The Africa Twin nameplate dates back to the late 1980s, and originally belonged to Honda’s Dakar winning XRV650 rally racer. The XRV650 was replaced by the XRV750 in 1990, which went on to become a legend over its 13-year production run. Now, Honda has given the world a brand new Africa Twin, the CRF1000L. That bike is now available in India, so time to find out what it’s like to ride.
The Africa Twin takes design cues from Honda’s current Dakar competition bike, the CRF 450 Rally. The result is a minimal, yet elegant machine where form follows function. Its sleek, twin-LED headlamps lend the face a striking look, while the relatively small 18.8-litre tank and the long two-piece seat further contributes to the Africa Twin’s lean form. The rear passenger gets a large, flat perch and a chunky grab rail which can also support an accessory top-box. The rider seat uses a clever height adjustment feature that allows the rider to easily switch the saddle-height between 820mm and 840mm.
Unlike some big adventure touring bikes, the Africa Twin isn’t intimidating from the saddle. The sleek look manifests itself in a slimmer feel and the wide bars provide a relaxed riding position. Combine that with the friendly seat height and you have a very approachable tourer. Behind the windscreen lies a tall and legible instrument screen, akin to Dakar bikes. Switchgear on the left side allows control of the various modes in the screen as well as the three-stage traction control. There’s also a pair of paddle shifters on the left and a rocker switch on the right side marked ‘N, D and S’. And therein lays the uniqueness of this motorcycle.
Two points about the Africa stand out the most. One, the bike is locally assembled and, two, it is available in India only with Honda’s dual-clutch automatic transmission or DCT. This gearbox can change gears automatically in D mode or the rider can manually shift by using the paddle shifters on the left side. A three-stage Sport mode offers varying levels of gear shift patterns too.
The new and rather compact 999.11cc parallel-twin engine has been developed for this bike. Its tight dimensions have allowed for the low seat height as well as an impressive ground clearance of 250mm.
It makes 87hp and 91.9Nm of torque, or pulling power, and is enjoyably smooth. Power delivery is thoroughly linear and performance is strong, but not quite breathtaking due to the bike’s hefty weight.
The automatic gearbox is surprisingly friendly. It takes a while to get used to, but the DCT is delightfully smooth. To set off, all you have to do is select D mode and gently open the throttle. It moves off the blocks without hesitation, and the gears shift smoothly with a refined click. But, D mode soon feels a bit pedestrian and you’ll soon find yourself shifting to the Sport modes. The gearbox shifts at higher revs here, but remains intuitive nevertheless. Manual mode is also available but it’s far easier to use the paddles only when you need a shift.
Shift speed is quick enough, but not blisteringly so like in dual-clutch gearboxes from Porsche and Audi. That said, the gearbox is quite adept at selecting the right gear, be it when cruising on highways, attacking some fast curves, or even a spot of mild off-roading.
The Africa Twin’s underpinnings and wire-spoke wheels are inspired by the CRF 450 Rally. The tyre size is telling of this motorcycle’s off-road intent, but we wish Honda offered tubeless tyre-compatible rims as an option. The majority of customers, at least in our market, probably aren’t off-road enthusiasts and tubeless tyres are far easier to fix when the inevitable puncture arrives.
Nevertheless, the Africa Twin is easily one of the most capable off-road machines on sale in India. The automatic gearbox allows you to focus on controlling the bike while the traction control and rear ABS can be deactivated if you want a more engaging ride. A high-mounted airbox and intake means the Africa Twin can ford fairly deep water crossings as well. Ultimately though, despite the low-centred mass, this 242kg bike is still hefty, and demands an experienced hand to extract its full potential.
On the road, the bike impresses with an impervious feel. Potholes, even crater-sized ones, are simply swallowed up. But while this is quite a quick machine on tarmac, there are better, faster road-biased adventure bikes out there. The suspension also feels a bit too squishy for spirited riding through the hills. Fettling with the suspension settings should improve this, but the fact remains that the Africa Twin gets happier as the roads worsen.
What’s clear is that the Africa Twin is worth the asking price. Localised assembly has helped Honda price the Africa Twin at Rs 13.06 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) which puts it in the same ballpark as the Ducati Multistrada 950 and the Triumph Tiger 800 range. The DCT transmission is pleasant to use and quite easy to get used to as well. While the initial lot of 50 motorcycles has already found owners, more bikes are expected to come in over the next few months, with HMSI ordering the CKD kits as the demand arises. Until Honda decides to offer the conventional gearbox, the Africa Twin could remain a niche player in its segment. But for those with an open mind, this is a really likeable motorcycle.