As my previous impression of DCT (in the auto mode) was uninspiring. I was keen to accustom myself to the paddle shifters, traction control/ABS settings etc. "play" with the various "auto" modes; so for this ride, it seemed to me the DCT was the right one to start off on…
The 1000cc parallel twin makes good, very decent power. I started out on the backroads (asphalt) in the auto/soft mode with ABS/traction control on… the engine character was smooth off the bottom, linear, very manageable over the first two thirds of register... then it rounded off. Switching up to the MT/sport modes definitely increase the engine characteristic liveliness… overall it felt good – but it was not a “oh yeah baby” experience… It was all very controlled (electronically) and civilized. I used the phrase “tame” after my first ride on the DCT… and during the first 20 -30 k’s or so of this ride, nothing happened that made me alter that perception.
First impressions – on road:
I’m the first to admit, I am not an asphalt pilot… for me sealed roads are a means to get where the riding starts. That being said I liked the DCT for just that purpose. In auto mode you basically had to turn the throttle, and modulate the brakes as required… the algorithms did the rest. It was well balanced, changed direction nicely and held a line as well as any big dirt tourer I had ridden. I was not pushing the bike by any means (TKC 80’s on the hoops and the bloke with the rego’ papers on my freckle) – but if anything I felt that it “pushed” a little bit in decrease radius curves… but it was a completely new ride to me – so I kept that in mind.
To be honest fiddling with the various sport mode (S1 S2 S3) settings (while on the tarmac) did not seem to make much difference (to me )... I convinced myself that “everything on” was probably the way to go? By the time we got to the first of the gravel roads (sport mode on, ABS on, traction control on) I found myself getting pretty accustomed to it all…
Still, at about the halfway mark (50 km’s) there were a couple of small adjustments I wanted to make. Flip open the tool roll - first up I loosened up the fork clamps and slotted the tubes up 5mm (from the stock flush setting). Also a few clicks more compression damping. Upped the preload on the rear a few turns and a bit more rebound damping… We did the same changes to the tri-color manual also… just to keep everything on the up and up.
Ride on gravel:
Then back at it on more rural gravel roads and some pine forest two tracks (me still on the DCT). It was pretty nice (I thought to myself). I preferred the sports settings; ABS on and traction control on minimum (I think…?) I actually got a bit bamboozled at times with what was what…? The manual says there is something like 80 or so various combinations/permutations when you factor in all the various MT/AT S1 S2 S3 HCT modes and ABS settings.
But anyhow, what I came up with was this; I would let the DCT up-shift and the traction control look after the exits from the corners (wheel spin etc.)… and occasionally the ability to hand tap a downshift manually was nice as I came into the corners (I never really did figure out the engine braking “G”mode thing).
I had been skeptical of the DCT after my first intro ride. That being said, I tried to go into this ride with an open mind… and once I had a chance to get used to it; it worked surprisingly well I thought… far better than I had anticipated. That goes for the job HONDA did on the traction control and ABS as well...
The DCT AT was honestly the first big gravel bike with "rider aids" that I have ridden, that I did not scream to myself... "turf all this electronic shit off immediately!" after 20 minutes. I have never been a fan of ABS (I still ain’t), but during the ride “out” on the DCT, I made a conscious decision to keep it on, in order to see what it does.
It seems that the lab coats are slowly working out the electronic side of all this stuff... or am I just getting old and lazy?
Others who have - or will have the opportunity to ride the DCT version, can make their own judgement... but I still maintain that the DCT Africa Twin feels a bit tame engine/transmission wise. Not bad... not gutless... not inferior... just "Civilized" if you will?
Is that a negative comment? No… well, it’s not meant to be, in any case. In my experience, it was the combination of the “technology” - the DCT transmission, traction control, "rev limiter" and the ABS features - that make riding the (DCT) Africa Twin something a “set and forget” experience. As some have said, it “kinda’ does everything for the rider”… and indeed, HONDA’s marketing PR for the new true adventurer certainly pushes that barrow. I have to say, that the combination of all the electrickery and algorithms, does do a bloody effective job towards achieving that goal. :thumbup
Is it a faster alternative than a manual transmission? No, of that I’m not entirely convinced. But it DOES go a long way towards simplifying the margins of the accelerator/brake/clutch/gear relationship… which for many riders may well translate into an easier bike to control in a variety of road conditions.
