What I Want: Honda Africa Twin


I've admitted this before: I'm a sucker for good marketing. And the campaign leading up to the imminent return of Honda's legendary Africa Twin motorcycle has been exceptionally good.

Honda clearly, almost overtly, intends to take the crown away from BMW in the adventure-touring category, feeling its Africa Twin has rightful claim to the throne. Certainly the old Dakar-winning XRV-750 was unmatched through much of the 1990s, when it had little competition. But with almost every major manufacturer now offering some sort of adventure variant -- and BMW and KTM having upped the game to exceptional levels (1) -- Honda has a big mountain to climb.

I think they've gone about tackling that mountain the right way, though: slowly, slowly, slowly whetting our appetites over the past year. First, through the unveiling of the mud-covered True Adventure concept, then through a series of sleek, inspiring True Adventure videos on YouTube.

A few stylized photos were released back in May as part of Honda's official confirmation of the Africa Twin's return, but up until this week Honda hasn't offered a full glimpse of the machine. As I say, it's clever marketing -- piquing our interest but always leaving us wanting more. This is the way you go about building a cult following, similar to that enjoyed by the BMW R1200GS.

And I have to admit that it pretty much has me hooked.

Which is a bit surprising to me. I certainly didn't imagine myself wanting the thing back when I saw it in person at Motorcycle Live 2014. I didn't even bother to take a picture of it. But owning a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 has led to a change of heart. Adventure bikes are ugly, but by Gawd, are they useful. 

For example, take my recent trip down to Tuscany (I'll be writing a lot about that trip soon). I can think of no other class of bike that could have handled as well all the challenges I faced: narrow and unpaved roads, psychotically twisty mountain passes, 125-mph autobahns, urban madness, and everything in between.

The Africa Twin is being billed as a true do-all rugged beast and I am very much looking forward to getting the chance to see if the bike lives up to its billing. Having previously owned a Honda, I have a soft spot for their utter reliability and ease of use.

I have very few qualms with the Strom at the moment, so it will be a few years before I turn a serious eye to the Africa Twin, but I really can see it becoming my next bike.


According to Honda, the Africa Twin is a relatively light machine, and it appears not to be as stupid-wide as many ADV offerings, such as those from BMW, KTM and Moto Guzzi. I'm looking forward to seeing a specs sheet, but on appearance it seems right to suit my needs.

There appears also to be plenty of room for a passenger and I have no doubt it will come equipped with many of the bells and whistles we've come to expect from this class, such as traction control and riding modes. The luggage, too, speaks to me.

The standard luggage on my V-Strom is my greatest complaint about the bike. It would be nice to have panniers that can actually hold stuff like helmets or laptops.

It's very hard to tell from the video that's been recently released, but it appears the Africa Twin is equipped to overcome my other complaint about the V-Strom, which is its lack of an adequate place to put a GPS. 

(Although, I have to admit that I've grown pretty fond of my redneck fix to that problem. The stupid blue bar across the dash makes the bike surprisingly easy to spot from a distance and therefore easier to find in a parking lot.)

I have no doubt that the bike's 1,000-cc parallel twin engine will have plenty of grunt and plenty of go. And I'll admit to being very intrigued by Honda's desire to equip this bike with its DCT automatic transmission. 

There are a lot of British riders of the Frank Melling mindset who carry active disdain toward electronic tiddly bits, so I can't imagine DCT-equipped Africa Twins will sell like hotcakes over here (2), but I'm not British. And I'm man enough to admit that some urban European riding can be very mentally taxing due to all the things you have to pay attention to. I suspect that eliminating the (albeit slight) mental drain that comes from operating my left hand and left foot would allow greater ability to concentrate in particularly hairy situations, such as multi-lane roundabouts.

I am also man enough to admit that it's likely DCT can do a better job of controlling the transmission than I can. In the same way that ABS can do a better job of emergency braking than I can. Electronic aids do just that: aid. They aid in the enjoyment of the motorcycling experience and help make it more accessible to everyone, which is ultimately of benefit to motorcycling as a whole.


