Tag Archives: CRF1000L Africa Twin

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.

Africa Twin – Ready for Africa

AFRICA TWIN INDEX PAGE

amh8prtatpk-laneWith AMH8 (right) sent in, I have a week and a bit to get the Africa Twin in shape for some Morocco tours and Mauritania road tripping. It doesn’t sound a lot of time but I’ve done this loads of times so know exactly what needs doing.
Or so I thought.
As I write early on in AMH: Beware and even anticipate a last-minute cock-up (‘LMCU’). While undertaking some wiring, my LBS noticed the left radiator was bent and fan jammed. I thought I’d smelt the whiff of coolant on the last couple of rides. It was clear from the damaged fairing the ex-Honda Off-Road Centre bike had fallen on the left at least once before they removed the crash bar, stitched up the fairing and sold it on. Looks like those crashes may have at-radbeen heavier than they looked and my bargain AT wouldn’t be such a bargain after all. Oh well.
Honda parts prices? Don’t ask. Ebay to the rescue. Because there are so many ATs around I snagged a used radiator-fan assembly (left) and dropped it off at the shop. With that fixed, it now transpired the used OEM crash bar I’d bought a while back (probably also from the HO-RC) had missing brackets and my ferry was leaving next day. Luckily, the pressure was off as Storm Ciara (below) put paid to that ferry crossing and with the next one too late to get to Marrakech in time, I was left to van the bike to Malaga (£420) and pick it up after my tours. I hope that’s all the LMCUs out of the way. I really don’t want to leave our descent to Mauritania any later than it already is.

at-storm

Attachments

atpk-palmThe fixed stock screen is famously ineffective. I settled on a Palmer screen, as on the CB500X a few years ago. It consists of a taller screen mounted on a pressed steel frame with three heights and three angles (left). That should surely deliver a cruising sweet spot. All up, it adds a kilo over stock; let’s hope the mounts can handle that extra mass on rough tracks.
Riding the bike (right), atpk-palmaI found with the setting left, I could ride up to 70 with no goggles wearing a Bell Moto 3 which is as good as it gets.
While fitting the Palmer frame (start with all mounts loose and work from there) one of the lower rubber grommet mounts fell into the abyss. Universe 1; Me 0. It seems commonly done but Rugged Roads sell similar ‘top-hat’ grommets that will work and ebay is even cheaper. One thing to know: these lower screen mounts slide up into place so don’t need completely unscrewing at all. Once you’ve undone the less lose-able top mounts, just slide the lower mounts down and out.

atpk - 1

The stock plastic ‘handguards’ are rubbish and not surprisingly, the clutch lever was bent. I was hoping my 2008 Barkbusters might get their nth outing on an AMH Project Bike, but it was not to be. The threaded ends of the Honda bars need a specific insert. Reluctantly I coughed up 90 quid for some Barks to fit an AT with, for once, no bodging required. I’ve had a good run with those old Barks and at least the scuffed black plastic covers fitted right on – the Bark bar design has not changed in all that time!
at-ASrisersI was also hoping to re-use my Rox Risers to lessen the stoop while standing, but the Rox’s bike-mount ends are for thin bars only. You can pay crazy prices for CNC milled risers (or much less from Asia) but Adv Spec’s Risers (left) are a more normal 40 quid and come with a selection of nicely knurled shim stacks adding up to a 40-mm lift with three lengths of hex-head bolts to suit. I found about 30mm was the limit on the AT’s cables.

at-toolboWTF’s the battery? It’s not at-battunder the seat. What would we do without the internet – RTFM I suppose. Turns out it’s jammed in above the gearbox (right) but behind a ‘toolbox’ that can only be opened/removed with the 5mm key clipped OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunder the seat (where my actual tools were located). With the empty toolbox off, I wired in a plug (right) to run the tyre pump, but the added wiring and fusebox foulled the snug-fitting toolbox. Luckily, you can pull the box apart at the hinge (above) and just mount the front to cover the battery.

atpk-99The wiring of the GPS and a USB port I left to my LBS. Here’s a good link on the fiddly job or removing the cowling, including snappy how-to vids. I don’t want to be doing what’s demonstrated below by the kerbside with tiny fittings disappearing into gutters full of rotting mid-winter leaf mush.
Though obviously very handy, there are some rambly, ill-thought-out how-do vids on ebay; some old dope droning on for 20 minutes for a <1-minute video on how to access the battery while reminiscing about his dad’s old tractor. The non-lingual vid below shows how it should be done.

