AN OFF-ROAD SCOOTER? ARE HONDA MAD?
The Honda X-ADV promises the ease-of-use of a scooter with the all-terrain ability of an adventure bike. But could you live with one – when the real Africa Twin also comes with a shift-free DCT gearbox? What’s the best way to...
IT’S NOT OFTEN a bike generates as much conversation as this one. Overland adventurer Nathan Millward and I had already ridden Honda’s novel X-ADV ‘adventure scooter’ for a fair few miles when we met up but anyone overhearing us chucking in enough two-penneths to make a mint would have considered us the anoraks to end all anoraks.
Our initial murmurings in the car park of a Gloucestershire beauty spot weren’t especially positive, though. Mostly we were asking ‘what is it, and who’s it for?’ Its heady £9599 asking price kept cropping up too. That big number almost put an end to the discussion whenever it was muttered: surely if the X-ADV was overpriced and unworthy, we might as well just call it a day and go home…
I’d taken it on a gentle afternoon run the previous day. It did all I asked well enough but as I got home, a long pause said everything. When I managed to summon some words for my voice recorder, there weren’t many nor delivered with passion: “Remarkably unremarkable” was all I said.
Nathan managed to get more articulate opinion from me the next day. Obviously on the same wavelength, we moved on from the X-ADV’S confused identity and arguably pointless nature, to pick a few specific aspects to moan about. Both of us were critical of how awkward it was just to get on the thing. With a broad, tall seat, fairly sizeable girth and no chance of ‘stepping through’, getting seated needed practice.
The engine performance we agreed on, with Nathan summing it up best by describing it as “just below brisk”. Then we dissed it for its off-roading pretence. With a rear wheel size ruling out a decent dirt tyre fitment, seemingly
“Anyone overhearing us would have considered us anoraks to end all anoraks”
unsuitable suspension and riding position, and stylish bodywork that would be far too pretty to maim with an inevitable fall, we voted the X-ADV a beast best reserved for the harder, grippier stuff.
As we talked — and whether it was just out of sheer pity, I don’t know — we started to offer some praise. We were united in our approval of the X-ADV’S attractive angular style, build quality, laudable brakes, lovely steering, lighter-than-expected overall feel and well-suited twist-and-go DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission). Even the half-decent screen got the thumbs up.
But would the X-ADV really stand up beside a proper adventure bike? Nathan had arrived on Honda’s Africa Twin — on one level a pretty conventional bike, though this version of the 998cc parallel twin was fitted, like the X-ADV, with DCT. At £12,179 on the road, this automatic Africa Twin is a fairly considerable £2580 more than the scooter (the standard version is only £1611 more). But given how capable the Africa Twin is, both on and off-road, surely it’s worth the extra outlay? We put the chat on hold for a while and sped off to discover more about the bikes… and no doubt continue the tonguewagging at length on the way.
“The action of the DCT box was very impressive, going up and down seamlessly ”
On the road to the dirt
The modest-sounding claimed 54bhp of the X-ADV’S motor turned out to be a lot more useful than you might think, especially as its DCT gearbox suited it really well. But overtakes took far more planning than on the Africa Twin. With 40bhp more, the bigger bike was noticeably more eager. Nathan thought that just another 10bhp might make all the difference to the X-ADV, which he felt was slower than the NC750 models despite effectively sharing the same motor.
We tended to keep the scooter’s DCT in Drive mode. Switching to Sport had the twin revving harder, but it didn’t really make anything more than extra noise. With most of what it has on offer delivered at low revs, hurrying things is not the way forward. In fact, keeping things turning over at just 3-4000rpm gives a spread of 60-80mph in top gear.
The action of the DCT box’s gearchanging was very impressive, going up and down through the range seamlessly without any rider input. Staying really calm with the throttle had the onboard computer showing an impressive 100mpg, though it more often displayed 60-70mpg. Or at least it did after some mental arithmetic: it displayed consumption in miles-per-litre. And I felt that having to reach for the clocks to get this info, rather than simply using bar-mounted buttons, wasn’t really on for a bike with a price tag as high as the Honda’s.
The X-ADV’S 17in front and 15in rear wheel might not be the best for dirt tracks, but they’re really suited to road riding. Largely because of them, the X-ADV handled very sweetly indeed. Turning was swift, light and predictable and though the
engine’s overall lameness ultimately restricted progress, the Honda was happy being hurried through corners. Feel through the tyres and supple suspension boosted faith and the more I rode it, the more I enjoyed the way it could be moved along with some urgency. Even with the motor’s restricted power dictating outright pace, the throaty induction roar and pleasing note from the lovely upswept exhaust encourages asking more from the twin, regardless of how pointless it is.
