La full review
Honda claim the new CRF1000L Africa Twin offers true adventure with the comfort of a tourer and the agility of a commuter and the ability to make dirt roads a joy. All we know is the legendary Africa Twin name is back, and we've ridden it in South Africa. Here's our full review and test.
HONDA are properly serious about the new CRF1000L Africa Twin being a proper adventure bike. So much so that within ten miles of getting on the stunning new older brother to the original Africa Twin, that we were blasting down a fast South African gravel road at 70mph. And yes, South Africa. Where else could you launch to the world’s press Honda’s all-new adventure bike?
In near 40-degree heat and with standard Dunlop Trailmax tyres (complete with tubes) on and the standard manual transmission bike doing the work, instead of the fancier and more expensive DCT model which we’ll come to later, the bike was immediately impressive. All big roosting sideways drifts and the supple fully-adjustable conventional suspension soaking up the gravel and sandy roads.
You’ve probably seen and heard so much about Honda’s True Adventure concept in the last 12 months that you’re tired of it. Don’t be. First shown as the True Adventure concept at EICMA in Milan last year, the Africa Twin is now ready to go on sale. It’s quite a bike. They say True Adventure, and Honda are true to their words. This is one of the most impressive big adventure bikes you could ever want to ride off-road. It took three and half years from the initial idea of bringing back the much-loved Africa Twin, to production, but every one of those hard-earned months has been worth it.
Where some big adventure bikes feel a bit unwieldy and like they’re leading you up the gravel path, when off-road, the CRF1000L Africa Twin is a bonafide impressive adventure bike from the word go.
And that’s in the next generation DCT twin clutch transmission or in manual, old school, foot on a gear lever mode.
But this is Africa, so today we were briefed to watch out for the baboons, occasional Wildebeest and random wild tortoises. If you ever wanted to test the levels of ABS control off-road, a baboon running out in front of you on a gravel road will do it. It doesn’t get any more ‘adventure’ than that.
It might share the name with the original and some of its styling DNA of the 57bhp Honda XRV650 of 1988, and the later 1990 XRV750 Africa Twin which made 61bhp, but they are totally different machines.
The new CRF1000L Africa Twin combines the Africa Twin heritage and style cues but uses the best of Honda’s current technical philosophy. So there are two bikes. One at £11,299 using a DCT automatic gearbox with a mesmerising 80 possible mode settings from traction control and power delivery to levels of gear selection and hill control. And the second, more basic but blindingly good manual bike coming in to the UK at £10,499.
The price, and the spec of the 93.8bhp inline twin cylinder motor and it’s fancy Unicam system and 270 degree crank, puts the new Africa Twin right in the middle of bikes like the R1200GS and the F800GS. Both versions of the Africa Twin use the same CRF450 Rally bike inspired frame design and that fluid, linear twin cylinder oversquare motor. It’s no surprise that the bike’s chief designer, Italian Maurizio Carbonara, said the bike’s styling combines CRF Rally bikes and the original Africa Twin inspired lines.
It’s 1000cc for a reason. One because it’s the headline halo bike of Honda’s adventure range which includes the NC750X, the CB500X and the Crosstourer and Crossrunner, and two because it should make buyers question if they really need a 1200, or would a 1000cc do just fine? And if you’re looking to buy an 800 like the aforementioned BMW, or Triumph’s Tiger 800, then maybe a 1000 could be on the cards for a bit more dollar. It’s cleverly pitched.
Compared to a BMW R1200GS which makes around 125bhp, the Honda has rightfully been criticised for being under powered. A KTM 1190 Adventure making around 150bhp would smoke it. But that’s not the point. It slots neatly in the middle somewhere. And it can ride anywhere, just as Honda intended. You want escape? You want an Africa Twin.
Compared to an 800 there’s a load more torque, a load more bottom end and plenty of grunt, both on the DCT bike and the ABS manual bike.
The dual-clutch transmission is immediately obvious because the engine case sticks out slightly further, and there’s no clutch lever. Just a parking brake in its place, tucked away behind the handguards.
To use the DCT you simply start the bike, push the right-hand button into D for drive, or S for Sport and engage one of the three new sport settings. S1 is the entry-level to sports mode, then there’s S2 which hangs on to gears longer, and S3 which is used for more extreme sports riding and hangs onto gears till the redline.
Add in a G button for improved connection with the bike and the throttle when off-road, and the hill climb and descent technology which changes gear depending on the ascent or incline. We haven’t had much chance to use the G switch yet, but will get the chance again tomorrow on some more serious off-road sections.
