Road Test

Honda Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin UK Road and Trail review

Visordown took Honda’s latest CRF1100L Africa Twin for a mini-tour to Devon and a day of mud-plugging at the Honda Adventure Centre

Details
Manufacturer:
Honda
Category:
Adventure
Price:
£ 15849
Overall
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

THE day to day life of most adventure bikes must be pretty crap in all honesty. They spend their days whizzing through the countryside past all manner of green lanes and muddy paths. Most of which they will sadly never get to explore.

Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin video review

It must be a bit like promising your kid that you’re going to take them to Pets at Home and buy them that goldfish they always wanted. Only to march them around the shop looking at dog food before dragging the poor sod out empty-handed.

My point is; adventure bikes are trick bits of kit. Honda’s latest CRF1100L Africa Twin has all the electronics of a topflight sportsbike. It’s been designed from the ground up to be good off-road and on. It must really irk the designers that in reality, most don’t get used as nature intended.

And I’m not immune from this finger blame when it comes to not using an adventure bike to it’s fullest. Most press bikes I’ve borrowed that were built to go off-road have never seen more than the occasional green lane in my ownership. It’s not really the Dakar, is it?

Not this time though, as the offer of a new 2020 Africa Twin Adventure Sports from the nice folk at Honda came accompanied with an invite to the Honda Adventure Centre in Somerset for a day of mud-plugging and lying in puddles with three-time world motocross champion Dave Thorpe and his pals.

Is the Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin a good road bike?

Before the muddy fun could begin, I had to get myself and my shiny new friend down to the adventure centre, about 140-miles from my house in Coventry. Shunning the M6/M5 route, I instead opted for the slightly more scenic run down the A46 to Tewkesbury and onto the M5 south.

I’m no stranger to the biggest variant of the Africa Twin, Honda was kind enough to let me have one in the winter of 2018 as a long term test bike, so the changes from the last generation to this were easy to spot. Even picking the bike up of the stand and wheeling it about, it feels noticeably lighter and easier to manage than the last model. Honda has shed 2.5kg from the engine of the manual bike and 2.2kg from the DCT, and that’s not to mention frame and swingarm changes that have overall saved 5kg from the big adventure bike. It sounds like small gains, but they make a real-world difference on the road.

And it’s out on the road where it dawned on me that some of the marketing bumph that accompanies the bike might have missed a very valid point. The Africa Twin is a bloody good road bike. It’s quick, comfy, handles extremely well and can keep up with other bikes that should really be tearing off into the distance. It’s no sports tourer and I’m not implying that it is, but I bet it can keep up with lots of them on a decent twisty road.

Would I own a DCT bike given the choice?

This is a tough question and one that isn’t easy to answer. Look, I totally understand and respect the DCT system, it’s super technical and extremely clever and makes riding the big Africa Twin a doddle. It also pays dividends in fuel economy, with my 500 miles on the Honda returning over 50mpg. That’s bloody good going for a bike of that size, weight, and shape that’s had less than 1000 miles on its bores. I could easily have ridden from Coventry to the Honda Adventure Centre and back again on a single tank of fuel.

But, to return this economy I spent most of my time in ‘D’ mode, like ‘Drive’ on an automatic car. In this setting the bike will change up extremely early, hitting sixth gear by the time you’re doing 40mph. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but it makes riding the bike feel a bit tepid. Flicking the bike in ‘S’ mode – of which there are three levels that increase the sportiness as you go, and the bike will now hang onto the gears longer making the it feel much sportier. You can also opt to go full manual on the bike, changing gears through the buttons on the swithcube. This is where the DCT version of the Africa Twin feels most alive and you feel much more engaged and part of the process of riding it. But I can’t help thinking that all it would need for me to feel a bit more engaged is a clutch lever and quickshifter-equipped manual gearbox!

Look, I’m not DCT-bashing here, I totally get that there is a place for this system in the range. And so does the public as around half of all Africa Twins sold are DCT equipped. I’m also not some hamfisted newbie when it comes to the dual-clutch transmission, I’ve ridden DCT bikes before this, NC750S, Crosstourer and the previous Africa Twin DCT. I just don’t think that DCT and me, was ever meant to be.

It’s not all bad news on the gearbox front, as I’m happy to report that this latest generation is better than all that have come before it. As is the Honda way, they never sit still and are constantly improving and fettling the hardware and the electronics. It’s slicker, makes better decisions and is hooked up to the bikes IMU so it knows when you’re leaning and refrains from changing up mid-corner. I’m pretty sure that in a few years’ time we’ll have a DCT system that is just as deft if not better than our meagre mortal bodies.

What is the Africa Twin like to ride off-road?

Once we’d hit the county of cider and pasties, it was time to hit the trails as we took to the Honda Adventure Centre in North Devon. It’s a sprawling playground of trails and tracks that range from basic and wide, to more advanced and technical sections, reserved for more accomplished riders.

I make no bones about my off-road riding ability; it’s okay, but not great. I think it comes down to a lack of instruction in the past and not enough confidence in myself and my ability or that of the bike. It’ll come as no surprise for you to hear that some of the more technical sections were a challenge, but I made my way through them the best that I could.

