Test Ride: Honda Africa Twin

Photographs by Kevin Wing

Honda made history in the 1980s when the Japanese manufacturer released the Honda XRV750. Better known by its Africa Twin moniker, the bike was based on the NXR-750, a four-time winner of the 6,000-plus-mile desert race, the Paris-Dakar Rally. But the Africa Twin was never released in North America and production stopped altogether in 2003. Fortunately, that’s changed: A high-tech Africa Twin is back and slated to hit showrooms across the United States in June. We just finished a two-day sneak peek in Moab, Utah, which included riding in rain, sleet, and the high desert sun, completing about 240 miles of on and off-road riding.

The 2016 Africa Twin is known as the CRF1000L and available in Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT) or with a manual clutch. From a riding perspective, the DCT operates much like an automatic transmission: Turn the bike on, put it into gear (by hitting a button underneath the throttle), and go. The bike shifts for you. Initially, most will instinctively reach for the clutch lever that doesn’t exist. Instead, there’s an emergency brake smartly placed out of the rider’s grasp.

Although it takes a few miles to get used to, the DCT shifts admirably. Gone are the thunking noises of earlier iterations of the system. There are four different drive modes, starting at the conservative D and getting progressively more aggressive (quicker downshifts and holding gears at higher RPMs before up-shifting) in S1, S2, and S3. There’s also a gravel mode that offers a more direct throttle feel and lets the rider slide the rear tire. The DCT allows you to “set it and forget it.” Approaching super-technical terrain? Pop it into S3 and don’t worry about your left foot being ready to shift, which is helpful when you’re standing. Stuck in slow traffic or touring? Keep it in D. Want to shift with the click of a button? Put it into manual mode with the click of a button, and you can easily upshift or downshift with a single tap on individual buttons under the throttle.

It’s powered by an all-new liquid-cooled 999cc parallel twin that produces 93.8 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 72.3 lbs-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm. Honda says the engine borrows the four-valve unicam head design from its competition motocross rigs, the CRF250 and CRF450. The company went with the parallel twin design instead of a V-twin for two reasons: to centralize the weight and to keep the engine narrow. By using a 270 phase crank, the parallel twin delivers the traction that’s often associated with a V-twin.

ABS and traction control come standard on both models with physical switches. Riders can turn off the rear-wheel ABS, but the front wheel is always on. Traction control, called Honda Selectable Torque Control, includes three settings (1-3) in addition to an off mode. The lower the number, the rowdier the bike lets you get before kicking in. For example, Level 1 will let you slide the rear wheel a lot before engaging. Level 3, on the other hand, is pretty sober, kicking in almost as soon as it registers traction loss.

The wet weight of DCT is 534 pounds and the manual is 511. The adjustable seat is 34.2 inches and can be lowered .8 inches. A shorter saddle is available from Honda, which will bring seat height to just over 32 inches. The Showa inverted fork provides 8 inches of travel, and the Showa rear shock delivers 8.7 inches. Both feature adjustable compression, rebound damping, and hydraulic adjustable spring preload. And the bike has 9.8 inches of ground clearance.

Should you get one? It should certainly be on your short list if you’re looking for a new adventure bike. Both versatile and great on the dirt, it’s less expensive than the bestselling bike in the world: the BMW 1200GS. The tougher question is for those who are ready to pull the trigger: DCT or standard? We’re waiting until we can get a few more miles on the Africa Twin. The bottom line: You can’t go wrong with either. [$13,699 for DCT, $12,999 for standard; powersports.honda.com]

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