Honda Africa Twin Adventure
It’s the most refined automatic bike ever made. But who’s asking for an automatic?
AS A SPOTTY youth I harboured the desire to ride a big bike. I just never dreamed it would be this big. I am 5ft 10in and the top of the screen on the Africa Twin Super Adventure comes a third of the way up my head. The 24-litre tank (which packs a 220+ mile range) is wider than my shoulders. The 920mm seat height is four inches higher than my legs. And it weighs a full quarter of a tonne. This is Japan’s answer to BMW’S R1200GS Adventure, and to KTM’S 1290 equivalent. They are both behemoths, but Honda’s new-for-2018 variant of the Africa Twin takes the biscuit. Of course, enormousness has much to recommend it. You get a big, flat seat with lots of fore-and-aft room for rider and passenger. The giraffe-like forks and shock soak up virtually any anomaly. And your forward vision is almost as good as a truck driver’s. But what’s it all for? Honda would have you believe it’s for exploring deserts. Hmmmm. The Twin comes with dirt adaptations such as hill start (that’s what the ‘clutch’ lever is), Gravel mode, switchable rear ABS and variable engine braking. Which is fine if all you’re riding is hard-packed trails, such as you might find all over Spain or Portugal. But add even a sniff of rain or British mud, and you will go down like a sack of spuds. I’m a midfield club enduro rider and I have not the slightest interest in taking a 253kg bike off road. Even the ridiculously talented Chris Northover (that’s him in the pics) found it, ‘really big... and a little nervous on the slippy stuff.’ Fully dirt-capable? Come off it. That still leaves an imperious riding position, and a softly-tuned parallel twin motor that fires like a 90 degree V. It has neither the low-rpm purr of a BMW GS, nor the explosive energy of a big KTM. Instead it’s got the kind of lazy, long-legged beat that suits empty rural A-roads. As in, 5000rpm in top is 90mph. So once you’re moving, on those huge springs and giant seat, it feels like a magic carpet doff-doffing across the landscape. 100mph is easy: nothing more than a little buffeting and wind roar. If you crouch behind the non-adjustable screen, it can do the same trick at 110 or even 120mph. It would certainly demolish distance in Northern France. Now of course this is the Dual Clutch Transmission version, which means it’s a six-speed auto with super-smooth gear shifts. You can use it in dawdle mode (horrible – you can’t control what gear you’re in), three sportier modes and (by far the best) a manual option where you shift gear with paddles on the left bar. Think of your smoothest-ever gearchange. The DCT is smoother than that. Downshifts are accompanied by a throttle blip if the computer decides it’ll help. As long as you’re moving above 10mph or so it’s demonstrably slicker than a normal motorbike. You can barrel out of a roundabout holding a fixed throttle position, and chuck three or four gears at it. The speed increases, but the engine note and seamless thrust barely change. Pillions love it. Chris loved it too. But it’s still an auto, and you pay in tricky first-gear situations where it’s not as accurate or safe as a conventional clutch. Filtering, U-turns, even junctions bring on an anxiety I haven’t experienced since I was a learner. And that’s before I discovered that DCT adds 10kg and £950 to the ‘standard’ Africa Twin Super Adventure. I got a brief go on the manual version, on and off road. It’s more controllable. The Twin’s kerbside presence is sumptuous. The paint is thick, and the fasteners and suspension are redolent of Honda in their mid 1990s pomp. There’s a cubby hole on the right that you get to by unscrewing two shouldered 5mm Allen screws. Inside is a space just big enough to hold a banana. The LCD dash packs a lot of info into a small space, but you can’t read it in bright sunlight, and the traction control is weird: setting six leaves the computer so traumatised after a spin it takes several seconds to recover. During this time the bike won’t accelerate. Imagine filtering between two vans and hitting a slippery patch. Settings one and two are fine. It’s hard to see what other bike combines the Twin’s floaty, tall feeling and languid power. The big question is its size – in the garage, round town, getting on and off, it’s all about the size. Side saddle starts and dismounts are pretty much the only way to do it. And it feels rather teetery in corners. The GS and Tiger are a lot more planted. I have a hunch the Twin Super Adventure belongs with other Honda masterpieces like the RC30, CB1300 and NSR250. But I think the standard version is a better bike to own.
‘Enormousness has much to recommend it. But what’s it all for?’
(Above) Simplicity and quality, it’s a Honda thing (Below) LCD dash: lots of informationbut hard to read in bright sunlight
Quality build, but it’s big, heavy and there are questions over the DCT…