Tue, 22 Jan 2019

A dirty weekend with Honda’s Africa Twin Adventure Sport

Moving with the success of Honda’s latest CRF1000L Africa Twin comes the newest Adventure Sport model. Primed and ready to conquer the globe, our Marketing Executive, James spent the weekend getting to grips with the adventure behemoth, and figuring out what exactly is the deal with the DCT and if it really matters…

In 2016, Honda’s CRF1000L Africa Twin caused quite the stir with both the public and press alike. And, when the Japanese manufacturer announced the new Adventure Sport model – with its 24 litre fuel tank, aluminium bash plate as standard and longer travel suspension, I was practically frothing at the mouth for it. So, naturally I was pretty excited about the prospect of spending the weekend with one

It would have been easy to just get straight down to business, jump on it and ride off into the sunset, but first I must address the elephant in the room – and no, I’m not talking about any glaring faults. I’m in fact talking about the size of the bike itself, it’s massive! It has a commanding presence that can’t be ignored and demands your respect. It’s fair to say that this Adventure Sport means business.

Go big, or go home

There’s absolutely no escaping the obvious – the Adventure Sport is a BIG machine, and that’s almost an understatement. I’m 5’10”, which I consider to be a steady average height for a guy my age, and just standing next to the bike on its side stand the screen comes to the bottom of my chin and the bars up at chest height. It’s almost intimidating.

With that said though, I’m a fan of larger bikes personally. Especially when it comes to having an elevated view over traffic, it makes planning ahead a lot simpler. And, I also like the extra movement you get from the riding position on machines like this, especially on longer journeys when I don’t want to be sat in a singular static position for hours on end.

Another thing that becomes immediately apparent approaching the bike is that it’s not just a standard Africa Twin that’s been glistened with a sprinkling of fairy-dust, it’s a purposeful addition to the family and gives riders another very viable option over which machine to have, and takes the fight to BMW’s R1200GS Adventure. It’s a very smart move and to me, makes perfect sense.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sport

Sitting tall

I don’t know if I’ve put quite enough emphasis on the size of the bike, but did I mention that it’s massive!? The already-tall 850/870mm seat height of the standard Africa Twin is dwarfed by the giant 900/920mm seat height of the Adventure Sport. This may sound impractical in some ways, especially to shorter riders, but it is higher for a reason, the Adventure Sport comes with the added benefit of having an additional 20mm ground clearance over the standard model. It sounds modest, but makes a big difference in the ability to get over obstacles and ruts when pointed at the dirt. It also gives a really good view over traffic when riding around town too.

Of course, the only real downside to this massive height is that if you are a bit more vertically challenged, then you might be better seeing how you would get on with the standard Africa Twin as the Adventure Sport might be a little too much on the tall side.

DCT do-dah

The bike that I was riding was the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) variant of the Adventure Sport. It’s something I’ve used on other Hondas, but never with an adventure bike, so I was naturally curious to see just how I’d get on with it.

Now, the DCT gearbox has received a lot of airtime, especially since appearing on the Africa Twin, and rightly so too, it’s an incredibly smart bit of engineering that the Honda boffins should be applauded for. It makes riding such a big machine completely effortless and takes a lot of thought away from gear changing so that you’re able to commit everything to what’s going around you. It basically turns the bike into an automatic machine so you don’t need to worry about changing gear at all. It also makes the bike practically impossible to stall if you’re using it off-road.

I have to admit, I was a little unsure of the benefits of having a DCT gearbox on such a large bike before I rode it. I was worried that the DCT might take an element of enjoyment out of the ride, and that it might have fallen victim to the red-tape that seemingly saps the fun out of everything nowadays in an effort to make society as boring as possible. I’m happy to report though that this is definitely not the case here though. In fact it’s quite the opposite; it adds another element to your ride instead of taking anything away.

It comes with a number of modes that will appeal to your riding style; and the surface conditions too. In the standard mode it’s so smooth it feels like you’re riding on a magic carpet. It’ll also happily bimble along and changes up relatively early in the rev range, perfect for those motorway slogs, or when you want to return a good fuel economy.

Then there are the sport modes, where you can choose one of three levels. This basically alters when the bike changes gear and will allow for a more dynamic ride when the roads get more interesting. It works really well too, and the top sport setting will see the bike rev-out to the redline before changing up, and will knock back down sooner too.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sport

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the DCT makes the bike feel like an automatic car though, it’s far more engaging than that, and nowhere near as useless either. Using an Inertia Measurement Unit to measure what’s happening and then reacting accordingly. It means that the system will know when the bike is ascending or descending an incline, or if it’s leant into a corner, and works with the DCT system to select the appropriate gear to best manage the situation. It’s clever stuff.

