Motorcycle review: Honda Africa Twin is fun even in rain – USA TODAY
Sometimes it takes a bit of adversity – surprise bad weather or an unexpectedly long day in the saddle – for a motorcycle to show you its true nature. When you’re tired or irritated but the bike keeps buoying you along, you know you’ve got a good one.
That’s what I discovered during recent test rides of Honda’s 2016 CRF1000L Africa Twin, the company’s latest entry in motorcycle adventure touring.
I didn’t realize how much I liked the Africa Twin until a good day on fast empty curves of U.S. 50 near Grafton, W.V., ended late with heavy rain and a traffic jam and I found myself thinking, I’m still having fun.
Introduced late last year, it’s an off-road-styled bike designed to travel anywhere, from Route 66 to the Trans America Trail and beyond.
Even the paint scheme performs. As I was fueling up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a driver for the State Farm Safety Patrol — no doubt drawn by the distinctive red, black and white livery — walked over and said, “Hey, this is nice. What bike is this?” And we talked about the AT and its features and he squatted to inspect the engine. “That’s a good-looking machine.”
But the AT has more than distinctive styling. Africa Twin is a revered name in motorcycling with several models winning Paris-Dakar rallies in the 1980s. But it was not sold in the U.S. and American riders have been anticipating its arrival here.
The new Africa Twin is a dual-sport motorcycle with Dakar styling, a claimed 94 horsepower and weight of 503 pounds.. It’s got anti-lock brakes and traction control with different modes for off-road use and a special setting for riding on loose surfaces.
It’s an exuberant ride, nimble and powerful but comfortable for solo long-distance travel. Since I’m not an off-road rider, my non-street riding was regrettably limited to a few dirt roads and grass. The Africa Twin felt good on them, but it’s obviously capable of much more difficult terrain.
However, the AT shines on pavement. Two models are available: one with a six-speed standard shifter and clutch, the other with Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission. That’s a six-speed automatic transmission that works pretty much like the automatic in your car. Honda introduced DCT in its VFR 1200F sport bike in 2010 and expanded it to several models. Now it’s the Africa Twin’s turn.
Our test bike had DCT, and while motorcycles with automatic transmissions may be heresy to some riders, the system works surprisingly well, far superior to the old 1978 Hondamatic your uncle had for a while. As the name suggests, the DCT uses two clutches, one to run the odd-numbered gears, the other operating the even.
Riders control the system with paddles, which are turn-signal-like buttons on the handlebar grips. Use your right thumb to nudge over a button to put the bike in neutral, drive or sport mode, which offers three higher-performance options.
You can keep the transmission in drive or sport and feel the transmission click precisely through the gears as you accelerate. You can also override it by using your left thumb to press a button and downshift. Use your left forefinger to upshift.
Honda says the system allows riders to concentrate on speed and braking, and my ride on U.S. 50 between Winchester, Virginia, and Grafton, verified that claim – the AT took tight curves and tricky hillside descents with ease.
The AT felt good on the freeway as well. The parallel twin-cylinder 998cc engine delivers when you twist the throttle and combines with the smooth DCT to rocket you down the road. The 45-mm front tubes and single-shock suspension in the rear soak up potholes and other challenges.
I did have a few minor quibbles with the AT. For a long-distance bike, the saddle proved a bun-killer after 200 continuous miles. While two-up riding is possible, the AT felt rather cramped with both my wife and I aboard.
And I was disappointed with the lack of a center stand, which makes chain lubrication and other maintenance easier. One must be purchased as an accessory.
With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $13,000 for the manual six-speed transmission and $13,700 for the dual clutch setup, the AT is bound to attract serious riders dreaming of Alaska, and those just looking for a fun way to commute to work.