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The Return of the King

Few motorcycles were so eagerly waited as the new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin. Can the new model live up to the expectations?

Few bike models can boast an iconic status. Africa Twin can, and this is why Honda have been extra careful to make sure the new model lives up to its name. 

One of the best known and most iconic model names was created in 1988, when Honda introduced a Dakar replica, the XRV650 Africa Twin. After a few years the bike was updated to a somewhat user-friendlier XRV750 Africa Twin. At that point Honda figured “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” and the model stayed in production more or less similar until Honda axed it in 2003.
As proof of Africa Twin’s status, the fans had been waiting for a fresh model while the old one was still in production, and as Honda announced they’d drop it, the fans were absolutely sure something new is in the pipeline. Even if there was nothing to back them up, the rumours kept going for years.
When Honda finally admitted a new model is in development, internet forums were filled on one hand with praising comments and on the other hand with comments such as “It’s going to be useless, Honda can’t possibly be better than the established BMW GS and hugely improved KTM Adventure”. In any case, it didn’t leave anyone untouched. After a while Honda presented the True Adventure concept, which actually looked ready for production, finally followed by the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin.

The CRF1000L Africa Twin is a true multi-purpose tool. It's hard to think the sort of riding it's unsuited for.

Compared to the competition the Honda looks small and slender. The seat is relatively low and the narrow bike allows for legs to be relatively close together. Despite being narrow the seat is quite comfortable and riding position seems natural. The ergonomics are also suited for standing up on the pegs. With regards to proper adventurers, the frame is steel, so any old metal shop in Nowhereistan will be able to mend it, should the need arise. 
The heart of the bike, the engine, is a parallel twin with a single overhead camshaft. This is not only a simpler construction than a V2, but also make for a relatively short engine, which allows for the combination of loads of ground clearance and low seat. To gain a V2-like character, Honda have opted for a 270° crankshaft. It also gives the engine a distinct, cheery sound.
Suspension is adjustable. In the front there’s 45mm USD with 230mm wheel travel and the rear wheel travel is 220mm. Wheel diameters are 21 inches in the front and 18 in the rear. Traction Control has three settings and it’s switchable. It also goes to switch ABS off from the rear wheel. Most importantly, the switches and controls are very intuitive even if the two-part instrument cluster takes a while to get used to.

The DCT is a good choice as long as you're on a road. What kind of road, that hardly matters.

On the road, the Africa Twin feels light and nimble, much lighter than its actual weight. The engine is willing and responsive. There’s plenty of power from all the way down to the limiter. The engine vibrates slightly, but it becomes a nuisance only on constant high revs.
Clutch is responsive and gearbox light as a feather. Mind you, I do find an occasional false neutral. The relatively small windshield works well and doesn’t cause turbulence. Being narrow, it doesn’t direct wind from the rider’s shoulders, however. The only problem, if you want to call it that, is the soft suspension, which allows the bike to dive quite a bit on aggressive braking. The bike doesn’t get nervous, however.
When I leave the tarmac, I found out what the Africa twin is all about. When the electronics are switched off, the bike stays calm and communicative even when provoked. Although ABS is forced on for the front wheel, is doesn’t matter, as the system seems to work well and braking properly without engaging the system is possible thanks to the brilliant feedback. Also TC works nicely on loose surface and the least restrictive option allows pretty flamboyant riding but with no risk of crashing.
I’m headed for another surprise when I leave the roads altogether. Despite the weight the Honda feels like a proper off-roader. The soft suspension follows the surface well and I feel in control all the time. Honda say they have done extensive testing on MX and enduro tracks, and the way the bike performs leaves no doubt this really is the case. The bike’s balanced and easy to control. In technical terrain especially the wide steering range deserves praise. I’ve tested the Africa Twin also on ice with studded tyres, and even in these most extreme circumstances the Honda performed like a champion.

The CRF1000L got test ridden also on studded tyres on a frozen lake. 

Apart from the manual gearbox version, there’s also a dual clutch automatic DCT gearbox option for a very modest extra price. I know many are wary of the whole concept of automatic gearbox in a motorcycle, but Honda sure have done a good job. At first I must figure crawling out, and then get used to the DCT switching gears instead of doing it myself. There’s push buttons for gear changes and Honda have an optional “gear lever” for more traditional feel, but after 5 minutes riding I wasn’t that bothered with controlling the gearshifts, as the DCT does such a good job. I was rather left thinking why all bikes don’t come with this kind of transmission. The extra weight of 10 kilos is situated so low on the bike it’s barely noticable. The only problem is in technical off roading, where I would prefer to control the clutch myself, but is you stick to the roads – tarmac or gravel – then DCT is the way to go.

Honda redefined the adventure segment with the new Africa Twin. This is the ultimate tool for ultimate adventures. 

It really was worth the wait; Honda have redefined the adventure bike with the CFR1000L Africa Twin. Whereas all the other big adventure bikes are street bikes capable of varying levels of off-roading, the Africa Twin is an off-road bike that is easily comfortable enough for on-tarmac touring.
And that's what makes a huge difference. If I was to head on a round-the-world trip, there is zero question on which bike I'd pick.

Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin specifications
Engine: Liquid cooled, 4-stroke parallel twin
Valves: 4 valves per cylinder, SOHC
Displacement: 998cm3
Bore/stroke: 92,0/75,1mm
Compression ratio: 10,0:1
Max power: 70kW (95hp)@7,500rpm
Max torque: 98Nm@6,000rpm
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate/DCT
Final drive: Chain
Frame: Steel pipe semi-double cradle
Wheel base: 1,575mm
Rake: 27,5°
Trail: 113 mm
Front suspension: USD 45 mm, adjustable, 230mm wheel travel
Rear suspension: Monoshock via linkage, adjustable, 220mm wheel travel
Seat height: 870/850mm
Front brake: Twin 310mm discs, 4 piston calipers
Rear brake: 256 mm disc, 1 piston caliper
Front tyre: 90/90-21
Rear tyre: 150/70-18
Fuel tank capacity: 18,8L
Claimed weight: 232/242kg (DCT)