What did strike me about the bike off-road was how light it felt, on the faster more flowing sections and the tight twisty stuff. It’s a big thing carrying over 300kg with my weight included. But standing up on the pegs the bike flicked from side to side with the lightest of pressure through the pegs. It’s also supremely well balanced for such a big bike, and never felt cumbersome; it’s like a CRF450 on steroids!

Another thing that struck about the bike, and this is partly down the updates to this 2020 model, is the electronics and the way in which they work. They are so advanced and slick, and everything from the cornering ABS to the seven-level Honda Selectable Torque Control (that’s traction control to you and me) works perfectly. On the faster sections, we played with the HSTC, reducing the level of intervention with each pass. With each increment reduction in the intervention, the rear wheel would step out an almost measurable amount further. It’s like you can tailor the amount of fun you want from the bike all through the TFT dash!

The ABS too is equally as impressive off-road, and even when descending down some fairly steep and very muddy slopes, I could still use the front brake with complete confidence as the IMU-controlled ABS smoothly and calmly worked away in the background keeping the front wheel turning just enough to prevent a slide.

With a full day of drizzle-soaked and mud-splattered riding behind me, I’d made my way through a number of routes and obstacles that would have previously left me flummoxed. Was it the bike, the instruction from the staff at the centre of sheer luck that I’d made it through the day without ending up in a ditch? I’d probably say a combination of all three, but the biggest credit has to go to the Africa Twin and its superbike-grade electronics package.

It gave me the ability to focus on the trail ahead and the line I’d be taking to through the next obstacle, not whether or not I was applying just the right amount of pressure through the braking system or winding on the perfect amount of throttle for that climb.

It’s an impressive bit of kit and having a bike like this and not exploring the full capabilities of it really is bad form. If you’ve never done it or considered taking an adventure bike on a proper off-road tour, get one booked; it is what the bike wants to do after all.

For more information on the new 2020 Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin, head to: www.honda.co.uk

For information on the Honda Adventure Centre in Devon, head to: davethorpehonda.com

Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin Adventure Sports specs

ENGINE

Type

SOHC liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve parallel twin with 270° crank and Uni-cam

Displacement

1084cc

Bore & Stroke

92mm x 81.5mm

Compression Ratio

10.1:1

Max. Power Output

75kW at 7,500rpm

Max. Torque

105Nm at 6,250rpm

Noise Level

73dB

Oil Capacity

4.8/4.3 (5.2/4.7 DCT)

FUEL SYSTEM

Carburation

PGM-FI

Fuel Tank Capacity

18.8L

CO2 Emissions

112g/km MT 

110g/km DCT

Fuel Consumption

4.9L/100km (20.4km/L) MT

4.8L/100km (20.8km/L) DCT

ELECTRICAL SYSTEM

Starter

Electric

Battery Capacity

12V-6Ah Li-ion battery (20hr)

ACG Output

0.49 kW/5,000rpm

DRIVETRAIN

Clutch Type

Wet, multiplate with coil springs, aluminium cam assist and slipper clutch

DCT – 2 wet multiplate clutches with coil springs

Transmission Type

6 speed manual (6 speed DCT)

FRAME

Type

Semi double cradle

CHASSIS

Dimensions (L´W´H)

2330mm x 960mm x 1395mm

Wheelbase

1575mm

Caster Angle

27.5°

Trail

113mm

Seat Height

850/870mm (low seat option 825mm, high seat option 895mm)

Ground Clearance

250mm

Kerb Weight

226kg (DCT 236kg)

SUSPENSION

Type Front

Showa 45mm cartridge-type inverted telescopic fork with dial-style preload adjuster and DF adjustments, 230mm stroke

Type Rear

Monoblock aluminium swing arm with Pro-Link with Showa gas-charged damper, hydraulic dial-style preload adjuster and rebound damping adjustments, 220 mm rear wheel travel

WHEELS

Type Front

21M/C x 2.15 wire spoke with aluminium rim

Type Rear

18M/C x 4.00 wire spoke with aluminium rim

Rim Size Front

21"

Rim Size Rear

18"

Tyres Front

90/90-21M/C 54H (tube type)

(Bridgestone Battlax Adventurecross Tourer/

AX41T Metzler Karoo Street)

Tyres Rear

150/70R18M/C 70H (tube type)

(Bridgestone Battlax Adventurecross Tourer/

AX41T Metzler Karoo Street)

BRAKES

ABS System Type

2 channel with IMU

Selectable ABS MODE with on-road and off-road setting

Type Front

310mm dual wave floating hydraulic disc with aluminium hub and radial fit 4-piston calipers and sintered metal pads

Type Rear

256mm wave hydraulic disc with single piston caliper and sintered metal pads. 2-channel with rear ABS OFF mode.

INSTRUMENTS & ELECTRICS

Instruments

LCD Meter, TFT 6.5inch touch panel multi information display

Security System

Immobiliser, security alarm (optional)

Headlight

LED

Taillight

LED

Electrics

Daytime running lights, Bluetooth audio and Apple Carplay, USB socket, auto turn signal cancel, cruise control, emergency stop signal, IMU, HSTC, wheelie control

Latest Reviews

Latest Videos

Feature
Article
Article