Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports | An off-road intro

Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin Adventure Sports

800 miles into our five-month relationship and I’m starting to gel with Africa Twin

Mileage – 3000 | Miles completed – 800 | MPG – 54 |

800 miles doesn’t seem a lot does it but to put it into perspective, I’ve ridden from Coventry to Marseille or to look at it another way, I’ve ridden more miles in a month than some of my friends, who consider themselves to be motorcyclists, have ridden all year!

And It’s fair to say that the at first rocky, and somewhat uncomfortable, start to our relationship is starting to come good. Yep, the shaved and lowered seat is still a tad on the firm side but, that’s not the fault of the Honda, that’s down to the vertically challenged DNA of my family tree. One thing I have done to try and combat the numb-bum is invest in a padded and heated seat cover from Tucano Urbano. While the comfort of the seat is great, especially on the sides where the lack of seat foam is particularly noticeable, it has increased the seat height by about 4mm – slightly undoing the point of the lowered seat. It’s only a problem around town and when paddling between rows of stationary traffic sees me tip-toeing like a Gore-Tex ballerina.

Another improvement is I’m now seeing much better fuel economy than I was at first. It’s nothing to do with the bike or riding modes or fuel additives either, it’s because I’m not riding it like a dick and instead sticking to what the bike is good at. Thing is, my last long-term press was a Ducati Multistrada 1260S, which is ludicrously fast and massively capable yet challenging to ride. The Ducati is a point and squirt bike that rewards being stood up on the corner exit and fired at the horizon like a bullet from a gun. And that’s the issue, I was still riding the Honda in the same way, and that’s missing the point. The Africa Twin is like a big, quick, magic carpet that wants to float along on the slightest whiff of the throttle. It’s a bike that really rewards a smooth, measured riding style. If you force the bike on its ear into a fast corner it’ll tie itself in a knot and make you look like a goon. adopt the slow in, fast out mentality and the Adventure Sports is as rewarding as any other bike on a fast B-road.

One thing I have noticed while heading to the office is that the screen becomes quite difficult to see through after a couple of motorway commutes. Winter grime and a low sun combine to make the almost vertical, Dakar style screen about as transparent as a sheet of A4 paper. It’s not a massive issue as long as you give it a good clean before you head off. I’ve also given it a coat of Rain-X to try and stop the muck from building up which seemed to help.

There are a few things I’ve noticed on my early morning / late evening commutes to and from London, that make me think this is possibly one of the best winter bikes I’ve ridden. First off, the heated grips are exceptionally effective, they heat up quickly and stay hot all day - some heated grips heat up and then fade as the ride goes on, allowing the cold to creep in. Secondly, I have to mention the lights which are like having a nuclear furnace mounted to the front of the bike. On a streetlight-less stretch of the M45, full-beam and fog-lights were illuminating road signs at least a mile away from me. The final plus-point for anyone riding through winter is the weather protection provided by the upper fairing. It doesn’t look like it, but it provides a massive amount of shelter from such a simply designed and svelte piece of plastic. Last night I rode back from Motorcycle Live through a torrential rain shower in nothing more than textile jackets and Kevlar jeans – yes I forgot my waterproofs, long story, don’t ask! Getting off the bike 15-miles later my legs were surprisingly dry, with just the bottoms of my jeans and boots getting wet. That’s not something I can say about any other long-term bike I’ve had, where that uncomfortable, ‘I haven’t had a lap this wet since I was four’ feeling was quite regular!

Green Lane update:

If you read my first update, you’ll remember me saying I wanted to get the bike out on some green lanes and trails… Well, after much googling and searching the OS Maps site I managed to find one lane that was within easy reach and looked to be fairly rideable. It’s not very long but does have some trickier sections, steep-ish climbs, deep ruts and slippery, rocky parts that take some navigating.

After about half a mile of riding, the Dunlop TrailSmart Max tires had about met their match, the muck at the start of the lane had clogged in the deep grooves and they were offering little or no traction in the red clay. I’m thinking if I’m to try some more serious, longer off-road rides, a set of more aggressive trail tyres would be good. The problem is though, I can’t go too extreme as they aren’t going to perform as well on the slog down the M1 to work.

As you’d expect from a bike that’s DNA goes back to Dakar races of old, the big twin comes into its own on the dirt. The riding position when stood on the pegs is perfect, with plenty of space between your thigh and the tank to allow you to shift your bodyweight about. The controls too are perfectly placed when stood up, with the brakes and gears all within easy reach.

I also like the fact there is a nice big, easy to spot button to disable the ABS to the rear wheel, if only the other settings were so easy to change! Power modes, engine braking and Traction Control (TC) all seem tricky to adjust and I end up getting frustrated and leaving it in full power mode and manually changing the TC. It’s one of the things I thought Honda would have made easier, especially as most big adventure bikes allow you to switch modes on the fly.

One slightly annoying thing regarding the settings I’ve found is, you can’t totally disable the TC, with ‘1’ being the lowest setting you can choose. I’ve come to grief riding in sand dunes before for just this reason, where even the slightest intervention of the TC on a steep climb can slow your momentum just enough that you lose control and have to hop off the bike – just a note that those with more off-road skill than me will probably be fine!

Look, my last couple of comments seem negative but, really I'm just nitpicking. The big Honda is way more capable than me off-road, extremely easy to live on-road and getting more comfortable every day. As a bike journo, you spend your life jumping on and off all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff which sometimes makes anything that isn't the 'fastest', or 'most powerful' seem plain. And sometimes plain is good, it's great in fact. Hacking down the M1 in the pissing rain I don't want a throttle response that'll tear my scalp off, I don't need a bike that sits on the back wheel in third. I just want to get to work and get home again in one piece, so I can see my family. And that's what the Africa Twin is great at.

I’m open to any advice around which tires would be best suited to some light off-road work and a heap of commuting so please get in touch if you think you have the answer!

As always, if there is something you’d like us to test, try or even a trail near you we could ride together – get in touch!

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