NEW HONDA AFRICA TWIN AS

Every now and then Honda go hard­core. Say ‘hello’ to the sky-high Africa Twin Ad­ven­ture Sports

BIKE (UK) - - CONTENTS - By Ben Lind­ley Pho­tog­ra­phy Honda

Honda’s re-imag­ined leg­end evolves into an Ad­ven­ture Sport.

IT’S SNOW­ING IN Spain. A freak weather pat­tern drops a few feet of the white stuff in our general vicin­ity and the lo­cals can’t be­lieve it. Wide-eyed, they down tools and fran­ti­cally tap record on their smart­phone cam­eras. A rare event, it seems. Just our luck. Roads be­come skatey with chilly melt­wa­ter and the An­dalu­cian trails are thick with red mud. But I’m not dis­ap­pointed. It means I can get this upgraded Africa Twin muddy. This isn’t a slap-dash, ac­ces­sory-laden re­fresh. The Ad­ven­ture Sports re­ally is a no­tice­able up­grade. But how have Honda en­hanced such a suc­cess­ful bike? The re­birth of the Africa Twin in 2016 was met with near-univer­sal ac­claim. De­spite ini­tial scep­ti­cism about the sub-100bhp power out­put, the ma­chine won over riders with bal­ance and agility on both road and dirt. It won Bike’s 2016 Bike of the Year and was tipped as the re­turn of the big trailie. Two years later this Ad­ven­ture Sports is cap­i­tal­is­ing on the ’Twin’s off-road call­ing card. Tank size in­creases by 5.4 litres to 24.2 litres. At my in­di­cated 51mpg, that’s a 273-mile range. There’s longer travel sus­pen­sion to aid off-road abil­ity. As a re­sult, ground clear­ance is in­creased by 20mm to 270mm and fair­ing rails and a wide bash plate pro­tect the body of the bike. Also, higher han­dle­bars pro­vide eas­ier con­trol when stand­ing. Time to seek out this mud. But first I need to get on the thing. Per­haps the most ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ence to last year’s ma­chine is how damn tall it is. Stan­dard seat height is a whop­ping 920mm – that’s 10mm taller than even the BMW R1200GS Ad­ven­ture. The sad­dle is a sin­gle unit to aid fore-aft move­ments off-road, and can be low­ered to 900mm. If that’s not low enough, the ac­ces­sories cat­a­logue boasts two other seat op­tions, the low­est be­ing 840mm. My seat’s set at 900mm, so I use the left foot­peg as a step and mount up. Man­ual or au­to­matic? The non-dct (Dual Clutch Trans­mis­sion) Ad­ven­ture Sports is tra­di­tional in set-up and di­rect in throt­tle re­sponse. The only set­ting you al­ter for

off-road use is the rid­ing mode. ‘Gravel’ dulls en­gine power by al­most a third at part throt­tle open­ings, but re­sponse is still im­me­di­ate. Things get more com­pli­cated if you choose Dual Clutch Trans­mis­sion, as it seems many ‘Twin own­ers do. Honda claim that 45% of Africa Twins sold since Jan­uary 2016 are Dct-equipped. Whether this is cus­tomer pref­er­ence or due to clever model dis­count­ing isn’t clear, but it means there are over 11,000 DCT ’Twins in op­er­a­tion in Europe right now. Choos­ing DCT adds four but­tons and a rocker to the switchgear and dash­board – gear shift pad­dles on the left, drive and man­ual se­lec­tors on the right, and a G-but­ton on the dash. Mind reel­ing? Mine too. Let’s put the sys­tem in an off-road con­text to help. Set rid­ing mode to ‘Gravel’ us­ing the rocker on the left bar. Press the G-but­ton. (This re­duces clutch slip, creat­ing a man­ual-style im­me­di­ate throt­tle re­sponse.) Clunk into ‘Drive’ us­ing a new but­ton on the right bar, and twist the throt­tle. Sur­pris­ingly sim­ple. Twenty min­utes cruis­ing hill­side trails en­sures flashy three-colour paint is thor­oughly spat­tered. This is how the bike is sup­posed to look – plas­tered with the stuff. Amaz­ingly, I don’t touch the man­ual gear-shifters for the whole ride. The Ad­ven­ture Sports ac­cu­rately cal­cu­lates when it’s climb­ing hills and when it’s slith­er­ing down the other side. The ECU main­tains lower gears on up­hill sec­tions and down­shifts into lower gears ear­lier for bet­ter en­gine brak­ing on de­scents. I’m im­pressed: it’s so in­tu­itive that I can ig­nore gears and con­cen­trate on keep­ing my­self re­laxed and plan­ning a line. A but­ton to the right of the dash­board switches off rear ABS. Press the rear brake hard enough and the DCT will get the hint and al­low you to lock up the wheel. You can’t switch off the front ABS, but that’s no prob­lem. The sys­tem is so good it’ll slow you down safely on steep de­scents, lever puls­ing slightly to re­as­sure you. I’m amazed just how abruptly heavy-handed brak­ing stops 253kg on down­hill dirt. But now the muddy, rivulet-strewn hills are fad­ing. My track be­comes pro­gres­sively smoother and up ahead are fast straights and long, lazy cor­ners. Cor­ners. Push down in­ner ’peg and han­dle­bar, al­low the bike to

