Africa Twin in Africa

Honda Africa Twin Index Page

In a line:
It was interesting to dip a toe into BigBikeWorld, but as expected,, it’s way too big, heavy and juicy for my sort of easy off-road riding prefs.

Featured in Bike, July 2020

• Looks good
• Torquey 270-° motor
• You just know it will start and run; Honda piece-of-mind
• Adjustable Palmer screen
My DIY rear tubeless worked well
• Seat not bad. Nice and roomy for once, even with the step
• Stock suspension (with rear PLA) fully adjustable
• Modes aplenty, if you like that sort of thing
• With a fair wind, 400+ km range from 18.9-litre tank

• Felt big and top-heavy at low speeds
• That’s probably down to the minimum 870mm (34.2″) stock saddle height
• Radiators are vulnerable in fall overs
• Could not squeeze more than 22.7kpl/64mpg out of it
Some hand-numbing vibration from the bars
• USD fork seals seem to be a weak point
• LCD display annoyingly reflects head and not bright enough; hard to read at a glance

Review
It was just the right trip to try one of those big-arsed advs I’ve never really been into. A long approach ride followed by short off-road excursions specifically chosen within the bike’s (and my) limits. I’d planned to get a feel for the bike beforehand in the High Atlas on my February tours, but that was another of the many things which didn’t pan out on this doomed ride.

So, despite big plans with two other Big Twins for a Sahara Road Trip (right, pah!) , all I managed was to ride alone 2500km down the Atlantic Highway to the Mauritanian border, then ride it most of the way back until Covid-19 and a freak incident brought this stillborn trip to a premature end.

On the road
Riding out of a town near Malaga, initially the loaded-up Honda gave me a fright – I thought I’d made a terrible mistake. I hadn’t noticed it on the way to the removalists in Essex a couple of weeks earlier, but in the bends the bike didn’t feel secure, seeming to both over- and understeer. I knew my knobbly front/road rear tyre set-up was unorthodox, but it’s surely only half as bad as the many times I’ve ridden on full ‘do-it-all’ tyres. Though maybe on on bikes this big. Braking into bends, the front Motoz moaned in protest but brand new tyres usually lose this edgy skittishness after a couple of hours. Sure enough, the AT settled down and I adapted as we rode over the Sierra de los Nieves (below) and past the famous White Villages to a regular place I know, half an hour out of Algeciras port. Here I took a day off, resorting my gear, keying in waypoints and filling the glued-and-taped rear tubeless wheel with Slime which fixed the slight air loss once and for all.

Hold my beer!

Engine and transmission
The 1000L has more than enough power to deal with anything you’ll encounter on the road; it’s on the dirt where the mass will hold back most riders and if you like that sort of riding, it’s frustrating. Promotional antics as shown left look impressive but are so far removed from everyday reality that someone should call Trade Descriptions.
This was my first bike with more modes than a Casio G-Shock XL: three power levels plus User (custom), as many levels of traction control (plus off) and the same with engine braking – a new one on me. ABS can be switched off at the back only. Initially I rode in ‘P1 – Gravel’ (least power) thinking it may be best for economy (more below). After that I left it in ‘Tour’ (P3 – highest) where the engine was smoothest.
It’s a 270-degree twin (below) which is hard to dislike, the stock pipe makes a fruity sound and the temperature bars never budged. But having tried or owned a few other 270° twins in recent years, Yamaha’s 695cc CP2 still feels like the best of them to me. Characterful, economical and with enough poke to get you there without weighing a quarter of a ton. My first choice would have been a used XT700, but it was way too early at the time. The gif below shows one of the beneficial characteristics of a 270°-twin: one piston is always in motion when the other has stopped and is on the turn. Crossplane they call it (CP2) – it’s good for traction and it feels and sounds like a Ducati.

I got a manual gearbox only because I’ve ticked off DCT and couldn’t face the thought of a heavier-still bike. As it was I spent most of the miles in top gear. Had I got off-road I might have had more to say about the gearing and indeed the traction control and a whole lot more. Clutch actuation and gearchange selection were fine.

