Honda Africa Twin Review: Best Adventure Bike Ever?

In Motorcycle Reviews by Julian14 Comments

To say Honda’s relaunch of their iconic Africa Twin has been a success would be a massive understatement. And we mean massive as in smashing the bike sales charts from the moment it was released despite a particularly inconvenient earthquake delaying production at the Japanese factory. This bike has captured the zeitgeist that is Adventure motorcycling perfectly and launched into a market that is currently riding the crest of a wave.

Review of the new Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L

But for all this you have to wonder – is the Honda yet another incarnation of a model that pretends to have the capabilities to take on the world yet will rarely step outside the confines of tarmac and weekend trips to the countryside. Is it destined to be the saddest of pets – an urban sheepdog?

REVIEWING THE NEW HONDA AFRICA TWIN CRF1000L… COULD IT BE THE BEST ADVENTURE BIKE EVER?

Ride Expeditions went to South Wales and the Honda Adventure Centre to find out and give you a full review of Honda’s new Africa Twin CRF1000L. But first…

LET’S BACK UP A LITTLE BIT…

For the global motorcycling force that Honda undoubtedly is, the company has been totally caught napping in regards to the phenomenon of Adventure bike riding. From the start of the movement that was very much the sole responsibility of Messers McGregor an Boorman and their “Long Way Round” series. OK, so purists are still peeved at the idea that two actors could have dared to hijack ‘their thing’ but make no mistake, the series had an incredible effect. To get motorcycling onto mainstream, prime time TV was an achievement enough, but not even the two intrepid explorers could have predicted that some 12 years later the series could change the face of the bike market.

Of course BMW have been the main beneficiary (click here for our review of the BMW GS Vs Triumph Tiger) and you guess that’s kind of fair as they ran with the project when the pair’s first choice KTM couldn’t see the benefit. We have to wonder whether the guy behind that decision is still on the payroll in Austria…

Long Way Round changed the world

But the rest of the manufacturers have followed the trend by either inventing completely new models or in the case of many, adapting an existing bike to give it an adventure focus. So while Honda continued to nap, the likes of Triumph, Yamaha, BMW, KTM even Moto Guzzi and Aprilia bought out models to fill the need of the millions of older former sports bike riders that were now making the conversion to the more comfortable yet equally road-competent adventure bikes. Big H did make some half-hearted attempts with uninspiring models like the Cross Tourer, but it wasn’t until the launch of their exquisite CRF450 Rally bike designed for the Dakar that we began to see that maybe somebody in Japan had read a motorcycle magazine and smelt the coffee…

A BRAND NEW AFRICA TWIN?

Of course the Africa Twin is not technically a new model. It’s an relaunch of a bike first released in 1988 that, far from coincidentally, was derived from its four-time Dakar winning NRX750. Back then the event was still in Africa and the pilots used massive machines in the most challenging conditions, and to win four years on the bounce proved the bike had rock solid reliability, even if the production bike used a far saner and less powerful lump. But hey, that didn’t really matter as the owners of the bike weren’t necessarily going to go anywhere near gravel, let alone the endless sand of the Sahara. Nothing changes then.

Africa Twin won the Dakar four times

After a couple of upgrades in ’88 and then 1993 the Africa Twin went largely unchanged and although loved by it’s fans, the model was dropped in 2003, ironically consigned to the back catalogue just one year before Ewan and Charley set out from London…

But it hadn’t died and fresh for 2016 the new Africa Twin has emerged. Although the look might be influenced by the 450cc motocross engined modern Dakar bike and the previous 52-degree V Twin, the new bike is bang on the money with a 1000cc parallel twin motor that pumps out a healthy 93 bhp. Now that’s a massive amount on the soft stuff, but is way, way down on the existing competition. But does that matter? Well, there’s the real story…

Africa Twin CRF1000L the best adventure bike ever made?

THE NEW AFRICA TWIN ON THE BLACK STUFF 

Africa Twin review

As with any adventure bike, the Honda needs to be able to cut the mustard on the road. All the off road capability will mean nothing if those road riders don’t like it on the tarmac. As we pull out of the car park at Honda’s Africa Twin Experience in Merthyr Tydfil, the bike feels beautifully balanced instantly. The wide bars are a comfortable bend and height that makes controlling the bikes considerable weight effortless. In fact it’s almost impossible to detect where exactly the weight goes once the wheels are moving – this bike comes in at twice the weight of our usual KTM EXC250 yet manages to feel super agile straight away. The cockpit is open, the fairing effective but not all encompassing and the seat is ‘all day comfortable’.

