THE 2016 HONDA CRF1000L AFRICA TWIN
The highly anticipated release of the all-new Honda Africa Twin had the interwebs buzzing. Adding to the fever, there are two Africa Twin models to choose from. The manual shifting Africa Twin retails for $12,999 while the most enigmatic, the DCT (dual clutch transmission) model goes for $13,999. UpShift spent a full day and a few hundred miles on the DCT Africa Twin, logging miles on a wide array of terrain. The only change from stock was the use of dirt worthy Continental TCK 80 tires.
The Africa Twin isn’t just a modified Honda street bike model made to look like it can handle some mellow dirt roads. Honda drew inspiration from their CRF-R/X lines to create a dirt oriented adventure bike. Again, this is not just a street minded, slightly dirt capable adventure bike, it is the real deal, get dirty and explore off-road capable machine with a 21” front wheel and an 18” rear wheel. Honda claims a curb weight of 534 pounds, making it lighter, narrower and more compact than it’s 1200cc competitors.
LESS IS MORE
The 998cc parallel twin engine uses a single cam, four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder. Controlling the power and how it is delivered is a lot of technology, made to make your life as a rider more enjoyable. Honda doesn’t call it traction control, rather torque control and the Africa Twin has three different levels, adjustable on the fly. Setting three won’t let the wheel spin at all and we felt it activate even under hard acceleration on the street. Setting two limits rear wheel spin substantially and won’t let you push the rear end out on dirt. Setting one is nice for drifting in the dirt and is all around good management of traction off-road. Turning off the torque control completely is ideal for deep sand riding and getting big power slides.
Honda didn’t go after the massive horsepower numbers of the KTM 1190 and BMW 1200 GS and after a few hundred miles on the Africa Twin it is quite evident they didn’t need to. The delivery from the CRF1000L is linear and completely usable. On the asphalt this doesn’t translate into mind-blowing excitement, but in the dirt it is pure bliss. The torque is strong right off idle without so much power that the tire spins up uncontrollably. Big drifting power slides are a easy thanks to the engines tractable nature. Wheelies, especially on the DCT without a clutch to stab, are not easy and require careful timing. Granted, full size adventure bikes aren’t always the easiest to wheelie anyway.
Gravel mode, chosen by pushing the G button on the dash, simply engages the clutches quicker for riders who want more response from the rear wheel off-road. We played with it a little, preferring to leave it off most of the time.
IT’S ALL AUTOMATIC
It is more than a little strange to ride a motorcycle without a clutch lever or a shift lever. Our initial thoughts were that an automatic adventure bike is kind of silly. That soon faded and then completely vanished as our day progressed aboard the DCT. The dual clutch transmission adds an additional 23 pounds, but that added weight is well worth it, especially off-road, where the DCT is more appealing than it is on the street. The DCT does a pretty good job around town and touring, taking a step out of the riding process we thought we’d miss. We didn’t. Through the mountain roads as the speeds and aggressiveness of the turns increased, the DCT did a good job of keeping up with the level of riding, using a multitude of sensors to adjust shift points to keep the engine in the heart of the power. For those really aggressive riders who feel automatic transmission doesn’t keep up on shifts, it is easy to override the computer and use the shift buttons on the left grip. They are like paddle shifters on a modern sports car. It is also easy to chose 100% manual mode, requiring the use of the push button shifters.
The DCT shift points also depend on the drive mode selected. In normal D mode the automatic transmission shifts quickly at low rpm through the gears. This is fine for mellow riding but selecting one of the three S modes increases the shift points, keeping the engine higher in the rpms. S3 is the most aggressive drive mode and when not using the manual mode and shifting for ourselves, we chose to leave the Africa Twin in S3 mode.
The only time I longed for the classic clutch was in very slow speed situations, near walking speeds or even slower where I would normally semi engage a clutch, feeding consistent power to the rear wheel no matter what the engine rpm might be. With the DCT, at slow speeds when barely moving fast enough to balance, the on/off of the throttle and engagement of the automatic transmission at engine idle creates a jerky delivery. The fix is to drag the brakes as you apply the throttle very carefully, creating a smooth off idle power when creeping along. It isn’t a deal breaker for the DCT, but is the one major complaint when compared to a standard setup.
