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.
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.
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.
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.
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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