What’s new on the 2020 Honda Africa Twin?
2020 Honda Africa Twin Review… What’s New? The Honda Africa Twin is the most successful Japanese adventure bike ever made. Period. Since its first incarnation in 1988 after Cyril Neveu’s win in the 1986 Dakar on the NXR650, the Africa Twin went on to sell over 73,000 units until it was eventually discontinued in 2001. And when Honda eventually gave in to pressure to relaunch the bike in 2016, it went on to shift another incredible 86,000 more between then and 2019. The Africa Twin was back.
With such phenomenal success to maintain, the revised model that was released in late 2019 had a lot to live up to. So what exactly has changed with the new bike and perhaps more importantly, is it any good? Ride Expeditions had to investigate.
So on first glance at the new bike, it would be easy to think that beyond a capacity to hike from 1,000 from 1,100 cc, that Honda have done very little to the new Africa Twin. A bit wider maybe, a bit of a cosmetic tweak, but otherwise nothing special. Yet that is so far from the truth that it’s not even in the same county.
While it is true that the 2020 bikes look quite similar to the outgoing versions, the reality is that almost every component on the bike has been changed and upgraded, in some way. With little transferring from the previous model, this is a complete upgrade from start to finish and the results are more than impressive. It’s an Africa Twin for the next decade and beyond.
At the heart of the new machine is the familiar parallel Twin single overhead cam motor that runs a 270 degree crank. But the capacity has gone from 998 to 1084 cc, which may have more to do with meeting the more stringent Euro 5 regulations than Honda actually thinking the bike needed a bigger displacement. But it’s not just bigger pistons in there – far from it. There’s a new head, altered valve timing and increased lift, and new aluminium cylinder sleeves with a longer stroke for the new pistons. The fuel is fed into the engine through all new 46mm throttle bodies, and the inlet path has been revised to give a far more direct route. And the changes in the top end are matched to similar upgrades, improvements and redesigns in the gearbox and transmission, all of which have shaved an incredible 2.5 kilos from the motor – or 2.2 from the DCT version. That would be impressive enough, but with the reduced weight, there has been a power hike too – 7% more power that takes the bike to 76 kw and a 6% increase in torque to lift the bike from 99 to 105 nm. And to save you doing the maths, that’s a 10% increase in the bike’s power to weight ratio. And it’s Euro 5 compliant – Wow!
Of course to back up the new motor there’s a new exhaust, and the catalytic converter has been moved to just below the headers, partially hidden by a new aluminium guard. This move means the ‘cat warms up far quicker and starts controlling the emissions in line with the regulations. At the rear of the bike there’s a new and pretty bloody enormous end can, but the noise it puts out is far better than you might expect but that noise only happens at higher revs, thanks to a clever little exhaust valve.
We’ve briefly mentioned the DCT version and more of that later but clearly with all the motor being revised, the dual clutch version received just as much work. Honda are the only manufacturer with this tech and a staggering 43% of the new breed ATs sold have been the semi-automatic version.
So you might think that Honda would have left the frame much the same on the new bike, but think again. It’s gone through the same root and branch redesign as the rest of the bike to come out stronger, leaner and lighter. In fact it’s a full 1,8 kilos lighter than the previous frame, and thanks to the removal of the front cross brace, has more flex and feel. There’s also a new removable aluminium subframe just like the motocross bikes, and this influence also transfers into the CRF450R styled longer swingarm that has more rigidity and feel than the one used on the CRF100L. In fact, if you stripped off the paint from the new frame – you would swear it was from one of Honda’s off road bikes.
The new frame is also narrower around the centre section which gives better control while standing and also makes it a bit easier for shorter riders. And as the bike, particularly the Adventure Sports version was often criticised for its ridiculously tall stance – that’s a good thing! Seat height is now between 850 and 870 mm, and the seat some 40mm narrower thanks to the frame and the new seat. Despite dropping the seat height, the ground clearance is still an respectable 250mm
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So with all these changes going on, then it’s no surprise that the AT’s suspension has been thoroughly updated and revised. At the Front, there’s a set of fully adjustable 45mm USD forks with a full 230mm of travel held in place by a cast top yoke and a forged bottom yoke. At the back end it’s Show again, with a 46mm monoshock unit with a Pro-link linkage and remote reservoir that gives 220 mm of travel.
