THE FAST AND THE TEENY- TINY
THE 2016 HONDA CRF1000L AFRICA TWIN AND THE 2017 KAWASAKI Z125 PRO GIVE YOU TWO VERY DIFFERENT EXTREMES OF POWER, VERSATILITY, AND FUN. YOU’LL LOVE THEM BOTH.
First, the name. It’s called the Honda Africa Twin because it has a 998-cm3 twin engine. The Africa part comes from a gruelling thing called the Dakar Rally, the famous off-road rally that originally ran from Europe through the African desert and that always devolved into a Mad Max movie. Hundreds of maniacs driving motorbikes, quads, cars and trucks ripped through the desert for two weeks, hitting livestock and the occasional local, and often maiming the drivers themselves. The twin’s predecessor won the race four times – from 1986 through 1989. The 2016 model is a hell of a ride, on and off some country roads. What’s interesting is the dual-clutch option, which means… no shifting. It feels strange. My left hand keeps reaching for the missing clutch like I have a lobster claw, and my shifter foot taps into empty air, like I’m doing the soft shoe. As soon as you get over the phantomlimb sensation you realise how balanced, fast, and easy it is through the tight-leaning turns, and all without having to think about the gears.
The suspension is high and forgiving and – with its ABS and different modes of traction – easy to control. At 242 kilograms, the bike is light, but it feels much lighter. Did I mention this bike is really fast? The twin in Africa Twin throws 75 kilowatts, plenty to launch me off a 15-metre sand dune, over a rally car and a terrorist firing a machine gun at me to win the Dakar Rally. Yes, all of those things have happened in past rallies, although not at the same time, but I decided instead just to kick a little dirt, avoid the grazing buck, and call it a day.
The Kawasaki Z125 Pro is tiny. The seat height is only 79 centimetres, just above my kneecaps. When I first saw the Z125, I laughed, and my voice cracked like a goofy 13-year-old kid’s. I hopped on immediately and rode in no particular direction on my 8 000-square-metre lawn like a giggling fool. My wife Jessica’s head was on a swivel following me, not knowing if I was completely mental or not. It was too much fun.
The motorcycle (yes, it is a real four-speed, air- cooled, 125- cm3 motorcycle) was initially designed for Southeast Asia, where its small size lets you weave in and out of traffic- clogged streets. The bike is capable of carrying a second passenger, but I wouldn’t recommend more than one smallish wife at a time. Since there’s not a lot of traffic where I live, I decided to take it on a fun back road in the country. But first I have to take it on a stretch of highway to get there.
I’m fully geared up and I feel silly. Full-face helmet, protective jacket and pants, proper riding boots and gloves. I make sure there’s plenty of room before I pull on to the road. My knees are practically hitting the handlebars. The bike is surprisingly quick as I get through all the gears. Soon this thing is moving. It feels really fast because I’m just centimetres off the ground. On the straight, I seem to max out at 90, although I gain a little speed going downhill – 92, 93, 96... . As I go uphill the bike slows considerably. Even when I downshift I can’t gain enough speed. This particular hill seems to go on forever and I quickly slow to 65. I hear hooting behind me, and when I turn I see a kilometre of backed-up and furious drivers. Eventually I get back to my happy place, my yard, where I can once again ride like a fool, delivering rounds of drinks while my friends play bocce and my wife shakes her head from the porch. I’m pretty sure she’s smiling, too.
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