Economy
On the A1 motorway down to Agadir I spent a couple of days establishing the exact fuel consumption so I’d know what to expect when it mattered down south. I’ve often wondered if lower power modes equate to better fuel consumption. You’d think so because less powerful bikes like a CT125 are amazingly economical. But it seems not. Cruising along at a very modest 105kph/65mph – in other words, with a barely open throttle:
• ‘Gravel’ mode (‘P3’). True 19.8kpl (19.1 indicated). Range 380km indicated.
• ‘Tour’ mode (‘P1’): true 22.7 (ind: 21.5). That’s 64UK or 53.3US.
(Fuel converter table on the left).

This graph is actually from the 1100L which has an additional ‘Off-Road’ power mode.

In P1 Tour the engine felt noticeably smoother and more responsive and what’s more, the range jumped to 430km which was good to know. In the CRF1100L graph above, the percentages shown are throttle openings, not power. Nail the throttle (‘100%’) in any mode and you get all the beans. But at small openings (‘25%’) as you’d use noodling about off-road, power is reduced, presumably to constrain wheelspin or unwanted lurches. It’s true that traction control does that too, but that can be turned off. If, as I have, you’ve ridden without TC most of your riding years, you may initially prefer that until you get to trust TC1, as most AT riders seem to settle on. Or you may wonder do you need power and traction and engine braking modes at all. Ride appropriately to the conditions. It’s an inexpensive and, with TC, I would say rather crude spin-off from ABS electronics, of which I am a fan.

Other observations I made while watching the Moroccan countryside inch by:
Speedo is the usual 8% over
Odo is 1% over (measured over 100km against GPS and autoroute markers)
Economy estimate read-out is ~4% under. True economy is a tad better than shown
Range I never relied on this but should have checked when I took on 18.2 litres into the 18.9-L tank. At a catastrophic 15.5kpl (37mpg) into a stiff headwind (while still holding a steady 110kph cruise) the remaining 0.7L would have got me another 11kms.

I now realise something about bikes of 1000cc+ – in my book overkill for a solo travel bike. Either the great weight or swept volume or both hold the economy back, no matter how slowly you ride. My best reading of 64mpg closely correlates with 65 I recorded from an as-slowly ridden 1200GS on my tours one time. You may think so what, you get to blast past anything you want on the highway in comfort. That is true but to me a proper travel bike inspires confidence on all surfaces; otherwise it’s just a road bike of which there are plenty out there.

Modifications

• Front Motoz Tractionator Adv
• Rear Michelin Anakee Adventure (tubeless)
• Palmer Products adjustable screen
• Barkbusters
• Adv Spec bar risers
• Strapped-on baggage (below)
• Wired in USB and GPS
More here

Comfort
The good thing about a big bike is that for once, I don’t feel cramped. Everything is a natural distance away for my size and the excess of power does have a certain relaxing effect. The adjustable and much taller Palmer Products screen (below) made a huge difference, ridding me of unpriestly turbulence, even with a Bell Moto III.

It wasn’t until I got to the turn-around point 50 miles from the Mauritanian border (and following a quick ‘how-do-you…’ youtube) that I finally managed to lower the saddle. I’ve only just realised just how tall the AT’s is at 900mm or 35.4″ – a bit much for a bike this heavy. Lowering it gets you down to 870mm or 34.25” and there is an 840mm optional saddle. The principle is clear, but getting the notches to line up correctly took a lot of faffing. I’m 6′ 1″ so have long enough legs but can’t say the lowered saddle was night-and-day – the bike still felt top heavy at times.
Sat down, the 30mm bar risers felt little different from stock, but gave the benefit of being able to stand naturally without stooping and doing so the bike felt comfortable – just like the oversized trail bike which many owners speak of. On the road I did notice a bit of white-finger vibration from the right bar, but that was about it.