 

Tyres

michlogoMichelin sent me some Anakee Adventures but the front looked a bit too roady compared to last year’s Anakee Wilds on the Himalayan. The AT may only be 60 kilos heavier, but has over three times the power which may chew through tyres fast.
On this trip of several thousand kilometres I’ve decided to try the ‘gnarly front – roady rear’ tyre strategy I write about. The rationale is: prioritise secure loose-terrain steering on the slower-wearing front while, on a powerful, heavy bike you need longevity from faster-wearing rears where sliding in the dirt is less problematic as you won’t be cornering this tank like a 125 MX. Anything too knobbly on the rear risks an unnerving ride, fast wear and ripped off knobs on the road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI fitted a Motoz Tractionator Adventure (left) to replace the front Karoo which isn’t the sort of tyre I’d choose for teaching off-roading in muddy Wales on a quarter-ton AT. On dry tracks it’s less critical but the Karoo only had 5mm left (same as the rear Karoo).
The bike is front-heavy but with a centre stand and a trolley jack, once fully deflated, the Karoo just squeezed out between the twin calipers. But getting the wider, stiff and new Motoz in – no chance. I tried to undo one of the calipers but they’re torqued off the scale and the loose forks make it hard to get tension (better done with the wheel on). Instead, I loosened one fork stanchion and shoved the wheel in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was just about to remove the rear when I remembered I had a nearly finished DIY tubeless wheel upstairs. All it needed was taping up and a Michelin Anakee Adventure (left) slipped on with some proper tyre soap. Inflating a newly mounted tubeless can be tricky as the tyre needs to catch a seal to accumulate pressure and get pushed over the lips into place. I know from 4x4s and my old XT660Z this can be hard to do, but the uninflated Anakee ‘pre-sealed’ well enough and, with the valve core removed to speed up the airflow, eased over the rim’s lips with a pair of loud pops. A cold dayOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA a week-and-a-half later and it’s down 8-10 psi so will need watching, though I recall early pressure loss is not unusual, even on proprietary tubeless spoke sealings.
Hopefully, it may settle down but I now have a v2 Michelin TPMS to keep an eye on things and may have to get some Slime in. I’ve stuck one activating magnetic dish to the fairing at a readable angle (right) and will keep another spare in the tank bag when off-road in case the display shakes off (a common complaint according to amazon reviews).
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the state of my fairing and radiator, the OEM crash bars which came on the HO-RC bikes (and are now selling used online), don’t really do the job. But what would you expect from 250 kilos of bike hitting the ground?
I specifically want them to mount
my ex-Himalayan Lomos which I hope will act as sacrificial impact-absorbing airbags. Better the bags’ soft contents get mashed than what seem to be vulnerable radiators.

The stock bash plate is at least made of metal, but it doesn’t come up around the sides of the engine which look vulnerable. On the rocky trails of the Adrar plateau I’ll have to tread carefully and have some epoxy putty at hand.

CRF1000 USD forks are leak-prone – OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAone of mine was leaking before I even bought the bike at 1800 miles (fixed on warranty). Repairing a seal in the field sounds too tricky atpk-krigto do well so I’m hoping some Kriega fork seal covers (right) will keep the seals from getting worn. They’re easy to fit and remove if needed. The full-sock tubes like I had on my XCountry are better and cost the same, but require removing the forks from the bike to slip over the top.

And that’s about it. It would have been fun to ride the Honda across Spain, but this is the first time doing that crossing over many winters that the weather has caught me out.
It would have been even more useful to get the feel for the AT doing my regular tour circuits in Morocco. That too is not to be so I’ll be renting a ragged Sertao for the duration and will just have to learn to manage the AT on the fly down in Mauritania. More news and impressions on the road in March.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Reviewing AMH7’s bike predictions

While flicking through AMH7 looking for ideas for the 8th edition, I spotted the box, right, previewing bikes just out, thought to be on the horizon or ones we’d wish to see. Written in 2016, it made an interesting read. The easier-to-read text is at the bottom of the page.

