Road Test Review
Honda’s reboot of the Africa Twin, a 998cc parallel twin-powered adventure bike that carries the dirt-worthy CRF1000L model designation, has been a hit. Introduced just two years ago, there are now more than 50,000 of them roaming back roads and trails around the world, with 8,000 in the U.S. alone, where the Africa Twin accounted for 20 percent of open-class ADV sales in 2017.
To maintain that momentum, for 2018 Honda has updated the Africa Twin and added the Africa Twin Adventure Sports, a taller, longer-range, farkle-heavy model. Updates to the Africa Twin platform include a larger airbox with a longer intake funnel and a new exhaust for better midrange and richer sound, lighter balancer-shaft weights for smoother engine feel and a lithium-ion battery that saves 5.1 pounds. Thanks to a new throttle-by-wire system, there are now four riding modes (Tour, Urban and Gravel, plus a customizable User mode) that adjust throttle response, engine braking and traction control. Other changes include a redesigned instrument panel, wider footpegs with stronger steel mounts and lower-profile passenger footpeg brackets.
Geared toward long-distance touring, the new Adventure Sports model gets all of these changes and more, including nearly an inch of extra suspension travel (9.9/9.5 inches front/rear) and ground clearance (10.6 inches), a 1.4-gallon larger fuel tank (6.37 gallons) and, due to the wider tank, a larger fairing. It also has a 3.1-inch taller windscreen, a 1.3-inch taller handlebar that’s positioned closer to the rider, a taller and flatter dual-height seat (35.4/36.2 inches), brushed-aluminum fairing accents, a 1.3-liter storage pocket in the left tail section and a removable rear fender (the license plate attaches to the rear fender, so this is useful in off-road-only situations). Accessories fitted as standard include heated grips, a 12V socket in the cockpit, a larger skid plate, crash bars and a steel luggage rack. The cherry on top is a 30th anniversary paint scheme with a white frame and gold rims.
Our test of the new Adventure Sports model began in Prescott, Arizona, where Honda hosted a press launch with a 150-mile route split 60/40 between curvy pavement and graded dirt/gravel. All of the test bikes were equipped with Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), a $700 option that eliminates the clutch and shift levers and offers the convenience of automatic shifting or pushbutton manual shifting. There are four automatic modes—Drive, which upshifts early for fuel efficiency, and three Sport modes that hold gears progressively longer to maximize power delivery. Because the Africa Twin is designed to be ridden off-road, its DCT has incline detection, which delays upshifts during ascents to maintain higher rpm and downshifts earlier during descents for more engine braking, as well as a “G” switch, which eliminates clutch slip during gear changes.
In addition to fast, nearly seamless gear changes, a major advantage of the DCT is that, since it always shifts into neutral when coming to a stop, the bike never stalls. On the other hand, in the automatic modes gear changes can occur unexpectedly and, in technical situations, not having a clutch lever to feather can limit one’s sense of control. On the street, even during aggressive riding, the DCT works like a charm. I logged more than 200 miles off-road during this test, but very little of it was tip-toeing over tricky terrain, so the lack of a clutch lever was rarely a problem and I used the manual mode to control the timing of gear changes.
Changes to the intake/exhaust and balancer-shaft weights are subtle, adding a touch of refinement to the tractable, character-rich engine, which has a 270-degree crank with irregular firing intervals. The parallel twin configuration, Unicam SOHC head and various space-saving tricks (like putting the water pump inside the clutch case) keep the engine light and compact. When we tested a standard Africa Twin with a manual transmission last year, it made 79 horsepower at 7,300 rpm and 62 lb-ft of torque at 5,700 rpm at the rear wheel on Jett Tuning’s dyno, though these numbers are about 5 percent too low because the bike was run with knobby tires. With the Africa Twin’s horizon-flat torque curve and linear increase in horsepower, there’s always grunt when you need it and more power comes with more revs. The differences in throttle response and engine braking (there are three levels for each) between the riding modes are not dramatic, but they do allow the rider to tailor engine behavior to conditions, and traction control can be quickly changed among seven levels on the fly with a trigger on the left handlebar.
With its larger tank, taller suspension, standard accessories and optional DCT (which adds 23 pounds), the Adventure Sports is a big machine, weighing 556 pounds wet. Factor in the 21-inch front wheel and long wheelbase, and it’s no surprise that handling favors stability over agility, but push that wide handlebar with authority and the Honda will go where you point it. The steel semi-cradle frame is strong and the triple-disc brakes are powerful and easy to modulate, with standard ABS that can be turned off at the rear wheel for off-road riding.
For a 6-footer like me, extra suspension travel, ground clearance and legroom are always welcome, but even I had a tough time throwing my leg over the tall seat. Once aboard, I found the Adventure Sports to be satisfyingly comfortable, with a supportive seat, spacious ergonomics and plenty of wind protection. During stand-up riding, I appreciated the taller handlebar and wider footpegs, but I had trouble reading the new instrument panel even though it’s positioned at a shallower angle and has a large sun shroud. The screen is overly busy with information and, as before, sun glare on the reflective face can make the screen unreadable.
The day after the press ride, I strapped a duffel and a tent to the luggage rack and headed north, taking a counterclockwise route around the Grand Canyon, from the South Rim to the North Rim, riding 60 miles down a dirt road to Toroweap Overlook. The last couple of miles to Toroweap are tricky, but the Adventure Sport’s big front wheel and generous ground clearance made it easy to crawl over the embedded rock and negotiate loose stones and sand. I put the kickstand down and walked to the edge of the abyss, where I stood 3,000 vertical feet above the Colorado River with no one else around as the sun began to set. That’s exactly what an adventure bike should do—have the comfort, the range and the capability to take you wherever you want to go.
Honda’s Africa Twin has as much or more off-road can-do as any other adventure bike on the market. But, since most owners spend the majority of their time on pavement, its high seat, tube-type tires and lack of cruise control are major drawbacks. The Adventure Sports is an even more formidable tourer on- and off-road, and, at just $1,500 over the standard model, it’s a great value.