fall in, weight the out­side peg, slide for­ward over the tank, hand­ful of throt­tle, ride the drift. The re­designed si­lencer sounds beefy, the rear step­ping out feels fan­tas­tic. And all of this is, as­ton­ish­ingly, within the safety of trac­tion con­trol. There are now a be­wil­der­ing seven set­tings, over dou­ble that of the 2016 model. That means dou­ble the def­i­ni­tion, plus level one: an added set­ting at the low­est level of in­ter­ven­tion. It’ll save you if the rear slews wildly side­ways but turns a blind eye to gen­tle drift­ing. It’s a marked dif­fer­ence to num­ber seven – the high­est level – but the prac­ti­cal dif­fer­ence be­tween the other in­te­gers is be­yond my com­pre­hen­sion. Num­bers. The Ad­ven­ture Sports’ dash is awash with them. En­gine power has three lev­els, en­gine brak­ing has an­other three, it’s seven and ‘off’ for TC, three lev­els of DCT ‘Sport’ mode... Even the heated grips have five lev­els of strength. All stashed away on a cram-packed, dim, and re­flec­tive LCD dis­play. And like that screen, not ev­ery­thing per­forms as well as you’d ex­pect. En­gine brak­ing is ad­justed by keep­ing but­ter­flies open at closed throt­tle. Set­ting one closes them com­pletely and gives max­i­mum brak­ing. But I want more – it’d help ma­chine con­trol both on and off tar­mac. Most dis­ap­point­ing are the grips. On heat level five (the strong­est) in 5°C, my win­ter-gloved left hand is cold. What about the Sport mode? I tap the DCT from Drive to ‘Sport 3’ – the high­est level. The auto-’box now holds onto each gear for longer, run­ning deeper into the par­al­lel twin’s 5000rpm-plus power­band. Us­ing the stan­dard fist­ful of throt­tle re­sults in pound­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion on the dirt. Mega. That’s 80mph on the speedo. On dirt. But some­how the ride still feels com­posed. The en­gine’s still pulling, but ap­proach­ing cor­ners forces me to shut the throt­tle. Phew. Later, pro­ject leader Masat­sugu Tanaka ad­mits that he prefers the less in­tense ‘Sport 2’. A tum­ble-down farm­house proves enough of a lo­ca­tion to pause at. Time to col­lect my thoughts. Amaz­ingly for such a large bike, off-road bal­ance and con­trol is what the Ad­ven­ture Sports does best. It’s tall, trans­port­ing my hel­meted head fully 2.1 me­tres above the ground. And of course there’s much less tyre feel than on a road-bi­ased tourer like the Mul­tistrada 1260 due to smaller contact patches and such long-travel sus­pen­sion. There’s 22mm ex­tra stroke to the fork for the Ad­ven­ture Sports, with added com­pres­sion damp­ing to suit a fully-fu­elled bike, and 7mm ex­tra shock travel (plus a few turns ex­tra preload as stan­dard). This means front and rear axles sit 20mm lower from the bike’s core than on the base ’Twin. That ex­tra damp­ing sig­nif­i­cantly re­duces fork dive but there’s still a lack of on-road tyre feel. Turns out I’ve ac­ci­den­tally

‘The rear step­ping out feels fan­tas­tic. And all within the safety of trac­tion con­trol’

‘Given the off-road poise, it’s easy to for­get this DCT bike weighs a hefty 253kg’

parked the bike on an an­gle, and pulling it back off the side­stand proves too dif­fi­cult on my own. Given the im­pres­sive off-road poise of the Africa Twin, it’s easy to for­get that this DCT ma­chine weighs a hefty 253kg. Go man­ual for a 10kg weight sav­ing, but there’s no dis­cernible dif­fer­ence even when the trail be­comes more tech­ni­cal. The Ad­ven­ture Sports’ on-road abil­ity hasn’t re­ally im­proved over the core ma­chine’s. Tank ca­pac­ity will al­low longer cruis­ing, but the new tall screen blud­geons my hel­met and with DCT on tar­mac there’s a con­stant nig­gling de­sire for more torque and power. I wouldn’t be sur­prised to read head­lines of the fu­ture pro­claim­ing, ‘More power: new Africa Twin gets what we’ve al­ways wanted.’ Auto-can­celling in­di­ca­tors are an easy add-on, but cruise con­trol is ab­sent. Africa Twin test en­gi­neer Hiroshi Oka­mura ad­mits it would add too much cost to the AS – Honda want to keep the Africa Twin’s pric­ing as com­pet­i­tive as pos­si­ble. And that’s just what it is: com­pet­i­tive. The core 2018 Africa Twin sells for £11,575, and the ’Sports is only £1024 more. That’s just £199 above a stan­dard R1200GS. Stick­ing to tar­mac? Other ad­ven­ture bikes de­liver wider ex­pe­ri­ences and boast more in­tu­itive con­trols. But if you’re look­ing for a proper mud-chas­ing big trailie, the Ad­ven­ture Sports is the ul­ti­mate off-road Africa Twin.

On trails like this you’ll be the fastest thing out there on the new Ad­ven­ture Sports Stacks of num­bers are all very well, but the screen is dim and di cult to read

N for neu­tral, D for Drive, S for Sport, M for man­ual

Above: Non-handy cubby hole re­quires a 5mm hex to undo and is too small for Ben’s phone

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