I think my only concern in owning a motorcycle with automatic transmission would be fear of losing touch with my skill to operate one with manual transmission. After all, there are a lot of manufacturers who seem pretty dedicated to The Old Ways, and I wouldn't want to miss out on any of their fun.

Perhaps the solution to that dilemma is to just own several bikes. You know, because I'm so damned rich.

Indeed, the real selling point to an adventure motorcycle is the fact that it's several bikes wrapped into one. And this one looks great.

So, we'll see. Maybe I'll want a manual transmission Africa Twin, maybe I'll want one with DCT. All I really know is that I want one. I have a few years to work out which one; I don't expect to be bike shopping again until at least 2017 (and that's being pretty optimistic). 

I'll stick to just daydreaming for the timebeing.

UPDATE: I just found a specs sheet online that suggests the Africa Twin will have just slightly less power and torque than my V-Strom, whilst weighing 6 kg more and having 1.2 litres less fuel capacity. To me, this means that the techno do-dads Honda chooses to add and make as standard become incredibly important in determining whether I'll actually end up getting one.

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(1) I don't actually know how exceptional or otherwise BMW or KTM bikes may be; I've not yet had the chance to ride one. However, every conversation I have with owners sees them swooning over its abilities, And when you read some moto-journalists' reports of the bikes you suspect they needed several changes of underwear during their test ride -- so ebullient is their praise.

(2) Or, perhaps they will, since Britons don't tend to eat hotcakes or even know what they are.

Comments

  1. Hi Chris,
    First up; great blog and thoughtful insights. Thanks!

    I think you have caught many of my thoughts on the new AT too. Despite loving them growing up in the late 80s and 90s I was pretty indifferent to the news of a new one; especially being a litre bike. But... as time has gone on those glimpses and snatches of info and mostly the fan generated speculations have kept me hooked to find out more about it. The final video day has really got me looking quite hard at it now!

    My main remaining questions are tank size, range and mgp? I hate filling up.

    I've not tried one yet but I thought the DCT gave an option to override it and a manual mode, rather than just fully automatic?

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  2. I don't know about DCT either, but the "gear assist pro" offered by "you know who" may be a good compromise about staying vaguely in control and avoiding "pillion head banging" syndrome.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, you're probably right. I read recently that Suzuki is developing some sort of "automatic" system that is still allows you to shift with your foot. Perhaps that will turn out to be the best of all worlds.

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  3. Hi Chris,

    following your blog off and on and its a great read. So thanks for that! On subject, I quit the adventure bike thing a while ago, when I moved away from Central Queensland to Brisbane. I used to own a Yamaha Tenere XT660Z, which I actually did ride off-road (and not just unpaved roads) and on long stretches of blacktop. Also rode bikes like the Dominator, KLR etc, never any of the big bore twins. So I took some interest in this new AT, when Honda started with their PR last year.

    Long story short(er): looking at the spec-sheet and their marketing speak, I think its the definition of a dud. Another bike for the Touratech shopper/latte crowd. My Tenere already used to be a handful on the tracks, with 215 kg wet, high centre of gravity, the shape of the seat etc. This bike is much worse (seat height is a tad lower, but not much). Your VStrom is a better bike for the money in pretty much every regard, though both bikes dont belong off-road. I keep hearing people say "yeah, but look at what a skilled rider can do on one of those." and I keep answering them "Yeah, put the same rider on a 170 kg-wet 650 cc and look what he will manage to accomplish there!".
    At the end of the day the issue seems to be this: No one really wants a go anywhere machine. There seems to be a cashed up crowd for bling pretend bikes, that allows them to fantasize about crossing deserts they will never see in person and Honda understands this. Otherwise we would see real dual sports in the 450 to 650 cc-range. I keep hearing about KTM basing something ADV-styled on their 390 single. I do hope thats true, but am not holding my breath.

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