Suspension and brakes
One good thing about spending 1000s on a modern, top-of-the-range adv is you get decent suspension. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to try it out much off-road where suspension performance is much more easily assessed, but at the very least both ends could have been fine tuned to work for my all-up weight and riding style.
Same with the brakes which i didn’t push due to the knobbly front tyre, nor to a point where ABS was engaged. The ‘creeping’ of the front Motoz’s knobs under tarmac braking did initially take some bike off the front.

Durability and problems
Who knows what sort if shape it’ll be when I get it back, but the only thing that fell off was a footrest rubber – probably not tightened up properly when the shop refitted them from the Off Road School. Refusing to be beaten by this calamity, I replaced it with a scrap of roadside tyre.
Because of the spread of lockdowns as the pandemic escalated in March 2020, I was already planning to leave the bike in Marrakech and fly out. But even that plan was nixed when I rode over some debris just out of Tiznit. Whatever it was flicked up and poked through the bash plate and the sump, losing all the oil.

Summary
The Africa Twin was the first big adv which successfully drew riders off their GS12s or stopped others buying the popular BMW. It’s a great road bike, but aren’t they all these days. On my ride down the Atlantic Highway I wasn’t convinced it was going to become magically manageable once on any sort of unconsolidated terrain. It would become what it clearly was, a big, heavy bike with a tall saddle and high centre of gravity when loaded and tanked up. The big worry would always be: one little misjudgement and you’re faced with the daunting task of trying to upright the bike. An AT falls over a lot flatter than a GS12 resting in it’s cylinders. It’s one reason I loaded baggage on the sides of the tank.
But by now 99,999 other owners suggest that Honda must have got something right and there may well be an element of me taking out my unlucky trip on the poor AT. We’ll see how I feel when I get to ride it back, maybe over some of the trails I know in the Atlas.

4 thoughts on “Africa Twin in Africa

  1. SIL4

    Interesting what you say about the 701 Dave – I test rode one recently (admittedly the supermoto version, because that was the only one I could reach the floor on). It had a great engine and rode really well but I did rather feel like I was perched on top of it and hanging on a bit: I’ve ridden shorter horses…

    I had a Dominator years ago, before moving to an XRV750 and other twins, and it was great all-rounder and I’d thought of a 701/690 perhaps with the lowering kit as part of moving to a one-bike strategy (maybe…). But people I know seem to either swear by them or at them: the ownership experience seems inconsistent. Pity Honda couldn’t engineer a modern equivalent really, as 701/690s seem to sell well enough.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Dave King

      I agree, I would love to see other manufacturers emulate the 690 and 701. The closest that anybody else has come in recent years was the X-Challenge 650 – I wish BMW had persevered and developed that bike further.
      With regards to ownership experience, my girlfriend and I have owned five 690s and two 701s between us and have had few problems, especially with the later models. Her bikes have all been professionally lowered as she is only five foot six.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Dave King

    I agree with your review. The Africa Twin is a great bike and better off-road than my previous R1200GS but even after a years ownership, I too have not gelled with it in the same way as the BMW. For serious adventure travelling, I will stick to the Husqvarna 701. I never have to worry about not getting through or having to pick it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. SIL4

    Interesting write up Chris: I wondered what you’d make of the AT after the NC.

    I know plenty of people love theirs but I never gelled with my AT. It had plenty of performance but the economy was poor (I got around 48mpg), bad weather handling didn’t inspire confidence, the DCT and build, quality was a bit erratic and it was all just too unwieldy and tall for me.

    The strangest thing was that the motor was very smooth but I suffered almost permanent VWF in my right hand. The depreciation on a fully kitted new bike after 12 months was simply savage and that told me that the market was perhaps saturated and time to get rid, especially as I wasn’t enjoying it.

    The NC that replaced it lacked the performance but had none of the AT’s disadvantages. But I think tastes are changing for simpler bikes anyway, especially as prices, size and complexity continue to increase, and I don’t think it will be too long before the market falls out of the bottom for mega ADV bikes, albeit slowly.

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