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Honda Africa Twin CRF1100L Adventure Sports ES: MD Ride Review

We have finally had a chance to test Honda’s new Africa Twin, the first major update from the model that was introduced back in 2016 when MD tested the bike at the press launch in Moab, Utah. It was a bike that we thoroughly enjoyed, particularly in the dirt. The 998cc parallel twin engine was tuned for smooth, tractable power that, along with the very capable chassis, provided gobs of confidence on fast, open dirt trails, and even tighter, more technical trails where most other liter-class adventure bikes would flounder.

On the road with the older model, it was a different story to some extent. The bike was significantly down on peak horsepower and torque compared to much of the competition, and the dirt-focused tubed tires concerned some riders who were looking to travel long distances on the highway. The bike was comfortable, and the handling was predictable, but feedback from the chassis/tires during aggressive road riding was not the best.

The new generation Africa Twin was introduced for the 2020 model year with a larger engine displacement, now 1,084cc. Achieved by lengthening the stroke 6.5 mm, the new parallel twin is still not a horsepower monster (Honda claims a 6% increase in horsepower), but the torque is up substantially, and the bike feels much more lively and responsive. Published dyno charts are showing rear wheel horsepower in the low 90s (roughly 105 horsepower at the crank) and rear wheel torque in the neighborhood of 70 foot/pounds. That torque is spread over a broad plateau beginning way down at 3,000 rpm and extending to just before redline.

A new frame and swingarm contribute, along with aluminum cylinder sleeves in the engine, to an overall reduction of weight in the new model. One purpose served by the new frame is a claimed improvement in handling and chassis feedback.

There are two basic Africa Twin models available, including the standard Africa Twin and the Adventure Sports ES. Each of these models, in turn, is available with either a traditional, manual transmission or Honda’s DCT. The standard Africa Twin is a bit lighter and lacks many of the sophisticated electronic features found on the Adventure Sports ES. One other notable difference is the inclusion of tubeless tires on the ES (the standard model still uses tubes).

Our test bike was a manual transmission Adventure sports ES. Although we tested a 2020 model, the 2021 is identical in all respects except for color. The Adventure Sports ES is focused more on touring and light off-roading than the standard model. As such, it features very streetable 90/10 tires – Bridgestone A41, sized 90/90-21 front and 150/70-18 rear. As pointed out earlier, these are tubeless. It also features a massive 6.5 gallon fuel tank.

The ES also has better wind protection courtesy of a larger adjustable windscreen and hand guards. Seat height is adjustable, as well, with the standard position relatively reasonable for a big adventure bike at 33.7″ (the higher position is 34.3″).

The Adventure Sports ES model we tested is loaded with high tech features. These include electrically-adjustable suspension from Showa, cruise control, heated grips and a vast array of electronic adjustments highlighted on the new 6.5″ TFT touch screen.

That touch screen allows smart phone and GPS connectivity, including Apple CarPlay. CarPlay can be used only if you have a Bluetooth headset and your iPhone connected to the USB port on the dash.

The rider can select among four settings – Tour, Urban, Gravel and Off-Road, each of which has settings for power, engine braking and ABS. Two additional “User” modes can be set up any way the rider chooses. A six-axis IMU works together with several other electronic adjustments controlled by the rider, including engine braking, traction control and wheelie control.

That big, beautiful TFT display itself can be put into three different modes depending on the amount of information the rider wants to see at a glance. Below that big display is a smaller, secondary display that provides basic information to the rider after CarPlay takes over the bigger screen.

On the road, we primarily left the bike in Tour mode, and adjusted suspension preload for “rider plus luggage” to bring up the rear of the bike a bit. Even with the suspension in the firmest setting, the ride is reasonably plush, but controlled. We never felt the need to soften up the bike except when we ventured off-road.

The seat is broad and comfortable, and wind protection from the adjustable screen surprisingly good with minimal buffeting. Although the seat height is pretty reasonable for a large displacement adventure bike, riders of moderate height might still be on tippy toes, particularly if they use the taller seat position. The only negative comment we have regarding comfort relates to vibration through the hand grips at highway speeds, which we suspect could be alleviated by a simple change to softer, more compliant grips (the stock grips are pretty hard).