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The CRF's 1000cc engine feels like a V twin

The fact that it is so immediately right on the ergos mean that very quickly you start to hustle the Honda along and the AT responds with super secure handling and joyful power. OK so it doesn’t have the 160 bhp of the 1290 KTM but really where are you going to need that kind of output? Another reason that the lower power works better is that in keeping with the Africa Twin’s more off-road focus than say the big KTM, is that the bike runs a 21 inch wheel up front and 18 at the rear, just like that enduro bike we normally ride. This gives a far better option on off-road tyres and far better handling on the softer stuff, but loses out on the black top to the normal 19 / 17 combination that the more road focussed models employ. But hey, it still took sweeping bends at 100 plus so we’re not complaining.

The Honda's simple clocks and clear display

Another thing that we are not complaining about is the lack of clutter and gizmos on the bike. The clocks are clear and have a stripped back simplicity that is refreshing compared to the information overload on bikes like the Super Tenere where just turning on the heated grips seems to require a sequence of 16 button presses. The display shows speed, rpm, gear, traction setting, fuel and that’s about it – perfect.

Horn and indicators swapped over

Now we’ve mentioned it I guess we should cover the traction control. The bike has four settings – 3, 2, 1 and off, all selectable with your right forefinger and on the fly. On the road and in the dry there’s no real reason to have the TC on, but you can see that in heavy traffic or in heavy rain you don’t need the ‘full fat’ option. In the dry, it’s too tempting not to turn it off, as the power from the motor is perfect. The 270-degree setting makes the bike feel like a V and the power is just there and life affirming right up to the 10,000rpm redline.

When reviewing the new Africa Twin, if we were to pick one fly in the KY it would be Honda’s inexplicable decision to swap the position of the horn and the indicator switch. When every junction gets accompanied by a toot, you find yourself wondering – who was the guy that signed this off?

Best adventure bike ever made?

Although tall, the bike corners confidently and the brakes are predictably powerful. Add in a gearbox that is vastly smoother than the Honda Fireblade (that is also in the Ride Expeditions lock up) and the bike ticks every box you’d want. Oh and it looks completely killer.

THE HONDA GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY

The Honda CRF1000

So how does all this good news translate to the bike actually being used for real life adventures – you know, on roads that are not billiard table smooth and actually have gradients. Does the new Honda do justice to the off-road heritage that preceeded it? Man, does it!

Part of the instant success of the bike is how it feels from the get go. It says CRF on the graphics and as soon as you stand up it feels just like it’s smaller MX cousins – uncanny. The fact that there’s a fairing and a dashboard doesn’t matter, your brain says “Yep – I got this; it’s a big ‘crosser'”.

Simple open cockpit defines the Honda Africa Twin
Out testing the new Africa Twin

What also becomes immediately clear is the marked difference that the four traction control modes make. In mode three, any nailing of the throttle will cause the TC system to limit the power as soon as the bike loses grip. This leads to an almost stuttering delivery as the drive is cut in and out. In mode two the point at which this occurs allows more drive and more again in mode 1. Hold the button in for a second and all traction control is binned and you have the full 1000cc at your wrist and the bike rockets forward with a worrying rapidity. All of a sudden it’s evident just what nearly 100 bhp means in an off road setting – and it’s completely, frighteningly brilliant.

Once you’ve got the hang of what the modes will do, you start to experiment. If you make the mistake of hitting a shale-covered hill in mode three, the bike is unlikely to get up it, as the back breaks free from traction. If you are quick to remember, then you can toggle to setting one and complete the climb. If you are slow the bike computes away the drive and you are going nowhere fast. On a 230kg bike you learn very quickly that anything even remotely steep needs mode 1 or nothing.

Get this dialled and the bike will fly up the scary climbs astonishingly well, the back of the 230kg bike kicking about just like a regular enduro bike yet never feeling scary or out of control. And it’s exactly the same coming down the same climbs. You can slow it with the gearbox on the shallower climbs and on the steeper stuff it’s just a question of feet up, get you weight over the back and balance out the hyper powerful front brakes and the strong rear. The bike we tested was an ABS model, but on the steep downhills we switched it off to drag the rear when needed. OK so if you let off the brakes the weight and momentum became evident, but it was always controllable, rarely scary.

