twin DCT using the right-handlebar button. Hit the G button for a more connected feel off-road, turn the traction control down to its lowest level using the button on the left handlebar. Or turn it off if you’re feeling like drifting, and brave in the dirt, and all you have to think about is what’s coming up. No need to worry about what gear it’s in, what revs it’s pulling, how close you are to the redline. Your left hand can simply hold on to the handlebars and not have to hover over a clutch lever. It just hangs on to the bars while the Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission does its work, seamlessly shifting up and down with the rider hardly realising. The DCT bike selects the right gear for the incline and descent. The technology is now so slick that it hardy makes a sound, unlike the first evolution which sounded like a ball bearing in a tin hat. Yesterday, I tested the bike on the road and was impressed by its ease of use on the road, around town, and when touring. I wasn’t so sure about it when riding like a goon, where occasionally you have to interact with the left thumb button and change down to get the weight on the nose of the bike.
But off-road the system is a revelation. For all-round 90 per cent of the time riding, and off road I’d take it over the manual bike every time.
It changes the way big adventure bikes feel off-road and allows average off-road riders like me to go quicker, feel less tired, and saves 10 per cent of my brain power for looking where I’m going. Just hit the gas, feel the traction-control, or torque control system kick-in while it lets the bike slide (in setting one), and the bike charges forward in a big dust bowl of traction and revs while seemingly doing some of the hard bit for the rider.
My big reservation about the system was whether or not it would give enough engine braking and change down enough when tackling slippery, downhill descents. But after a few hundred feet I threw that reservation out of the window.
Chassis is predictable and the suspension good off-road. This is the manual bike. It changes down, using the engine braking to accurately put it in the right gear. The bike is so clever it knows what kind of incline you are riding up or down, and keeps it in the right gear for the given revs and throttle position.
Even on low-speed sandy corners where the front wants to dig in, and you’re going so slow a manual transmission bike would stall. On the DCT version it just drives out of the corner from seemingly zero revs. It’s impossible to stall. I tried it and couldn’t make it happen!
But it’s not just the DCT that makes the Africa Twin so competent off-road. The way the engine makes its lazy 270-degree crank grunt means it finds grip even with the traction off. It never feels wanting more power, the traction control system is brilliant, and the chassis is so competent it makes a big adventure bike lose its weight. You know it’s big, you know it’s heavy but the way it got round the 14km course for a couple of laps amazed me.
On Continental Twinduro tyres you could feel what the front tyre was doing, let it wash-out in sand and still get away with it. The ABS can be deactivated at the rear with a big button on the dash, while the front keeps the ABS on. Amazingly, it works just as well on the dirt as it does on the road and stops you quickly while still finding grip even on sand. If you’re a dirt god then you can always back it in on the rear brake.
Africa Twin and a happy Marc Potter. He’s already thinking about his next off-road mission. When you ride something like a Ducati Multistrada 1200 or Triumph Explorer the mirrors get in the way when you’re riding stood-up, but on the Africa Twin it all feels natural. I could do with about an inch in the handlebar height, but I am a ridiculously tall giant.
The suspension takes rocks and bumps even when a slightly ham-fisted off-road rider like me gets it wrong, and if you do land from a jump on to some loose rocks, the metal belly pan absorbs the rocks so the motor is tucked away safe from harm.
Honda didn’t have to make the Africa Twin this good off-road, but I’m glad they did. It gives the Africa Twin and its rider ultimate cred to know that you could enter an easy enduro on a real adventure bike and get away with it. Honda say it’s True Adventure, after the last two days I couldn’t agree more. The engineers behind this bike deserve a pay rise.