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