Reviewing the Honda

If you do want a bit of scary, you can put it in full power mode and give it a handful and very soon you are approaching motorway speeds on the equivalent of two enduro bikes, yet you can still bang on the anchors, throw it into a berm as you sit down and power out motocross style. Incredible and addictive.

The suspension is just spot on, and even if  on the bumpy stuff the back end and chain slap made a lot of noise, it never steeped out. On the front, the guys at Honda had upped the suspension a tad and we added a bit more compression damping to get the feel we were after and after that we never looked back  – that is until we blew a fork seal – oops! Guess we were caning it.

Used and abused Honda

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The guys at the Honda Adventure Centre have made a few tweaks to allow the bike to perform to it’s best on the soft stuff. The standard Dunlops are ditched in favour of Michelin Karoo hoops that interestingly only run one pressure – 36 psi whatever the conditions. The compression settings are wound on two clicks to make the front a tad stiffer and the preload is would fully in to give maximum travel and sit higher than stock. The rear is left as per factory settings and there are seat options for the very tall or very short, either with a different seat or the hydraulic preload or both. Other than that, the rear footpegs are removed to avoid paddling injuries and a set of front crash bars added to protect the front end from the occasional spill, which they do well. This bike goes well and – for a big trailie – crashes quite well too.

AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE 

Although Honda have come to the Adventure party way too late they have at least bought something both innovative and, to be frank, rather impressive. The DCT option takes the riding experience somewhere else completely, throwing the gear shifter into the history books and introducing full F1 tech to the genre.

In full auto mode, you just move the right hand toggle to D, select your preferred TC mode and then it’s just twist and go like some huge off-road scooter. In the standard mode the Dual Clutch system short shifts quite noticeably and is soon in top on road or gravel, seamlessly snicking through each gear without shutting off. Conversely on the down changes, it’s a tad slower to go through the box, leaving you going into corners in fourth when you might have wanted second

Switch it over to the sport mode and these traits are reversed as the gears are held for longer and the system drops through the box swifter on deceleration. Clever tech delivered effortlessly.

Automatic box
Toggle it
Park brake
No gear change

If you don’t want fully auto, you can select the manual mode an then you get Ferrari style paddle shifting through the same six-speed box. It sounds like it shouldn’t add up on an off road setting but it is actually hugely addictive and fun to use. Your left index finger handles the up changes, and your thumb the down changes, both of which can be done without even slackening off the throttle just like a power-shifter. OK so the system adds a lot of weight to the engine and is probably more suitable to a road bike, yet it still adds up to big grins on the trail.

COMFORT

5 Stars

The Honda Africa Twin delivers all day comfort from a riding focussed stance. Standing up the balance is impeccable, despite those ridiculous footpegs …

DURABILITY

4 Stars

Honda build quality is legendary and the Africa Twin is no different.

If it gets off-road, then it may suffer slightly more. What it will be like in ten years is difficult to predict but not impossible – it is a Honda after all.

VALUE

5 Stars

The big Honda is pitched well below the bigger trailie and that is a smart move – it’s more achievable to the mass market. In fact it’s closer to the mid-size adventure bikes, which may be far from coincidental.

APPEARANCE

5 Stars

Honda have bought the Africa Twin right up to date with a fresh look that still manages to echo the past. There are three colour options from black, black and red and red, white and blue and all are gorgeous.

BEST ADVENTURE BIKE EVER MADE? HERE’S THE VERDICT…

So has Honda succeeded in its late entry to an already crowded class? Can you really let almost ten years slip and still hit the ground running? Could the new Africa Twin really be the best adventure bike ever?

On sales alone, the answer has to be yes and the dealers can hardly get hold of the bikes fast enough to ship them out. But what Honda have also done is something that is entirely different to the others. They’ve actually focussed on producing an adventure bike that has the skills to back up the off-road dressing. This is a bike with genuine off-road heritage that can handle being ridden in the settings it was intended.