First up: a couple of clangers: when it comes to P-twin 270° crankshaft timing – now all the rage – I clearly got my V4 Crosstourer mixed up with Honda’s more interesting NC750 twins.
Less obviously, I also assumed the short-lived 650 Husky Terra/Strada engines (similar to the BMW 650s) would be used in what has ended up as the SWM SuperDual 600 X and T (above right). It seems the older but lighter TE630 motor passes Euro 4 emissions regs for the moment. That same motor is also used in the predicted AJP PR7 which is now out, as well as the current CCM 650 Spitfires and CCM’s forthcoming adventure bike to replace their short-lived GP450.

So, did the CRF1000L Africa Twin become an instant classic? It’s certainly become a popular adventure-styled bike, though not necessarily as popular a travel bike compared to the old 750. Probably because today’s range of great bikes makes the new AT less unusual.
The talk now if of a new 1100cc version for 2020, and possibly a 700- 850 after that, because the Africa Twin concept easily outsells the older and less fuel efficient V4-engined Crosstourer 1200 and Crossrunner 800. I’d love to see the heavy NC750X turned and not just styled as an all-terrain travel bike, but that’s a bit too radical. So will rallyfying the CB500X and calling it a mini AT. The alternative is a new P-twin engine for the 700/850 which seems unlikely unless it’s attached to a rang of bikes like the CB500s. Will they pitch it against the tech-heavy KTM790 or the plainer XT700? If the original 1000L is anything to go by, Honda will aim at the Yamaha.

Still with Honda and, hallelujah, in 2018 they surprised us with a CRF450L! Saly, it took one quick look to realise it was just their 450R dirt racer with indicators and – bizarrely for Europe – detuned by over 50% down to 25hp. Worst still, it costs nearly 10 grand and – officially – requires oil changes every 1000km. As my Himalayan has proved, 25hp is nearly enough to live with, but 1000-km oil changes are not, let alone the asking price. Yes, oil changes could be pushed if the bike is not hammered, but not by several 1000kms. Using the CRF…L designation for a street legal dirt racer was a bit of a dirty trick.

The 660 motor in Yamaha’s XT660Z did indeed fall foul of emissions regs, but seeing only Tracers and XSR700s, my assumption that a CP2-engined Tenere had been overlooked was too gloomy. After an advance promotion as drawn out as Honda’s Africa Twin, the XT700 will finally reach European dealers by September and the US a year later. And with the much admired Tenere brand and knowing the brilliant CP2 motor, I predict the XT7 will become an instant classic even faster than the AT.

As we all known Enfield’s Himalayan did also come to pass. There’s me on mine in the Sahara a couple of months back. Read my 4000-mile review here. And so did the KTM technically sophisticated 790 parallel twin on road and all-road versions, a category which is now described as ‘midweight’. At around 200 kilos, it’s about as heavy as you want in a travel bike.

swms

They say a KTM 390 Adventure may also due out for 2020. The 440 SWMs turned out to be nothing special, playing it safe with retro styling and branding. Who knows, they may bang out a modern travel bike with the 29-hp 440cc motor, but currently discounted by 30% in the UK suggests they’ve not caught on.

