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

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