True adventure riding means a lot of time off the asphalt and while street comfort is nice, having more ability in the dirt is most important for the true adventure enthusiast. On the road the Africa Twin isn’t extra exciting and cruises along just fine with good aerodynamics and a windshield that does a good job of deflecting air. There will be plenty of riders who enjoy touring on the Africa Twin but there will be more who love riding it where it truly shines, off-road.
Make no mistake about it, the Africa Twin is a full size adventure machine. A low seat height (33.5 inches in the lower of two positions) means it doesn’t feel nearly as overwhelming as a KTM 1190 or a BMW 1200. The engine placement and Honda’s focus on mass centralization mean the CRF1000L feels much more nimble than it looks. Turning around on tight roads or simply coming to a stop on uneven ground is stress free and easy. The lower seat height means less distance to the foot pegs, but the overall ride doesn’t feel cramped. As standard feature the seat has two height adjustments and is easily and quickly changed without tools.
The Showa suspension is made for off-road with 9-inches of travel up front and 8.6 inches of wheel travel out back. The CRF1000L stays straight over rough ground and gives confidence off-road like no other adventure bike. The initial travel is plush and flows into the mid-stroke nicely. What impressed us the most was the suspension’s bottoming resistance, especially when you find yourself smashing through a big hit unexpectedly. With the Africa Twin’s love for off-road, getting aggressive in the dirt happens very quick, leading to moments in which you are reminded that indeed, it is still a full sized adventure machine. Tons of ground clearance is capped by a substantial aluminum skid plate, which protects the exhaust pipes nicely. The abundant clearance is another factor in allowing riders to take the Africa Twin on roads and trails not normally considered on other adventure bikes.
Bringing the CRF1000L to a stop comes easy thanks to ABS braking front and back. The ABS can be turned off with a push of the button, but it only turns off the rear wheel. For riding on dirt, having the ability to lock up the rear wheel is essential. Some riders may complain that you can’t turn off the front ABS. No complaints here. The five gallon gas tank is good for at least 200 miles, about average for an adventure machine.
The Africa Twin sort of falls within its own category. When it comes to the adventure market, it is 200cc’s down on the KTM 1190 and BMW GS 1200 and 200ccs up on the BMW F800GS and Triumph Tiger 800 XCA. The Suzuki V strom and the Yamaha Tenere nearly match the Africa Twin on displacement but are nowhere near as dirt worthy. It isn’t as brutally fast as the KTM 1190 and 1200GS but it is more compact, lighter and much more nimble than both while exhibiting excellent off-road capabilities, better than either of the bigger machines. You would be hard pressed to find another full sized adventure bike that is as worthy for life off road.
Whether it’s long distance touring on the asphalt or hammering through the off-road world, the Africa Twin is totally ready for any type of adventure you choose. Now your biggest decision is whether or not to go DCT or stick with tradition.
2016 AFRICA TWIN CRF1000L
- PRICE: $12,999 ($13,699 with DCT)
- ENGINE: 998cc, liquid-cooled parallel-twin
- TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE: 6-speed/chain
- CLAIMED HORSEPOWER: 94.0 hp @ 7,500 rpm
- CLAIMED TORQUE: 72.0 lb.-ft. @ 6,000 rpm
- FRONT SUSPENSION: Showa 45mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 9.0-in. travel
- REAR SUSPENSION: Showa shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 8.6-in. travel
- FRONT BRAKE: Nissin four-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS
- REAR BRAKE: Nissin two-piston caliper, 256mm disc with ABS
- WHEELBASE: 62.0 in.
- SEAT HEIGHT: 33.5/34.3 in.
- FUEL CAPACITY: 4.9 gal.
- CLAIMED WEIGHT: 511 lb. wet (534 lb. wet with DCT)
- CONTACT: www.powersports.honda.com