Look out for more hit and miss predictions in next year’s fun colour AMH8


BIKES TO WATCH, WAIT AND TO WISH FOR [2016]
Now a compact parallel twin rather than the original V, thirteen years after the XRV750 ended (the XL1000V Varadero has been expunged from the records) I’ll stick my neck out and say the new Africa Twin (right) will become an instant classic.
Adopting both the irresistible off-beat 270-degree crank of the Crosstourers NC700/750s (and Super Téneré), there’s also optional ‘automatic’ DCT shifting and traction control, both fine tuned for off-roading. The ABS version is 232 kilos wet, but the 21-inch front wheel puts it closer to the KTM category than the GS12, while being much cheaper than both. The fact that they’ve ‘only’ given it 96hp (the same per litre as the CB500X) means they’ve side-stepped the giant adv horsepower race and the 18-litre tank could be good for 400 clicks.
They’re even calling it a CRF1000L to capitalise on the 250’s success. In that case let’s hope they fill the gap with a modern day XR400/Dominator hybrid, a rallyesque CRF450L single with a load-carrying subframe. While we’re dreaming I suppose we’ll settle for an injected DRZ450 or a similar sized mini-Ténéré. Isn’t anyone paying attention to CCM’s GP450?
Talking of which, they say in Europe new emissions regs may spell an end to the XT660Z. The ABS version may be the last gasp, but as it is the XT-Z’s UK price alongside the very popular MT-07 is having the same effect. When a street scrambler-styled XSR700 was annonced, there was some hope the 07’s brilliant 700cc, 270°-crank motor might also get Ténerised, but it now looks like it’ll just be a Versys- or V-Stromlike MT-07 Tracer.
Instead, AJP’s PR7 rally-raid clone might be out by now, last I heard using the Husky twin-cam TE630 engine and not the Minarelli-built XT660Z’s motor. We can also expect an Enfield Himalayan by the time you read this, an adventure-styled 500 which might see Enfield try and break from their reliance on old-school plodders.
‘They say’ – or should that be ‘we are all hoping for…’ a mid-weight KTM parallel twin as an alternative to the beserker V-twins. You can add a mid-weight Triumph to that wish list too, though the 800-cc triples are lighter than you’d think.
As for an adventurised KTM 390, some would sooner see the tasty SWM 440 prototypes (above) reach production, even if the SWM’s RS650 and SM650R (rebadged old Husky Terra/Strada 650s) TE630s) will probably come first. 


Quick spin • Africa Twin DCT review

See also:
Honda X-ADV
Yamaha XT700 Tenere
Honda NC750X DCT
BMW F750GS
In early 2020 I bought myself a manual AT

at1There’s one problem with marrying Honda’s ‘have your cake and eat it’ DCT transmission with their 270°-crank parallel-twin engine: you can’t dip the clutch and blip the throttle for the sheer fun of unleashing the motor’s V-twin-like growl.

dctctAs for the other 999 reasons, after less than an hour’s riding I can see why this third generation of Honda’s sophisticated electro-hydraulic Dual Clutch Transmission system (baffling image right, baffling video below) is expected to outsell manual ATs. They say last year, of the Hondas sold with optional DCT (VFR1200X, Crosstourer, VFR1200F, NC750X and -S), less than half were manuals.

at2.jpgI’ve not read the recent rush of road tests to glean the impression, but Honda’s prolonged promo campaign for the Africa Twin appears to have paid off. Their nostalgia-tinted hype at-oldin reviving the rugged spirit of the original 1980s Africa Twin (right) conveniently skips the similar Honda-VaraderoXL1000VXL1000V Varadero (right) which sold in the UK till about 2011 and now goes used from two grand. That seems to be a bike which most actual owners recall far more fondly than reviewers or pundits, and is what Honda have succeeded in comprehensively eclipsing with the new AT – not the original AT which is from another era. Good technical article on the AT.

at9The test bike I tried was fully optioned: luggage racks (hideous topbox removed on request), crash bars, spots, centre stand, taller screen. Maybe the hot grips were extras too.
Outside the shop the dealer explained how the DCT works. On the right bar you have a rocker switch at8(below left) marked Neutral; Drive and – on this latest DCT – three Sport settings. Once the stand is up you press D, open the throttle and glide away like a scooter.
at7And this version of DCT (also on 2016 NC750s) includes refinements like gear-holding gradient sensors and a clutch-slip reducing ‘G switch’ (right), all with a matching array of ABS/Traction Control settings to help align the model’s aspirational CRF1000L moniker and potential with the like-named CRF dirt racers.

