Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin
The only magazine to have tested the Honda Africa Twin in India’s wettest conditions, over mountain roads and in the desert...
Honda’s adventure-tourer finally kick up dust here in India
THE AFRICA TWIN HAS A RICH LEGACY TO LIVE up to. Its adventure junkie predecessors kicked some serious behind in Dakar Rally, the world’s toughest rally raid. If that wasn’t enough, then the new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin also has to be extremely versatile to make economic sense. Since most buyers won’t be filling in the Dakar participation forms, the bike also needs to be great on dynamics: comfortable yet sharp handling, packed with modern electronics without being confusing. They also demand good ground clearance but an approachable saddle height.
All this at an aggressive price point. Did I forget top quality and finish? And Honda have tried to address each one of these to a great extent.
The good news for us is that Honda have shipped 50 units of the adventure bike to India. And enthusiasts across the country have lapped them all up. Therefore, we convinced Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) to give us some saddle time on what they term “the most reliable, versatile and proven adventure touring motorcycle”. And in your interest (ahem) we tested it in the rain and over winding mountain roads, and also blazed through a desert. Yes, we are the only Indian magazine to have tested the Africa Twin this thoroughly.
When parked, the Honda not just attracted bikers but brought cars to a screeching halt as well. Its imposing stance and bright red-white-black colour combination have an instantaneous effect on most. It’s a tall bike... the fully adjustable front forks come with a 230-mm stroke; add to that a large 21-inch wheel and you get unparalleled 250 mm of ground clearance. The dual LED headlights and tall windscreen accentuate the bike’s towering figure.
But what’s most impressive is its narrow size, which inspires oodles of confidence on dirt. This in spite of the fact that this is the largest capacity Africa Twin ever made. Its 999.11-cc twincylinder, liquid-cooled engine produces 88.4 PS and 91.9 Nm of torque which is adequate for most average riders. The power delivery isn’t explosive but flows in steadily, and the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) makes it very friendly and easy to use. But more importantly, it’s the brilliant packaging of the motor which is most impressive. It’s a parallel twin with a narrow and low design, saving valuable space as opposed to a spread out V-twin. This has helped carve out space for other heavy components, giving it mass centralisation and a low centre of gravity. This not just gives the bike a comparatively low seat but also impeccable balance on- and off-road.
Although it looked very tall at first, I could get both my feet to touch the ground at standstill. The seat narrows down as it meets the slender fuel tank, which makes this possible. This makes the Africa Twin quite manageable, especially while taking sharp U-turns or while waiting for the traffic light to turn green. Shorter riders can reduce the 840-mm saddle height by 20 mm by adjusting the seat. The seat’s almost triangle-like shape also makes it very comfortable for long rides. Even the handlebar position is very natural and relaxed and gives great control and confidence. The rider geometry makes it easy to ride standing up as one can keep the weight forward. And while you’re doing that, the digital information console displays speed and revs clearly. It also shows the selected gear and traction control level, besides trip meters, temperature, fuel-gauge, and average economy. The front screen isn’t very large and can’t be adjusted but provides
The Honda Africa Twin is so easy to ride that even beginners and intermediate riders can explore their personal potential to the hilt
good wind protection even at three-digit speeds.
At 245 kg the Africa Twin isn’t light, but the weight is so well distributed that it never felt heavy throughout my ride. It’s like a large enduro bike — well built, rugged, and easy to throw around. And adding to this is the brilliant fuelling, throttle response and the DCT.
I have to admit that not having a clutch lever or gear shift felt quite unusual at first, but one can adapt to this in no time. It’s brilliant, actually, because while off-roading one can focus on the tricky section and the DCT takes care of the clutch modulation and gear selection on your behalf. All you need to do is select the Drive or Sport riding mode or, if you like, there are buttons on the left, below the indicator switch, that can be used to change gears manually.
One might find it a little confusing at first but one gets used to the bike with a little riding. Soon, it’ll surprise you with the confidence it inspires. In no time I found myself playing around with the various levels of traction control. There’s a dedicated toggle lever just above the passing light on the left switchgear that changes the level of HSTC (Honda Selectable Torque Control). Staying in level three, the HSTC constantly monitors wheelslip on loose surface and interrupts the power to help regain traction. Level two is less intrusive and level one will ignore spinups and even let the bike slide a bit before bringing the rear wheel back in control for you. There’s switchable rear ABS specifically for off-road which allows the rear to lock and it can be activated by a simple push of a button. This makes the Africa Twin brilliant as an adventure bike. It is so easy to ride that even beginners and intermediate riders can explore their personal potential to the hilt. There are so many buttons and controls that at one point it caught my brain in a knot... which was already fried in the desert heat or soaked to the bones in the mountain rains. Every
time the engine is switched off, it resets to the default setting. So you’ll have to do the entire drill all over again, like a fighter pilot doing the routine checks in a cockpit.
But once you get going, these thought fly off with the amount of fun that can be had off road. specifically catering to this the Africa Twin comes with a massive 21-inch front wheel and an 18-incher at the back, shod with dual-purpose Dunlop Trailmax rubber. These did manage to give good, versatile grip on tarmac, wet roads, and even on some loose off-road surface. But they have limitations, and if you desire more serious trail riding then you should opt for better knobby tyres.
After all, the adventure bike feels more at home off the road than on it. Probably because of the tall stance and 21-inch front wheels. It’s light and nimble but for obvious reasons it can’t match a sports-tourer while negotiating fast corners or cutting through city traffic. The 88.4 PS doesn’t feel overly exciting but is super linear and feels relaxed throughout the revs, while the predictable throttle control is simply excellent going over practically every kind of trail.
The character and appeal of the Honda Africa Twin is completely different from the usual worthies in this segment, including the Triumph Tiger, Ducati Multistrada and Suzuki V-Strom. The DCT, refinement and its compact size really set it apart. Add to the equation Honda’s reliability and it’s a nobrainer. If you are an adventure junky, then this will be one of the best ways to spend Rs 15 lakh.
What’s this one for? At first the many buttons and controls can get confusing. Every time the engine is switched off, it resets to the default setting and have to be punched in all over again
GRRR... The dual LED headlights and tall windscreen accentuate the bike’s towering figure. The screen isn’t very large and can’t be adjusted but provides good wind protection