But given the fact that most of the riders of these bikes are not actually using them for actual adventures rather than just a rufty-tufty tourer, the Honda does not have as many bells and whistles as the competition. The dashboard is simple, there are not twenty different suspension options, and there is not nearly two hundred bhp on tap.  When you are competing with the world conquering BMW the Honda comes out as decidedly low-tech and simple, but for us, that’s a good thing. We like bikes to be bikes, not two-wheeled cars.

Is the Africa Twin the best adventure bike ever?

But the tragedy of most of these bikes, and we suspect the Africa Twin included, is that precious few of them will ever get the chance to experience what they can do in the dirt. Is your weekend biker really going to take his twelve grand bike on enduro terrain and risk the horrendous potential of a big off? We think not. And that’s why the bike parks at the bike meets across the world are filled with pristine adventure bikes with not even a splash of mud on their sump guards.

If you do buy a Honda Africa Twin – and we really think you should – don’t be that guy. Put it in full power mode, head to the hills and give it a handful!

So, is it really the best adventure bike ever? Well, of course that is opening up a can of worms… adventure riding in itself is a broad term and different adventure riders have different needs: we all ride in different locations, on different terrain and for different lengths of time – there can never be one single bike that will suit everyone. So, maybe we’ll just say that the Africa Twin is damn good at what it does and if that’s what you want to do, you will love it!

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RIDE EXPEDITIONS REVIEW RATING: HONDA AFRICA TWIN CRF1000L

5 Stars

Any review of the new Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L simply can not result in a rating of any less than the full five stars. We were genuinely blown away by the Honda and just how enjoyable it was to ride compared to the almost tank-sized competition like the BMW and Super Tenere. The fact that it can cut it off-road is the icing on the cake – we want one and we want one now. In fact, we want more than one – we’re now contemplating an entire fleet for some of our own adventure motorcycle tours!

The Honda CRF1000L blasting through water

SPECIFICATIONS – HONDA AFRICA TWIN CRF1000L

ENGINE
  • Displacement: 998cc

  • Bore and stroke: 92 x 75.1 mm

  • Power output: 95 bhp @ 7500 rpm

  • Torque: 72.2 lb./ft. @ 6000 rpm

  • Engine: Eight valve, Uni cam liquid cooled parallel twin with 270 degree crank

  • Gearbox: Six speed with slipper clutch and cam assisted changing or Dual clutch transmission with full auto or flipper change mode.

CHASSIS
  • Frame: Semi-double steel cradle frame with non-detachable steel rear subframe

  • Front suspension: Showa 45mm cartridge USD fork with hydraulic preload adjusters – 230mm travel

  • Rear suspension: Pro Link single gas charged suspension unit with hydraulic preload and rebound adjuster – 220mm travel.

WHEELS
  • Front: 2.15 x 21 rim 90/90 21 tyres

  • Rear: 4.00 x 18 rim 150/70 18 tyres

  • Front brake: 2 x 310mm wavy discs with radial 4 piston calipers. ABS option

  • Rear brake: 256mm wavy disc with single piston caliper (ABS option and park brake on DCT model)

  • Wheelbase: 1575mm

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES
  • Seat height: 870 / 850mm with Hi / Lo seat option

  • Ground clearance: 250mm

  • Fuel capacity: 18.8 litres

  • Weight (wet): 228kg for standard bike, 232kg for ABS version, 242kg for DCT  model

The Honda Adventure Centre

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Comments

  1. I’ve a DCT and it takes a little getting used to but once you realise it’s ok to use a combo of the auto (sport 2 mode my favourite) and the paddles it’s great and a fantastic bike to ride if you are feeling a little laid back or tired.
    I have unfortunately dropped the bike & crash bars post crash are now fitted as they’re essential. The have guards are flimsy & break and the rigid indicators move up & crack various plastic dash panels but the most expensive part was the logo side panel £270 from memory ! All in all the drop cost the best part of £500 to repair / ouch !

    That said I’m now much more used to the size & weight & a little more cautious at slow speeds.

  2. I also have bike and I really like to appreciate its fuel capacity that takes less consumptions of fuel. Powerful bike one tanker is enough for long distance touring. I think buying this one is really inexpensive but great deal for me.

