Honda Africa Twin Review
What Is It?
The 2016 Honda Africa Twin is a premium adventure bike with optional automatic gearbox.
Engine: 998 cc Parallel Twin, 94 bhp
Economy: 50 mpg, 210 miles
Seat Height: 850 mm
Wet Weight: 232 kg
|✓||Looks, build quality, off road ability, handling, balance, power, sound, all day comfort|
|×||Clunky manual box, poor screen, weight, no centre stand/12V socket as standard, limited tyre choices on rear|
2016 CRF1000L Africa Twin manual with optional heated grips, centre stand and 12v power socket
If you’re in the market for an adventure bike or round the world tourer, you’ll have the new Africa Twin CRF1000L on the test-ride list, and to be honest, you’ll not be disappointed. Winner of Bike Magazine's “Bike of the Year 2016” and ”Auto Trader 2016 Best Bike Award”, is it time you coughed-up around £11,000 and took off to Morocco?
Although the bike has been newly designed from the ground up, so it’s not without niggles.
The not-so-good stuff
At 5ft 11” the standard screen ‘buffers’ me beyond belief over 60mph, a lower ‘sports’ screen from Rugged Roads sorted this, but the trade off is no real weather protection.
The ‘clunky’ gearbox is a little irritating and the 150 cross section rear tyre is unconventional, giving restricted tyre choice. The standard Dunlops are not actually Dunlops at all (long story), but despite poor reviews, I can say the stock tyres are actually fine on tarmac and offer good lean; combined with the AT’s balance, getting to the edge of tyre is remarkably easy. I rode for 4 hours straight in angry rain from the ferry terminal in west Scotland to the far east of England, neither the tyres nor the AT missed a beat. Just make sure you’ve scrubbed them in well.
Like it or not, UK bikes must have ABS and traction control, this doesn’t help the girl’s weight – at a Mars Bar over 230kgs, this isn’t a CRF250L. The weight is only really noticed when manually moving her around, parking and occasionally off-road. She hides it well with a slim frame and sculpted seat, but you’ll still need a hand to pick her up if you get too carried away. However, she’s one of the lightest in this class.
There are reports of poor performing heated grips and wheel spokes corroding, but mine are fine.
The good stuff
Without doubt the new AT is a superb motorcycle, the 95hp is enough to get an indicated 125mph+ on the LCD dash, and in all gears except 6th, she takes off well giving you confidence to overtake and maintain good motorway speeds without stressing the engine or components. 6th gear is more of a fuel saving overdrive, perfect for the long distance across France back to the ferry.
Honda has worked hard on the CRF1000L and they’ve scored high on looks, sound and performance. How Honda managed to get that deep sound from a stock can with the occasional ‘pop’ on the overrun, is beyond me. Dakar-esk LCD dash is informative and intuitive, and the headlights would give any car driver reason for the two fingers in the rear mirror. Switches are high quality and well above what you’ll find on other machines.
Comfort is top of the class with all-day-in-the-saddle journeys a breeze. Suspension is slightly soft, but that’s easily sorted via the adjustable shock and forks.
There’s plenty of room to move your body position to accommodate a 12 hour ride, it’s only the slightly small 18.8L fuel tank that’ll break up your ride with fuel stops every 140 – 160 miles. Talk of 200 miles out of a tank might be possible in 6th gear all day, but I’m not one for hanging around nor riding on motorways at optimum speeds. Brakes are stunning, those twin wavy discs stop you well and the ABS is good insurance. The rear brake is powerful and perfect for skidding on the loose stuff (with traction control turned down and ABS off).
The excellent turning circle, wide bars and the combination of 21” front and 18” rear are begging you for some off-road fun.
Make no mistake, this is no dirt bike
She’s an Adventure Bike at home on gravel, green lanes and riding fire trails in the Dolomites. Forget any ideas of rock-hopping or serious off road mud-plugging in Cambodia. Stock tyres let us down off road; light gravel is fine, but anything remotely wet, deep loose stuff or ford crossing will have you questioning your mental health.
I’ve done 3,500 miles on the stock tyres, still life in them but changed to the Mitas E07’s 50/50 tyre and went for a spin off-road.
