If there’s one company that has decided it’s about time they owned the current big bike adventure motorcycle market it’s Honda. They’ve been there before with the Transalp and first gen Africa Twin, and even the Varadero, but they’ve been a little late to the current party, allowing BMW to dominate and the likes of Triumph, Yamaha and KTM all making their mark in the meantime.
But it’s not so bad showing up late when you bring the equivalent of a cooler full of jello shots, a vodka impregnated watermelon and a hip DJ. I can’t think of any other bike in the last few years that has received so much hype — not just from Honda, but riders as well — as the new Africa Twin. Everyone is talking about it, posting about it and boasting that they are either about to receive delivery of one or have one on order. Honda must be ecstatic.
There was a world press launch in South Africa earlier in the year, but Honda Canada is conducting its own launch this weekend in Victoria, BC. Here, Canadian hacks can try this and the rest of the firm’s Adventure/Dual-Sport line up. CMG will be there and I’ll have a full write up next week, but for now let’s take a CMG Pre-Ride look at the new Africa Twin.
The Africa Twin first saw the dirt back in 1988 as 650 liquid-cooled V-twin, but was bumped up to 750 two years later. Sadly, it was never sold here, despite Honda Canada’s attempts to make it so, it was declined by American Honda who were fearful of big adventure bikes after experiencing a sales flop with the Transalp. As a result Canada could not piggyback with the US on the high costs of homologation and Japan refused to ship it any bikes.
The first gen Africa Twin never did make it here and was finally discontinued in 2003. It wasn’t until 2014 that the name once again adorned a bike, this time as a 998 cc inline twin at the EICMA show in Italy. I had the good fortune of being there and spent much of my time trying to work out exactly what the bike was, as Honda had covered it in fake mud and not offered up any spec details to the hungry press.
This also saw the trigger pulled on the hype machine which included a series of videos where the designers boasted of a bike designed for off-road and the round the world traveller. It was going to set new standards for adventure motorcycles. It was going to be awesome.
When details finally did emerge, the weight was significantly higher than hoped – coming in at the same weight spectrum as the competition, if not slightly heavier (see comparo chart below). The motor wasn’t revolutionary either, the parallel twin using many components from the Honda Pioneer 1000 side by side, with a 270 degree crank, displacing 998 cc and using a Unicam head (single cam to you and me). It pumps out a claimed 94 hp (euro spec, power is not stated for North America) which is not the most powerful litre motor out there, but I’ll hold judgement till after the weekend as to whether it fits the rest of the bike or not.
When so many manufacturers are slapping the word “Adventure” on just about anything these days — including road bikes with 17 inch cast wheels — the Africa Twin’s specs suggest it’s for real. Wheels are 21 inch front and 18 inch rear and laced to boot. Ground clearance is decent with long travel, fully adjustable suspension (front and rear). Then there’s rear wheel switchable ABS (allowing you to slide the rear for better control but keep the front wheel rolling in all situations) and four setting Traction Control (off, 1,2,3, with three being the most intrusive). All this corroborates Honda’s claim to make a “go anywhere” machine and one that should be very dirt capable.
Perhaps what surprised most though, was the addition of Dual Clutch Transmission, or DCT, as an option. This system first appeared on Honda ATVs before hitting its two wheelers with the VFR1200F and the CT/NC line and allows seamless gear changes with no loss of power during changes. Changing is done by a computer or via paddle shifters on the handlebar, and so there’s no gear or clutch lever.
The downside is this adds about 10 Kg to the weight of the motor, a significant penalty on an already heavy bike, as well as $1000 to the price tag. This could have left the DCT model dead in the water, but the Canadian subsidiary claims that DCT equipped Africa Twins are selling just as well as the conventional box versions. There’s already been an international launch of the bike and the DCT system was widely praised, so I look forward to trying it myself over the weekend.
So, some shortfalls but they don’t seem to have taken the sheen off the new bike and Honda has been having trouble keeping up with demand ever since.
The Africa Twin makes for an interesting comparison as it sits slap bang between two existing adventure-gravel engine sizes – 800 and 1200 cc. We’ve decided to compare it with the smaller 800 cc competition as it comes in with a similar weight and price and they sport the more dirt oriented 21 inch front wheels too.
On price alone you can see that the Africa Twin is going to give the Triumph and BMWs a run for their money, and has an extra 200 cc, which may lead to a hike in adventure capacity out of the 800 cc range. The area where the AT suffers is weight and warranty.
Expect F800GS and Tiger XC revamps in the next few years.