  3. Looks fantastic! I ride a KTM 690 Enduro (weighs 320 pounds) and love the 70hp on freeways. It gets tiresome after 100 miles on the tar when getting to the dirt. This AT would make 300 miles+ rides painless in comparison; however, dropping it a couple of times on steep, gravelly/sandy turns would be a nightmare and cause serious damage, even with crash bars. The ideal bike though would be an 800 twin with about 80-90hp weighing no more than 360 pounds/180 kilos… that will be the bike to beat for comfort and off-road agility. Why is no one making it?

  4. I have had a DCT on order from Blade for over a month now,can’t even get an indication a delivery month due date!
    if you want one for Christmas, get your order in soon.
    I would be interested to hear which crash bars/protection,lever protection ect existing owners favour/suggest,
    I am coming from being an enduro rider a few years back and have fallen heavily for the Africa twin and definitely
    want to take it off road ,but I know its going to get dropped but I don’t want to smash up my new baby
    too much… suggestions would be appreciated,
    at least I can get stuff ready to bolt on when it eventually arrives.

  5. Julian
    Thanks for your reply,will do.
    love the look of your Laos to Vietnam trip, I did a 12 day tour mainly on gravel in Namibia about 6 years ago & have been re-living it in my mind it ever since!
    I presume you can advise on cheapest flights ect ,should I be able to persuade the boss (mrs) its a good idea 😉

  6. Hi Julian
    Namibia was epic!
    HUGE sweeping vistas and unbelievably massive skies atop the incredible views. we started in Windhoek the capital,riding modifed Yamaha 600Xt”s across the Namib desert to Sossusvle”s epic high red sand dunes and out to the skeleton coast,up the coast nearly to a Angola through Demaraland, and then back down through the centre of Namibia through 2 or 3 national parks back to the capitol. mainly on old Gravel roads which often run alongside the new tarmac which is slowly replacing them.
    very dry very beautiful country( although it rained for the first time in years, a lot, and the desert bloomed in 2 days….amazing!, lovely people, throughly recommended. Stayed in unbelievable accommodation,luckily a mate had become involved with someone trying to market the trips to the UK and I went with him on his checking out trip.

    I have traveled a bit of Asia,but sadly not on a bike,and love the different culture,defo fancy some of that!

  7. Lets wait and see what ktm is presenting this fall – I am hoping for a serious competitor for the AT, hopefully below 200kg!
    The honda is ridicously expensive her in sweden, so if ktm can make a lighter bike for a lower price the honda is off the throne. And then there will also soon be a new 700cc tenere, for those whoe are a bit more on a budget.
    Exciting months are lying ahead of us!

    1. Author

      That would be good and there have been spy shots of a lighter weigh KTM. However the reality is most people are buying this style of bike to replace their sports bike, so a smaller bike is not going to fill that gap

  8. I’m glad to hear that to date theAT is living up to the big name. What I find all the adventure bike reviews to be missing is the part where they load the bike like a nomadic tribesman’s camel. We have all seen the real adventure bikes pass through with everything strapped on, spare tires, fuel, water tents tarps, pots and pans etc. I would like to see how all of these adventure bikes that knee drag corners and fly off jumps with ease manage loaded for a four month ride to Patagonia or Ulum Batar.

    1. Author

      Yes that would be good but hard to organise within the confines of a test. Suffice to say we think the Africa Twin is up to the task. What do you ride?

  9. I completed the Honda course in Wales and I am just about to ride the AT along the off road BDR in Utah and Colorado. Suffice to say I agree with the very well written article above. I have already ridden around the world on a KTM 990 Adventure R, and next time round will undoubtedly do it on a new Africa Twin

    1. Author

      Thanks Rupert – we rode the AT in Wales too and loved it.

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  10. First of all, an excellent and thorough review.
    As for the AT itself, I’ve had one for a few months now, swapped the OEM tyres for knobbies and put it through its paces. I love it! I think that for all but the gnarliest off-road stuff it’s fantastic. It’s also smooth and comfortable on the highway which makes it the perfect all-rounder IMO, and perfect for Australia with its thousands of miles of dirt roads and highways. I’ve had a lot of bikes over the last 30+ years but this Africa Twin is shaping up to sit along the Suzuki RG500 as one of my all time classics – and I don’t say that lightly.

    1. Author

      Cheers Jeff – glad you like the review – it’s a cracking bike. As for the RG – now that’s an animal!

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

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