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Honda’s Africa Twin brings focus back to adventure bikes

04.12.2015

Honda doesn't often make marketing mistakes, so their decision to discontinue their very popular Africa Twin in 2003 was baffling. When they introduced the XRV650 in 1988 it was by far the most credible rival to BMW's R80GS - the world's first true adventure bike.

The Honda rapidly developed cult status amongst those who wanted to traverse countries on roads, tracks and trails, because it did it all so well. It was relatively simple, it wasn't obese and it had enough power to do everything it needed to do, well. The Africa Twin grew to 750cc and when it suddenly disappeared in 2003 the wailing and keening of an army of distraught fans was ignored by the Honda. Or so we thought.

About five years ago sanity prevailed, and Honda set about designing an all new machine intended to be everything the original would have become if given a chance to evolve.

The new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin that enjoyed its international launch in the Western Cape in November delivered everything the designers had set out to do, and more.

Our gathering of 10 South African motorcycle journalists was used as a sort of trial run for the full international launch that followed with half-a-dozen waves of bike journos from around the globe. We were thus the first scribes to ever ride the new Africa Twin and the Honda UK launch team and Japanese factory designers and engineers were keen to find out what we thought about the machine.

We spent a day riding it on tar and good dirt district roads in the Western Cape, and half of the next day traversing somewhat harsher terrain that included a steep ascent up a loose rocky trail, and a fair amount of soft sand. The bike performed impeccably throughout because it feels much smaller and lighter than anything else in its class.

The 70kW/98Nm parallel-twin engine is punchy, and hauls the bike to over 220km/h (indicated) when you hang on the cable, while the excellent non-electronic suspension soaks up bumps as well as anything I've ridden. Some of the tarred mountain passes were as bumpy as can be but the bike refused to be unsettled and tracked dead steadily despite the skinny 21" front wheel that is such an asset in the dirt.

Honda's hard work at mass centralisation also makes it feel lighter than its fully-fuelled 232kg mass (242kg for the dual-clutch transmission version). The bike is also very narrow and I could reach the ground comfortably with the seat at the standard position - it can be lowered by 20mm in seconds if necessary.

One of the Honda's best features is the simplicity of the electronics, with a button that activates/deactivates the rear wheel ABS, and the power and traction control modes are equally simple to adjust with the jab of a button rather than scrolling through countless computer screens. I also spent time on the automatic dual-clutch version and found it remarkably competent and, more importantly, likeable.

The Africa Twin is refreshing because the factory has chosen not to get involved in a senseless horsepower war and stuck with the program in building a comfortable, lively and competent adventure bike that is great on tar without compromising on off-road capability.

It'll be here in March 2016 at around R150 - R170,000.

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Article written by Gavin Foster
04.12.2015
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