That's where I believe HONDA has aimed the AT... especially the DCT. For the large market sector that occupies the cross over zone that covers; adventure riding, road touring or commuter type applications. I believe the DCT is a step to bring the Africa twin and “Adventure riding” into the viewfinders of the "masses".
For mine though… I still preferred the smooth operation and ability to select gears of the 6 speed manual transmission on the Tri-Color version. :nod
The suspension? Thumbs up SHOWA… they got it right. But I’ll get to that a bit more depth in the “offroad” bit… on the road/gravel surfaces during the ride “out” I had no complaints… and things seemed to improve steering wise once I dropped the fork tubes in the clamps 5mm’s.
Anyway, so far – all of the impressions I have shared with you, were obtained during the “dual sport” ride out to the grass track location. For 90% of which I had ridden the DCT version… except for the last 10 km’s or so. Now it was time to test the suspension and handling on some more “off road” like conditions.
OFF ROAD: There are those members of the interweb that will defend the notion that the Africa Twin (and bikes similar in design brief) are not really “off road” bikes per se. Not that I actually disagree with that notion (most of the big gravel tourers are best suited/designed for use on sealed and unsealed roads). The description “dual sport” is also bandied about a fair bit these days (especially in the USA)… and there are those of the opinion, that this is NOT what the AT is are either.
Nonetheless, HONDA have marketed the new “true adventurer” as a long distance adventure bike that can handle sealed tarmac, gravel roads, formed trails and even limited off road excursions. For that reason, I was curious to do exactly that with it… Not full on enduro single track or Romaniac’s type crap, by any means… Just regular off road capabilities and the ability to traverse your average level forest two track or the occasional creek crossing, wooded climb etc.
As I had warmed up to the 6 speed manual on the way in… I decided to stay with the left foot analogue system for my initial blurt around the “grass track”. I know the particular paddock pretty well (has been used by us many times for ride days, special tests etc.) and even though the “layout” was new for this spring, after a lap or two I got to feel pretty comfortable.
Keeping in mind I was on a shiny new 240 kg demo adventure bike, on dual sport tires, I was still well within conservative levels of enthusiasm, but the big girl was taking it all in stride.
Both the front and rear on the CRF1000F was as good as anything I have ridden in terms of showroom standard suspension on a bike of this type… and better than many I’ve ridden that have had aftermarket springs/modifications/valve work performed. The comp/rebound adjustability features actually provided marked effect when adjusted (as opposed to some offerings I’ve experienced in the past… where you can twist knobs to your hearts content – and it don’t seem to make any discernable sort of difference).
After slipping the forks thru 5mm and playing with some clickers/preload… I got a set up that I was pretty impressed with – considering it was show room stock. To put a name on it, suspension-wise I would say that it was better than my original (stock set up 250mm travel) SE 950R, and on par with the re-valved WP equipped 990R Adventure that we had along for the ride. (I took some laps on it as a benchmark/comparison).
Ergonomics/handling wise… standing position… yeah, it all worked pretty nicely - the boingy bits soaked everything up well. A bit bigger foot pegs would have been nice to make the boot soles feel a bit more planted/weight transfer etc., but basically it was a case of point your melon where you wanted to go, use the throttle accordingly and shift your weight a tad… and the AT followed obediently.
I felt the tank/seat junction was still a bit “sit in the horse” 80’s style for my tastes… sometimes into some of the tighter 90 degree and 180 degree corners, I wanted to sit up on the front more (yeah… even on a big behemoth) or on the straight choppy stuff, get my ass over the back a bit further… and from that perspective I definitely felt more comfortable on the “utilitarian” 990R cockpit.
TIRES: All things considered; the TKC 80 tires fitted to the HONDA’s did an admirable job of “dual sport” duty (road/trail)… but the Bridgestone Grippy’s that the KTM had on were no question better suited to the grass track conditions. So to be fair, some of the confidence I experience in the turns on the 990 came from the traction the tread pattern offered, that I will admit.
On the road during the morning ride, I could not fault the brakes on the DCT version… with ABS on or off. Nice feel, good modulation… but keeping in mind we were just semi-dawdling along and I am no Randy Mamola.