Clutch pull is reasonably light, and the six-speed transmission shifts smoothly and positively. If you have ridden the prior model, you will immediately be struck by the additional power down low as you pull away from a stop. Open the throttle, even exiting a tight corner, and you will feel a strong, satisfying pull from the parallel twin accompanied by very pleasant sensations coming from the 270 ° crank rotation that results in an uneven firing order of the pistons.

On-road handling shows a marked improvement over the prior model. The suspension keeps the bike planted and tracking well, while Honda’s efforts to improve rider feedback through the revised frame and swingarm have been a success. Fitted with Bridgestone’s excellent A41 tires, we experienced good feedback and confidence on twisty roads.

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  1. mickey says:

    The dyno chart on one of these looks pretty good. Nice and smooth through the HP and torque line, a nice build up in power with no jerkiness. Typical Honda stuff. Should be fun to ride, but waaay too tall for a munchkin like me.

  2. MikeG says:

    I have a 2019 1250 GSA and a good friend upgraded his 2016 AT DCT to a 2020 Adventure Sports DCT. He thinks my GSA feels like a sport bike and I feel like his feels much more like a mature enlarged dirt bike. After being at the 2018 Wing intro and riding a DCT equipped Tour model and riding his AT’s and prior VFR1200 with DCT transmissions, I would never get a large bike with a manual transmission that offered a DCT version. Honda has continually made improvements with their DCT transmission and it is a winner. If their Adventure Sport had tubeless tires and cruise control in 2019, I would have seriously considered the Honda instead of the GSA. They didn’t, bought the 1250 and absolutely love it.

  3. Kermit T Frog says:

    Looks like a great ride that would satisfy all but the most OCD/anal retentive. By that I mean the “ifonly” and “more power/less weight” crowd. Mick’s comments on bikes such as this becoming the choice for touring riders is likely correct-o-mundo, especially if you tour solo. Good insight Mick, thanks! I think there used to be a product called the “bar-snake” that would help deaden handlebar vibration.

    I would likely take the DCT version of this one just because it makes sense for some one such as I.

    Thanks for the review, Dirck!

  4. fred says:

    Merry Christmas, everyone! While I have no interest in the Africa Twin, I met a guy at the last Yamaha demo ride who had two of them. He’d put a lot of miles on the first, so bought a second this year, and put about 30k miles on it. I forget his exact wording, but he indicated that it was his favorite bike. If the people who own them ride them and love them, it sounds like a pretty good endorsement in my book.

  5. Michael says:

    I have the base 1100 manual, I’ve ridden dirt roads a few times and gravel but that’s all I dare, I have better bikes for that. Great all-rounder, the motor is an absolute jewel and feels way faster than my 17 DCT, as it should I guess. Sort of wish it had a 19″/17″ front/rear wheels but not a deal breaker.

  6. Reliability aside, hard to justify buying this bike over the many KTM offerings out there..

    • Jeremy says:

      Honestly, the Honda does things in its own way. It’s not trying to be a KTM and appeals to a certain kind of rider. The KTM would probably be the better bike for me personally, but I know a lot of guys that for whom the Africa Twin is the perfect bike.

    • pedro says:

      Besides the fact that Honda makes great rider oriented bikes, they also get you where you’re going, and then get you back. Some people like this.

  7. TP says:

    Adventure bikes are all too tall for me. They look cool though.

  8. Walter says:

    Would have made a lot more sense to give the ES a 19/17 wheelset.

    I predict that if/when they do, reviews will say how much better it is on pavement, and not really that penalized for the kind of off-pavement riding that the bike is designed for.

    But I guess the curbside cred of 21/18 trumps function.

    • Shmitty says:

      I agree that this bike would benefit from the smaller diameter wheels for on road touring use. Both BMW and KTM, who know a thing or two about off road vs touring machines use a 19/17 combo on their road focused ADV bikes. Truthfully, if Honda had done that with the ES, I very well might have bought one this year.

  9. Marcus says:

    I suppose more attention will be given this engine since it will be used across several platforms.

  10. Mick says:

    These ADV bikes are rapidly becoming touring bikes for people who think touring bikes are a bit over the top. As such one would think that Honda would have addressed the handlebar vibration on the highway. I wonder if the had guard end mounts are aluminum or steel. Heavier ones would help on the vibration front.

    Two things in the review remind me that I still don’t live in the future.