Now although on the standard bike all these adjustments are mode manually, the Africa Twin Adventure Sports model is the first Honda to get the all-new and hugely impressive EERA system – so that’s Electronically Equipped Ride Adjustment. Effectively the system gives the bike a brain to be able to react to road and trail conditions as you ride, making constant adjustments to the suspension to ensure the smoothest possible ride. To do this the system monitors the stroke movement from the suspension units back and front, the bike’s behaviour from the multi axis IMU – Inertial Measurement Unit – and the bikes speed via the EMU – Engine management Unit. It sounds complicated but all the rider needs to do is select the riding mode from the control screen, and the EERA system adjusts the bike’s different parameters to suit. There are five different riding modes – tour, urban, gravel, off-road and the customisable ‘user’ modes, and within these the EERA is either pre-set or selectable, and then the rider can also choose rider, rider with luggage, two riders or two riders with luggage s
So as you’ve probably gathered from the above graphic, the new AT is bristling with new technology that takes it bang up to date and well towards the territory normally reserved for the mighty BMW R1250 GS and Ducati Multistrada. Centre to all this is the massive new 6 inch TFT – Thin Film transistor – screen that sits behind the five position manually adjustable screen. In honour of its ability to tell you everything you need to know and indeed adjust hundreds of variables, it’s actually termed a MID – Multi Information display and having used it, then that’s an accurate description – and as long as you are stationary, it’s even touch controlled – impressive stuff. In fact there’s actually two units instead of just one, the TFT top screen being supported by a more conventional lower LCD display that means you can still see speed, gear etc whilE using things like navigation of entertainment apps on the top TFT screen.
Within the display, there are three levels of information, from the maximum detail in the Gold mode, the reduced info in Silver mode and the minimal display in Bronze mode. Which you choose is up to you, but commonly the less detail modes are more suited to off-road conditions when you don’t need to know as much! The screen automatically adjusts to a night mode when it gets dark – handy for the Mersey tunnel – but you can manually select this display at any time.
And talking of manually selecting, although you can select your options with your fingers when the bike is stopped, once you set off then you’ll need to use the switchgear on the left of the bars. It’s always going to be a lot to cram into a small space, but Honda have taken this to new levels than even BMW have managed. The cluster of buttons is initially bewildering, and even when you get used to it, hitting the correct button to adjust the intended function is going to be tricky – and you’ll probably hit the indicators and horn a lot!
But once you have mastered the controls, then the new AT is hugely adjustable and tunable and the settings are even more intelligent than the previous version. The traction – or Torque Control goes from completely ‘off’ for heroes, right up to seven for novices or very slippery conditions, with modes 1 – 4 very gently increasing with modes 5 – 7 more widely spaced in the settings.
Similarly, there is a wheelie control system that goes from off, to mode 1 for high lift, mode 2 for medium lift and mode 3 for baby wheelies. This level of adjustment might even let you get good at wheelies without the risk!
The final control is the ABS, but this is a simple on-off arrangement, and the bike needs to be stopped to turn it off. The ABS is linked to the IMU for cornering functionality, so you won’t be locking up the back when cornering with you elbow on the tarmac. The system will also pick up if the rear is lifting off the tarmac and adjust the front brake suitably. For normal riders this is great, for Marc Marquez, this is all bad news!
Any more tech that needs mentioning? Well the indicators flash frantically under heavy braking, and under normal conditions will automatically cancel after you have made your turn, although this function can be switched off if you don’t like it.
So we mentioned previously that the new AT has four different stock riding modes, but they are a degree more intelligent than simply cutting or restricting the power output. The ECU within the new AT allows full power, or close to it in all four modes, but the way the power is delivered varies according the throttle opening, with the gravel and off road options offering a far softer hit than the urban and tour modes. There’s no rain mode here, but off-road would effectively soften the power in wet conditions.
Aside from the four stock riding modes, there are two user modes which are infinitely tunable to your exact requirements that can then be stored. In all six of the modes, the rider can then vart both the wheelie and torque control, on the screen when stationary or through the left switchgear if on the fly.
And if you are wondering about the G Switch, that eliminates the delay on changes when using the DCT version off-road. So now you know!
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You might think that the new bike is just one bike, but effectively there are six new bikes launched in one with the Africa Twin. The base model is the one you should pick if you like simplicity, or want to do plenty of off- road riding. It’s sleeker, lighter, has only an 18.8 litre tank, has reduced bodywork & screen, and tubed tyres to allow more physical riding and adventures. This model is available with the conventional gearbox, or the semi automatic/ automatic DCT gearbox. It might sound like something that would not work off-road, but when three time World Motocross champion Dave Thorpe says it’s the one he prefers, you might be convinced…
So if you are thinking of more road riding, then you might want to upgrade to the Adventure Sports model or the ATAS as it’s known. For this you get the 24.8 lite tank that should be good for 500km, the adjustable screen, wider front fairing, three stage cornering lights, heated grips and a handy little accessory socket. Oh and tubeless tyres.
But you also get the option of the DCT gearbox on the ATAS version, introducing yet another option to the mix. Decisions, decisions.
Think we are finished? Oh no, not yet as you can also choose the EERA equipped version of the Adventure Sports, and this is available in either conventional gearbox or with DCT, completing the six variants available. Prices go from £13,049 for the standard bike with a conventional gearbox and go up to £15,849 for the Adventure Sports with DCT and electronic suspension.
