To celebrate the publication of AMH8 I’ve a couple of specials on eBay:
New daypacks join Kriega’s long-established five-strong R range from 15 to 35 litres. You got the snazzy colour-backed Trail in 9 and 18-litres and the bigger more urbanesque Max 28 which expands to take a helmet.
Supplied free for review and testing
What they say:
The TRAIL18 Adventure Backpack utilises Kriega’s groundbreaking Quadloc-Lite™ harness, combined with high-tech construction materials to meet the needs of the adventure rider.
Composed of three sections: A heavy-duty zip access 7-litre rear compartment which is a perfect storage area for a Tool-Roll and water bottle or the optional 3.75L Hydration Reservoir. This area also has a small internal waterproof pocket for a phone and wallet, combined with the main roll-top body providing a total of 12-litres 100% waterproof storage. The innovative Hypalon net also provides more external storage for wet gear.
What I think:
• Roll-top compartment
• Comfortable to wear; sits well on the back
• Removable waist straps
• No compression straps
• Durable 420D Cordura body
• White waterproof liners in two compartments
• External hypalon net
• Smooth-gliding main zipper
• Colour-backed Trails aid viz
• 10 year guarantee
• Bulky roll-top small inner pouch
• Quadlock-Lite interferes with jacket pocket access
For years I’ve been happy enough with my dinky R15, once I cut off the unneeded compression straps and removed the unnecessary waist strap. I’ve used it for weekends in Wales, backroads and tracks in the Colorado Rockies and Baja, and of course on my Morocco tours and rides. The main compartment was big enough for my laptop in a dry bag plus the hydrator, with bits and pieces in the PVC mesh inside pocket and the bigger outer pocket.
The longer Trail18 will be a nifty replacement. Straight away I like the coloured back panel. Often on my tours I try to ID riders up ahead and anything non-black makes it a whole lot easier. I dare say it will be for them too.
You often get thin bungy elastic laced across daypacks as a quick and easy place to stuff stuff. Kriega have thought it through a bit further by using a distinctive hypalon net panel with the elastic strung along the edges and attached closely at the base. This way, what you stuff in there – mucky bottles, baguettes, wet cloths – won’t fall out the bottom. And if you want more colour or don’t like this arrangement, you can easily unlace the elastic and remove the hypalon panel.
I can see a use for this feature buying some food on the way to a night’s lodging, or securely stuffing a jacket or overpants in there on a hot day when you don’t want to dick about with the closures. It’s possible the excess elastic and cinch fittings above may flap about in the wind behind you, but tucking the end in is easy enough.
Behind this panel is a full-length 11-litre compartment with a removable white waterproof liner and a clip-down roll-top. The great thing with roll-tops is that even if you forget to do them up right, stuff stays in. No more clattering laptops on leaving airport baggage scans with unzipped zips.
Behind that compartment against your back is a smaller 7-litre zipped compartment with no liner. Inside are a couple of tabs to hook up your hydrator (more below) and down below a couple of sleeves for drinks cans or 500ml water bottles. A smooth-running (non water-resistant) one-way zipper only comes right down on one side (below) so forgetting to do it up ought not see things fall out so readily. It includes a finger-hooking ring pull which can only be in one place when closed, but I always add a bit of bright tape to make this puller easier to locate.
My only mild gripe with the Trail is the bulkiness of the roll-top/clip-down waterproof liner’d 1-litre pouch with a phone-sized zip pocket attached in the inner compartment. I know it’s waterproof but the roll-up takes a lot of space and clipping it down would be a faff. I’d have preferred a bigger version of the plastic ripstop zip pocket from the R15. But then again, you can easily drop a big camera in here and be reasonably sure it will stay dry.
The long mesh-padded back panel seems stiffer than my old R15 so the whole thing doesn’t rest quite so unobtrusively on your back, which may actually be a good thing. The waist strap can be removed and there’s also a door hook tab plus a chunky carry handle. Mine weighed in at 1550g and a Trail18 costs £179.
Impressions added here once I get to use it.
The Trail is hydrator-ready with a slot for the hose to come over either shoulder and a velcro tab inside the back from which to hang the bladder.
Kriega’s stubby new 3.75L (7.9 pint!) Hydrapak Shape-Shift reservoir is made to fit both Trail models by fully expanding to fill the space below that bulky top pocket.
Nearly 4 kilos of water is a lot to carry on your back, but maybe that’s what some riders need. The rubbery TPU bladder has the same fold-and-clamp, easy fill and clean opening as the original one, as well as the clip-off and insulated and UV-proof hose with hopefully a less-brittle bite-valve on the end. I tucked my nozzle end under a tab on the front of the strap, but Kriega offer a velcro attachment tab which may well work better if the hose is on the short side for you. It costs £45.
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.
• 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
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.
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.
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).
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.
• Front Motoz Tractionator Adv
• Rear Michelin Anakee Adventure (tubeless)
• Palmer Products adjustable screen
• Adv Spec bar risers
• Strapped-on baggage (below)
• Wired in USB and GPS
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.
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.
