Tag Archives: Honda 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.

Quick Ride: Honda NC750X DCT review

A couple of weeks after I wrote this in 2019 I bought one
NC750 - 9

I know it’s not fashionable in adventureworld but I do believe the Honda NC750X DCT (…XD) would make a great travel bike. We’re assured the NC is nothing more than a sensible commuter bike, a modern-day Benly combining a high-economy, low-output motor, but with neo-adventurish looks and a capacious ‘tankbox’. NC = ‘No Character’ say some wags, but that has as much currency as ‘TDM = tedium’. Apart from basic suspension, a lot of what the NC-XD has got would make sense on a long ride, including occasional gravel roading:

  • Tubeless wheels75018dctspex
  • Low seat height and CoG for easy low-speed maneuvering, despite the weight
  • Very economical
  • Low-compression motor for low-octane fuel
  • Decent ground clearance
  • Good weather protection
  • 420W alternator
  • New or used; they’re half the price of an Africa Twin
NC750 - 11

And then you have the wonderful DCT auto gearbox. I very rarely use the W-word but DCT is the best thing since spam fritters. I first tried it a couple of years ago on the Africa Twin and got it straight away, and again on the NC-engined X-ADV X-cooter. I have well and truly had enough of clutches and gear changing, despite the advent of quickshifters. With a manual override on the left bar, DCT really is the best of all worlds and has been further refined on the latest models (read below) to possibly make it a little more effective on off-road slopes.

The 2018 DCT used in the NC750 models features “Adaptive Clutch dctctCapability Control” that manages the amount of clutch torque transmitted. This adds a natural ‘feathered’ clutch feel when opening or shutting off the throttle for a smoother ride. Further refinements include fast operation of the N-D switch on turning on the ignition and a control system in AT mode for gauging the angle of ascent or descent and adapting shift pattern accordingly.
750xDCT
NC750 - 15

At the show where I tried it, the NC sat alongside the updated CB500X with more travel and a 19-er front end, and the odd X-ADV which, try as I might to like left-field ideas, I didn’t quite get as a genuine all-roader – well not at the price they want for it.

NC750 - 8

We set off for an escorted 45-minute backroad circuit with riders on Gold Wings the size of torpedoes, 500Xs and ATs. The DCT quickly came back to me: the start in neutral, shift with right thumb into Drive or shift again for Sport, then twist and off you go. Sport sees it hold on to higher revs before changing up, and there are three levels in S (didn’t get that deep). For manual, flick back a lever with your right index finger and it will stay in gear. To change up and down, use thumb/forefinger paddle controls on the left bar, just like an MTB. Manual gives you more control and engine breaking which you may appreciate on a fast descent. Flick back into auto any time, on the move or sat still.
Pulling away, the low-rpm grunt is quite impressive; the benefit of an engine tuned for torque before power. Just as I recall on the AT, it seems to shift up and down at just the right moment; you can leave your left hand and foot at home.

tldream

Having tried the brilliant new XT700 a couple of hours earlier, the engine character was similar, if not more torquey off the line. There’s 25% less power than the XT7 but the same max torque of 68Nm – except it’s delivered some 2000 rpm lower on the NC. Because you can’t park in gear, just like my late 1970s Dream 400 AT (right), the left bar has an ugly parking brake clamp if you leave the bike on a slope.

But the NCs suspension and roadholding was nowhere as good as the Yamaha. Two inches less travel must have a lot to do with it which at least contributes to a saddle height of just 830mm (32.7″). I can’t quite put my finger on it; in bends it stood up a little on the rebound – inadequate damping perhaps? It didn’t feel half as planted as the XT, despite the low CoG. I hit all the manhole covers I could to give it a work-out while noticing the bloke on the CB500X in front was carefully avoiding them. So suspension on the 2019 CB-Xs is no better.

nc-shock

Looking at the stock NC shock (left), it’s not something you’d care to show anyone on a first date. Better shocks must be available and fork improvements too. It’s easier and less complicated to fix suspension than a motor, but is it as easy as that? I went through this all before and decided, no.

The single front brake was especially good considering the 230-kilo mass; goes to show one big diametre rotor can be enough. The original NC 700 had linked brakes like 1970s Guzzis (and maybe still). The brake pedal operated front and rear brakes at a given ratio, and the brake lever brought more pressure on the front. As with DCT, it frees up the hands. I loved it on a V50 Guzzi I rode years ago, but it seems there is only so much control you can remove from riders’ cold dead hands before they rebel. Riders claim they prefer conventional separate brakes because they can back the 750 into dirt bends with the rear locked or skidding… yeah, right. Switchable linked brakes, like switchable ABS would suit me,  but maybe that’s too complicated.

On the road in auto, it’s great to have your left limbs liberated into redundancy. Taking pictures is easy, so is eating, waving or any number of other distractions. Sure, an emergency stop is best made with both hands on the bars, but these days we have ABS to modulate our clumsiness. And while it’s certainly heavy, the similar BMW 700GS and even my heavy-for-what-it-was Himalayan both proved in Morocco that because of the low-set weight, both are better than you’d expect for my level of gravel roading biking.


750xdiffs
  • The 750 from 2014. A big improvement over the original 700s (suspension, DCT, counterbalancer, gearing, unlinked brakes and ABS, dashboard, seat
  • From 2016: fatter silencer, slightly bigger ‘tankbox‘, new ‘tank’ sides (usually silver), LED lights, 3 sport modes, a bit more poke,  better suspension.
  • From 2018: new dash, 2-level traction control, higher rpm limit.

This American Honda dealer (who broke the 450L story last year) has unusually comprehensive blurb on the 2018 model. There also an NC Wiki.

NC750 - 7

They’ve just announced the 1100-cc Africa Twin, which some hope might also result in a smaller 750 spin-off. Otherwise, I don’t think customers would buy a properly adventurised version of the NC – its image is too ingrained and the weight and power would be perceived as all wrong.

A DIY job could include higher-profile knobblies to gain some clearance and dirt grip, better suspension to maintain it, add a bashplate and, fingers crossed, good to go is what you are.

Fuel access under the back seat could be a pain, and so might be seat comfort (early NC seats were bad). I’d probably end up with a bike not much better than my XSR, but that worked well enough. Both motors have the desirable 270-° crank timing to provide a V-twin throb without the bulk.

twin_crank_shaft_angles


I’m tempted to try one and get to grips with the DCT to see if the novelty wears off in the face of the weight and modest horsepower. What really holds me back is the go-anywhere agility of a trail bike. I’d like to see DCT in a CB500X (along with a 270° crank). It’s safe to say that won’t be happening.