Today we hit loads of fast, gravelly fire road sections on both the DCT and the standard ABS bike and were impressed. Seriously impressed.
Off-road the motor revs so flat and the delivery of it is so linear that it manages to feel connected to the rear tyre and yet find grip in a way no other big adventure bike can. There’s no big peaks so if it gets sideways on gravel then it just sorts itself out with the torque curve. And that’s without traction control on, Switch that on and at level 3 the bike could be ridden on ice and not slide, on level two it intervenes reasonably early, and on level one you can feel like a drift king. You know it’s working but it never gets in the way. In the manual bike it hangs in there until you decide to shift gears.
On the DCT bike it shifts seamlessly through the box, probably better than most humans can, so there’s no change in weight transfer. It just shifts, the number on the dash changes and the engine note changes. You can adjust it manually by using the forefinger and thumb buttons for + and – if you want to manually override. There’s even the option of a foot lever which is in the conventional gear lever place near your left foot, but acts as a switch, rather than physically moving cogs.
But it’s on-the-road where the new Africa Twin will be spending most of its life.
In the same way a Range Rover owner wants to know that if they fancied driving to the top of Mount Snowdon they could, it’s the same deal for the Africa Twin. Most people will never take a £10,000+ motorcycle off-road any more than a gravel car park. But you could. And it does do it. Impressively so.
Adventure bikes are all things to all men, so one moment they need enough ground clearance to ride off-road, the next they’re two-up with a pillion going touring. They need to be ridden fast occasionally and do the regular commute. So it’s all credit to Honda they’ve managed to pull of such an accomplished bike that ticks all the boxes.
On the road the engine is smooth, the power delivery creamy. There’s not huge amounts of excitement. No big power steps, it’s just always there when you want it and it sounds really good for a bike that has to meet strict Euro 4 emissions and noise laws. But that hasn’t stopped me wanting one. It’s so incredibly capable.
Honda describe the exhaust noise as an angry CRF450. I’d say it’s more like a slightly miffed CRF450 with a tea towel down its exhaust, but it sounds good all the same.
Around town the manual bike is smooth and has plenty of chug, no chain lash and is really well-balanced at low-speed.
The DCT bike is as easy to ride around town in ‘D’ (for drive) as a dodgem car at the fair. Just twist and go. At first it feels complicated. Like there are too many buttons and switches, but it soon becomes second nature. Only when riding really fast did it take some getting used too. On the way into corners, hard on the brakes I felt like I needed to switch manually down to third gear to give some more engine braking and get it on its nose, before the bike realised I wanted to be in second. It’s a small detail and one that you would soon adapt too. Test Project Leader Tetsuya Kudo, one of the men behind bikes like the RC30 and the CB1000R, tells me the DCT bike weighs 10kg more and this affects the weight bias on the front slightly, but not so much that I could notice.
In touring type riding, the DCT bike is a revelation. It gives you mental space to read the road, take in the spectacular mountain scenery and not have to think very hard about the bike at all.
As you might expect for a bike that’s all things to all men and fulfils the routing role perfectly, the riding position is ultra-comfortable. You sit very upright with big wide bars and somehow it feels reminiscent of the original Africa Twin’s riding position, a bike I was a big fan of in the nineties right up until it finished production in 2003.
Everything is easy. It all works and once out of town there’s enough stomp to make it entertaining. It’s not a powerhouse but there’s just enough go. Ride it in a leisurely touring fashion at it’s doing around 70mph at 4000rpm, though you’d need to shift down to overtake something at that speed. But it’s relaxed, smooth and the kind of bike you can do a lot of miles on. And more importantly, it feels right. There’s a subtle pulse to the engine and a good feeling from the throttle which feels direct.
I love the design of the bike, It’s aggressive looking, hints just enough at Dakar bikes, and the LED lights on the DCT bike give it a really distinct face when you see it on-the-road.
Get it on to a twisty road and Honda’s claims of agility come true. The 21-inch front wheel means it’s more off-road biased than a BMW R1200GS with its 19-inch front and 17-inch rear, but it works on the road too.
Dual-purpose Dunlop Trailmax tyres give decent lean angles and feel, even in 40-degree heat when the road surface if melting. Though when riding really fast you could feel the 21-inch front almost tucking when you hit some oscillations in a corner a couple of times. Our guide, a local rider, says this is due to the road surface and not the bike. I take his word for it, But it did happen to a few British journalists who ride fast.
