2020 Honda Africa Twin Review

The owner’s manual for the new generation of the Africa Twin is more than 300 pages thick, but nowhere in it could I find any information about lowering the seat height. Believe me, I looked. Along the way, I learned how to adjust the suspension (front, back, and both together, in any of 25 increments), how to install Apple CarPlay (you have to have a connected headset and microphone in your helmet, and there’s no Android Auto yet), and how to change the colour displays on the TFT screen to any of three different options. I skimmed over a lot of other stuff before I gave up.

Apple CarPlay is offered, but no Android Auto yet. Setting up the system requires a connected headset and microphone in your helmet as well as having your iPhone plugged in.

This is a clever motorcycle. Much cleverer than me. (That’s a fairly low bar though… – Ed.) It was just above freezing when I collected the Africa Twin Adventure Sports from Honda’s parking lot earlier this month, with snow on all the car windshields alongside, and I didn’t want to hang about trying to set up the bike just so. Instead, I put on my silk undergloves and slipped them into my leather mitts, scaled the 870 mm (34.3 inch) seat, and stabbed the starter button with my thickly-padded thumb.

The Africa Twin’s standard seat height can be set to 870 mm (34.3 in) or, like here, to 850 mm (33.5 in).

The bike still wasn’t quite ready. This was the DCT version, with an automatic transmission that can be set to Sport or Drive, and Automatic or Manual, which uses a button and a trigger lever on the left handlebar to shift gears. I jabbed away some more with my thumbs, found a way to make it move, and eventually began the two-hour ride home.

The DCT automatic transmission can be set to Sport or Drive, and Automatic or Manual, which uses a button and a trigger lever on the left handlebar to shift gears.

I remembered the previous-generation Africa Twin as being a complex motorcycle, but this redesigned bike is complex and then some. Fortunately for me, the weather warmed through the week, peaking with several days of unseasonable 20 degrees and sunshine. The heavy mitts were tucked away for another time and, as I rode the bike and then rode it some more, all the complexity fell into place and started to make sense. You may not like it because it’s too much to fix if something goes wrong, but it certainly makes the motorcycle a better, more accommodating machine.

Of course, it’s also more expensive. A fair bit more expensive. The basic Africa Twin starts at $16,499 and the Adventure Sports version starts at $19,999, which is a big hike from the older bike’s cost of $15,199 and $16,799. Add $845 for Freight and PDI, and then add $1,000 if you want the automatic DCT version.

The basic Africa Twin starts at $16,499 and the Adventure Sports version starts at $19,999. Add $1,000 for the DCT.

Right now though, all Africa Twins have a manufacturer’s rebate of $1,500, which helps. So, if you pay Ontario sales taxes, for example, the most basic bike will cost you almost $18,000 out the door, and the Adventure Sports DCT will cost you just over $20,300 out the door. That’s a lot of money, but it’s in line with the KTM Super Adventure R and S, and it’s comfortably below BMW and Ducati territory.

What’s changed in the new generation?

There are some big and very obvious differences: for a start, the parallel-twin engine is punched out to 1,084 cc, which Honda says increases the peak power by 7 per cent and the peak torque by 6 per cent. Honda Canada, not so helpfully, doesn’t actually say what those final horsepower and torque figures are, but Honda in Europe is much more obliging and lists them over there as 100 hp and 77 lbs.-ft.

The 1,084cc parallel-twin engine gets a 7 per cent increases in horsepower and 6 per cent. more torque.

The frame is all-new and a little lighter. It’s designed to be stiffer when the bike is leaning over, and it now includes an aluminum sub-frame. The adjustable windshield is redesigned, the skid plate is larger, and the exhaust better routed around the bottom of the engine. Cruise control is standard and there’s a new six-axis Bosch IMU for keeping everything under control, whichever direction the bike is headed.

It’s also not quite so tall when it’s the more-equipped Adventure Sports version. This used to have a higher seat than the regular Africa Twin, but now they’re both the same height. There’s even an optional lower seat that brings your butt down to 845 mm (33.3 in) and 825 mm (32.5), so shorter riders have no excuse. For me, with a 32-inch inseam, I could place my boots flat on the ground on the lower, standard height of 850 mm.

The Adventure Sports gets the same suspension travel, but a larger gas tank, more conveniences, and electronic Showa suspension.

In the last generation, the Adventure Sports was the true off-roader, with longer suspension travel and greater adjustability, while the regular Africa Twin was the standard, more affordable road bike. Now, the Adventure Sports is the classic touring machine, with the same suspension travel but a larger gas tank, more conveniences, and electronic Showa suspension.

What’s so complicated?

The regular Africa Twin has manually-adjustable Showa suspension, but the Adventure Sports has what Honda calls Electronically Equipped Ride Adjustment, which lets you change the damping and the pre-load through the TFT display screen. You can do this directly on the touch screen itself, or by toggling through one of the many buttons on the left handlebar.

The windscreen is manually adjustable, but its best to do it when the bike is stopped.

There are four pre-set ride modes: Urban, Touring, Gravel, and Off-Road. There are also two other ride modes that you can pre-set yourself just the way you like it. All these modes can change their individual levels of available power, engine braking, traction control, suspension rebound at front and back, suspension damping for passengers and luggage, wheelie control, clutch bite, and activation of the rear-wheel ABS. Off-road mode also increases the damping under greater pressure, such as landing from a jump, so the shocks firm more quickly as they’re compressed. Oh, and each one of those ride modes can be displayed with your choice of screen: simple with just a sliding or rotating tach, or more detailed with a digital speedometer and all the setting values laid out.

