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...

RiDE (UK) - - Welcome - Words Chris Moss

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”

Pic­tures Chippy Wood

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

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