Ride Review Feature
At the invitation of Honda Australia, we were invited to test the 2020 Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin range, which consists of the standard Africa Twin, Adventure Sport and the Adventure Sport ES, with Honda saying the 75% of the bikes are all new.
The eight assembled journalists from around Australia put the range through their paces in a three-day blast through the Australian outback around the Uluru, Alice Springs, Binns Track and Devils Marbles areas where a whisker under 2000km was covered!
Of the 2000km covered at least 1400km was over off-road terrain that varied from very high-speed outback tracks to fast sandy rutted tracks then fast rocky tracks - not much about this test was slow! In fact, I am pretty sure I averaged 100kph for the entire ride.
Retail pricing starts at $19,999AU for the standard Africa Twin with the Africa Adventure Sports model coming in at $23,499. The addition of DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) will set you back another $1000 on top of that. The head of the line Africa Adventure Sports ES with Showa electronic suspension comes in at $26,499.
I know the conclusion comes at the end of a test/review article, but I have to say ahead of time I just loved this bike. I am a motocross rider, and this was my first foray into the adventure bike world, and I have to say I am converted. Despite some sticky situations and a few crashes, I couldn't have had more fun. Granted as far as a bike test goes it was frustrating as I seemed to be sitting at around 120kph for hour after hour no matter the terrain with no letup. But in the end, I did get to know this bike intimately after a lot of trial and error. I did see my life flash before my eyes on quite a few occasions, but I guess that's where the word adventure might come in!
Let's get this out of the way first. They say looks don't matter, but you and I both know they do. To me, the Africa Twin is by far one of the coolest looking bikes of the segment. As a non-aficionado of said segment, I see bikes like BMW, Ducati and KTM and have always thought to myself, "Why don't they make these things look like a motorbike instead of some Lego build?" Well to me the Africa Twin looks like a bike. Don't get me wrong, it still looked a little ugly - like I said I am from a motocross world - but in the end, it actually grew on me, and I was won over. One surprising aspect of its looks was having people slow down in front of me on the road because it looks like a Police bike in a rearview mirror. Stange to see people slowing from 150kph to 130kph, only in the NT I guess. In my opinion, it is the most, "Off-Road" looking bike rather than most that I find look like road bikes with a faint off-road look.
To get the technical specs out of the way, the Africa Twins fully revised SOHC 8-valve parallel twin engine has received an increase in capacity from 998cc to 1084cc through a 10mm longer stroke, boosting peak power to 75kW (around 100bhp) at 7500rpm, and claims 105 Nm of torque peaking at 6250 RPM. The bike also gets a new cylinder head, valve timing and lift, throttle body and exhaust. One of the highlights of this bike has to be the sound; it is most definitely a winner.
This all ties in with all new electronics. (Straight from the brochure) - At the very heart of the Africa Twin is a Bosch MM7.10 six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) tucked away at the centre of the machine, that measures – in real-time – roll angle/rate, pitch angle/rate and yaw angle/rate. It manages rear wheel traction via TBW and HSTC, front braking grip through Cornering ABS, front wheel lift through Wheelie Control and also adds Rear Lift Control.
So what does all that mean? In short, there is an onboard computer that will do everything for you if that is what you are looking for. To review this quickly. I thought my brain would explode when I first saw it sitting on the handlebars in front of me, but by the end of the ride, I have to say I fell in love with this little computer. This all comes under power management, and this really is where the whole review begins (See next segment).
To summarise the engine this bike has loads of manageable power that never signs off; I couldn't see many in this market segment looking for more. Ride it hard, and it responds, I actually wore the inside of my knees out holding onto it for three days. There is easily enough to throw you off the back of the seat if you are not paying attention while getting aggressive. On the opposite page, it can be extremely mellow if that is your gig. The fact is how this power suits you and your situation is all down to the mappings, settings and management. There is a legion of settings that make life manageable and comfortable in any situation. Here we move more into power management.
