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2016 Honda Africa Twin: MD Ride Review (with video)

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At the press launch, we spent much of our time aboard Honda’s new Africa Twin in the dirt, and came away very impressed … concluding that it might very well be the best dual purpose off-road machine displacing 1,000 cc or more. We did not, however, ride the bike on the street very much, so this is where we decided to focus after picking up our manual transmission Africa Twin from Honda here in Southern California.

All of the technical details were covered in our First Ride report, so we won’t go back through all of that here. Suffice to say that this long-anticipated Africa Twin displaces 998 cc with a 270° crank and balance shafts to keep the parallel twin smooth and tractable. 21 inch and 18 inch rear tubed tires bow to the off-road capabilities, including a narrow 90 section front tire.

The Africa Twin is offered with both a traditional manual transmission (tested here) and a DCT, which is a third generation of the flexible Honda automatic, offering several options to the rider (covered in our earlier story). Honda seemed a bit surprised when we asked for a manual transmission bike, as most journalists seemed interested in testing the DCT. We wanted a manual transmission for a couple of reasons. First, our editor has very broad experience off-road (having raced motocross bikes, for instance) and on-road with the latest adventure bikes (including excellent examples from KTM, Suzuki, etc.). We wanted to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

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This is a very large and tall motorcycle, even for our 5’11” test rider. Nevertheless, the ergonomics are very well sorted, placing the rider in a comfortable, upright dirt bike-style position. The seat works well for shorter trips, but riders touring on-road with the Africa Twin may want to try something from the aftermarket with a more traditional road bike shape (including, a broader seating position for the rider and passenger).

From this perch, the rider feels a sense of control and vision common to other adventure models — one of the reasons this category has become so popular. The bolt upright positioning also removes all weight from the wrists, which for many riders, once again, is even more comfortable than the traditional position on a sport tourer. This is a fun bike to hop aboard, with both a willing engine and chassis for around town and highway use.

The engine has excellent torque and flexibility, offering a very linear and broad powerband. We again noted that it won’t break any horsepower records for the category (a KTM 1190 Adventure will leave it for dead in a drag race, for instance), but there is still plenty of power for any use the bike might reasonably be put to, including loaded, two-up touring.

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The Africa Twin accelerates strongly, but with a “heavy flywheel feel”. By that we mean the reciprocating parts, including the large diameter tires and tubes, dampen the acceleration response when you twist the throttle. This makes the bike accelerate more smoothly or feel a bit less lively, depending on your perspective and the potency of the recent machines you have ridden. In general, this probably works out better for most purchasers of an Africa Twin, particularly if they mix in a fair amount of off-road riding where this effect benefits traction and confidence.

Clutch feel is good and the response is accurate.  Clutch pull is also reasonably light for a large displacement machine.  The six-speed transmission worked well enough to be invisible, i.e., gear changes were direct and positive. Brake response was adequate with good power for the street but little initial bite. Again, Honda seems to be balancing the needs of on-road and off-road riding.

The stock Dunlop Trailmax tires provided good feedback and grip on the street, and, unlike some adventure tires, did not follow rain grooves on the freeway here in Southern California. Steering is on the slow side, but predictable. The bike could benefit from additional shock preload (perhaps, in combination with raising the forks a few millimeters in the triple clamps). We cranked in more shock preload on day one (via the tool-less knob on the side of the bike), which helped quicken turn-in somewhat, but we did not try this in combination with raising the forks. The steering geometry and wheelbase benefit off-road riding, again making the bike a bit more sedate on-road.

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Wind protection from the small screen and hand guards made the Africa Twin comfortable at highway speeds with very little buffeting at the helmet level for this 5’11” test rider. Some wind protection for the knees can be had by tucking them in to the tank. Overall, this could certainly be the basis for comfortable long-distance touring (subject to the comments about the seat above), particularly when fitted with Honda’s optional luggage (pictured).

Not surprisingly, the long travel suspension that worked so well off-road in Utah at the press launch soaked up road bumps with aplomb while maintaining good control when the bike was ridden aggressively. The only negatives when hustling the bike through twisty roads are the somewhat slow steering and ultra-narrow front tire.

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In the end, we conclude that Honda has created another excellent motorcycle in the Africa Twin. Ironically, its strength is its compromise between on-road and off-road ability. If you really intend to use your adventure bike for relatively frequent, and even aggressive off-road riding, together with long, high-speed road travel, the Africa Twin is just about as good as it gets (again, look back at our comments on our 100 mile day through the Utah desert — and check out the video below). For the ultimate in flexibility, you could build a second set of tubeless wheels sized 19″ front and 17″ rear (something we were planning to test, but ran out of time). This would improve acceleration, braking, cornering and steering response on the street.  Maybe this is an idea for a follow-up story.

