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I have spent a fair few hours and thousands of kilometres on Africa Twins across a range of terrains since the release of the 2016 model.
From the mountains around the Hunter Valley (NSW) to Cape York and on the current model a weeklong loop in the Northern Territory. Something about the AT grabbed me from the moment it was reincarnated in 2016 as a CRF1000L.
The way it took to the dirt was unlike most other big bores available at the time, which can be easily forgotten post the launch of the 790 Adventure R and Tenere 700 now off-road leaning adventure bikes are no longer an exception to the rule.
But aside from the KTM 1290 Adventure R, there really isn’t anything quite like the Africa Twin in the big-bore ranks. It’s a massive dirtbike and makes no attempts to pretend otherwise.
Honda currently offers four versions of the Africa Twin across the Standard model and Adventure Sports which then comes in three variations from a baseline set-up to DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) and then the ES (Electronic Suspension + DCT) which we’re looking at here.
THE PRICE OF POWER
The CRF1000L initially came in at astonishing pricing. For around $16 grand you could have yourself a Standard model in need of a bashplate and handguards and that was about all you needed to get cracking.
The fuel range was a limiting factor as was the soft fork, but some work on the clickers alone improved the suspension. It was and is a great bike for the price and the Honda made it difficult to be one hundred per cent sure that you really needed a twenty-five-thousand-dollar motorcycle instead.
But alas, pricing as a primary attraction has been diminished as Honda has raised the cost of an Africa Twin to $22,535 (plus ORC), for the Standard model. In comparison to the competition that’s still decent; a V-Strom 1050 XT is $21,490 (ride away), and the R 1250 GS is $25,840 (ride away). So, the Standard Africa Twin sits nicely around most while the Adventure Sports model jumps in at $26,346 and gifts extra fuel range in the deal. Add DCT and you’re at $27,326 and finally, you hit the Adventure Sports DCT ES with electronic suspension and a dollar figure of $29,539.
Another consideration here is that parts on an Africa Twin can be expensive should you have a decent horizontal moment down the trail. It isn’t the Lone Ranger here, but easily damaged parts like side plates and windscreens can kick you in the arse when the bill comes in.
WONDERFUL WEIGHT LOSS
The engine in the Africa Twin is Honda’s first EU5 compliant powerplant and it has seen an increase in the stroke from 75.1mm to 81.5mm to produce 1084cc, up from the 998cc of the previous model.
The engine was assembled from about 70% new parts and boasts a seven per cent increase in power and a six per cent increase in torque. Coupled with weight loss of 2.5 kilograms for the manual model and 2.2 kilograms for the DCT the power-to-weight ratio figure been improved by 10%.
The chassis lost weight too; 1.8 kilograms to be exact and offers a thinner profile than before while a thinner seat has been fitted to facilitate ease of body movement. The bike has been out for about a year now so there’s no need to dig up all the spec changes from the 2019 model, but we will address the substantial change to the electrics because they have a lot to do with both the price rise and our overall perception of the bike. Let’s get into what the bike is like away from the numbers and figures that can so often mean zip once the bike is rolling.
The slimmer seat made dropping my feet to the ground easier than on the previous model. That was a good first impression. An even better first impression came from the throaty engine note that dominates KTM and Yamaha’s stock whispers. It’s not a loud bike, it just has a brilliant growl that reaches deep inside and tickles something within me that I can’t reach with beer or chocolate.
The Adventure Sports has a total of 24.8 litres for a claimed range of over 500 kilometres. The larger tank is well shaped to accept your knees while in the sitting position and overall, the ergos are excellent, offering room to shift your body weight as well as comfort on long days.
The Adventure Sports ES has DCT and features Showa EERA (Electronically Equipped Ride Adjustment) – which is electronic adjustable suspension. A quick rundown on those two marvels looks like this; DCT is like having an automatic gearbox. The bike changes gear itself, (there is no gear or clutch lever) and to initially move off the line you simply select D for Drive which is a bit too pedestrian for my liking, or the multi-level S for Sport which shifts earlier and you’re on your way. The best setting for me off-road was in S and with a mid-level aggression setting.
You can override the DCT and change gears with paddles on the ‘bars and you can govern the aggression of the shifts, but you will never stall your bike again. To me, DCT is absolutely brilliant. I don’t need DCT to enjoy my riding, but it does enhance my experience by allowing me to dedicate brainpower that would otherwise be preoccupied with shifting correctly to any of the many other things one must be on top of to avoid unplanned horizontal moments. The shifting is damn near faultless and I rarely override it.
The ES chose gears higher than I would have – sometimes two gears higher – which helped keep traction and minimize engine breaking in soft terrain by letting the torque do the heavy lifting. I then found I went for those gear choices when I got onto the manual Standard model. I had been taught a better way.
FINE-TUNE THE BOINGERS
The rear spring is way too soft across all the models and the ES is no exception. While you can and must manually wind on preload on the other models the ES has the Showa EERA system, so it is done electronically.