So HOW DOES IT RIDE?
So it’s clear that the 2020 Africa Twin is an entirely new machine, but does all this engineering and technological upgrades make for a better ride. Is the 2020 bike better than the 2018 version?
ON THE ROAD
Taking the bike onto the blacktop immediately reveals just how hard the team at Honda have been working. Even on the lowest spec standard bike, the changes to the engine, with the increased capacity and less weight translate into a thoroughly enjoyable and involving riding experience. OK so the changes in capacity might be more to do with meeting the Euro 5 regulations without losing performance, but the ensuing engine upgrades have produced a more urgent, more punchy and arguably better motor than the previous two versions of the re-born Africa Twin. While the bike has always been a strong choice in the mid range adventure bike sector, the Africa Twin Adventure Sports is now snapping at the heels of the big boys in the class – the BMW GS and the Ducati Multistrada.
Ok so on horsepower terms the 1100 cc 270 degree crank parallel motor is never going to come close to the enormous figures of those potential rivals, but the 100 bhp on offer is plenty enough to propel this bike to silly speeds in a very short period of time. Add the faultless quickshifter to the mix and you’ll be way into three figures and beyond very quickly.
As to the riding options, aside from the initial difficulty in changing them while on the fly thanks to the cluttered switchgear, the different modes make genuine and very noticeable changes to the character of the bike. If you are technophobe then it won’t be for you, but if you embrace the future and use the phenomenal advances that are being made in these bikes is truly astounding.
As for the gearbox, the new motor is buttery smooth and typically Honda, and when teamed up with that nifty shifter, snicking up and down the box is a joy. But if you are one to embrace a bit of change. then the DCT gearbox version is worth a try. Honda is the only brand with this system, but once you’ve tried it, you may well love it.
In the auto setting, there are two modes, the Drive mode that tends to short shift to get you into top as soon as it can, or the Sports mode that holds the gears for far longer if you are feeling a bit more urgent. There’s a substantial difference in the two modes, but either way it’s thoroughly weird to have an 1100cc adventure bike that you ride like a ‘Twist and Go’ scooter!
If it’s all too much, you could start in the semi- automatic mode and change up and down with the paddles either side of the left switchgear. Considering that this type of gear change is more common to top end sports cars than adventure bikes, it’s pretty damn trick.
OK so what about the suspension? Well on the stock bike the new Showa kit is very impressive, holding the bike onto the road like a particularly stubborn limpet on a rock no matter how enthusiastic your riding, backed up by those massive radial Nissin calipers and the 310 mm discs. But it’s the electronic suspension package model – EERA- that really impresses. Honda’s new tech delivers an astoundingly balanced ride, the combined systems smoothing out the road into an almost magic carpet ride. Add in the adjustability for riders and luggage at the toggle of a button and it’s impossible to fault. It takes the Africa Twin to another level.
But although there is a clear split between both the standard and the ATAS bikes, the standards and the electronic suspension variants, in reality whichever option you choose has the same fundamental chassis and motor. And the 2020 Africa Twin is truly exceptional on the road.
OFF THE ROAD
So as a bike born out of off-road racing in the Dakar, the new Africa Twin would be falling well short if it couldn’t cut the mustard away from the road. But fear not, the new AT is a worthy successor to those original bikes.
On the standard Africa Twin. all the work on the new frame and chassis is immediately obvious, with the slimmer central section and seat allowing you far more control when up on the pegs. In off-road mode, the throttle response is just right, allowing you to take on everything from trickling over rock steps, to flat out on sweeping dirt roads. And again the Showa suspension copes with everything you can throw at it without a murmur. Handling on the rough stuff is precise and predictable, although if you are still on road biased dual sport tyres, then you’ll find the limits relatively quickly.
As for the ATAS and EERA versions, they are almost as good on the dirt, although inevitably the additional bulk of the bikes can be felt if you get out of shape or the going gets wet and slippery – so pretty much like any other adventure bike in this sector!
So the Africa Twin has always been a good looking bike, and the 2020 incarnation is just as good. Our favourite – the blach ATAS model – killer!
So on the basis of the previous bikes, the AT has suffered with swift deterioration in a few areas – spokes and frame particularly so only 4 stars
Even with the slimmer new seat, the lower, lighter and more powerful is all day comfortable – it’s a truly wonderful bike to ride.
The new bike is more expensive than the 2018 version but it’s got heaps more technology included as standard. We think it’s worth it
RIDE EXPEDITIONS VERDICT – 2020 HONDA AFRICA TWIN
So despite scoring down a bit for the questions of corrosion on those problem areas, the new Africa Twin still gets a full five stars from Ride Expeditions. It’s the best selling Japanese adventure bike for a reason, and the new one does justice to that impressive back catalogue. The new engine is a peach, the new frame just as good and the new tech elevates the bike to the next level. It’s the big adventure bike we would buy. Period
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