Power management, that's what we are going to call it, is effected through the 6.5-inch full colour Multi Information Display (MID) 6.5-inch TFT screen which has four adjustable rider modes and two custom user modes that you can make your own. Oh and by the way you get Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth connectivity through the same screen - not that I was ever in any position to test that. Another day. You also get a stock digital speedo under the display for when using it for navigation on the main screen, for example.
Settings are navigated by a handlebar-mounted controller (on the left) which, after a little while, becomes like second nature. If you can work an older phone or video game controller by feel you should be fine. Although one downside to this is that there is no backlighting on the controller so, as I found out if it is dark, trying to learn without seeing is a nightmare.
In reality, though this wouldn't really be a situation, you would find yourself in. We were just thrown in at the deep end and had to learn quickly. I digress, though. Navigation is relatively simple, and all models run the same system and choice of settings. Each mode has a plethora of adjustability. Level of engine braking; suspension damping (hard/standard/soft); front ABS (on-road/off-road); rear ABS (active/inactive); and, on relevant versions, DCT Gravel setting (on/off).
You can flip between modes while in motion easily and quickly. Changing sub-settings on the fly would be like trying to use your mobile phone to send a text and play a game at the same time - not advisable. You simply would not make many sub-mode changes to the standard modes as they are dropped once you turn off the bike. If you are really into your own settings, this is where the custom modes come in. They do stay as set once the power is cut.
Each of the standard modes does as you would expect the name of the mode suggests. There was not much noticeable difference between Tour and Urban to me. I am sure if you looked at fuel consumption etc. differences would be more clear. Same goes for Gravel and Off-Road. Off-Road was better for more aggressive off-road riding as the most significant change was the cut in traction control.
You could spend a lifetime tuning these settings, and believe me; I played with them a lot. You can also get into a bit of trouble. Example: I was doing about 100kph on a rutty gravel road and hit a huge sandy patch where a dune had spread over the road. I quickly discovered that I was still in Tour mode for some reason (too much playing around) and almost killed myself. As I hit the sand, I pinned it only for the traction control to cut in and see me drop from about 100kph to about 10 in the space of about 10 meters. Lesson learnt, and I now know what the handlebars feel like imbedded in my chest!
Remembering that we had very little time to learn this stuff as we were in top-flight 90% of the daylight hours, I did love the customisation and versatility of the whole system. If you owned the bike, there would be a learning curve, but I am confident you would get it down quickly. Also, not many would do the terrain variations we did in such a short time. In a standard ride setting, say from Melbourne to Darwin via a few dirt roads I would simply use the standard modes, they are more than adequate for the job. If you are putting your Toby Price on then, you could go all out with custom the settings.
The colour LED screen that runs all this functionality is easily readable in any situation, and it quickly all becomes second nature. Like anything new, it just takes a little time to get to know it. I can promise any prospective buyers that if I can get this system down quickly, anyone can. I still can't work my TV remote! Yes, I am serious.
The standard model does not come with DCT in Australia, for the uninitiated DCT is an automated clutch and shift operation system that retains the direct acceleration feel of a manual transmission, in laymen's terms an automatic gearbox. Both variants of the Adventure Sport do.
The DCT works by pressing a handlebar-mounted button with D or S on it and then twisting the throttle, no need for gear shifter or clutch lever! D is for Drive, and S is for sport. Drive goes through the gears more subtly while S (Sport) will go through the gears more aggressively. There is an easy to reach toggle switch on the handlebars should you wish to override the gear changes. It does take a little time to get used to in that when I first started using it I felt like I was about to stall as at slow speed, it feels a little like a tractor. You become accustomed to it all pretty quickly, and within no time you don't even notice it.
For serious off-road thrashing, I did prefer the flexibility of the standard models 6-speed manual box, just habit I guess, but I did quickly adjust to the DCT automatic. I found it very usable, and it lit up when needed. It does take a little time to get used to not shifting, but when the habit of changing gears leaves you, you can really get comfortable with it. It really is not until you are in a racey mode that not shifting is noticeable. As an adventure rider, you are not going to be doing this very often. There are plenty of better bike choices for this style of riding. I never found myself manually changing gears via the handlebar toggle in DCT.
