The four-year-old Honda Africa Twin will be replaced with a larger, new generation model next spring, with more power and more techno-wizardry. This means the current Africa Twin could be a great buy as dealers clear them from the showroom floors. But is it any good? Mark swung his leg waaaaaay up and over the seat to find out.
When founding editor Rob Harris rode the Honda Africa Twin at its launch in 2016, he loved it. Of course he did; he was 6 feet 4 and could sit on it easily. It’s a tall bike, built to take on the equally tall and hugely successful BMW GS, now sold as a 1250 cc boxer twin.
Now, there’s an even taller version: the Africa Twin Adventure Sports, which has a seat height of either 900 mm or 920 mm, depending where you set the seat. That’s 35.4 and 36.2 inches in Old Measure. For me, at an inch shy of 6 feet tall with a 32-inch inseam, I sat on the bike like a ballerina en pointe. It rode easily enough, but when the time came to stop, it was a stretch.
Then I read the manual and realized the seat was set to “high” and could lower by almost an inch, and that changed everything. Both balls of my feet could rest on the ground at a halt. Every traffic light stopped being a reminder that I’d never quite grown up to the magic six feet.
You don’t need to despair if you’re shorter, though. Honda offers an optional lower seat that shaves the height by an extra 20 mm, or almost another inch. If you’re truly vertically challenged, the regular (and less expensive) Africa Twin has a switchable seat height of 850 mm / 870 mm, and the optional lower seat will drop that to 830 mm (32.5 inches).
So now that all those height elephants are out of the room, how’s the rest of the bike?
What is it?
The Adventure Sports is even more off-road capable than the regular Africa Twin, with an extra 22 mm of suspension travel at the front and 20 mm at the back, hence the taller seat height. (Note that we’re comparing 2019 models here. The 2020s have new and different suspensions, as detailed here.) The Adventure Sports has a larger fuel tank too, and a larger skid plate, as well as both engine guards and heated grips as standard.
These extra bits and bobs add up, but not too much. The Adventure Sports starts at $16,799, compared to $15,199 for the Africa Twin. If you want the DCT version, which shifts automatically instead of using a gear shift and clutch lever, it’ll cost $1,000 more for either version. These prices are already $1,300 less than the 2020 Africa Twin, and $2,000 less than the 2020 Adventure Sports. As mentioned right at the top, your dealer might be trying to clear the showroom floor, so there could be additional deals to be had on the 2019s.
The new 2020 does sound like a significantly enhanced bike and probably well worth the extra money – we’ll let you know when we get to ride it – but the 2019 ain’t exactly chopped liver. It’s more offroad-oriented than its direct competition, which is mostly the BMW R1250 GS and also the Ducati 1260 Multistrada, and far more so than other big adventure bikes, like the Suzuki V-Strom and Kawasaki Versys.
That said, I took the Africa Twin to the Ganaraska Forest outside Toronto and lasted about 10 minutes before I got out of there. The Ganny is known for its sand and the stock tires on the Honda (Dunlop Trailmax) just couldn’t get a grip on the slippery surface. The bike would probably be fine with more aggressive tires, but I slewed back and forth and had no fun whatsoever. It was like skating with blunt blades. If I’d dropped the motorcycle, the engine guards would protect from major damage but a front indicator would surely have broken, at least.
On gravel, it was a different story. Those Dunlops were well matched to the chunkier surface and bit in predictably and surely. You can turn off the rear ABS, and there’s even a “G” button on the inside of the plastic fairing of all Africa Twins, where G is for gravel and allows for a harsher clutch. As Honda says in its blurb, it’s “ideal for breaking the rear wheel loose in a sweeping dirt corner – or even lofting the front wheel over an obstacle.” This is Honda, advocating for rooster tails and wheelies? Right on!
What’s the point of it?
I decided the Africa Twin Adventure Sports would be a great bike for a long stretch of dirt and gravel highway, like the Dempster in the Yukon that leads to Canada’s newest adventure destination, Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean. It’s got the larger fuel tank (24.2 litres compared to 18.8 litres on the regular Africa Twin), and the larger protective skid plate, and the extra suspension travel for the hours and hours of ruts. There’s a standard 12 volt auxiliary socket for charging your phone or GPS. It also has wider foot pegs and heated grips as standard, with five levels of heat. You can get these as an option on the regular bike, for extra money.
The fairing is extended to provide a little more wind protection. I couldn’t recommend one over the other without riding the two back-to-back, but I can vouch for excellent comfort in the seat of the Adventure Sports. The standard screen is 85 mm taller and 30 mm wider and can be bought as an option for the regular Africa Twin. It doesn’t adjust, which I thought might be an issue, but it sent most of the slipstream over my helmet and kept off most of the rain, too. (The new 2020 has a shorter screen and a more upright riding position, so this excellent long-distance weather protection may be compromised. Again, we’ll let you know once we get to ride the bike.)
Luggage is a factory option for both bikes, and the Adventure Sports has a “unique rear rack,” with plenty of places to hook bungee cords. Remember, real adventurers don’t use top boxes – they lash down dry bags and spare tires and gas cans. Grrrr!
Perhaps the best feature of the Adventure Sports is the hidden compartment just above the muffler on the right. It’s small and discreet and opens with an Allen key, and is billed as a space for a tool pouch. That’s fair enough with no luggage on the bike because there’s not much room under the seat, but with a pair of panniers for holding tools, I’d cut to the chase and slip a plastic mickey in there. Never get caught short again at a camp site, and you’ll always be popular!
Honda’s fancy transmission
The Africa Twin is one of three bikes on which Honda offers its Dual Clutch Transmission (as well as the Gold Wing and the NC750X), and my tester was equipped with the DCT. This acts like an automatic transmission if you want it; there’s no clutch lever on the left bar, and no gear selector lever by your left foot. Instead, the bike shifts for you, up and down, through its six gears. You can also shift for yourself with a push-button (for down) and a trigger-switch (for up) at the left hand grip.
The DCT allows for four different throttle-response settings, depending on how aggressive or relaxed you want to be, as well as Honda’s Selectable Torque Control, which adjusts the traction (separate from that G switch). It all takes some getting used to, especially down steep hills where I found the operation to be jerky, but it is comfortable in traffic and lightning quick for shifting gears.
Should you get one?
Is the Africa Twin Adventure Sports for you? It’s not obscenely fast, like the Tiger 1200, and it’s not too cushy, like the V-Strom. Perhaps most important, it’s not too Ewan-and-Charley either, like the GS. People won’t assume you just bought one to look like a rugged adventurer on your way to Starbucks, especially if you put a few scratches on it. It truly is capable, though, and not too much of a handful if you set the seat properly.
The real question is whether to snap up the 2019 and save at least a couple of thousand bucks over the 2020, or go for the newer model with its redesigned chassis, enhanced riding technology, smarter TFT screen and standard cruise control. Oh, and it has a lighter frame and a bigger engine that makes 7 per cent more power and 6 per cent more torque.
Like I said at the beginning, the 2019 ain’t chopped liver and it offers almost all riders an experience that’s beyond what they’re looking for. You could take that savings and pay for insurance, or for a complete outfitting, or whatever. It all depends on your priorities.
But when you’re coming around a corner on a gravel road, throwing a spume of rocks into the ditch, or you’re hunkered against the wind on the Trans-Canada, or you’re riding into town on the Arctic coast, you won’t be regretting anything if you chose the 2019.