And It's a Riot to Ride

Honda’s New Africa Twin Will Change Your Perception of Off-Road Riding


May 17, 2018 Cars : Motorcycles By Photo by Matt Neundorf & Honda
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The standard Honda Africa Twin is already an extremely capable machine. Back in 2016, when it was released, it easily presented itself as the most dirt worthy rider in the middleweight adventure bike category. Its Dakar Rally-derived chassis and compliant ergonomics delivered incredible confidence in technical terrain. But a lot can change in two years and the competition never sleeps. Technical advancements in rider electronics are at a stage where they can enable fine-tuned control and even overshadow chassis and engine changes alone.

The Adventure Sports is Honda’s new range-topping Africa Twin that not only boasts a full suite of revised rider modes; it gets taller suspension and a bigger fuel tank to work with and help enhance its class-leading hardware under the seat. More so, these upgrades will only run you an extra $1,500, making it a bargain at the bank and a riot on the trails.

The Good: When I first rode the Africa Twin in 2016, the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) surprised me with just how competent it was. I remained a skeptic; surrendering even partial control to a computer just wasn’t something my mind or muscle memory was prepared to accept. This time around, however, the updated electronic rider aids have been tweaked and make a convincing argument relinquish command over the clutch.

There are now three pre-set modes: Urban, Tour, and Gravel, all programmed for their respective conditions. Each of them works decently enough, but as you get more comfortable with clutchless riding, it helps to play around and find one suitable for your style. The power, engine braking, and torque levels can all be modified via buttons on the left handlebar, on the fly. I settled in on the highest power level (one), engine braking at level three and torque levels at number two and, with ABS disabled at the rear and “G” mode activated to tighten up the DCT’s response to the throttle.

Who It’s For: The 998cc parallel-twin engine delivers a flat, linear torque curve making the Africa Twin easy to live with as a daily commuter. And thanks to the new suspension setup that ups ground clearance to a class-leading 10.6-inches very little can get in its way on weekends during outdoor excursions. Equipped with the DCT transmission, the Adventure Sports would be an ideal bike for a rider with little to no off-road experience who’s looking to cash in on the ADV fun. With no muscle memory or ingrained reactions to overcome, the learning curve to exploit the best the Africa Twin has to offer would be minimal.

Watch Out For: With the increased capacity of the fuel tank (up 1.4 gallons to 6.4 total), I found that its larger bodywork didn’t offer the same levels of control with my knees in a standing position. The slender waistline of the original Twin had a perfect set of indents to pinch with your knees so your arms could stay loose on the bars. The Adventure Sports sacrifices a bit of that control for longer runs between fuel stops.

Alternatives: The middleweight adventure market is certainly heating up. The Triumph Tiger 800 XCA has brought a lot of capabilities to the party and BMW has just pulled the wraps off their F850 GS, which we hear is filling those big shoes their F800 GS had worn for so long. Regarding spec-sheets, all three bikes are similar in power output, but the Honda is the heaviest — especially if DCT equipped — at 556 lbs.

Review: In Adventure Sports trim, Honda has taken an already stellar bike and made it better. The improved suspension negates the previous model’s downsides when it comes to performance on asphalt. And, despite my qualms with the bigger tank’s shape when standing, the ergonomics of the bike are more comfortable overall. Both the bars and the seat are raised over an inch which, so if you’re long-legged like I am, it makes the saddle that much more comfortable for longer stints.

Lean the Twin hard into a corner, and it’ll respond with confidence and poise. Spot your apex and exit under a fistful of throttle and the sound is simply demonic. There is a reason 600cc sports bikes are losing market share — in the right hands these upright, do-it-all bikes can be just as fast through a canyon and be comfortable too. There is plenty of room to move around on the bike to nail an apex, but, at the same time, just as much to relieve wiggle room some to relax sore muscles after miles of monotonous slab. Once off the beaten path, the adaptable suspension soaked up everything our fire-road route could throw at it.

Even though it has put on a few pounds, the bike still carries its weight exceptionally well. A forward-situated, low center of gravity offers nimble control which makes the bike easy to reign in. Credit goes to Honda’s engineers for building a motor so smooth and compact: the oil pump resides in the crankcase, the water pump hides in the clutch case and the balancer shafts serve double duty by driving both those vital bits. To help offset some of its heft, Honda also opted for a lithium-ion battery which shaves a full 5 lbs from the total weight.

Verdict: If you’re looking for a middleweight adventure bike, the Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports is an excellent choice. Where it truly sets itself apart though is the DCT transmission. With the switch to a silky smooth ride-by-wire throttle and the updates to the electronic rider aids it simply performs better than it should. Possibly better than I could, even with a clutch and foot shifter. It takes the inconvenience of stalling out of the riding equation, which can be both handy on rough roads and in commuter traffic. If you have limited dirt experience and you’re looking at joining the ranks of ADV riders, a DCT-equipped Africa Twin Adventure Sports would be a wise bike to invest in. If you’re a veteran thrasher looking for a new bike to shred the gnar, a manual transmission is available.

What Others Are Saying:

“The balance between power and weight is the Africa Twin’s secret, then and now. The renewed machine has proved itself a modern-day all-rounder, popular with casual tourers and off-road adventurers alike” — Michael Le Pard, Total Motorcycle

“Honda’s latest Dual Clutch Transmission system is also impressive. On dirt roads it quickly feels natural to ride the bike like an automatic, occasionally changing down by pressing a button with the left thumb, rather than using a bulky boot on the gear lever.” — Roland Brown, Cycle World

“Some love it, others don’t and I got to try both the DCT model and manual version on the launch. Even though I’m a stickler for the more traditional gearbox and foot-operated change, I am a fan of the DCT because of the options it presents depending on the type of ride or even mood. ” — Michael Mann Bennetts

Specs:
Engine: 998cc, parallel twin
Transmission: six-speed Automatic DCT
Horsepower: 94 hp
Torque: 73 ft-lbs
Weight: 555.8 lbs
Price as tested: $15,699
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