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Honda Honda Adventure Centre review

Visordown went along to the Honda Adventure Centre in Devon to try out the new 2020 CRF1100L Africa Twin

WITH most modern-day adventure bikes weighing in at well over 200kg and costing upwards of £15k, the thought of taking your own adventure bike off-road, possibly without assistance or tuition, can be a very daunting one.

Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin video review

Trust me, I know, I tried to take a long-term test bike green laning on my own the year before last. And I dropped it.

The thing is, if you’ve spent your life riding on the road, getting on the loose stuff is totally counterintuitive and difficult to get your head around at first. In my experience, just diving in headfirst is going to end badly. It’s time to call in the pros.

What courses do they off at the Honda Adventure Centre?

The Honda Adventure Centre caters for all riders looking to improve their off-road riding in a number of areas, and customers can take part in adventure riding tours of one or two days. The courses are all graded too, so you won’t have to worry about getting out of your depth and end up doing things outside of your ability.

  • Level one – for riders who have not ridden ADV bikes off-road or have little experience
  • Level two – for road riders with some experience of ADV bike off-road
  • Level three – an advanced course covering complex and technical exercises

Those looking for a gentler introduction into off-road riding could also opt for the one-day adventure bike tour, a mixture of road types and some mild off-road sections thrown in too.

For those looking for a more lightweight introduction to the world of riding off-road, they also offer enduro and even motocross riding tuition, all at the same facility.

What did I learn?

After a quick intro to adventure motorcycles, we were handed the keys to the latest versions of Honda’s all-conquering Africa Twin. The centre has a full fleet of pukka bikes, all meticulously prepared and ready for off-road work with Bridgestone AX41 off-road tyres.

After a short road ride, we reached Dave Thorpe and Honda’s sprawling 2,000-acre site of woodland and trails and wide-open gravel tracks. Before releasing us off into the wilderness onboard Honda’s shiny new Africa Twins, our tutors for the day, Pat and three-time world motocross champion Dave Thorpe, set up a low-speed handling test to gauge the level of the riders in the group.

At the end of the exercise, no Africa Twins were in trees and all riders were in one piece – result! We had all also received a boost in confidence, as the new CRF1100L proved to be as good-natured and easy to ride around the tight course as a 125cc scooter would around a car park. The weight of this bike on paper does not do the machine justice when riding the thing, especially when stood up on the pegs. It just feels like a beefy enduro bike, flicking one way or the other with the slightest bit of pressure through the pegs.

The main thing that stuck with me through this exercise was that keeping your head up, body relaxed, and throttle inputs smooth is the key to success. Big bikes don’t like jerky inputs from the rider. Keep it smooth and the bike will do all the work for you.

Testing the electronics

As the group of riders on the day was made up predominantly journos, naturally the Honda team wanted to try and show us what the Africa Twin could do and how flash its revised electronics package was.

To do that they set up a straight line exercise that would test the bike’s Honda Selectable Torque Control – HSTC/traction control – and wheelie control. To start with we rode off down a gravel track with the HSTC on level three and wheelie control on level one. In this setting, the HSTC is in its third-lowest level of intervention – with zero being off totally – and wheelie control likewise.

Setting off down the track we were advised to crack the throttle wide at a set point and trust that the electronics would scoop it all up for us. It did, naturally – it is a Honda after all – and there was some spinning but in all the bike stayed pretty well behaved.

Next up we were told to knock the wheelie control to zero – so no intervention from the electronics – and to drop the HSTC down to two. Carrying out the same exercise the bike now scrabbled for grip on the loose surface, and with the wheelie control no longer present the back end would kick out slightly while it searched in vain for grip on the track. You can already guess what we did next and the results were happily surprising. The electronics are so slick that each time you drop the intervention the bike becomes measurable livelier. I know that’s what is supposed to happen but, to feel it in such a way really drove it home how well set up and sensitive the electronics on the bike are. The IMU controlled HSTC is like having an HRC protractor glued to the headstock of the bike, with a tiny person in a white overcoat with pens in their top pocket sat on the handlebars shutting the throttle when the bike gets too lairy. It’s really clever stuff.

Looping it

No, not crashing – thankfully I didn’t do that on the day. After we’d had a chance to check out the fancy-pants electronics, the team at the centre took us on a more technical loop of the terrain at the centre. It was a proper adventure-spec mix of surfaces, including a stream crossing, gravel, steep slopes, and climbs and of course the obligatory deep muddy clay sections.

After the morning’s slow exercises and then the electronics test we’d just completed, the technical loops required a lot more concentration than before. The changes in surface and grip required you to constantly change your approach, while not getting sucked into staring at the patch of ground six inches in front of your front wheel.

Compared to the first two exercises this was the most rewarding thing we did all day. With Honda Adventure Centre staff dotted along the route, you’re given a constant running commentary on your riding and helpful advice on which line to take to over as given obstacle. It’s especially rewarding if on one lap you don’t get over a particular obstacle without putting a foot down but on the next you do. 99% of the time that was nothing to do with me or my riding, it was simply following the advice of the training staff and trusting that the bike and the tyres were up to the task!

Honda Adventure Centre verdict

To sum up my off-road riding prior to visiting the centre, I’d sum it up as ‘I’ve done too much of it to be as bad as I am’! I think the main issue is that the only time I ride off-road is on a new bike launch, and on those you don’t get tuition, you just try and keep up with the faster guys as best you can.

Visiting the Adventure centre and completing the exercises early in the day really helped to nail down the basics of off-road riding, something that not only helped me later in the course but will definitely have a positive effect on my day to day road riding too.

The other thing that I picked up from spending the day with Dave Thorpe and his colleagues is that big adventure bikes and technical off-road sections shouldn’t be daunting and put you off having a go. Obviously I’m not urging readers to take off and hit the Peak District trails on the adventure bike with no training or support – get to the Honda Adventure Centre first and get some training.

Check out our full on and off-road review of the 2020 Honda Africa Twin here: visordown.com

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