In the gravel I was surprised how (little) I noticed the ABS. And what I mean by that is; I never really felt that it got me into (or out of) trouble, for that matter. Once again, it was not race pace… but we were not being too slack either. One fingertip to brush off speed on the front occasionally… two when pulling up for real… the rear brake was nice and light to touch under the right toe – no drama’s.
When we got to the grass test track, I elected to turn the ABS “off”… because that’s what I felt more confident and comfortable with – plain and simple.
There was still one thing regards the brakes that stuckin my mind though; the "hand brake" on the DCT version. To my mind (and I thought about it since my first “walk around” a couple weeks back) It just seems like a few kilos of extra ballast and complexity.
The park brake is a cable operated rear disc caliper (in addition to the conventional foot operated hydraulic/ABS rear disc brake) that is operated by a special “hand lever” on the left side of the bars (where the clutch would be on a normal manual transmission bike). The park brakes caliper is on the forward UNDERSIDE of the rear disc... right where a rock can snot it... :loco
From a practical, function perspective, it seems redundant to me - serves no purpose - other than a park brake (the number of times you need that on a bike?). If I were to consider a DCT for myself, I WOULD look at the possibility to ditch the cable operated park brake and disc assembly and fit a conventional hydraulic brake perch/lever to the left handlebar and replace the foot operated brake/master cylinder… THEN (if deemed essential) fit a manual “toggle” device to the hand lever, in order to engage the park brake function (on hills etc.) if need be.
Changing it up:
After an hour or so on and off “playing/swapping” between the DCT and manual versions of the AT on the special test; it was time to change things up a bit. The paparazzi were done shutter bugging and wanted to go back to town… The “owner” wanted to bail as well… leaving a vacant seat for one of his workshop minions to take over.
With the “owners” approval, we went about covering up as much of the two AT’s “shiny” bits with the silver duct tape in the paparazzi’s rations box, and the evil plan to get “rowdy” with the twins during the afternoon…
After the others disappeared, we decided to rough house for a bit more on the grass track… I went back out on the DCT… with the intention to give the “auto” and “traction control” features a pizzling in sport mode.
Again… it impressed me just how well it did work – to be honest. At anything up to what I would call “75% up it” the DCT/auto/traction control did a civilized job of taking care of everything, and left the rider with the role of throttle/brake and steering. Once you got past the “80%” threshold though, there were some interesting things that occurred occasionally.
For example, give the DCT the beans coming out of a slick, 180 degree opening corner. Here comes the wheelspin (in what would be 2nd or 3rd) and the traction control/rev limiter steps in - creating (what to me was) an unusual sort of momentary “limbo” where it felt it didn’t really know what to do. Normally (on a manual) I would short shift up a gear in the meaty part of the torque (and the AT does have a broad torque curve no question) and keep everything tootling along. The DCT was far from the “twist the throttle and the computer will do everything for you” solution that the PR sheets promote… but it is fair to say that type of “gusto” is possibly outside the 80% “comfort zone” design brief that the DCT engineers had in mind when working out their algorithms? :y0!
After a while of dicking around - I found that by feathering the throttle in the slicker parts (not just giving it the beans) that I could achieve a sort of electronic “DCT short shift”; where the computer would more easily account for the wheel spin/upshift situation. Still not like a manual “short shift”.
I also found the DCT/rev limiter/traction control had an effect over the ability to just “lighten” the front end when going a bit quicker in choppy going. The suspension was up to the task, no worries… but the engine/traction control did not afford the kind of 3rd/4th/5th gear “lofting ability” that I was accustomed to. A matter of getting used to the AT’s power delivery… adapting ones riding style to suit…? Yeah possibly… but it got back to the “tame/civilized” sensation that I mentioned upon my first introductory ride… and as I said then, I think I am a little more attracted to the uncivilized end of the scale… to that end the older LC8 models have always appealed to me.
By way of comparison (to the DCT), I went out on the 6 speed manual version immediately after, and with exactly the same sort of throttle application/approach (short shifting) the manual Africa twin rewarded me with the type of shifting/acceleration that I anticipated. It worked great.
It was while “thumping along” in the 80 % mode that I started to explore the limits of the standard boingers… (we were not jumping them) but now I managed to bottom the front and rear in some of the quicker choppier straights – especially the braking bumps. I now had the compression damping on the front all the way up – it coped well, but was at the limit of its comfort zone.