After showing up at the 2019 bike shows, Honda launched the CT125 in March until you-know-what happened. Now it’s out as a 2021 model with enough out there to have a good old speculate. It’s expected to sell in Europe as the CT125 Trail Cub or the Hunter Cub in North America. Price just $3899 in the US where, half a century ago the bike was well loved.
In AMH8 I write about Jap ~200-cc ag bikes as lightweight travel bikes. Most are based on prehistoric air-cooled mutts but Honda’s AG190 (above) leads the pack with EFI and a front disc brake! However, I’m not certain my enthusiasm has translated into widespread uptake, perhaps because you can only buy them in RSA (called an XR190 – less ag-featured) or Downunder.
The CT is based on the retrotastic C125 Super Cub (left), the reborn Honda step-thru which claims to be the world’s best selling two-wheeler. The machine your not-into-biking grandad once rode to the sorting office every morning now has ABS, cast TL wheels, EFI and a modern take on the old hack’s bodywork. No, I wouldn’t look twice at one either, but I would at Yamaha’s stillborn TW-based Ryoku (below) from 2013.
Your CT (Trail Cub?) dates back to fondly recalled CT90 and CT110 scoots produced from the mid-1960s to the mid 80s in America, Australia and maybe elsewhere. The legend goes that Honda USA noticed farmers buying easy-to-manage step-thrus for ranch duties, went to the drawing board and gave them what they wanted. Like Cubs, the centrifugal clutch means no clutch lever: drive engages as revs climb, like an auto car. Good for hill starts. To change up just back off the throttle as you stamp on the heel-toe shifter. Old school quickshifting ;-D Kickstart only according to the Jap specs bottom of the page, though the red bike graphic below has what could be a starter motor on top of the engine. It’s probably some emissions. breather canister.
Some old CTs had dual rear sprockets (not unlike a derailing pushbike), others had no less than a dual-range gearbox like a proper 4×4! Honda took this seriously, although swapping front sprockets (as I’ve done myself on various desert bikes with long approach rides) is easier than swapping rears as it eliminates faffing with chain lengths.
Hard to believe but from the Jap spec sheet (bottom of the page) and the image left (could be a prototype) it does appear their CT125 gets L <–> H dual range too (it’s common for Jap spec models to be higher-spec / more exotic than what we get).
From my 4×4 experience I know that low-range is mostly about control: carefully picking your way through rough terrain or pulling out of power-sapping conditions without stressing the clutch. As we all know, first gear on most regular bikes is too high – hence the spare small front sprocket idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if the EU/NA CT125s end up having the regular four speed boxes.
Enough chat; let’s speculate on the images below. Click for larger.
After spending a few of hours putting all this together I’m not sure I’ve convinced myself a CT125 is for me. It’s just a spin-off from the Super Cub/Grom/Monkey Bike which I’d never see as contenders. The mpg is stunning but it’s a low-powered ONE TWO FIVE with poor standing eros which just doesn’t suit my size. It would make an easy-to-ride scoot for my Morocco tours and be loads more fun than the 310GSs we use, but if I’m going in this direction for my own bike I’d sooner import an AG190 which will probably end up costing the same. or just calm down and get a CRF-L like everyone else.
MCN‘s recent claim of Honda’s plans to make an Africa Twin based on the NC750 motor was a rare instance of my wish coming true. When the popular CRF1000L (below) became an 1100L last year – in part to compensate for power losses due to Euro 5 regs – the cry went up for a mini-AT, not least following the popularity of the XT700 and the KTM 790 ‘middleweight’ adventure-styled bikes.
Honda seems to have heard the call and recognises the gap in their current 14-model Adventure category. At the moment, unless you fancy the old VFR 800X Crossrunner which must be close to getting Euro’d, it’s a huge jump from a CB500X (above) to the newest 1100AT at twice the price. Slotting the NC750X into that Adventure category (which also includes the CRF450L) was always is a bit of a reach. An 800L is much more like it.
Right from the start I’ve been a fan of the NC concept: a low-revving, high-economy, low-CoG, big capacity chugger with all the real-world power you need. Last year I ran a 2018 750X, partly to properly try out the DCT gearbox but also with a view to adapting it to an all-road travel bike, as I did with the XSR7 (below) with reasonable success.
The NC750X (below) was a great road bike which loved to corner, occasionally flashed up 100mpg and still seemingly plain suspension was a big improvement on earlier models. But for many obvious reasons it would have been too hard/costly to adapt. As I’ve found with the XSR, it takes more than a set of bar risers, suspension lift and wheel change to turn a road bike into a travel bike. An NC750 may have a low CoG compared to my current AT, but it’s still heavy (my NC-DCT weighed 232kg; my AT is 240kg before add-ons).
There is talk that the whole NC range may be getting an 800-cc makeover, probably for the same Euro-5 reasons. You do wonder it this may mean a more conventionally upright engine as in the mock up, losing the frunk ‘tankbox’ and putting the tank in the normal position, as BMW have done on the 750/850 GSs. Analysing patent designs (as below) may suggest something in that vein.
The Honda designer in the MCN article talks of a budget spec bike, like the CB500X, to appeal to learners with A2 licences. That will keep the price down and, with a good motor, as with the 500X, will be easy for owners or outfits like Rally Raid to offer suspension and wheel upgrades for those who want them. We watch and wait.