The 2016 Honda Africa Twin is priced at $12,999 (manual transmission version) or $13,699 (DCT). Take a look at Honda’s web site for additional details.

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39 Comments

  1. Arild says:

    I am very happy my DCT version in “victory red”. And I find the stock seat to be quite comfortable, way better that the seat on my previous VFR1200XD and equal to my XT1200ZE. But the best part is the exhaust sound under load. It’s awesome and addictive. Minor gripes are the lack of cruise control and the medium fuel range (400km). I have also fitted the Tutoro chain oiler

  2. Mr.Mike says:

    A dual sport without a beak? Next they’ll put a man on the moon.

  3. GFerrando says:

    I just spent 2000 miles straight. I agree with the comments about the seat. I have a 29″ inseam, so I ordered the low seat before I got the bike. I can flatfoot one side and ball of the foot on the other. Not perfect, but usable. However, the seat still was pretty uncomfortable, so I was ready to get off at about 150 miles, which coincidentally was as far as I could go at a steady 80mph with the SW-Motech Trax. At a steady 65, I got between 45 and 50. Also, the stock tires are great on the road and packed dirt, but pretty spooky on gravel, and mud. Some 50/50s are next, and then a new seat. Otherwise the DCT was great on and off road, and especially when I got stuck in rush hour traffic in LA..

  4. mike says:

    I have a AT that I have converted tubeless and I’m running shinko 705s front and rear and all I can say is the ride is awesome. It’s so smooth like riding on glass you can feel the road so much better the tires are way more supple. I ran mefos off road this summer I took the stock tires off after 900 miles and was going to put them back on for the winter and wear them out and convert to tubeless next summer however after I put the stock tires back on the bike and after riding 4,000 miles with the Mefos the front felt slow and sluggish it felt like I had a flat so I took them back off bought some shinko 705 tubeless tires and converted over and I could not be happier with the results.The AT has a incredibly neutral feel when riding it I feel so relaxed I could fall asleep. I have had mine off road plenty and while it is heavy it doesn’t disappoint. It is a fantastic road bike when its set up properly.

  5. Vrooom says:

    The weight seems right, wish they’d gone with a spoked tubeless tire design, I can plug a tire in 10 minutes but a tube change takes as much as an hour, plus the time to find something to prop the bike up. Also a wider seat, and everyone I know who has ridden one says it needs it, would simply make the reach to the ground more daunting. I’m tall, so not an issue, but probably is for most people. The price is right, it’s problems can be solved, but they exist. Most owners seem to want to replace front and rear suspension after a few miles on it. Ran into a fellow who rented one in BC this summer, shocked they were already available for rental, but he said the seat was a torture rack.

  6. Terry says:

    When will the new CRF500L (twin) arrive? This CRF1000L is great but too big and heavy for me.

  7. guu says:

    “The bike might have benefited from additional shock preload (perhaps, in combination with raising the forks a few millimeters in the triple clamps), but we did not try this.”

    Really! Why didn’t you? The Honda has a remote, tool-free adjuster for pre-load. Did you try any other suspension settings?

  8. todd says:

    I’m more inclined to go get a Husqvarna TR650 Terra; all this thing is trying to be for a third the price. It’s just not likely to be down at the local dealership…

    • Fred M. says:

      What do you mean “trying to be”? The Africa Twin is a world-class adventure bike — no “trying” about it.

      I don’t think that Husky still makes the TR650 Terra. And while it was a nice bike, but it’s not in the same league as the Africa Twin. It lacks the comfort, wind protection, power, electronics, carrying capacity, and refinement of the Africa Twin.

      • todd says:

        The whole premise of the Africa Twin is to try to make an “Adventure Bike” that is more 50/50 by making it smaller and lighter. I said “trying” because I think it’s still too heavy and overpowered to be much use off road. I used to think the KLR had the best combination (50/50) of off-road lightness/power/tractability with highway manners/fuel mileage/load capacity until Husqvarna -excuse me, BMW – cane out with the Terra. It has all the off-road ability and power of a KTM but with unbeatable (60mpg) mileage, greater load capacity, road manners, and all day comfort that can’t be found anywhere else – for about the price of a KLR at the time. Too bad BMW dumped them.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          I have a Terra and love it. It isn’t as hardcore as the KTM 690, but then that is kind of the appeal for me. I can mount the side cases and top case and take it on an 8-hour road trip down the tarmac as it will plod along happily and smoothly at 85mph all day long with enough juice leftover to pass other vehicles. It’s still a heavy bike, but I have no issues taking down single track around Colorado and Utah. The KTM can go faster when the going gets rough, but the Terra isn’t limited by any terrain that the KTM can get through.

