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
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.
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.
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.
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