Final thoughts: Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin

Final thoughts: Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin

Now I get it

I'VE RECENTLY returned the Africa Twin to Honda after spending almost a month on it, in the middle of which I swapped from the manual to the DCT version.

I wrote some initial thoughts on it at the start of September, made a short vlog, and decided we were going to go on a journey of discovery together – I was going to see what it was like once the aspirational marketing material was put away and it was being made to trudge through Tolworth on a rainy Tuesday morning. Along with that, I wanted the Africa Twin to show me why adventure bikes are so popular.

There is a lot to like about it, with the most immediate thing being how comfortable it is, and the fact it put me in a commanding riding position that made me feel like the master of all I surveyed. During the month I had the bike, I never stopped enjoying feeling like that.

The Africa Twin’s comfort and convenience is bolstered by an effective screen and heated grips with handguards. It’s not revolutionary, but it contributes to a superlative level of daily effectiveness and the fact that it’s a bike that always feels like it’s got your back. The handguards and heated grips also meant that on a couple of occasions when I got caught in the rain on the motorway with no waterproofs and thin leather gloves on, my hands stayed warm and dry, which was a novelty. There’s something worth noting with the heated grips though - they have five settings and although the top three work, the lowest two are useless and might as well not be there.

What’s not so useless is the Africa Twin’s 998cc liquid-cooled four-stroke eight-valve parallel twin engine. It produces 94hp and 72lb/ft of smoothly delivered, linear drive and it’s happy whether you’re pottering around low down the rev range, or using more of the revs as you blast down your favourite back road. It’s an accessible and friendly engine that quickly lets you know it’s on your side and is capable and willing to deliver whatever you ask of it.

There is a but though because although I found the engine flexible, useable and helpful in whatever situation I put it in on the road, I soon began to find it a bit dull. On the road, there’s nothing particularly exciting about it. The result is that as accomplished as the Africa Twin is, it never really pushed my buttons...

.. until I took it away from the tarmac. When riding the DCT-equipped Africa Twin down green lanes, it came alive and displayed a side of its personality and ability that never got the chance to shine on the road.

When riding it through deep muddy puddles, on gravel, through slush and all that sketchy stuff, I suddenly found myself welcoming the engine with open arms because its smooth and linear character, which I found a bit bland on the road, makes for a confident and controlled experience. Off-road, the engine makes sense.

The DCT bike was particularly great on the dirt, for the simple reason that it allowed me to forget about gear selection while I concentrated on not parking the bike in a hedge. I just stuck it in one of the Sport modes and got on with things. Using it in manual mode, or overriding the automatic gear selection is however easy when stood up because the DCT controls are positioned in such a way that they were still at the tips of my fingers.

If I was buying this bike to ride on the road (I’ll get to that later), I’d rather have the version with the traditional manual gearbox, not just because it weighs and costs a bit less (£10,849 and 232kg to the DCT’s £11,689 and 242kg), but because I like having control over the bike with a clutch and gear lever.

On the road, the DCT is good because it’s so smooth – but ‘Drive’ mode sees the gearbox pulling sixth gear as soon as possible, which can make for a chuggy, laboured ride and the Sport level one is fairly similar. Sports one and two were my preferred choice but in certain situations (often when slowing down) the gearbox would occasionally hang on to gears for a bit too long and I’d need to override it, although thankfully that’s simple thanks to the buttons on the left side of the handlebar.

I loved the DCT bike in the rain. I’ll even go as far as saying that riding the DCT Africa Twin in the pissing wet is the most fun I’ve had riding a bike in the rain. Why? Because the lack of a gear lever and clutch had the psychological effect of making me want to rip the throttle open everywhere, like I would on a scooter. With 94hp on tap, doing that in the sportiest Sport mode (three) in the rain sends the traction control bat shit crazy as it tries to prevent the rear wheel from doing anything as stupid as the rider’s right wrist. It’s a lot of fun and with the TC in its middle setting and the rain coming down, accelerating away from some lights on to a dual carriageway saw me giggling in my helmet as the rear wheel was trying to spin at over 60mph. After I’d developed faith in the traction control, exiting roundabouts was also an excuse for more rain soaked fun.

Off-road is where the traction control really gets the chance to shine and more than once it saved the rear wheel coming around on me as I tapped the power on through a bend. Feeling the rear moving around made me feel like a hero, and the TC allows you to feel like you’re getting the most out of the bike, although I was never brave enough to turn the it off completely.

The green lanes I took the Africa Twin down were a mix of gravel and mud, pock marked with divots and deep puddles – enough to give the suspension a decent workout. It was unfazed by it all and although proper knobbly tyres would have helped psychologically, transitioning from tarmac to no ‘mac was no big deal for me or the bike. Having said that – I’m still not a fan of the OE dual-purpose tyres, because they feel like a compromise on road and dirt.

Thrapping down green lanes with gay adandon (is there any other type of abadnon?), the Africa Twin is manageable and even though it weighs 242kg (DCT), it manages to feel light and nimble. The deftness that makes it so handy at picking through city traffic really comes to the forefront once the going gets rough. It’s narrow between the legs and manages to feel smaller than it looks. Thanks to its superb balance and poise, when the back steps out over a slick bit of trail, the Africa Twin never feels flustered or out of its depth. In fact, it relishes it and if I was a better off-roadist, I’m sure I could discover more of what the Africa Twin is capable of.

I was after an adventure bike that I was actually going to take off-road, the Africa Twin would be near the top of my list because it’s actually capable of devouring a range of terrain and riding it on tarmac left me a bit cold. Simply put, I don’t think the Twin has the chance to demonstrate all its capabilities on the road, but take it off-road and it’s exciting, dynamic and eager. Because I’d want to use it off-road, I’d also reach for the DCT version, simply because the automatic gearbox means no fretting over what gear to be in while tackling tricky terrain.