For the market and the style of riding the DCT is certainly a winner and would by far be my choice. One final thing I was happy about was that it never changed gears unexpectedly, such as mid slide or mid-corner. It did give me confidence.
On the technical side ground clearance remains the same as the previous model at 250mm, with a wheelbase of 1575mm and rake and trail of 27° 30'/113mm. Frame weight is 1.8kg lighter than before with the overall wet weight 4kg lighter. The Twin coming in at 226kg and 238kg for the Adventure Sport. Honda has also narrowed the subframe by 40mm. The subframe is also removable, making the inner of the bike more easily accessible.
I am going to concentrate more on off-road here as, to be honest, we did not do a lot of bitumen road riding and the stuff we did do was like 150km in a straight line at 150kph! We only rode through Alice Springs, so not much road testing was done.
Off-road is where the two models do separate quite a bit. For a motocross rider like me, the standard model was undoubtedly the pick as it felt smaller, lighter and thinner. Plain and simple, it was easier to throw around. Hands down, it was nimbler. Riding positions on both were similar, but if I were going to spend 90% of my time on the dirt, this would be my choice. Having said this, the Adventure Sport still had plenty of enjoyable off-road capabilities. Both bikes had a comfortable standing riding position with the bars feeling to be at just the right height.
The Adventure Sport instantly feels bigger due to the 24.8L fuel tank versus the standards 18.8L. The width also makes it feel a bit harder to touch the ground as well. I know the seat height is adjustable, but it's something I didn't have time to play with. Coming in just a bees dick under 6 foot I could just touch the ground. Any variation in the surface below you could prove costly as I found out after dropping it when I put my foot down in a hole! This thing is hard to get off yourself.
With NO adventure bike experience to compare anything to, I have to say I was way more impressed with the ride and handling than I thought I would be. The Showa suspension did the job excellently. In full disclosure, I really never had much of an opportunity to do any fine-tuning beside a few clickers here and there. I never really found myself cursing it at any stage, and I guess the ultimate compliment is when you really don't notice it, and for the most part, I never did. The only times I did, I felt it was a little harsh over the square edge stuff, but 90% of the time it was excellent.
The top of the line Adventure Sports ES has Showa EERA (Electronically Equipped Ride Adjustment) – for the laymen electronically adjustable suspension. This was more than impressive. Having never experienced anything like this, I couldn't believe how good it worked. The best way to ride this bike was to sit your arse back and twist the throttle. It was like riding a water bed. I spent the first 100km simply wondering at how well it worked. I kept thinking to myself if a CRF450 had this I would be Ken Roczen! In fact, to tell you how good it is, I followed my good friend Trevor Hedge from MCNews.com.au who is the fastest man with the worst sit down riding style in the world, and could hardly keep up with him. I just followed in amazement as he never moved his arse off the seat for km after km over some gnarly terrain and the bike just soaked it all up. Truly impressive.
To sum up the handling, I would say it is very compliant and composed and hard to actually get into too much trouble due to the electronics and impressive two-channel ABS system. The more confidently you ride it, the better it is. I did note that this is still a big bike, and it does not like to idle around. I guess riders from this segment would be more used to lugging around parking etc. and more used to the weight at slow speed. For me, it was a learning experience.
Both variants benefit significantly from a rear-end riding style, in other words, sitting more towards the back of the bike and just letting it do its thing. Sitting further forward on the bike will only go more against its natural needs, not a deal-breaker, but it's just better in the back position.
Both bikes sport a 310mm dual wavey floating hydraulic disc with two Nissin radial-mounted 4-piston callipers up front with large 256mm wavey hydraulic disc with a single piston calliper at the rear.