The sales guy recommended the S1 mode which holds revs longer before changing gears, and within a few miles I agreed with him. As you decelerate the DCT smoothly drops down through the gears at just the right pace – on my unhurried test ride at least. In the Sport modes it’ll do so more briskly. The regular D setting was up in sixth by 30mph which made acceleration unpleasantly juddery. It’s presumably great for economy but it felt less good for the chain and transmission. I neglected to see if there was a ‘floor it’ kickdown like on an auto car, but at any time you can use the MTB-like thumb and forefinger shifters on the left bar to manually change up or down. You can lock it in Manual too, using the A/M button below the Drive selector.

hondamatic.jpgThe clutch-like lever on the left bar is actually an out-of-reach handbrake, a bit like on my late 1970s 400AT (right). That bike ran a less efficient two-speed, foot-shifted torque converter using fluid and turbines. Don’t ask me exactly how, but with DCT there’s no power-robbing slippage apart from at rest and momentarily when it changes gear, so the bike responds to acceleration and deceleration much like a manual bike. And if you still have trouble getting your head around your DCT you can get an optional electronic foot-shift lever to emulate the left-bar shifters.

at4I did sense the weight on pulling away (probably a quarter of a ton fully fuelled), but once on the move I was surprised how quickly I adapted to that mass, as well as the DCT. No twitching left hand or foot, just the novelty of smooth, scooter-like propulsion without the small-wheel stigma. Riding gently in Drive you can detect the shifting – ride harder and it becomes barely perceptible.
Some bikers proclaim such automation emasculates the motorcycling experience – for a young, hard-charging Gixxer pilot with licence points to spare, perhaps. But aren’t sports bike quickshifters also chasing smoother progress through automation? Me, I’ve had my share of tearing around – it was my job for over a decade – but 37 years ago my 400 Hondamatic made town riding a whole lot less tiresome. I’ve had a lot of bikes before and since, but I can’t say many have had a slick gearbox and a light, smooth clutch operation which enhanced the riding experience. For the moment I’d be happy to experiment with an alternative, and just as with 4WDs, I believe auto shifting can actually make some off-roading easier. On a bike this size I bet crawling up a rocky, washed-out hairpin in the Anti Atlas would be much easier than feathering a clutch or risking a sudden stall and tip over, just because first gear is typically too high or you misjudged the input required.

at999Back in mid-winter Surrey. Once I popped out onto the Epsom bypass I was able to open it up and couldn’t suppress a broad grin spreading across my face. At this speed you have to concentrate hard to detect any gear changing activity as the bars on the reversed LCD digital speedo hurriedly rearrange themselves to match the pace.
That’s probably the best thing you can say about DCT – after 40-odd years of mostly manual shifting you adapt to it in no time – it’s no harder than trying an auto car for the first time, but much more fun. A better test for the DCT AT might be charging down some switchback canyon where conventional engine- and wheel-braking give the impression of greater control. That’ll have to be for another time but I do wonder how the front 21-incher would perform. Meanwhile, at the other end of the speed dial, I found feet-up, walking pace U-turns close on lock-to-lock as easy as you’d expect on a direct drive automatic. Until that tank is full, the bike feels very well balanced for its low-set weight.

CRF-rallyat3Other stuff on the DCT AT? It looks great in black, white and red, the colours of Honda’s nearly Dakar winning CRF450R-based desert racer (right). The coppery-bronze crankcases (like the new Husky 701) add a nice touch, too.

They’ve really got to grips with seat height on this bike – something that stops so many riders enjoying big Advs. With two levels (850mm and 870) and two seats offered, there’s about 50mm of potential variation, assuming I heard the dealer right. I had mine set at 870 (34.25″) and it felt lower than my satCB500X RR. The suspension felt plusher too, though right now my 500X is still set for load carrying, and one back lane pothole shot a harsh jolt through the AT’s bars. On the picture above left you can see a rear spring preload adjustment knob, and doubtless there are more compression settings front and back than a squad of saturation divers.


africatime

About the same time I was riding around north Surrey two Italian guys took a brand new and old XRV AT for a ride around Mauritania.


at5Among the accessories, the high screen worked great for me at up to 90. Heated grips were another seamless addition, with a heat-level bar packed in on the busy lower LCD display. Real-time rumination over the innovative DCT took my mind off the bike’s more mundane aspects, but the real question here is: would it make a good overlander? Or, in what way is it better than the all-conquering R1200GS?