Of course, there will probably be times when you want to manually override the DCT, or just use the bike as if it were a manual machine. Thankfully, Honda have utilised a very effective manual shift function which allows for total control when shifting. It can be used to override any of the automatic settings, or can be used in a dedicated manual mode, which allows for total control of shifting.

I think of all the DCT functions, the manual mode was where I was most impressed. That might sound a little counter-intuitive to the reasons to having a DCT gearbox in the first place, but it’s so slick in its operation when working your way through the gears that it just feels like a proper manual bike, albeit that you don’t need to use a clutch or foot-shifter.

The nice thing to know though is that if you do miss the foot-shifter, you can purchase one for the DCT model as an added accessory that allows you to manually shift though the gearbox in the same way as it would if you had a quickshifter and autoblipper fitted.

Personally, I was really impressed with just how well the DCT gearbox works on the Adventure Sport, it adds another dimension to your riding, and with the very effective manual override system, doesn’t take anything away. Knowing that it won’t stall off-road is another massive benefit to a bike like this too.

Rudimental and ruggedly good looking

The dash on the Adventure Sport looks simple, but this very much intentional. In a world full of increasingly complicated-to-use TFT dash screens, riding modes and endless menus, the Adventure Sport maintains the old-school charm of having big, easy to use buttons and functions. And, if you think about it, this makes perfect sense. If you were ever setting off on a global adventure, the last thing you would want is an overly-complicated piece of hardware to fail on you. The controls on the Adventure Sport, and the standard Africa Twin for that matter, feel well made and able to take a proper beating.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sport

As a whole, I love the look of the bike; it’s mean and ready to go anywhere, right out of the crate. It’s also peppered with some really useful additions like crash bars, an aluminium bash plate and tall screen. It’s ready to hit the open road on a massive trip straight away and also means that you don’t get stung paying out after you’ve bought the bike on additional accessories, it’s got everything you need with perhaps the exception of maybe some hard panniers.

Making mincemeat of distances

The Adventure Sport is built to tackle big distances, so you’d expect it to be comfortable thankfully; it delivers on this front and then some. The riding position is roomy and extremely comfortable, the large screen takes away any stresses on your neck and chest and the wide bars mean that your arms don’t tire, sitting tall on it you feel like royalty as you look down on other traffic.

When standing on the pegs, everything still feels natural, something that I’ve noticed doesn’t happen with some other adventure machines. The controls are still easily accessible and I felt as though I was standing in the bike rather than on it – something that proves the Africa Twin’s off-road intent.

It goes too! The 94bhp pushed out by the motor gives ample grunt to use on the roads and can comfortably cruise to 100mph and beyond if required. It just proves that you don’t need a ridiculous 160+bhp ‘adventure’ bike to enjoy these types of machines. In fact, it makes far more sense to have a machine that is better able to mix things up when it’s pointed towards a dirt trail – try controlling 160 angry horses on lose ground and you’ll understand exactly what I mean!

There are a couple of things that show up Honda’s engineering excellence, these are the hefty 253kg weight of the DCT machine, and also the fact that it has a large 21-inch front wheel. Normally this would be the crux in a motorcycle’s design, a bad handling flop waiting to happen. Thankfully, Honda are pretty good when it comes to engineering clever solutions, and one of these is just how well the Africa Twin Adventure Sport handles. It feels like a precision tool than the blunt object it could have otherwise been if it weren’t for some boffins working their magic in Japan.

The bike manages to carry the bulk of its weight low in the chassis so you don’t notice it when you’re riding. It helps the bike to steer quickly and feel really responsive, even when doing slow-speed manoeuvring, and the 21-inch front wheel feels a lot more planted than it should thanks to the excellent, and fully adjustable, Showa suspension.

It’s properly clever stuff how they’ve managed to do this, making what could have been a potentially massive problem in the fundamental design of the bike nothing more than a casual afterthought.

It all adds up to something fantastic

What Honda have managed to do with the Adventure Sport is take the already brilliant Africa Twin and elevate it to another level, without detracting from what made the standard machine so good in the first place. The extra crash protection, larger tank and increased ground clearance make perfect sense to those who are thinking about practical additions for a massive trip and give a genuine alternative to the standard model.

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sport

The DCT gearbox is really something else though and needs to be tried on this model to be believed. Honda really made it an incredible asset to the Africa Twin, instead of just being another accessory. It works phenomenally well and enhances your riding experience, providing a slick and effortless alternative to conventional shifting.

I would be hard-pressed to decide which I would have if it were my own bike, though I would probably end up sticking with a manual model myself as the temptation to ride off-road would make me want a form of clutch control, with the option to be able to slip it when necessary.

All I am certain of though, this bike is capable of nearly anything, going anywhere and always raising a grin like a Cheshire Cat.