Living with Honda’s Africa Twin
1358 miles on a DCT Africa Twin. What’s it like and should you buy one?
SuperBike didn’t get an invite on the press launch of the Africa Twin in 2016, and I didn’t really mind. Apart from a sweet poster of a Transalp on my bedroom wall when I was 12, I’ve had little to no interest in on/off road stuff from any manufacturer, let alone Honda. Boy was I missing out.
The Africa Twin is to Honda off road heritage what the Fireblade is to the super sports category. In all fairness the Africa Twin is actually even older than the Fireblade, dipping under the 1990 bar in terms of launch dates. If you squint a bit/shitload I think you can even see a bit of a similarity between the 1990 XRV750 and the 1992 900 Blade, but that’s by the by. You want to know what the new one is like and I want to tell you, so I will. Before we move on, I wont say how much time I invested in actually checking vintage Honda headlight part numbers to see if the two shared the same parts, lets just say that they’re very alike and I still think one would fit the other.
I rode the Tricolour dual clutch (DCT) variant, which means no clutch lever and no gear lever. There is a lever on the left, but it’s the parking brake and you’ll only confuse it for a clutch lever once, possibly twice if you’re really stupid. Getting your head around how the transmission works takes seconds rather than days. You start it up, give it a second to steady itself, push one button on the right hand cluster and you’re ready to ride.
Now isn’t the time for boring tech stuff about how the transmission works, I’m more interested in telling you how useful the system is, because it really is. I quite quickly skipped past the full auto function and settled on locking the gearbox in ‘manual’ mode. This allowed me total control of when to change gears and felt the most like a regular manual transmission. It takes three button pushes to get to this mode and once in, you can come to a complete stop, cruise at 100mph and everywhere in between without once needing to use your left foot or your clutch hand. Full auto was entirely useable, just a little bit too docile for my riding style. Also, every ride I have starts and finishes with London’s delightful South Circular, a road that requires all of your attention all of the time. I’m not saying we should all break the law and ride too fast, but I find I feel safer if I’m moving just a little bit quicker than the flow, it stops me being sucked into situations that I don’t like. Manual mode on the Africa Twin allows me to get to and hold on to the speed I need easier than any other mode, so there.
Lunatic traffic aside, the South Circular itself isn’t a boring road and I actually enjoy it on the right bike. There are knee down sections if you want them, along with areas that highlight the good and bad in a bike. It only took a couple of days for me to realize that I don’t like the front-end feedback on the Africa Twin in 15-30mph corners. There’s a slightly off-putting pulsing feeling that I got through the bars that I couldn’t get over. Even when I realised that nothing bad was going to happen, I still couldn’t get my head round it and felt I was tensing up when I knew the sensation was coming. As we all know, tensing up only works for bodybuilders. I’m assuming it comes from a combination of long stroke forks, a 21-inch wheel and a set of bars that are constantly feeding information into your hands. Like I said, nothing bad ever came of it, I just didn’t like the feeling.
Ignoring the mechanicals, the Africa Twin has real presence on the road. It’s tall (especially with the taller screen that this one has), broad shoulders and in this white red and blue paint, seeks attention rather than shying away from it. I love how it looks, its unashamed and proud of what it is and rightly so. The gold spoked wheels complete the look, though I’d prefer if the tyres on them held their own air rather than needing tubes like my old Raleigh Mag Burner.
Comfort and practicality wise, the Africa Twin scores twelve out of ten. When I was gifted with a last minute opportunity to ride a Fireblade up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, not only did the Africa Twin swallow a full set of track riding gear (including boots and full face helmet), but it also provided surround sound entertainment all the way there and back. Plush on the dual carriageways and faster bits and capable enough to entertain in the twisty sections. Not quite quick enough to keep pace with a well ridden Triumph Thruxton on the way home, but fast enough for the nod we shared for me to feel I almost had a chance. There’s something about the Africa Twin that the BMW GS has as well but the Yamaha 1200 Tenere doesn’t and that’s a playful nature. I’m not talking about backing it into corners and riding like a knob, but there’s a feeling a bike gives you when you want it to do something and it does it immediately that makes you smile. No lag, no head shaking fuss and no problems. The Africa Twin is one of those kinds of bikes.
Getting back with that practical theme, I also took in a 520-mile day when I had to be up north for a meeting. You know a bike is a good one when you look at how easy a train ride will be and still go for the bike, despite rain forecast for the first 250 miles. Most of which were on the motorway.
The cold harsh reality of owning an adventure bike means most owners will spend lots of time wracking up motorway miles. I might not look it, but I’m tall enough to chuck an easy leg over that seat. I did find it a bit of a pisser that I seemed to keep knocking the left had mirror loose when I was climbing onto or off the bike, requiring me to nip it up at the roadside a few times. Those bark busters, that sky high screen and the comfy riding position mean long motorway stretches are easy on your body. In fact, at 80 mph I was happy to ride with no sunglasses on under my stupid open face helmet. No streaming eyes and lots of still air. I dare say you could fish a fag and a lighter out of your pocket on the A2, and if you were stupid enough you could light that smoke at 45mph. If you were stupid enough, of course. What I’m saying is it’s an easy place to click the miles off. I’m not so sure they’re as easy on the gearbox, mind. I’d have liked to have seen fewer revs in return for cruising speed. I think the motor could pull it off and I reckon the fuel consumption would improve as well. It’s not that the Africa Twin isn’t comfortable cruising at 80mph, I just think it could make an easier motorway meal of the speed of it were pulling a taller gear.
There’s a bit of talk around the houses about the adventure bike bubble bursting. I think it’s fair to say that sales aren’t what they used to be, but then it’s also fair to say that sales of any kind of bike aren’t quite what they used to be. Sales figures for the Africa Twin in the UK are healthy enough, I think. Approximately 2400 units have been shifted, with a split between traditional manual and the DCT shifting from 70/30 in 2016 to 60/40 to the end of December 2017. People are buying into the idea of a DCT bike, provided it’s a good one, which the Africa Twin is. I’ve seen the rise and Box Hill car park fall of this sector. Lots of people assumed that sports bikes were dead because new model sales had started to dip at around the same time that everyone decided they wanted to be Charlie and Ewan. I think the reality is simply that yesterday’s sports bike riders became today’s adventure bike guys. The dip we’re seeing in the adventure sector has nothing to do with the quality of available machinery and everything to do with the ageing demographic of bikers in general. The average 55-year-old biker might well be able to afford the £12,549 that this top spec Africa Twin commands, but there’s every chance that his creaking bones might not cope with the 870mm climb over the seat day in day out. My time with the Honda Africa Twin was all good, the only niggles I picked up was pissing myself off at clipping the left hand mirror and having to tighten it up, and that feeling that the motor could pull a taller top gear in the hope that it’d sup less fuel on long runs.
Would I have one over a BMW GS? It’s been a while since I’ve ridden one, but if memory serves, I’d be just as happy on either. The one thing the Africa Twin does better than any other bike in the sector is offer a viable alternative to the mighty German Boxer. The base model Africa Twin is cheaper by a thousand pounds and used examples have dipped below ten grand now. If you’ve done your best to avoid the Adventure bike market, now is the time to have a look and the Africa Twin offers one of the best seats in the house.