Move to the centre of the trail where the deepest gravel is, stand up and lean forward, open the throttle, and just watch massive blooms of dust in your wake. The traction control has a near stroke as I spin the back end causing apocalyptic dust-clouds . With a little practice and confidence I am amazed at how the Africa Twin copes with such abuse. Off the gravel on the dry mud it’s the same story, twigs, stones, chunks of dirt go flying. Traction Control down to 1 and ABS off, the AT is a joy to ride off road and inspires confidence. It’s the bike that’s good, not me.
At slower speeds and tricky terrain that weight comes back to haunt you, but after a 12 mile off-road stretch you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
I grab my bucket and sponge for mammoth cleaning detail, with dust and mud all over the place and thousands of dead bugs but I put the Turtlewax back on the shelf. The Africa Twin is supposed to look like this, that’s what she’s for.
The new Africa Twin CRF1000L is excellent if you can ignore the niggles. £11,000 isn't cheap in the same way £14,000 isn’t cheap for an R1200GS or KTM 1190. Comparing the Africa Twin to the KTM 1050 doesn’t seem fair to the KTM; the 1050 lacks any off-road ability with cast wheels and smaller tyres, but at around the same price, if you intend no off-roading, this is an obvious comparison as is the Triumph XC series.
The AT is one of the more affordable and capable adventure bikes out there and in my opinion, a serious contender for your round the world journey or round the corner to Tesco. Preferably, get yourself to the Alps and ride the trails to join up the passes.
A longer term review is needed but as the bike is still new for 2016, it’ll be another 12 months before we start seeing medium to long term reviews. But, so far, so good.
How Does It Compare?
- Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports - The 2018 more off-road focused version with taller suspension, a larger tank and more protection
The Second Opinion
Purchased on a 3 year PCP deal in April 2017 as the repayments were low, and as a “mature” rider – 60 years old at the time – I wasn’t totally sure whether I would still be riding in a few years time – after two years owning the bike I know the answer to that question is a “Yes”!
My first impressions were of stability and poise in a very wind and rain affected test ride, and as time has gone on I am even happier with the way the bike sits and steers – even with my original 40 year old top box fully loaded up on the back!
So – the tri-colour being my obvious favourite finish – the first purchase was a Baglux leather tank cover which perfectly matched the colours on the tank. This was to both protect the tank as well as enabling me to buy a Baglux tank bag for my first trip abroad – more of that later. Second mod was to remove the nearside passenger foot peg – blasted thing kept catching on my boots as I swung my leg over the bike – plus it’s insured not to have a passenger so no loss there.
One obvious weakness in accessories was the lack of a power socket – come on Honda – so I bought an original off of a well known internet site – and after watching a number of videos took the whole of the front fairings, screen and lights and indicators off to fit it – managing as most owners do, to lose the rubber grommets on the back of the screen down inside the fairing when putting it back together!
Off came the OEM tyres – OK but I wanted to try some gentle off roading – so on went Metzler Karoo 3 tyres. I found them good on the hard packed green lanes I ride locally on my Enduro bike and they were fine all through the winter on the increasingly greasy and cold roads whilst taking my IAM qualification.
Really cold hands led to the installation of Oxford Adventure Heated grips – an easy install apart from poor access to the positive battery terminal – the same applies to connecting the live terminal of my wired in Garmin Powered Mount.
In May 2017 I went with some friends on my first ever European ride around the Pyrenees – all on road, and the Karoo’s were fine (going back this year with Continental Trail Attack 2’s showed me how much more fun the bike is on road orientated tyres!). With the Conti’s on there was a cleaner and smoother turn in, better all round grip and I just loved accelerating out of the endless number of switch backs in 3rd gear giving the bike some beans!
One issue I had was wind pressure on my shoulders. Suffering from a moderate joint illness I find this a struggle at times – but I bought a generic motorcycle screen extender and that sorted out the pressure and helped increase the length of time I can spend on the bike. Looking at various forums there seems to be a lot of debate over the height of the standard screen and whether taller versions are any better.
Issues with the bike – I’m waiting for my 3rd set of wheels from Honda as they just hadn’t spent the time and money sorting out spokes that discolour almost as soon as they leave the factory – hopefully the 3rd set will sort this out. Also under warranty the whole left hand indicators / signalling unit was replaced due to a common issue with the Mode selector push button sticking – due to the wrong strength spring?
After a service my dealer also replaced the right hand on / off switch unit as when you pressed the on switch it would flick back into off mode – thus making you think there was an issue with starting the bike.
So – is the bike a keeper – YES – although not for off road as I’ve realised that although I can throw my 350cc enduro bike around off road I’m not confident enough to do this with the Africa Twin. On road however I think this is the perfect bike for me. Enough power to excite on the back roads where I live with enough carrying capacity for me to enjoy my new found love of road based adventure trips, at the same time as looking really great in its tri colour livery.
- Steve C, 2018
More Honda Africa Twin Reviews
My 2016 Africa Twin is now in its third year. So far it’s taken me around Europe, Scandinavia and to the far north of Russia, not to mention countless trips here in Scotland.
So, how has it been and what have I changed?
Even before my bike was ready to be collected, I had ordered luggage and some crash bars for it. I primarily use my bike for travel and I wasn’t impressed with the flimsy, plastic panniers Honda offer. After some looking around I went for Touratech’s Zega Mundo panniers which were surprisingly cheaper than the competition. I also opted for their upper crash bars and their tank bag. Despite the disappointingly long delivery time and poor customer service I was impressed by the kit, which really complimented the bike and transformed it into a useable travel bike.
My first trip on the Africa Twin was around the Ardnamurchan peninsula and around the Isle of Mull. This was going to be the proper test to see if the CRF could measure up to my previous bike, a BMW R1200 GS Adventure. The Honda didn’t have half the bells and whistles the Beemer had, but for me this was part of my reason to change. I’m sure you’re no stranger to the BMW quality control horror stories that are around. The Africa Twin has a regular chain drive and manually adjustable suspension as opposed to expensive, electronically tweaked units. The stock suspension setting definitely need some fettling, especially if you’re going to carry luggage and/or a pillion. It’s easy to do, and with the preload and damping improved the Africa Twin carried me and my kit around with ease.
The 94 horses the engine produces raised some concerns, but I’ve found it to be more than adequate, the horses do need working a bit if you’re going mental, but the mid range punch makes twisty roads a joy. I’ve never found myself desperately seeking more power. The bike handles well, remaining planted in the turns, even on bumpier roads. The brakes are adequate, but I would like them to be a bit stronger, don’t get me wrong, they stop the bike fine, you just need to give the lever a bit of a squeeze.
There have been a few niggles reported by different owners on various forums of which I did encounter some. The finish went on my spokes, the chrome finish going all black and tarnished. My “SET” button on the left hand switchgear stopped working and my Honda heated grips were crap. While these were a bit annoying, it’s not unusual for first generation bikes to have some niggles and I’m happy to say everything was sorted under warranty without any hassle.
While I was pretty happy with the stock suspension, everything can be improved, right? By far, the best “bang for your buck” upgrade I’ve put on the bike was the Hyperpro front and rear spring kit. At £230 this really did transform the bike, the adjustable range is increased, the bike handles much better, feeling even tighter and more controlled than before. With the Hyperpro kit the bike is far more usable when loaded up with a pillion and luggage. I’ve also fitted a full Black Widow exhaust system. As well as looking and sounding great, it’s done away with the big, ugly, black plastic heat shield which covered the cat. I’ve got quite large feet and my heel caught on the plastic cover which was a pain in the arse.
To keep my fuel mixture rich enough I’ve also added a booster plug, this was a faff to fit, but really helps the bike pull strongly and smoothly from lower down the rev range. The one accessory that I would not be without is my Scottoiler. My chain is always clean and rarely needs adjusted, something that many riders coming from a shaft drive bike seem to worry about. I also changed the crash bars again, swapping the Touratechs for a set of Heed Bunker bars. These give loads of protection, especially around the crank cases, and have been proven to work by loads of different riders. I don’t think anyone will ever stop the debate on what tyres are best, but I’ve found Continental Trail Attack 2s to be the best for road work and Mitas E07 (E07+ rear) to work really well if you’re venturing onto dirt or gravel roads while still wanting decent performance on wet and dry tarmac.
So my Africa Twin now has 23,000 miles on it and I’m enjoying it more every day. There’s no plans to swap it any time soon either.
- Mike T, 2018