Offering a manual transmission option along with dual clutch transmission as well as a bigger engine packed with more power and a variety of electronic upgrades, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) has a fresher adventure machine for venturesome riders
The premium motorcycle category in India has witnessed a healthy gradual growth across all classes. Notably, the adventure motorcycle segment has particularly witnessed significant attraction due to the diverse terrain found in our country. Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) took a bold step in 2017 by introducing to the market the CRF1000L Africa Twin with only a dual clutch transmission (DCT). This sparked mixed reactions among the adventure-riding communities. Will an automatic work aptly on rough surfaces? Is the DCT reliable enough for these applications? What about on/off throttle response?
Honda, the masters of making machines as human-friendly as possible, boasts of the Dakar lineage, where the Africa Twin was able to deliver all of that. It did the same and more with its DCT avatar in the Indian market as well. For 2020, the Africa Twin has been significantly updated with a new engine and electronics package. And yes, this adventure motorcycle now also comes with a manual 6-speed variant.
BIGGER ENGINE, MORE POWER
As the name clearly suggests, the engine capacity has gone up from 998 cc to 1,084 cc running on a 270-degree crank. The BS VI-compliant parallel twin engine is now able to produce 102 hp of maximum power with 105 Nm peak torque output against the outgoing model’s 86 hp and 93 Nm. But there is a lot more to it than just bigger pistons. Honda is able to take off 2.5 kg from the engine in its manual variant, and 2.2 kg from its DCT version, after the elimination of the sub-gear.
Everything has been upgraded – the cylinder head, valve timing, new aluminium cylinder sleeves with longer stroke that makes the engine more responsive and lightweight. So, add better power-to-weight ratio to the equation rather than just increased output at the dyno chart. The DCT has received electronics upgrades too for better response, and now accounts for lean angles in its calculations. The catalytic convertor has been moved nearer to the engine just after the exhaust headers. This means it gets hotter quickly, which is essential for efficient functioning and has some weight distribution advantages as well.
CHASSIS & SUSPENSION UPGRADES
One peculiar thing about the Africa Twin is its easy handling characteristics. The outgoing version already had a friendly rider triangle designed primarily for long distance hauling. This new 2020 version will further improve on the recipe with a new frame setup, contoured design and lower seat height. All these additions have not compromised the ground clearance of 250 mm, which is much needed for countryside touring purposes. Apart from ensuring a lighter new frame, engineers have also narrowed it. This will result in sharper control, while standing on the pegs, and certainly will make life easier for shorter riders. This effectively means that the adjustment has shifted to 850-870 mm range even as the KTM 390 Adventure is at 855 mm, for comparison.
The EERA system on the CRF1100L, meanwhile, delivers better suspension response whether trailing or off-roading. The suspension works seamlessly with the motorcycle’s multi axis Inertial Measurement Unit and speed data from the engine management system. The tuning of the set-up depends on what the rider chooses from five different modes available. The system also compensates for a single rider, with pillion or with luggage. Further, the addition of the manual transmission variant for the Indian market will offer riders the choice, which was not available earlier.
FEATURES & EQUIPMENT
All adventure motorcycles in the adventure category have to carry creature comforts and support features to make riding as enjoyable as possible. The seat has been narrowed, but has improved contouring for support and agility, while riding standing up. The instrument cluster used to have a lot of information, but was not legible enough. There has been a significant improvement as the 2020 CRF1100L has a colour touchscreen TFT dash with Apple CarPlay support as well. We checked it at the launch and it was a fantastic experience to navigate through it. It is essentially an infotainment system that can connect to your mobile phone and handle multimedia duties, while the bike is in motion. The headlights have now been equipped with lean sensitive cornering lights for better visibility in the dark.
Besides upgrades like a brand new 6-axis IMU and cornering ABS, the new Africa Twin has a three-level wheelie control system, which reduces unforeseen trouser wetting moments. A rider can choose from four power modes, eight traction control levels and three engine braking levels. All these electronic aids will take some time getting used to, but with sufficient practice riders should be able to extract more while riding rather than getting confused in the product manual. All these selections can be made by a combination of switches on the hand controls, and the touchscreen. There is a cruise control system on board, but not many roads to use on in India though. The adjustable windscreen will be a boon for highway rides, keeping wind blast away from the rider.
Mind you, the list goes on and on for electronic systems and tiny upgrades inside out the new CRF1100L. Apart from this, HMSI is offering more colours on the new model as opposed to just one signature livery in the past. Be in no doubt that the riding experience will be definitely better on the new machine. More comfort and power paired with better response and agility will make this giant Honda a wonderful machine, but it does face fierce competition.
The increase in pricing puts it in direct competition with Triumph Tiger 800, BMW GS and Ducati Multistrada 950. Now all of these are capable machines that are packed with electronics and also come with character, which the Africa Twin must also count in its IMU readings. Every other rival product has a peculiarity that they may challenge the Africa Twin with, except for the dual clutch transmission option though. So, anybody looking for an automatic adventure motorcycle that can perform seamlessly on traffic-laden streets and then double as a long-distance tourer, the CRF1100L is your only option.
TEXT: Abhijeet Singh