I’ve long thought that by the time such bikes are properly equipped and loaded, they’re just too heavy for the sort of all-terrain travel I like to do, but that doesn’t stop masses buying, equipping and actually taking them on the road. The Honda looks significantly less colossal than a GSA, even if it’s probably no lighter, though I imagine it’s more economical. And the benefits of DCT is either something you appreciate or not. For overlanding I’d take it.

at6Riding back home I was reminded what a great all-round machine my Rally Raided CB500X is (left). Off-road ready for half the price with a used base bike, 10-15% lighter on the dirt, and more economical by the same amount too. The AT builds on the same great looks and performance – far outdoing what I recall of the original Africa Twin which I occasionally encountered in the Sahara. It was regarded back then as a heavy and juicy machine. I also like the fact that Honda ignored engaging in the current 150-hp mania with the latest mega Advs from Ducati, KTM and BMW. Instead, they’ve focussed hard on trying to create a full-sized machine with better at88gravel-road manners than most, even if the antics demonstrated in the video below require surnames like Marquez and Barreda.
The transmission system’s complexity on the road can’t be any worse than a regular gearbox, except you have two clutches to share the load. All the electronic engine management – well we’re all getting accustomed to that aren’t we, and I’d sooner it came on a high-end Honda than some other marques.

The new Africa Twin is clearly a brilliant road bike and I imagine a pretty good gravel roader, but there are a few of those already. It’s also heavier and costs way more than I’d ever spend on a travel bike – and there are many more in that category too.
rideapart1But finally encountering the marvel of DCT does make me reappraise bikes like a DCT-equipped NC750X which, in the original 700 form (left) now goes for about £3000 used. Problem is NC-Xs come with the same soft, budget-level logo-rallyraidsuspension as the CB500X and, like my 500, probably don’t have a bar/seat/peg set-up suited to me standing, unless I get into cable transplants. Meanwhile, for the moment there’s CRF1000L at your nearest UK main dealer so you can decide for yourself.

at99

Looking for Adventure: CB500X or MT-07

msu-06A few months ago I had a brief ride on Nick Plumb’s XTZ1200 (left). It was only a few miles but the creamy smooth pulse of the big, lazy engine was spellbinding. 900ssIt took me back 36.6 years to my old Ducati  (right). In 1978 the 900SS was one of the coolest bikes around and let me tell you, when you’re 18 that has quite an impact!

rideapartOf course the S10 is not a 90° V-twin but a more compact parallel twin. Yamaha re-created that Ducati feel by offsetting the crank to 270°. Some say the V-twin feel is the only benefit (and something which neurologists say stimulates the Neanderthal amygdala – right – deep in the human brain). amygdalaOthers claim the firing sequence has an advantage in converting torque into real-world traction. Also, because one piston is always at max velocity as the other comes to a momentary stop at BDC or TDC, this momentum, or what I’ve dubbed as ‘kinergy’, “assists with accelerating the [other] piston back towards its maximum velocity” as I just read on the internet. You don’t get that with your regular ‘up-and-down, up-and-down’ 360- or 180° parallel twins.

It’s the ‘Big Bang’ theory of unsynchronised but closely paired – rather than evenly timed – power pulses, as illustrated in the Honda graphic, right. That was produced to illustrate the benefits of their 670-cc moderate-power/high-mpg Integra super scooter and the closely related NC700 models. Above left is a manual (non-DCT) NC700X getting tested by RideApart in Nevada. Nice, but a bit heavy.

tony

triscramat1So is an S10: a quarter-ton, £10k tank-too-far to be a practical travel bike. Turns out the new CRF1000L Africa Twin (left and below – my 2016 quick spin) is offset too and sounds as creamy as a Waitrose rice pudding in the videos. But what other 270° aftwintwins are there out there suited to the next project? Not so many it seems: a couple of Triumphs including the Scrambler (right), the Honda NCs as mentioned, Yam TDM 850s and 900s from the mid-90s onwards, and the hit bike of 2014: the MT-07.

gsr-jettyAs I suggest in the book, a mid-weight parallel twin is all that’s needed in a do-it-all travel bike. Adequate power, smoother than a big single with similar performance and price, potentially good economy plus light and simple enough to be manageable on unsealed roads. That’s what my rudimentary GS500R project (left) tried to be – I should have persevered with that. But luckily I came to my senses and got a CB500X.