By contrast, getting anywhere more urgently on the Africa Twin was far easier. I rarely felt any need for more power – its 94bhp didn’t provide especially strong drive but the 1000 is usefully flexible, especially with its DCT gearbox. The motor felt smooth, friendly, very useable and, like the X-ADV’S motor, its 270° firing interval gave a pleasant exhaust note.
The Africa Twin’s unquestionably a big machine, but manageability was still excellent. Even with its 21in front wheel, steering felt composed with supple, well-controlled suspension and excellent ABS brakes. There was a greater price for the progress though, with 48-55mpg fuel consumption (and presumably a greater appetite for consumables like tyres) making it more expensive to run.
I felt more comfortable on the Africa Twin, primarily because of the more conventional riding position. The X-ADV did take me on one 150-mile run in a most civilised fashion but despite a plush seat and effective wind protection, the way my feet were positioned felt a little odd. It took time to accept where the narrow floor boards planted my boots, though I got used to it – but putting my feet down in town still felt awkward at times with my feet forced further apart than I would have liked. Paddling at very low speed didn’t feel comfortable for me at all.
Despite some of its greater dimensions, the Africa Twin felt more ergonomically friendly, as well as easier to mount and dismount. I’m pretty short at just 5ft 6in but with the seat in the lowest of its two positions, I could swing my boot over it easily and touch the floor with both feet.
Leaving the road behind
The biggest surprise came when we took to the dirt. Actually, that needs to be
“Getting anywhere urgently on the Africa Twin was far easier”
qualified. By ‘dirt’ I mean a pretty easy-to-negotiate gravel road. Having tackled much more challenging terrain on the Africa Twin in days gone by, I knew it would cope easily. And it did. What raised eyebrows, not to mention quite a smile, was how well the X-ADV managed.
It wasn’t in the same league of capability as the bigger bike but it coped much better than I expected. Lack of suspension travel restricted control over rougher terrain and more serious challenges, like sections of sloppy mud, needed to be avoided. For fuller control, you’d want to fit some of the optional adventure-style footpegs, though the handlebars’ restriction to standing up might have to be something you’ll have to live with if you’re a taller rider.
The X-ADV certainly can’t go where the Africa Twin can happily venture, but as Nathan quite rightly pointed out, for the gentle off-road run we took it on, it could be viewed as being a lot easier to manage than the bigger bike. Both of us liked its bar-mounted rear brake, allowing greater control of drive provided by the DCT arrangement, which we also agreed wasn’t best suited to off-roading. Not having a clutch to cut the link between engine and rear wheel can be a handicap at times, and we’d certainly choose the manual gearbox version of the Africa Twin for dirt riding. On the X-ADV, there isn’t a choice.
So what do we think?
After the happy times off-road, Nathan went on to extol the 750’s virtues further, accepting it as an adventure bike, though one more suited to a lower-key style of expedition. For winding local backroads, and gentle off-road rides on hard-packed terrain, the X-ADV certainly cuts the mustard. A subsequent return trip to Milton Keynes showed me the adventures can be longer and still bring contentment though, and I would happily point the X-ADV north for a tour of Scotland in an instant.
But, and it’s a big but, neither of us would ever consider buying the smaller Honda. It may well have turned out to be much more remarkable than I first thought, clearly displaying greater versatility than we expected, and it was entertaining to spend time with. But there are far too many other choices on the market that can do all the X-ADV can and more – many for less money. In saying that, it’s pretty clear that anyone who does go for it will probably fall for the X-ADV in a big way. Maybe it’s not aimed so much at biking enthusiasts and more at those with bigger pockets and a quest for easy-going fun.
Nathan and I never stopped trying to identify who the X-ADV is for but did pass a more and more positive verdict on it as time and miles went by. The Honda is new and novel, something in a class of just one, and motorcycling is all the better for it being available. After all, there’s no harm in a bit of something different, is there?
“What raised eyebrows was how well the X-ADV managed”
HONDA X-ADV Scooter-based off-roader with the same 745cc motor as the NC750, and DCT transmission HONDA AFRICA TWIN Big brother with a 998cc engine and also using DCT transmission - the benchmark
Our riders used a short — and well-packed — stretch of the Ridgeway to assess off-road capabilities
The X-ADV’S screen may be on the small side but it is steplessly adjustable for decent protection
The large, adventure-style dash display offers a huge range of information, including riding mode
Design of the X-ADV is all sharp angles and the front end wears a bit of a scowl
Left-hand grip houses switches for riding mode, as well as lever for rear brake
All the information you could want, except compass bearing to the next waypoint...
Differences in tank size and consumption give similar tank ranges
X-ADV can be fuelled while sat, for those who like to live dangerously