In the world of dual-purpose motorcycles, ‘Africa Twin’ is a legendary name. Honda launched the first Africa Twin in the late-1980s, when the bike – the XRV650 – was powered by a 650 cc V-twin. Its successor, the XRV750T, got a 100 cc hike in engine capacity and was produced throughout the 1990s. This machine was based on the Honda NXR750, which won the infamous Paris-Dakar rally four times in the 1980s.
While Honda stopped making the XRV750T Africa Twin back in 2003, they revived the ‘Africa Twin’ name last year, with the all-new CRF1000L. We recently spent three days riding this rather impressive dual-purpose bike, and here’s our take on the machine.
Styling and Ergonomics
With its striking red, black and white paintjob, high-riding rally-racer stance and aggressively styled front end, with twin LED headlamps, the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin has undeniable presence. Riding on 21 in (front) and 18 in (rear) wire-spoked wheels, and with its full complement of tall windshield, substantial hand guards mounted on the handlebar, beefy grab rail/luggage rack at the back, massive exhaust system and black-painted semi-double cradle chassis made of steel, the Africa Twin definitely looks the part – it’s the kind of machine that would happily go around the globe, with paved tarmac being strictly optional.
The other thing about the Africa Twin is its size and heft, which might not be suitable for all riders. Standard seat height is 870 mm, which can be lowered to 850 mm for the vertically challenged. Then there’s the 232 kg kerb weight, which is not a big deal as long as you stick to riding on tarmac, but can get a bit intimidating when the bike is taken off-road. With its comfortable well-padded seat, slim fuel tank and narrow parallel-twin engine, high-ish handlebars and perfectly positioned footpegs, the bike is actually easy to ride in city traffic. It’s just that for off-road use, given the bike’s weight and tall stance, the Africa Twin is best suited to taller riders who are used to riding off road.
Engine and Transmission
The CRF1000L is powered by a liquid-cooled 998 cc SOHC parallel-twin, with four valves per cylinder, 270-degree crankshaft, twin air intakes and dry sump lubrication. With a bore and stroke of 92 mm x 75 mm, it’s a relaxed, relatively low-stressed engine that produces 94 hp at 7,500 rpm and 98 Nm of torque at 6,000 rpm. Honda has provided biaxial primary balance shafts for reduced vibration on this engine, which remains pretty smooth and relaxed across most of its rev range.
The CRF’s parallel-twin is mated to an automatic 6-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which is unique in the adventure bike segment. Yes, the Africa Twin is an automatic – there is no clutch lever, and the rider doesn’t need to shift gears. Just start it up, bung it into ‘D,’ twist the throttle and off you go. The lack of a clutch lever may be initially disconcerting for some riders, who’ve been used to a lifetime of riding conventional bikes with foot-operated gears, but you do get used to the DCT pretty quickly.
Standard mode on the Africa Twin’s DCT is ‘D’ which is fully automatic, requiring no input from the rider. For those who prefer more aggressive power delivery and more instant throttle response, with reduced levels of assistance from the bike’s on-board safety electronics, there’s S mode, which allows you to choose from three levels of sportiness, with gear shift patterns changing accordingly. For relaxed city riding conditions, we actually thought D was pretty much all anyone would require, though if you’re riding the bike on open, twisty roads with the intention to go fast, S mode may be the better option. There’s also a ‘G’ mode for when you want to ride the bike on loose gravel, which optimises gear selection and power delivery and makes it easier for the bike to be ridden on dirt roads.
The bike’s DCT also allows finicky riders to operate the transmission in manual mode, where gears can be changed via buttons mounted on the left hand side of the handlebar. This is, however, for the most part, rather unnecessary – the dual-clutch automatic does a pretty good job of selecting the right gear at the right time, leaving the rider to modulate the throttle and the brakes.
Chassis and Suspension
The Africa Twin gets a simple, sturdy semi-double-cradle steel tube chassis, which has been optimised for both on-road stability and off-road clearance and ruggedness. The chassis is, in fact, similar to the one used on Honda’s competition-spec CRF450R Rally, so it should definitely have the kind of off-road capability that some buyers may be looking for. With 250 mm of ground clearance, skilled riders should certainly be able to take the Africa Twin almost wherever they want.
Alongside the chassis, the CRF’s suspension is also up to the task of matching the bike’s dual-purpose intent. At front, there’s a 45 mm Showa USD fork, which is fully adjustable for compression and rebound damping and offers 229 mm of travel. At the back, there’s a Showa monoshock with 220 mm travel, fully adjustable for preload, as well as compression and rebound damping. The monobloc cast-aluminium swingarm is also suitably beefy and has been designed to handle the rigours of hard off-road use.
In terms of braking power, the Africa Twin gets twin 310 mm discs at the front, with 4-piston radial-mount callipers, and a single 256 mm disc at the back, with a single-piston calliper. Two-channel anti-lock brakes (ABS) are standard, and the ABS can be switched off for the rear wheel only, which helps during off-road use.
In terms of boosting rider safety, Honda has provided its selectable torque control system (HSTC) on the CRF1000L, which has three levels of assistance. The degree of electronic intervention increases with each level and the chances of wheelspin (on loose surfaces, with aggressive throttle application) decrease accordingly. It’s a reassuring set-up to have and for those who do not want any electronic interference at all, HSTC can also be switched off completely.
On the Road
The Africa Twin is a pretty pleasant motorcycle to ride on the street. The DCT means that the rider only has to manage the throttle and brakes, which does make things a bit easier in heavy traffic. The seat is amply padded and the bike’s riding position is also just about perfect for almost any kind of riding that you’d want to do on a dual-purpose motorcycle.
The LCD instrumentation is quite comprehensive, easy to read, and provides all the information that you’d need at a quick glance. Riding modes can be selected easily and quickly, controls all fall to hand in a way that’s quite intuitive and it’s a bike that you can just get on and ride off, without spending too much time ‘learning’ how everything works. It’s a Honda after all, right?
With its 18.8 l fuel tank and claimed mileage of around 21-22 kpl, the Africa Twin would have a range of about 400 km, which should find favour with long-distance riders. Indeed, the Africa Twin might just be one of the best long-distance adventure-touring bikes currently available in India, especially if your riding involves a fair bit of off-road use. A minor criticism that we have is that the Africa Twin’s engine is, if anything, a bit too smooth, too quiet – almost regardless of the rpm and gear selection, it just purrs along quietly, unobtrusively, without ever getting vocal about its performance intent. Whack open the throttle and the Africa Twin accelerates with reasonable enthusiasm and hits 130-150 kph effortlessly. However, it always remains resolutely mild mannered and hence may not be very exciting to ride, especially for enthusiasts who demand a bit of aural excitement, a bit of involvement from their motorcycles.
Bottomline, at Rs 13 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi, the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin is an advanced, high-tech, all-around capable dual-purpose bike, which is perfect for long-distance adventure-touring. With its fully optimised chassis and suspension, the bike can handle whatever rough roads / off-road use that you choose to throw at it, though the DCT might take some getting used to. Overall, it’s a brilliant machine and if you’re looking for an adventure touring motorcycle that can handle it all, you owe to yourself to test the Africa Twin today.
Text: Sameer Kumar
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay