“Putting the adventure back in touring,” said David.
“The Africa Twin’s competence extends beyond off-roading.”
“Traction control system is especially well-calibrated for off-roading.”
“The engine – such a friendly, tractable beast off-road – boasts only 94 horsepower!”
As bikers love to pontificate – sometimes a little too much for polite dinner parties – riding any motorcycle is an adventure. Deeming an entire segment of two-wheelers as adventure tourers, therefore, would seem a redundancy. One doesn’t, for instance, bother to distinguish a Ferrari as “fast”.
Nonetheless, just such a distinction does exist, the main premise being that adventure touring need not stop when the pavement does. So where a Gold Wing might fear to traipse – gravel roads, tight trails, Saharan deserts if you’re really ambitious – anyone riding an adventure tourer can continue their exploration over yonder rock-covered hill and mud-strewn dale.
Typically, adventure tourers look like oversized dirt bikes with a few incidental touring comforts thrown in. Powered by large, twin-cylinder engines (better for handling the rigors of high-speed highways than a typical dirt bike’s single-cylinder engine), they also offer fairly substantial fairings and windscreens (again, with the high-speed highway thing, only this time for comfort) to beef up their on-road bona fides.
Both obviously enhance the touring side of the equation, but, unfortunately, up the size of a supposedly off-road motorcycle way beyond anything meant to be motocrossed. Typical dirt bikes weigh between 100 and 130 kilograms, anything more will cause severe muscle strain and/or an impromptu meeting of clavicle and terra firma. A typical adventure tourer will weigh well north of 200 kilos, and those geared more for the touring part of the equation than the adventure portion can be almost as heavy as a traditional touring bike.
So when Honda promotes its new twin 998 cc adventure-oriented Africa Twin as off-road worthy, it’s relative. That said, compared with what now passes as a dirt-friendly adventure bike, the Africa Twin feels positively motocross-ish. Weighing in at only 211 kilograms, the Honda is easier to toss about than, for instance, BMW’s standard-bearing R1200 GS Adventure. The class-leading 2.5-meter turning radius makes trials-type plonking easier. The 90/90-21 front tire, which looks so comically narrow on something that spends at least some of its time on paved roads, is a boon in mud and sand. The footpegs and handlebar are ideally situated for standing up on the pegs, the de facto riding position when one is venturing off-road. Indeed, unlike the vast majority of bikes in this segment whose off-road intent is more form than function, the further off the beaten path you plan on exploring, the more the Africa Twin distinguishes itself.
There are compromises, of course. The engine, such a friendly, tractable beast off-road, boasts only 94 horsepower. While that’s more than enough power for two-up highway cruising (unlike similarly styled, but less off-road worthy adventurers like the 160 horsepower KTM 1290 Super Adventurer), throttle-only power wheelies are beyond the Africa Twin’s purview; the Honda conspicuously eschewing tire-smoking performance on the street for linear, low-end torque in the dirt.
That’s not to say that the Africa Twin isn’t sophisticated. Its traction control system is especially well-calibrated for off-roading. Flip the handle bar toggle to its first (most liberal position) setting and let the traction nanny determine the best combination of wheelspin and grunt to scale even the steepest and muddiest of inclines.
Then there’s the Africa Twin’s automated transmission, the most polished rendition of Honda’s automotive-style Dual-Clutch Transmission yet. Though originally designed for on-road use, Honda’s latest DCT may actually be the optimal choice for those with aspirations to mud and bog. Not having to worry about clutch feathering when you’re trying to manhandle a 500 pound gorilla through your 47th mud bog in eight miles is a welcome relief. Indeed, after two days of serious dirt donking, the only detriment I could find to DCT-ing off-road was the inability of the dual clutches to mimic the sensitivity of your clutch hand when you’re tiptoeing through a U-turn on a tight trail; the clutch engages too suddenly to allow a graceful feet-up about-face.
The Africa Twin’s competence extends beyond off-roading. The fairing, for instance, may be off-road minimalist, but it punches a larger hole in the wind than its dimensions suggest. Ditto the windshield. Indeed, the Honda’s optional taller windscreen provided the best turbulence-free still-air envelope I’ve encountered this side of a Gold Wing. The riding position, like most adventure bikes, was extremely comfortable and, though we didn’t get enough time in the saddle to judge the seat’s support, it is fairly broad and flat.
Complaints are few. The instrument cluster is small, its digital displays too tiny to read. The DCT’s up/down shifting toggles are somewhat awkwardly placed; playing with the silly buggers on a twisty backroad will soon cramp your thumb and forefinger. And the DCT is sometimes slow to upshift after spirited acceleration. Other than that, the big CRF is surprisingly complete.
And there’s one last reason to like Honda’s new adventure tourer. Not only is the Africa Twin’s minimalism off-road worthy, but it’s MSRP-friendly too. Africa Twins start at $10,652 USD and even the all-singing, all-dancing DCT version costs but $11,413 USD. Considering how much more adept it is at true adventuring than its competition, that’s quite a bargain.
Pros: Excellent value, off-road performance, excellent dual clutch transmission
Cons: Less power than many of its competitors, no Fancy Dab electronically adjustable suspension systems
Rivals: BMW R1200 GS, Suzuki V-Strom, Aprilia Caponord,
Engine: 94 hp, single overhead camshaft, 998 cc parallel twin
Transmission: 6-speed manual or DCT
Chassis: 211 kg