BIG TEST: AFRICA TWIN

From French au­toroutes to muddy trails, from city com­mut­ing to A-road charg­ing we’ve sub­jected the all-new Africa Twin to mul­ti­ple abuse in the cause of test­ing. This is how it’s stood up

BIKE (UK) - - CONTENTS - nd By Hugo Wil­son Pho­tog­ra­phy Chippy Wood, Ja­son Critchell, Mike Ar­mitage and Paul Lang

Our Honda has toured, been off-road, com­muted and blasted be­yond 6000 miles. Here are the full gory de­tails.

Bike’s Bike of the Year fi­nally gets the ‘Big Test’ treat­ment. 6000 miles of com­mut­ing, off-road­ing and fall­ing over in the carpark.

‘Solid torque, loads of over­tak­ing thrust and a fab­u­lous deep ex­haust note’

HONDA’S NEW FOR 2016 Africa Twin has been a breath of fresh air in an al­ready ap­par­ently di­verse, but BMW dom­i­nated ad­ven­ture bike mar­ket. The pre-launch hype, and most peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tion, was that this would be a com­peti­tor for Ger­many’s big, and big sell­ing R1200GS. But it’s not. Or not di­rectly, any­way. But it might be closer to what many ac­tu­ally want from an ad­ven­ture bike. Honda al­ready have two road bi­ased bikes in this cat­e­gory. The 782cc V-four Cross­run­ner and the 1237cc V-four Cross­tourer are ex­cel­lent on tar­mac. The 998cc Africa Twin fits neatly along­side them and be­ing a more pur­pose­ful off-road tool gives it ex­tra ap­peal for those who love a rufty, tufty im­age. Com­pared with the big GS the Africa Twin has 200cc less ca­pac­ity, 25bhp less power and a price tag that’s al­most two grand lower. It’s as likely to steal sales from BMW’S smaller F800GS and the Tri­umph Tiger 800 as from the big Beemer.

En­gine and trans­mis­sion

The par­al­lel twin en­gine with 270° crankshaft is unique to the Africa Twin, though surely Honda’s en­gi­neers are plan­ning to use it in other ap­pli­ca­tions. Tested on the dyno it gives 89.6bhp at 7500rpm, with peak torque of 71.1 lb.ft at 5750rpm (as against Honda’s fig­ures of 94bhp/72lb.ft.). ‘I’ve heard peo­ple grum­ble that it’s “only” 90bhp,’ says Bike’s Deputy Ed­i­tor Mike Ar­mitage, ‘but the mo­tor’s great. Solid torque, loads of over­tak­ing thrust, fault-free fu­elling, and a fab­u­lous deep ex­haust note. Turn off the TC and it wheel­ies like a KTM.’ Max revs are 9000rpm, but you have to be lazy or in­dif­fer­ent to bump into the rev lim­iter (or for­get that you’ve put the DCT into ‘man­ual’). The creamy midrange is best rid­den be­tween 5-7000rpm though there are non in­tru­sive vibes through the bars and footrests be­tween 4-6000rpm. Ob­vi­ously it does lack the out­right grunt of big­ger ca­pac­ity ad­ven­ture bikes, but we only felt that might be an is­sue when fully loaded and car­ry­ing a pas­sen­ger. The 90bhp en­gine de­liv­ers a 120+mph top speed and stand­ing quar­ter times in the mid-twelves, with a nat­u­ral cruis­ing speed in the eight­ies. Though it can wal­lop along when asked. On one cross-coun­try jaunt I (rid­ing an MT-10) strug­gled to keep up as pho­tog­ra­pher Chippy Wood on the Africa Twin serenely mo­tored along at nearly 100mph for a solid 45 min­utes. Trans­mis­sion choice throws up the £800 op­tion of Honda’s Dual Clutch Trans­mis­sion (DCT). Our bike is DCT equipped, and we love it, only miss­ing the clutch dur­ing nadgery low speed ma­noeu­vres. ‘I thought I’d miss chang­ing gear,’ says Mike, ‘but the Sport set­ting means that it shifts ex­actly where I would, and it has proper en­gine brak­ing.’ We’ve also rid­den the stan­dard gear­box, and done back to back per­for­mance tests. They’re al­most iden­ti­cal. The stan­dard set-up is light and pos­i­tive. Take an open minded test ride on a DCT bike and de­cide for your­self. One clear ben­e­fit of its smoother shifts is a lack of hel­met bash­ing when car­ry­ing a pil­lion.