That being said – for a stock standard offering, I was very impressed. Out back, I discovered there was a “knock” when the going got spirited… I’d read elsewhere various reports of other folks having experienced/heard similar… was it the center stand? (none fitted on either of the two AT-s I rode) Was it the helmet lock? (nope, not in this case). Chainslap? (in some instances could have been). But as far as I could tell, it was when the rear shock “topped out” on full extension over the choppy going. On the manual version I had almost full rebound damp and the pre-load wound well up – and that eliminated all but the worst “thuds”… so I anticipate for those that “up the pace” in more advanced terrain, to get the manual out and pay some attention to “adjustment” features of the shock absorber. What I could not really work out if the “thunk” was shock internal, or the linkage topping out. Either way – some attention to “set up” at the heavier end of the damping settings, will be in order if you are exploring the “spirited” end of the riding scale.
Durability testing. (dickhead hit's the deck) :wave
A few on here had been discussing the “crash proofed-ness” of the new AT… Well, while exploring the “spirited” end of the riding scale, yours truly had the honor of giving the manual version a taste of terra firma. I was negotiating one particularly rutted 3rd gear left hand corner – a bit too enthusiastically… when I got the front cross rutted, and high sided myself onto my right ear, in some soft loamy earth. :augie
Despite the silver tape treatment, tri color ended up with a golf ball sized ding in the right hand upper edge of the fuel tank (courtesy of a cricket ball sized smooth stone), as well as a big wad of earth and grass in the exhaust can heat shield, and some minor turf marks. Other than that the right hand front fork guard and fender copped a bit of a hiding (it needed some cable tie and duct tape surgery)… but other than that – all faired ok. Although it is fair to say, that the ground conditions were as forgiving as one is ever gonna’ get “off road”. :norton
By this time (we’d been at the grass test site almost three hours), I was thinking that I might have inflicted enough carnage on my generous friends two “loaner” AT’s… and we still had the 100 km dual sport route to get back to town as well. But before setting off, there was one thing I want to do as a comparative baseline… and that was take the Adventure 990R for a few laps of the test track.
Suspension wise, there was not much in it… power wise, the manual AT was progressive/more controllable over the first half/two thirds throttle… although the KTM had more snap, and I felt rewarded the “spirited” end of the riding scale better. In the corners, and on transition to standing, I definitely felt more at home with the KTM ergo’s, it also gave more confidence when cornering (both seating position and steering precision)… but again I credit a fair amount of this to the tires possibly.
Overall for the conditions that were encountered, I preferred the 990 Adventure to the AT manual (but not by as much as I’d thought)… the DCT on the grass track special test…? Ummmm… not so much.
The ride back to town was pretty much a mirror revers of the morning’s route. We used the opportunity to switch back and forth a little more freely (every 20 km’s or so) now that were more familiar with the two Africa Twins. I tried to compare in my head – the manual AT, with the 990 Adv., and at the same time evaluate the DCT as the automatic alternative.
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Snowflake's final straw:
What I come up with was this… for me, the CRF1000F manual/ABS version could well be a bike that I might think of owning… But in order to be really interesting (for me), I would probably want the “marathon” style version that we’ve seen photos of; With the slimmer exhaust, bash plate and engine protection etc. I would put a high motard style front guard on it and some CRF fork protectors. I was not real happy with the AT’s seat/tank ergo’s for offroad/gravel style work – so a new saddle and measures to piss off the wide luggage rack etc. in order to slim the Oprah Winfrey tail section down a bit, would involve some cosmetic surgery of a substantial nature…
… and you know what, :hmmmmm for all that work – there is already a bike that is closer to my design brief… for that purpose.
As far as the DCT version is concerned… it worked far better than I had expected. Except for the parking brake item… there was no glaring aspect that I saw as a major “fail”. As a gravel touring alternative, with commuter application and user friendly transmission – a “set and forget” back roads cruiser…? Yeah it was a nice thing. In another ten years, that could well be the kind of bike this grey beard would be interested in… and by that time the DCT transmission will be a known quantity that has gotten over the initial “teething problems” and proven itself…
(or perhaps not?) If, in that case, it will then have gone the way of another great HONDA “game changer”… the 23” front wheel.