To do this on the ES, you set it via the electronics which will accept not only preload fine adjustments but has damping modes set to choose from with Hard, Mid, Soft or Off-Road as well as pillion and luggage settings. After I wound on some preload I believe I rode more aggressively than I have on any bike this size before and it just sat, balanced and stable on track after track. In softer terrains, I found the Honda appreciates you keeping your weight well back at all times and that the front hunts more than you’d expect when you come forward.
As soon as I got my weight back, which I technically should have anyway, it almost came too easy. The bike has a confidence-inspiring feel that soaks up most of the smaller trail trash and the Showa copes very well with being ridden aggressively or just meandering along. Not all bikes can achieve that.
The WP on the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is the only other big-bore that offers both the travel, ground clearance and performance to ride damn hard without having to be an insanely talented rider. The Africa Twin just makes it seem easy.
The Africa Twin has enough power across the range for any situation and it’s still easy to maintain traction. It’s a sweet study in power being plentiful and manageable. It is for me, the sweet spot that KTM and Ducati have blown well past.
And while you can bring those two back to around the 100Hp mark that the Honda sits at via ride modes, and some (mostly road riders) accuse it of being a bit too mellow, (on the road…with a 21-inch front wheel. Wrong bike guys), it is spot-on when the blacktop fades into the distance and there’s nothing but dirt to play in. I went so far as to ride the ES on an end-of-day churned up Finke track and look, I’ll admit it wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, but the bike handled the soft sand well and was able to drive admirably through the many corners and ridiculous bumps on that bastard of a track.
This has nothing to do with adventure riding. I know this. I did it for fun because I was there, and it was an interesting test of a machine that should have been nowhere near its comfort zone and yet held its own. Just to be clear, however, I would rather suffer blunt scrotal trauma than race Finke on an Africa Twin.
MASSIVE BRAIN UPGRADE
The electronics on the new Africa Twins are a massive leap ahead of the previous model. It’s like climbing out of a 2005 Toyota Corolla and into a Tesla S. To start with there’s a 6.5 inch TFT screen which to marvel at. It’s a well laid-out design (which can be reconfigured four ways or you can choose a custom display), with a lot of info on offer and a lot at the rider’s fingertips to alter.
And also at those fingertips is a left-hand side switch block like no other. With nine buttons just on the forward face, it’s an imposing beast and one can’t help but wonder if there was an easier solution…given BMW and KTM both offer one. The screen itself is touch-responsive but I only really used the switches and got used to them pretty quickly. The system offers Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto, which is new for 2021 and if you bought the bike before this was available, your dealer can sort that out for you with an update.
The business end of the electronics allows you to adjust the power delivery, engine breaking and Cornering ABS, Wheelie Control, Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC), Clutch Slippage via the G-Switch and it really does go on and on. Honda has gone from not offering much at all on the dash to offering everything and then a heap more. The basic modes available are Tour, Urban, Gravel, and Off-Road plus two User modes which each alter the power delivery, the engine braking and on the Adventure Sports ES, the suspension settings.
The ABS is switchable and the brakes on the Africa Twin are excellent, which is a point worth more than this quick blow past. The Honda runs a dual display with an old-school LCD display underneath the TFT for when you’re running a map so it can take up the whole TFT and you can still see your vital stats like speed, distance and gears. So much about the bike is adjustable – damn near everything seems to be in fact.
From big changes to fine-tuning of the engine and suspension the Adventure Sports ES DCT gifts insane control over how your bike feels and performs.
PICK OF THE LITTER
The footpegs are as usual on a Honda, too small. At this point, I’m convinced they are being designed by a pirate with a peg leg.
Pivot Pegz have a set that I recommend to anyone with feet wider than a paddle pop stick. The standard grips are too hard for all-day comfort and worse when that all-day continues for multiple days. It’d be nice if the otherwise brilliant screen could drop a little further out the way.
The tubeless wheels on the ES are a nice touch though, as is Cruise Control, the auto turn signal and heated grips.
Not much is left to want for…unless you need a cup holder.
The Adventure Sports DCT ES is definitely my pick of the Africa Twin range. The increased fuel range over the Standard model and electronic Showa suspension is worth the investment and go a long way to making the bike more versatile and capable.
The jump in pricing was a shock, but it was coming from a comparatively low base and Honda is justifying it by offering a bike that is both much changed and an improvement on the previous model.
If you lined up every true big-bore adventure bike and told me to pick one, I’d find it very hard to walk past the Honda. For my riding, which is predominantly off-road (I hate riding on the road with an unbridled passion), the Africa Twin is such a fun and capable bike with just the right amount of power, all-day ergos and supreme fine tune-ability via the electronics.
GENUINE OPTIONAL EXTRAS
Some genuine Honda shiny parts we think are worth considering dropping coin on. It looks good all dressed up right?
GET REAL WITH DBA
Want to experience real adventure on an Africa Twin with the best team in OZ? Check out Daryl Beattie Adventures and book your ride now.
We’ve done three tours with Daz and the crew (2 on Africa Twins) and can assure anyone that you won’t regret a second of it. Head to darylbeattieadventures.com.au and get in before the tours sell out.22