    First is the overly soft spring rates. Really? Reviewers have been pointing this out for decades and they still do today, and probably will ten years from now. I don’t recall ever reading a review where the guy thought that the spring rates were too high. You can almost guarantee that you will need to swap in new springs on a new bike from a number of manufacturers.

    Second is the comment on the luggage. 35 pounds empty? And get a load of how awful the mounts look without the bags. At 35 pounds the system should be a whole lot more seamless than that. Or should I say a lot less of an afterthought.

    • todd says:

      It is funny how people think that a stiff suspension is supposed to handle better. I understand that Ducati actually delivers their bikes with the suspension set up firm even though it increases lap times because their customers want firm suspension “for better handling”. I would think that Honda put this bike through all sorts of on and off road tests (and simulations) and adjusted spring and shock rates to give the greatest amount of traction in all circumstances.

      • Mick says:

        I didn’t say stiff suspension. I complained of overly soft spring rates. For every bike there is a static sag and a laden sag. The springs should have only enough preload to produce the required static sag, just the weight of the bike on its suspension. The bike should then have the proper amount of laden sag when loaded with the rider kitted out for a normal ride.

        You’ll find that way too many bikes are sprung for a 140 pound guy who rides naked. Honda probably added weight to this bike and left the spring rate where they were on the base model. Bad form Honda.

        The reviewer set the suspension for rider with luggage didn’t he? Where did they add the most weight to the bike? The rear. Guess what…

        Way too many riders equate wallowing suspension with plush suspension. So The OEMs cater to them. In truth, you could take a bike as delivered and do nothing more than put the correct springs in it and improve the bike’s ride, and handling, a great deal. The fans of wallowing could simply back off the preload until the springs rattle and go back a notch or two and everyone would be happy. I don’t get it. Why make experienced rider buy springs? You don’t gain a ton of experience by not being a long term customer.

        • Mark says:

          Great comments on spring rates. I’m a 220+ pounder, and I really dislike having to buy fork springs and especially shock springs to get the right sag. Maybe the old air assist forks and shocks weren’t all bad.

        • Tom R says:

          And there you have it, the Grand Unified Theory of Motorcycle Suspension.

          • Mick says:

            You know. If you look at the first photo at the top of the article. You can see that even without the bags and not a terribly heavy rider, the rear of the bike is swatting a bit. Even though he is obviously not accelerating hard. For that rider, the thing needs a shock spring at the very least.

            From both that photo and the comments made by the reviewer. It looks and sounds to me that the spring rates aren’t even balanced front to rear. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is not an uncommon problem on off the rack motorcycles.

            I’m a 200 pound rider. So I expect to have to buy springs. But more often than not I end up doing something like going one step in front and two in the rear to balance the suspension.

            One would think that the OEMs would at least balance the things. What’s the deal? Industry wide push to hire tail dragging test riders?

        • Jeremy says:

          Well, they have to pick spring rates for some weight and skill set. The vast majority of riders are inexperienced. By that, I don’t mean they haven’t been riding a long time. Most riders get as good as they are ever going to get after the first year or two of riding and never really improve beyond that. Their Spidey senses might improve, but their skills flatline.

          As such, it probably makes more sense for manufacturers to proceed as normal. Better to let the very small percentage of riders who know what we want out of the bike to pay for the changes rather than the masses who would otherwise complain about the “harsh” suspension stock bikes would have to come with to please someone like me.

          • Nick says:

            You really ought to allow that mature riders come in different sizes and weights which are quite unrelated to their skill-set. I’d hazard a guess that the average US rider is heavier than many other nationalities, and it begs the question as to whether US-made bikes better-suit their potential owners than do European or Japanese bikes.

          • Jeremy says:

            The weight issue is legit. If I had to guess, most manufacturers spring for a 165 lb average skilled rider. But again, if 95% of your buyers are fine with that and the cushy feel it provides, there just isn’t any incentive to change.

  11. todd says:

    See, it’s good you didn’t buy the first one because this one is better. Come to think of it, you should probably hold off getting this one because they’re going to improve it some more soon…

  12. MattG says:

    It’s refreshing to see that Honda did not feel the need to inject massive amounts of horsepower into a bike that would never be able to effectively use even 80% of it. I’ve always been far more impressed by a nice torque curve, which this bike appears to have. Besides, what good is power if its not useable.

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