Both front and rear brakes have a two-channel ABS system with cornering ABS. I have not had much experience with ABS as I don't ride road bikes and to be honest I never really noticed it in and off-road situation. To be totally honest some of the time there was so much electronic hand-holding going on I am not sure what was really working! The bike was just trying the best it could and holding me back from killing myself.
All the above mentioned worked as expected, but one thing I will say. You can have the best gear and programmed life-saving support underneath you that you need, but it will not save you if you are stupid. As I found out after sitting at 130kph on a dirt road for half an hour and then coming to a sharp corner, I wasn't expecting. If you don't judge the stopping distance correctly, you are going into a creek - just like I did. Crash one completed in front of a heard of amused cows. In short, stopping 238kg at 130Kph on a gravel road in short space is never going to work out no matter how good the brakes if your judgement is shit.
Overall in an off-road situation, the brakes are more down to your brain than tech specs, and I can't say much about how the ABS etc. works on road as we simply didn't do much of it.
BITS AND PIECES
Hand Guard: All models come with handguards, and they work well. After each of my little off's I popped them out, and they were easily re-affixed via a grommet which was a winner. Better to pop out than break.
Wheels and Tyres: The Africa Twin runs Tubes while the Adventure Sports model uses tubeless tyres with a 21-inch front wheel and an 18-inch rear. I am told that adventure riders prefer 19 inches up front, but I had nothing to compare to and honestly think this is more a road thing. I found the wheels fine. They were also extremely tough; I hit many things very hard over the 2000km and not a dint. I was actually coming out of some situations scratching my head thinking, "how is this thing not in pieces!"
These bikes are loaded with features and some hidden away little gems for all the creature comforts of adventure riding. Cruise Control was a big winner here. It worked flawlessly and is a great addition. Heated grips, on the ES, are another comfort bonus. Emergency stop signal functionality, where hazard lights come on automatically in hard braking situations is a nice safety feature. We didn't do much night riding but when we did the dual LED headlights were spectacular, and they look cool. The ES version also has three-stage cornering lighting which brightens up lower parts of the terrain in front. Bluetooth is probably essential now for communication in groups, and along with USB support are welcome additions. Like I mentioned earlier, Apple CarPlay is a bonus for maps and navigation alone.
Overall I really couldn't find any downside to this bike in any of its variants. But there were a few things that could be improved.
The footpegs are crap - plain and simple. Why they didn't put good ones on is an amazing engineering, or marketing, brain fart!
The stand just does not feel right. It feels too short or on the wrong angle or something. I just felt like the bike was always going to fall over any minute.
The screen. This is a tough one as it actually does what it is supposed to. It is adjustable, but I still found it didn't go low enough. On the road, it was fine and broke the wind well at high speed. On the dirt, though it just never seemed to go low enough.
The one big thing - and I guess it is more a wish list - I would like to see is some sort of handlebar switch where I could turn off traction control. You can take it off in the setting, but I just found myself in situations where I want it off for something but could not access it without stopping and going through menu settings.
Last one. The TFT screen seems to take ages to load. I didn't time it, but it seems around 20 seconds.
Not much I can say here besides this bike in any of its guises is a winner. I would have one tomorrow. It has inspired me to delve into the whole adventure bike world. I don't have the cash laying around to buy one, but if I did, I would be out in the shed washing it now.
For those with a bit extra in the bank account, there is also a whole host of accessories available for the trip around Australia. Accessories such as a centerstand, quick shifter, top and side boxes, a rally seat, rally footpegs, and much more are available for Honda Genuine Accessories.
Before I wrap up, it should be noted that 12 bikes made the 2000km trip, and there was no break downs or breakages. The worst was a flat tyre and an oil filler plug that disappeared.
And to wrap up on the model variants, I would say I have heard some talk about how the base Twin model is more for off-road, and the Adventure sport is more for touring. I would disagree. I found the Adventure sport more than capable off-road. It is a bit heavier, but I had no problem with it, and I think I rode it pretty hard for a whole lot of kilometres in some of Australia's toughest terrain.
Ahhh, if I just had the cash, and the time.
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