bare-NC700XHonda hit the fuel consumption ball right out of the park with the NCs and about time too. The secret was moderate ‘non-100-hp/litre’ power. I like to try new stuff so the NC-X could be a contender. I’ve yet to ride one but while the weight is positioned low in the chassis (left), a manual 700X is still a 220+ kilo bike on 17-inch wheels and which around here goes for £3.5k used – or £4.5k for the more desirable DCT. If you’re going to try an NC700-X, it ought to be the auto that all owners rave about.

CB500X [I later bought one] cbmt02It may not run an asymmetric crank like the new CRF1000L, but I like the new look that Honda cooked up in 2013 for the CB500X as well as the NC-X, the Crossrunner and the rest of their MoR Advs. Beaky sure – but sleak[y], too. Someone described the 500X as a 3/4 sized Crossrunner. Alongside my former XCountry (right), the 500 looks slim and with a notably lower seat – all pitched at ‘women or beginner riders’, so they say.
Pulling away I was struck by how astonishingly smooth it was and remained that way right up to an indicted 80mph when a bit of harshness crept in. If I hadn’t known, I’d have never guessed it was a twin, bar the fact it’s not as heavy as a four and as slim as some singles. And even with a vertical linkage nearly a foot long, the six-speed gear change has that satisfying Jap snick that I’ve missed on the shunt-shifting 650X, plus the lever was exactly where my foot liked it. Mark up one point for ergonomics.

cbmt03My chilly ride was mostly on motorways then some back roads and roundabouts around Gatwick airport and left me with nothing to complain about. With some 46hp there was easily enough poke to overtake at speed, no snatchiness in the transmission or glitches in the fuelling and great brakes. Suspension – where cost cutting is most noticeable these days – worked well enough too, though on smooth main roads it wasn’t really tested. Most cheap stuff will do the job – it’s when the road breaks up or a load is added that the flaws appear. The standard low screen must have done its job too as I don’t recall any strain at around the legal limit.

This 9000-mile-old 500X had some welcome Oxford heated grips plus one of those over-complicated electronic Scott chain oilers (more here). On the back was a Givi tail rack which hangs out like someone walking the plank and is an ergonomic abomination. I’ll have more to say about that in the near future. I know it’s convenient and all, but the thought of a  top box perched way out there is enough to make me want to call the Samaritans.

rpOne reason I’ve taken an interest in the 500X is that UK-based Rally Raid Products have developed a range of parts including properly uprated suspension, replacement wire wheels (right), plus the usual protection and load-carrying accessories. Better known for rallyficating highly strung KTMs and the like, it’s good to see a company like RRP taking on less flash but more affordable travel bikes like the CB-X.

cbmt05Back on the ride, I pulled over to have a closer look. On its 17-inch wheels the 500X is low on ground clearance. Down below the cat or collector box is on a level with the sump (right), though that’s nothing a slab of 5mm of dural couldn’t see to.

cbmt07Under the seat – good lord, an actual toolkit in the grey PVC pouch that Honda have used since Fritz Daimler crammed a steam iron into his pushbike. What I could see of the subframe looked chunky enough for luggage duties. Over on the cbmt08dash, there’s more data than my XCo: digital rev counter, clock, fuel gauge, trip, current/average mpg – all good once you decode it. And for a bike that’s put together in Thailand cbmt10or China or a bit of both, the fit and finish was reassuringly solid – better than my BMW. With its 17.5-litre tank you imagine the CB-X could get up to 400km (250 miles) to a tank without too much effort (in fact make that nearer 550km). Clad in dark grey plastic, I like the angular ‘early-Batman-movie’ styling too. Interestingly, the previous owner (‘a younger person’) PX’d this bike for an Integra super scoot. Is there a message there?

cbmt06

I came back to the shop liking this 500X, especially when the Doble’s bloke told me it was going for just £3800 – a price forced down by a couple of other used 500Xs in the showroom and the free luggage they’re now giving away with new ones. It’s definitely the closest thing to a modern GS500R I’ve tried.