At the rear is an 18-inch which means plenty of proper knobble tyre options are available. I guess the tuck at the front when on the limit, is a warning not to over ride the bike, or try and ride it like a sports bike and shows one of the bike’s few compromises. It’s not easy being everything to every man.
On smoother, grippier roads it was never a problem and very impressive at goon riding. At 99 per cent, the bike can be hustled quickly. And it’s incredibly stable too. Again, it’s something when a bike is this agile and flickable on a tight and twisty road, yet so stable at high speed with a 43 degree steering head angle.
The motor performs best when kept above 5000rpm and running it up to around 7500rpm for maximum power.
Get it in the sweet spot and it will rev-on so you can blast between second and third gear corners using the bike agility to get it stuck in on the brakes and turned fast. The DCT in S3 setting holds gears nicely between corners too, letting you redline it before rolling off for the next tight bend. It’s not perfect but it’s very impressive and no doubt what the next generation of riders will be after. Something like 50 per cent of the nine bikes in Honda’s range with DCT available are now ordered with the system on.
The traction control is best dialled down to its lowest level at number one where you never know it’s there. It’s easy to adjust with your finger on what we traditionally know as the headlight flasher switch.
The ABS is perfectly in tune with the bike, it rarely comes in and works well with just the occasional tiny squeak from the rear tyre if you’re trying hard on the way in. It’s exactly what you need when riding on some of the world’s most spectacular roads with sheer drops either side and massive cliff-drops if you get it wrong.
Remarkably, and despite that enormous long travel suspension with 230mm at the front and 220mm of travel at the rear, it never feels like it’s pitching forwards and back when you ride it quickly. That’s quite some feat.
The Showa 43mm upside down front forks and Showa rear shock are all fully-adjustable, and work great and the chassis set-up is impressive in that it can hustle fast, yet has plenty of feel and control off-road. The chassis man needs a gold star. It may not have the option of semi-active suspension but it doesn’t need it either.
All-round Honda have made a seriously capable adventure bike that ticks all the boxes of anything you’d ever want from an adventure bike. It’s well-made, looks right on trend with its Dakar Rally bike inspired-looks and rides well on and off-road. At this price, and this quality you’d be hard pushed to recommend anything else. The Africa Twin is back. And in spectacular, highly competent fashion. If you want an adventure bike that can take the rough with the smooth and bring a smile to your face every time you ride, there’s a new option. And it has a Honda badge on the tank.
There are so many adventure bikes we could have listed, including the new Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro, and Triumph’s new Explorer range, and not forgetting the Yamaha XTZ1200 Super Tenere. But here are what we think will be the Africa Twin’s most direct rivals. We’ll hopefully bring you a full group test of all the big adventure bikes when we can get them all together.
Price: £12,100 otr
Engine: Air/liquid-cooled four-stroke boxer twin. 1170cc
Wet Weight: 238kg
Tank size: 20 litres
Our verdict: The king of all adventure bikes still manages to cut that fine line between being a brilliant sports tourer and a bike that can really tackle off-road. It’s hard to beat as tens of thousands of UK buyers will testify.
KTM 1050 Adventure
Engine: Liquid-cooled 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, 75° V
Dry Weight: 212kg
Tank size: 23 litres
Our verdict: Gutsy engine defies its specs and it’s fun to ride, the 1050 Adventure also matches the Africa Twin on price. Can it do off-road? Well, yes, kind of, it’s a KTM after all, a brand built on its off-road heritage.
We're at the world launch of the new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin in Cape Town, South Africa. The bike reignites the passion of the original XRV750 Africa Twin, offering an adventure bike that's as happy on road as on dirt.
The all-new bike features a parallel twin four-stroke 998cc motor with the option of Honda's DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) and the option of ABS. It makes 93.8bhp and follows on from the iconic XRV750 Africa Twin of the eighties and nineties. That bike was a legend, and Honda are hoping the new one can carry on that mantle.
The new CRF1000L naturally goes up against the best from KTM and BMW, but with a slightly different slant. They're a slightly different price too. Two variants of the latest incarnation of Honda’s legendary adventure bike will be available, starting at £10,499 for the ABS model with a Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) version also available, coming in at £11,299. To give you a comparison, the BMW R1200GS costs £12,100 on-the-road. KTM's 1050 Adventure costs £10,999, although some deals are available at the moment at £9499.
Honda claim the new Africa Twin is capable of 'True Adventure' hence the launch in Africa, including a day off-road. But say it's also happy commuting to work, or going on tour.
We've ridden it. Here's our man Marc Potter's first impressions.
