It’s been a very long wait, but Honda has finally reentered the full-size Adventure motorcycling segment with the unveiling of the much-anticipated 2016 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin. Touted as a “go anywhere” adventure bike that can span the spectrum from casual commuting to sojourning across continents, the Africa Twin is a completely new motorcycle that draws its inspiration from the original NXR750 Africa Twin that claimed four straight victories in the Paris-Dakar Rally in the late 1980s.While the European manufacturers engaged in a space-race of sorts to build the ultimate high-tech adventure bike, Honda engineers have taken a different tack with the Africa Twin. Their goal was to disrupt the market segment by creating a machine that would demystify off-road adventure riding for the average rider, making the experience and lifestyle more accessible to a wider swath of motorcyclists. Perhaps a little late to the party, but Honda is still planning on making a grand entrance, by not introducing one, but two new Africa Twin models.
Read Ultimate MotorCycling’s Spec Review of the Honda Africa Twin.The Africa “Twin” was eponymously designed and built in two fraternal versions. The manual transmission model with the usual host of electronic traction control and ABS, as well as an “automatic” Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) version that promises performance levels that will enlighten even the most hardened adventure rider to the virtues and convenience of DCT. To quote Honda’s Tetsuya Kudo, the Test Project Leader for the Africa Twin: “When bike and rider are one, mind is free to focus on the ride. DCT take this concept even further.”Aesthetically, the Africa Twin looks the part, vociferously making its rally pedigree apparent with a racer-like high faring, integrated air ducting, and signature “twin-ring” LED headlights that seem to exude a certain smug confidence that leaves no doubt that this is a Honda. The low-slung two-into-one exhaust is acoustically tuned to audibly match the bold CRF styling with a primal growl and pulsing beat derived from the 270-degree crankshaft and offset firing intervals.The lack of a shift lever is the most notable visual cue to distinguish the DCT from its twin sibling, but closer examination also reveals additional birthmarks in the form of a bigger clutch cover on the right side of the engine casings, manual override and trigger shifters on the handlebar-mounted switch gear, plus a parking brake lever located on the left side where the clutch lever would normally reside. The parking brake uses a cable to actuate a small caliper located beneath the swingarm and is shrouded by a protective guard that doubles as a shark fin to keep the brake rotor out of harm’s way.Many adventure bikes claim to be off-road compatible, but true off-road prowess requires more than just a skid plate and a few bits of off-road themed accessories. Obvious off-road prerequisites are large wire-spoke wheels to maximize roll-over proficiency and the requisite ground clearance to accommodate long-travel suspension. Less visual, and more experiential, requirements include a seat height/width combination that inspires confidence when negotiating off-camber and rough terrain, and neutral fore-to-aft balance that promotes stability at speed, whether flying through the air or rolling on terra firma.The Africa Twin ticks all of these boxes, starting with rally sized 21- and 18-inch wheels bolted up to fully adjustable Showa suspension components. The 43mm cartridge forks are gold-anodized and provide nine inches of travel, with tunable compression and rebound damping as well as adjustable spring preload. In the rear, the remote reservoir shock has a 46mm body and provides eight-and-a-third inches of travel, full compression and rebound adjustability, as well as a manually articulated knob to make tool-free spring preload adjustments depending on pillion and luggage requirements.The first generation NXR750 Africa Twin utilized a V-twin configuration, but to achieve mass centralization goals, the Honda engineers decided to build a completely new 998cc parallel twin engine designed around the concept of the Unicam drivetrain found in the CRF-R motocross lineup.This configuration produces a short, compact engine that leverages a single cam to actuate intake valves directly and exhaust valves via rocker arms. The result is a respectable 94 horsepower at 7500 rpm with 72 ft/lbs of torque at 6000 rpm. More importantly, this configuration centralizes mass, creates a low center of gravity, and results in a balanced 49.1/50.9 front/rear weight bias.Electronic rider assistance packages have become table stakes for modern motorcycles, and the Africa Twin is no exception as all of the US models will include ABS and traction control. The ABS is mated to dual 310mm floating wave rotors with four-piston Nissan calipers in the front, and a single 256mm wave rotor and twin-piston caliper in the rear. The rear ABS is switchable, on and off. Honda’s Selectable Torque Control, otherwise known as traction control, has four discreet settings for gradually less intrusion, with the final setting being “off”.Additionally, the DCT model has a Drive mode primarily designed for fuel economy, but it also has three different levels of Sport mode available, each one progressively holding onto gears longer for more aggressive riding. The DCT also uses wheel-speed and throttle-position to determine whether the rider is going up or downhill and holds the current gear if ascending or downshifts if descending. To create a more direct feeling from the throttle to rear wheel pickup, the Africa Twin DCT model has “G” button designed for gravel roads that modifies the control of the clutch system and eliminates the shift lag between gears.With a flick of the start button, the entire package comes to life with a growl and a pulsating thump from the exhaust — an audible reminder that this is not your typical Honda dual-sport bike! The exhaust note seems to compliment the performance of the Honda Africa Twin, but burning up the tarmac at blistering speeds was not part of the design criteria. However, it’s still plenty fast, getting up to 120 mph fairly quickly and, although the engine signs off from there, the chassis is rock stable all the way through deceleration.Surprisingly, the diminutive windscreen on the Africa Twin does a superb job of creating a “still air” envelope for the rider, and it worked flawlessly for my 5’ 9” frame. In fact, it worked so well, that in rain conditions I needed to stand up to get the rushing air to clear the raindrops from my AGV’s helmet visor.Carving aggressively through canyon roads, the larger 21-inch wheel turns a bit slower and feels somewhat vague for high speed maneuvers. However, backing down the throttle ever so slightly allows the Africa Twin to shine.Again, the stability is fantastic, and the purpose-built Dunlop Trailmax tires work exceptionally well on wet tarmac. Throttle roll-on is smooth and the linear powerband pulls nicely through the six-speed gearbox.Wheelies are easily initiated in first and second gears with a little help from the clutch, though traction control needs to be switched off or to T1 mode, which allows for a small amounts of wheel lift before softly shutting the party down.The DCT version of the 2016 Honda Africa Twin feels a little less sporty on the street, but is actually a bit faster than the manual transmission on the top end. It hides the extra 22 pounds quite well, and beyond the occasional grab for the non-existent clutch lever, the experience is very much the same, albeit somewhat subdued.If the Africa Twin DCT experience is feeling just a little bit too leisurely, the solution is just a thumb switch away. The AT/MT button near the right hand controls allows the rider to toggle between automatic and manual mode, enabling the left hand to downshift with a push of a button, or upshift with a pull of the trigger with the index finger.Instantly the experience changes from where one could virtually conduct a conference call while riding, to that of paddle-shifting nirvana, much like a Formula One driver. The latter being a slight exaggeration, but still, the DCT offers a split personality that can be very appealing.In the suspension department, creating an effective compromise for both street and dirt applications is completely dependent upon rider bias. The inclination for the Africa Twin is toward that of dirt use, which completely suits my adventure riding preference, so as expected, heavy braking while hammering through tight chicanes reveals a noticeable fork dive. Fortunately, adjustable fork spring preload is a nice option to stiffen up the initial travel to mitigate the issue. Out back, the rear shock performs well; the action is compliant and resists wallowing.As the pavement fades to dirt, the Africa Twin is eager to live up to its legacy. Mounted with Continental TKC80 knobby tires, the immediate feeling is one of complete stability and confidence. Accelerating through the gears on a hard-packed fire road, hitting ruts, rocks, and other obstacles is unavoidable, but the CRF1000L takes them all in stride, without deflection or chassis disruption. I’ve ridden 650cc dirt bikes that didn’t handle this well off-road!With the traction control switched off, it’s an expert off-roader’s dream — spinning up the tire and delivering a huge fun factor. Switching the traction control to T1, the least invasive setting, allows the fast intermediate rider to apply generous amounts of throttle with total confidence, permitting just enough wheel spin to steer with the rear wheel while virtually eliminating the risk of a high-side situation. The ABS works well off-road, but should be switched off to slide the rear wheel to cut tight corners before accelerating through the exit of the turn.After powering through 20 miles of dirt on the manual transmission Honda Africa Twin, I was having so much fun; I wanted to keep going and daydreamed about entering a rally race. After testing every possible combination, I finally distilled my preference down to both traction control and ABS switched off; in a two-up situation, I would set the traction control to TC1 to preserve my relationship with my spouse who is no stranger to the back of my BMW R 1200 GS Adventure.I skeptically throw a leg over the DCT Africa Twin to put another 20 miles of dirt beneath the knobbies and, within a half mile, my mind was blown! In the sportiest S3 mode, traction control off, the “G” button engaged for quick shifting, and rear ABS disengaged, I was nearly as fast as I was with the manual transmission!Yes, there were a few situations where I would have wanted a lower gear on the DCT Africa Twin, but 95-percent of the time the DCT was spot-on! I even pulled over and stood up on the pegs, turned the handlebars until they hit the steering lock, and did super slow figure eights using nothing more than throttle and rear brake inputs…outstanding! Further, I discovered that by putting the DCT into manual mode and using the downshift button, I could initiate power slides and seemingly keep them going for days given enough room.The DCT is for real. It breeds confidence in less-experienced off-roaders, and it’s a platform for hooliganism for expert-level riders. In fact, the DCT version of the Africa Twin is so easy to ride, responds so well to rider input, that I suddenly realized that this is the grown-up adventure version of the Honda Z50 minibike that hooked so many of us kids on dirt-riding so long ago…the perfect gateway to off-road adventure riding.I simply can’t wait to get my hands on either the DCT or manual version of the Africa Twin when it lands stateside in May/June 2016. Although I’ll need to exercise patience over the coming months, I’m creating a list of modifications and add-ons I’d like to test, not the least of which include off-road footpegs, fully laden luggage, and testing the two-up riding experience. By then, the aftermarket companies will be flush with product and your options limitless!The 2016 CRF1000L Africa Twin not only promises off-road capability, it delivers. Unlike any of the adventure bikes before it, the pair of Africa Twins provides an entry point for real off-road adventure riding for all motorcyclists, from the daily commuter, to the novice trail rider, through to the expert racer. Not to mention it comes with the dependability of a Honda, and all at an affordable price. Thank you, Honda, for democratizing the ADV riding experience, and welcome back, we’re glad to have you.Riding Style:
This week Teejay chats to Tyler Poppe. Tyler works on the TV show Mayans MC–and yet he doesn’t ride an American V-Twin. Wassup with that?? Also, Arthur finds out from friend Mike Cardillo about his thoughts on the full-size version of the Kawasaki KLX 140R F trail bike.