A few months later I bought a CB-X

Yamaha MT-07 cbmt20What has Yam’s hit of 2014 got in common with the Honda CB500X you’re thinking? For me it’s solely about the motor because clearly extruding as 07’s suspension and slapping on bigger wheels (as I did on the disposable GS-R) won’t make an integrated gravel-roading travel bike any more than Frankenstein after a weekend trapped in a tumble drier. One limitation I have is nowhere but a South London pavement to work on my bikes – or a mate up in the Midlands to do basic fabricating. That factor curbs what I dare get involved with.

cbmt11As expected, the second the bloke fired up the MT’s engine I got it, I got it all: that intoxicating offbeat throb held a promise of good things to come. This was a short ride on a bike less than 100 miles old along grubby country lanes and speed-humped roads littered with wet leaves and still damp in the shadows. They led to the old B2031 out to Kingswood and Box Hill where I recall trying out a booming J&R cannon on my XT500 nearly 40 years ago. In these conditions I distinctly felt that this ‘Big Bang’ traction theory had something going for it. There was a sense that the engine power pulses made it easier to feed and feel the traction, compared to the electric-smooth Honda I’d ridden an hour earlier. And the fantastic but non-offensive sub-J&R exhaust note had me  blipping the throttle between gear changes just for the sheer fun of it.

BurningSocksThe short pipe holds another trick: escaping gases briefly throb against your dangling heel as you pull away. In my demi-euphoric daze I saw that as consolidating the bond with the characterful machine rather than the inconvenience of melted Derriboots and flaming socks. It was only when I looked at my photos that I realised the shop had slipped on an Akrapovic pipe on the sly – though they’re actually giving them away with new bikes.

cbmt14They claim 76hp and a wet weight of 180kg. I can’t say the 07 felt like it ran over 100hp/litre but who cares – the odo was still in nappies. It’s the feeling you get playing tunes on the gearbox that counts: you’re gunning around to please your senses not for acclaim. Like I said, magic-ing up a V-twin feel in a compact parallel twin motor is inspired.

mt07cutawayThe rest of the MT was not so interesting to me. The profile is cool but as soon as that currently fashionable drooping headlamp cowling comes into view I gag. Swap it out for a used XS850 lamp, quick. Along those bumpy, ill-maintained Surrey lanes and suburban speed bumped avenues, the suspension felt harsh and the seating position would have taken some getting used to. But bear in mind I’ve been riding a trail bike with the full Hyperpro set up these last few months.

YamahaMT-03

Anyone remember the 660 MT-03 from 2005?

Back at Lamba Motors in Carshalton, (this demonstrator is being sold shortly for around £5k) we talked about the possibility of Yamaha Tenere-ising the MT-07 in the future. The guy told me that the old XT660Z – which now sells for the same price as the MT – was reaching the end of the line and also that, for the first time this year, he actually had an 07 sitting in the showroom. Up to that point they were pre-ordered and out the door.

MT09-TracerYamaha have recently semi-adventurised the MT-09 triple, calling it a Tracer (left). That included giving it a bigger tank, a fairing, a tad less caster and trail, a higher seat – but also 20 extra kilos and still on 17-inch wheels. So that means something similar may well happen to the smaller MT twin – something like the 500X in fact, but a whole lot more fun to ride and listen to  even if what’s really wanted is a new, full-on XT700Z. You do wonder if in the short-term they might just keep it simple and Tracerise the 07. That’s a great shame as a properly executed MT-07-engined Tenere would for me be a perfect travel bike or at least something on which to build.

TDM900So for me the 07’s perfect engine put the Honda in the shade, but it’s a 500X-type bike I’m after (with RRP parts to finish the job). If only Honda had taken the risk and offset one CB-X crank by 90° I’d have bought that bike on the spot.

Instead I’m looking at TDMs – very few bad bareTDMthings are said about them. But in the 900 injected form, it’s a huge ugly slab of a bike and more than I need even if, as with the GS500, used prices are low enough to risk experimenting (left) with negligible depreciation to make something that looks a little more agile.

PS: A short while later I did briefly run a TDM900: more here.

cbmt12