He said: "The engine is strong enough, it only makes around 94 horse power but its really torquey and it makes a great noise when you start to rev it. It may not be as powerful as something like a (BMW R1200) GS but this feels like a very different bike. It's narrow to sit on, you can feel it's got a really wide shoulder at the front and the wind protection is good. We've only covered around 40 miles so far so it's early days yet.
In terms of the handling, its got a 21" front wheel but it feels really agile and stable. Even in fast sweeping corners it still feels good. It's not the most powerful thing but it feels like a really well put together package and at this price it's going to be really hard to beat.
we’ve just ridden 100km/h fire trails/dirt roads and you can feel the suspension is reasonably firmly sprung but does a great job at dealing with the bumps on the fire trails.
The chassis feels great off-road and feels as though you can cover the dusty, slippery roads quickly where the 21” front wheel comes into it own. But more impressive is the engine and even with the traction control off, it can still find incredible amounts of grip on a dual-purpose road tyre.
Even with th3 TC on its lowest setting (no.1) you can get some big hero power slides yet the bike keeps it in check. I’ve been riding the manual bike this morning and will have a go on the DCT bike later."
Une partie faite d'interview
We caught up with Nick Campolucci, Head of Bikes at Honda UK, and John Hensman, who rode the Africa Twin off-road in Morocco for ten days while filming Honda’s promotional videos, to find out a bit more about the bike…
Why was it important for Honda to bring back the Africa Twin?
Campolucci: “We’ve been bringing out adventure-type models for the last five or six years now, with the 500s, 750s, 800s etc so we wanted something that actually does off-road properly. The Africa Twin is 70% off-road biased, harking back to some of the core values as to why Honda built the original 650 and 750s to begin with and why they went racing.
“We needed to almost finish the range - the icing on the cake. People are now recognising that Honda has an adventure range and we needed that jewel in the crown to say ‘here is the bike that can really do it’. From 500 to 1200, we’ve now got a full adventure range and this 1000cc bike sits right in there as the model that can do everything anyone wants to do off-road.
“The Fireblade used to be that iconic Halo product, we’ve now seen the sports bike market shrink by 80% in the last decade but adventure bikes have grown. We needed a halo product in this sector to say, ‘here is the full range of bikes’. Just like we have the CBR125, 500, 600 and 1000 we’ve now got X versions of the 500, 750, 800 and now we’ve got this."
Who do you expect will buy the bike?
Campolucci: “The age profile in the UK market is not great. It’s getting on a bit. You’re looking at 45+ now for a big enough chunk of licence holders with disposable income. We all know what they’re riding! For us, that’s the target market. Those guys are getting older and this bike is 40 odd kilos lighter than some of its rivals. This is a bit lighter, a bit more manoeuvrable. Customers aren’t concerned when they stop and put their foot down on a cambered road. There’s no way they are going to be able to pick up a VFR1200X or a GS if it goes down whereas at least with this they stand a chance.”
Will people actually use it off-road?
Campolucci: “Honestly, we know most people aren’t going to ride the bike off-road, but it’s like having a Range Rover, you might bump it up the kerb at Tescos or Sainsburies but at least you know what it can do.
“Having said that, at our customer pre-event, lots of people were asking about tyre choices so I think there is a genuine interest to stick some knobblies on it and go off road.”
How does it perform off-road?
Hensman: “We rode in really severe conditions, really deep sand, quite rocky terrain as well. It’s 70% off-road focused. I ride a CRF520R, full motocross bike, and we were riding the Africa Twin just like I’d ride that, launching off sand dunes three metres in the air. The capabilities of the bike are amazing. We were in Morocco for ten days in 50 degrees heat and didn’t have any problems on the technical side. We rode them in completely standard trim and fair play, it’s superb.
“We rode both models, standard and DCT. I preferred the DCT in that terrain, especially the G mode button. On occasion we had the bikes almost up to the axel in deep sand, and it was quite a challenge using the clutch to get it out but on DCT with G button it puts it into direct drive and all you have to worry about is keeping the bike upright, it just drove itself out. It was a real surprise for me.”
It’s almost 30bhp down on a BMW GS Adventure, is it underpowered?
Hensman: “We’ve got 94bhp, 98Nm of torque. There was no area where I felt it was under powered or under performing. The torque and drive, right from the word go, in real severe terrains was incredible even on quite tough inclines. One feature it’s got is hill detection, and that works really well. On a severe incline it retains the gear, retained the rev range and just drove up. The other good thing, is on the decline it recognises you’re going down hill so automatically drops a gear and gives you some great engine braking.”