Han­dling and ride

Ride qual­ity is plush. It’s soft, but it’s prop­erly and pro­gres­sively damped so that bumpy B-roads can be rid­den with vigour, while whole plot (in­clud­ing the rider) re­mains calm and con­trolled

‘The Honda high­lighted how most bikes in this class are just dressed up road bikes’

even when you hit a mid-cor­ner bump. ‘I re­ally like that it achieves the serene ride with qual­ity com­po­nents rather than elec­tronic giz­mos,’ says digi art ed­i­tor Steve Herbert. Forks have ad­justable preload, re­bound and com­pres­sion damp­ing, while the rear is ad­justable for preload and re­bound. A big knob on the left side, be­low the seat, deals with preload on the rear. It’s easy to alter when a pil­lion climbs aboard. With 230mm sus­pen­sion travel at the front, 220mm at the rear it has proper off-road ca­pa­bil­ity. ‘I’d mer­rily bounced down the green lanes on a KTM 1050 Ad­ven­ture and Yamaha XT1200Z and as­sumed that’s what big trailies felt like,’ says Mike. ‘The Honda was a rev­e­la­tion with a chas­sis bal­ance that high­lighted how most bikes in this class are just dressed up road bikes.’ With its bias to­wards ‘Big Trail Bike’ rather than ‘Tar­mac Tourer’ wheel sizes are 21-inch front (with a 90/90 tyre) and 18-inch rear (with a 150/70 R18 fit­ting). The spoked wheels don’t al­low for tube­less tyres which some peo­ple find a bit prob­lem­atic. Ob­vi­ously there is less ab­so­lute grip, and less feel close to the limit of grip than you’d get from smaller di­am­e­ter, fat­ter tyres with a big­ger con­tact patch, es­pe­cially those with a more road bi­ased tread pat­tern and con­struc­tion. This is es­pe­cially no­tice­able on wet tar­mac. The pay off is off-road steer­ing ac­cu­racy and less steer­ing ef­fort, and it’s a trade-off that I’ll take. The brakes are ace; there’s suf­fi­cient power to get the ABS chat­ter­ing but both front and rear have real feel too, so you can use them con­fi­dently on loose sur­faces. For off-road use the rear ABS can be switched off.

Elec­tron­ics

The Africa Twin has got three-level trac­tion con­trol (and the po­ten­tial to turn it off com­pletely), ABS which can be switched off on the front wheel, but there are no rid­ing modes, just a well bal­anced throt­tle and lin­ear power de­liv­ery. Much bet­ter. I al­ways used full TC on the road, but turn it down to one off-road and turn the rear wheel ABS off. Like this you can do skids, pull small wheel­ies and you can be pretty cack-handed with the throt­tle on dirt with­out risk­ing that the back wheel is go­ing to over­take the front when you gas it out of loose turns. The DCT model is more com­pli­cated, with Gravel but­ton and vari­a­tions in the level of DCT in­ter­ven­tion (when in Sport se­lec­tion op­tion), but all are rel­a­tively sim­ple to use and in­tu­itive.

Con­trols and com­fort

For a three day ride across France the Africa Twin isn’t as com­fort­able as a GS, and doesn’t have the nat­u­ral stance of a Du­cati Mul­tistrada. I fid­get af­ter an hour but can make it 150 miles be­tween stops, which is about when you want to fill-up. The bike’s nar­row waist and well shaped tank pro­vide a nat­u­ral knee grip­ping stance, plus you can move from a seated to a stand­ing po­si­tion eas­ily, which is handy on trails.

Dash is hard to read in di­rect sun­light, es­pe­cially for those whose eye­sight maybe de­te­ri­o­rat­ing with age (ahem). The other con­trols are pure Honda; er­gonomic and ut­terly in­tu­itive.

Prac­ti­cal­ity

With a four gal­lon (18.8-litre) tank ca­pac­ity and 49mpg econ­omy the Africa Twin man­ages 175 miles be­fore the fuel light comes on, and around 200 miles to empty. At 233 ki­los (plus an­other nine for the DCT bike) it’s no light­weight, but car­ries its weight well. It feels less cum­ber­some than most ad­ven­ture bikes, whether you are rid­ing down a track or push­ing it across a garage fore­court. The mir­rors are good, and so is the stan­dard but un­ad­justable screen. At least for sub six-foot me. Mike reck­oned it was a bit noisy. There is a taller op­tion (though I found it worse than the stan­dard screen), and ac­ces­sory al­ter­na­tives are avail­able. The head­light is im­pres­sive. Seat height is up with the other ad­ven­ture bikes, but at least the A-T is slim, so it’s less of an is­sue. The stan­dard seat of­fers two height op­tions, or there’s a lower ac­ces­sory seat. The cen­tre­stand is also an op­tion, and so are heated grips and the power socket. Surely all those things should be stan­dard on a bike like this. And if you are go­ing to drop it (and we have) make sure you’ve got crash bars (also an ac­ces­sory ex­tra). That plas­tic is ex­pen­sive.

Fin­ish

The fin­ish feels like old school Honda, ex­cept for the cheap look­ing crin­kle fin­ish on the black plas­tic fair­ing pan­els. The seat has scuffed where boots have grazed it while climb­ing aboard – that’s mainly an is­sue with pan­niers fit­ted. The wires to the side­stand cut out got pulled out while trail rid­ing. Some own­ers have com­plained that spoke nip­ples have cor­roded, but ours are fine de­spite, or be­cause of, a lack­adaisi­cal clean­ing sched­ule.

6000 miles in and still bring­ing much plea­sure

Stand up straight. Africa Twin ca­pa­ble o -road

But this is what it’s re­ally about. Head­ing south on Span­ish tar­mac

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