          • todd says:

            Awesome. Now imagine adding 170 pounds and 35 hp. Wouldn’t that make it soooo much better? Oh, for $10,000 more.

    • Vrooom says:

      Perhaps used it’s a 1/3 of the price, this is $13K used, so 1/3 would be around $4.3K. Not really fair to compare used to new, though I like the Husky.

      • todd says:

        Yes, it’s fair and will weigh heavily in my buying decisions. I don’t see a 2016 Africa Twin as three times better than a 2013 Husqvarna. I think they are very similar (I give zero “F”s for electronics and power in a dual-purpose bike).

  9. Grumpc says:

    We look forward to your reconfigured road test – all but seemingly promised. Please don’t disappoint. Grumps

  10. Jim S says:

    Still don’t understand why no review has mentioned the exhaust guard which prohibits the rider from standing in a natural position. In order for my foot (size 12….big) to be unimpeded by the guard, my toes had to rest over the rear brake at all times….very bad off road. I was thrilled about this machine but I had to cancel my order. Bummer.

    • todd says:

      Couldn’t you just adjust the brake pedal down a little? A little like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

      • Jim S says:

        I could do many things, but I chose to buy an ADV bike that I can ride standing off road with my feet in a natural position providing confidence and maneuverability, with no concerns about tapping the rear brake and getting up close and personal with the windscreen or front fender.

    • Half Baked says:

      You should be standing on the balls of your feet.

      • Jim S says:

        Exactly, and when I did this my right heel was elevated due to the guard. Impossible to lean back because the heel has restricted movement. Very strange design and only good for lilliputian feet.

    • Motorhead says:

      The first time I stood up and then hit the brakes was the last time. Fortunately I released the brakes in time to avoid a face plant.

    • Jim says:

      Shame you canceled instead of simply spending $25 on larger offroad footpegs, which most owners who ride dirt do. They place your feet far enough out to avoid the muffler heat shield.

  11. mickey says:

    DFC model? what? (1:47 in the vid)

    Beautiful motorycle and I’ll bet it’s a blast to ride, but like Bigshank I’m guessing this thing will be way too tall in the saddle for me. Dang stubby legs.

    • Beasty says:

      It is a cool looking bike. I’m with you on the too tall thing……that, and I’d have to start saying “farkle”. (Shudder)

  12. Provologna says:

    It looks like the rider and bike fit perfectly, super comfortable and great control.

    Personally, I’d not ride two-up for great distance, and would be happier w/something lighter, less than about 385 lbs curb weight w/a half tank of fuel. I suspect the ideal motor is a twin displacing between 450-550cc.

    • todd says:

      Are you familiar with the number of KLR-EX500 builds? Those seem like great bikes – though a Versys sounds like a much more straight forward prospect.

      • mickey says:

        Dont forget Yamaha showed a stunning little FZ-07 adv bike that everyone has been clamoring for at the intermot show. Hopefully it will come stateside to compete with the versys 650 and 650 LT Suzuki

  13. WJF says:

    It looks like that front suspension moves up and down pretty good. Either Dirck needs to shed a few pounds, or the bike is undersprung…or both I suppose….

  14. Jeremy in TX says:

    Honda is so late to market with this bike. This is exactly the machine I wanted 10 years ago – a Japanese version of the KTM 950/990 Adventure. It is no longer what I am looking for in a motorcycle, but I think it is a great option for those looking for a decent off-roader with the street/touring capabilities of a large bore machine.

  15. Pete says:

    This is one of the better reviews I’ve read on the Africa Twin. Most reviews seem more like regurgitated press releases or softened as to not irritate an advertiser.

    I tested one of these at a rally recently with two friends and we all came back with the same impression. It feels and rides like a KLR650. A very over priced KLR. The DCT is interesting but not something any of us were interested in. Honda tried to make an everything bike but succeeded no where. It’s just a compromise in all aspects. I would rather have a XR650L.

    • PABLO says:

      Your Trolling rite Pete? The Africa Twin feels and rides nothing like a KLR650. You think a single cylinder 650 rides like a twin cylinder 1000? Fuel injection vs KLR carb? Adjustable USD forks compared to KLR non adjustable conventional forks?
      Twin disk ABS front stoppers compared to single disk KLR? Adjustable traction control vs no electronics on the KLR?
      Maybe you rode an XR650L with an Africa twin sticker on it then your comment would make sense.

  16. Bigshankhank says:

    Well I’m short so this bike is not an option for me, for the same money I would go for the new Duc Supersport. However this is a really good looking bike, dare I say better even that the KTM 1190 Adventure, and I’m a KTM guy.

    • Jim says:

      I’m 5’7 with a 30″ inseam and have no problems riding my AT with the seat in the high position. It’s considerably lower than the KTM 1190 Adv R.