The TFT display can be adjusted to prioritize various information, change suspension settings and riding modes.

Phew! Still with me?

There’s more, of course. Apple CarPlay ties the bike in to your iPhone, with texts and maps and all those other things we’ve grown used to on the bike’s main screen. (Android Auto is surely on the way for next year.) The handlebar grip heaters are standard on all models and have five different settings. If you pay for the automatic dual-clutch six-speed transmission, you also get the choice of Automatic or Manual, and Drive or Sport. Fortunately, the standard cruise control is really simple to use, and the five-position windscreen takes two hands to physically slide up and down. This is probably supposed to be a Honda safety feature, forcing you to pull over and adjust the screen, but did I mention the standard cruise control? Any Africa Twin rider worth his or her salt will seize the challenge of adjustment at speed, and it’s not that tricky.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – How is it to ride?

Once you’ve taken a couple of tours through the manual – hopefully, NOT in a frigid parking lot – and it starts to make sense, you’ll be ready to ride. It’ll be worth it.

You cannot change all those fussy little settings while actually moving, but you can flip quickly on the move between the six ride modes. This makes a lot of sense. Urban is the usual ride mode, but you can shift to Tour on the main highway and then Gravel when you hit a gravel road – that sort of thing. I set one of the custom modes for choppy back roads with lots of power but softer suspension, and I could have set the other for the extra weight of a passenger, but never got around to it. I really was spoiled for choice.

The bike itself is plenty powerful enough, though probably not quite so quick as its over-powered competition from KTM and BMW. (Can any bike be over-powered? – Ed.) On the main highway, I set the windscreen to High but needed to lower it a little because it was cutting into my six-feet-tall line of sight. That never happens. It was very effective at keeping the wind blast off my chest and head – more so than I expected for such a narrow screen.

I also needed to turn down the grip heaters, which became too hot for comfort, even at zero degrees through thick leather riding mittens. If you laid the bike on its side, you could probably poke the grips into a coffee cup and bring the water to a boil.

The Africa Twin has big brakes and big spoked wheels, with 21-inch front and 18-inch rear tubeless Metzelers. It’s quick to turn on asphalt without being twitchy, but feels quite stable at speed in gravel. Off-road – well, the Africa Twin Adventure Sports isn’t really a dirt bike. It’s too pretty and too heavy for that, particularly when its 24.8 L fuel tank is filled. That’s a 6 L increase over the standard Africa Twin, and it will take you more than 500 km between fill-ups, on regular gas too. Impressive.

Any good stories?

Earlier this year, I went for a long ride on my Harley and ended up on a gravel road, somewhere east of Tweed, Ontario. The road got worse and worse, but I’d gone too far to turn back, even when I met the watering truck that was spraying the surface into mush to keep down the dust. That slippery road was no fun with a chromed and shiny Low Rider. So this month, vowing not to be beaten, I found the road again with the Africa Twin. I set the drive mode to Gravel and blew through there like it was the Nurburgring. Toward the end, the road was closed because the bridge was out, but I rode around it and emerged victorious.

When the pavement ends…the fun starts!

Then, when the weather was so uncommonly warm, I returned the bike to Honda, taking the long route through the Ganaraska Forest as I’d done with the previous generation motorcycle. Back then, I was defeated by the deep sand, which overwhelmed the Dunlop tires. This time, the sand was still a challenge, but I pressed though to the other side and emerged victorious a second time.

Soon after, I found myself on a sideroad called Drum Road, which was hard-packed dirt and just as good as pavement. I crested a hill at the town line, riding swiftly, and with no warning whatsoever, the dirt turned to freshly-laid loose gravel, at least five cm deep. My eyes widened, my fingers clenched, and my butt puckered, but I stood on the pegs and leaned back as I’d been riding in the forest and the bike stayed straight and true as everything slowed waaaaaaaay down. Gravel like that is as slippery as sand and its stones will grab the front wheel and yank it to one side, but the 21-inch tire and a little sanity saved the day. It certainly would have been a very different story on the Harley.

Despite getting lost, Mark wrapped up the season with one of the most memorable rides of the year.

Then I got lost on the side roads. I wish, for all its cleverness, that the display screen had an option for a simple compass. Failing that, a Navigation screen – there’s a small LCD readout of speed and a couple of other essentials beneath the main screen. Yes, you can rig up the maps from your iPhone through Apple CarPlay, but your phone must be attached by a wire, and your helmet has to be linked to both speakers and a microphone, so you can hear and speak commands. This is unnecessary when you just want to follow a map, but it’s the dumb way it is.

I would hope that next year, wireless CarPlay will be available (as it is already in cars) so you don’t need a cord flapping from your jacket pocket, or wrapped around the handlebars from a Ram mount. There’s a handy USB socket to the right of the screen, and a charging socket to the left. Perhaps next year, Honda can create a wireless charging tray on top of the dials, so you slide your phone in there, charge it, and access its maps and other features wirelessly through both CarPlay and Android Auto. Now that would be worth waiting for.

Without all that, I got lost and it was one of the best rides of my year. The weather was comfortable, the roads and tracks were clear and empty, and I’d figured out the motorcycle. The Africa Twin went wherever I pointed it and did whatever I asked, on asphalt and gravel, truly as an extension of myself, and I didn’t want the ride to end. And that’s the best you can ever hope for with a bike.

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