2020 Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin 
Adventure Sports ES

Text: Kevin Duke • Photography: Kevin Wing

Discussions about big adventure bikes regularly center on BMW’s iconic GSs and KTM’s Adventure models, which is a disservice to Honda’s updated Africa Twin. When introduced in 2016, the Africa Twin (AT) excelled in off-road situations but fell short of its European rivals in terms of features, technology, and long-haul comfort. Updates in 2018 added electronic throttle control for its 998cc parallel-twin engine and a greater breadth of traction-control adjustments. In the following year, Honda introduced the more touring-focused Adventure Sports (AS) version with greater wind protection, more fuel capacity and longer-travel suspension.

For 2020, both AT models received substantial updates, including a larger engine and the addition of a six-axis inertial measurement unit (IMU) that endows the AT with all the latest electronic rider aids like cornering-ABS, wheelie control, and sophisticated traction control. The bike also got LED headlamps with auxiliary lights that shine into corners when the bike is leaned over. 

AT riders are greeted by new 6.5-inch color touchscreen instrumentation that looks terrific and has Apple CarPlay compatibility. Handlebars are nearly one inch taller. Under the skin is an updated frame, a new aluminum rear subframe, and a new aluminum swingarm, which—along with a lithi-um battery—have helped the bikes shed a few pounds.  

Honda has made efforts to further distinguish the two AT models, with the standard version intended for sporting and off-road use. The Adventure Sports ES (AS-ES) version, tested here, skews toward travel capability, with a generously sized 6.5-gallon fuel tank, a larger front fairing, and an adjustable windscreen. 

Other desirable features of the AS model include an aluminum skid plate, a rear luggage rack, wire-spoke wheels with tubeless tires, and semi-active electronically controlled suspension. It also includes cruise control, self-canceling turn signals, and heated grips as standard equipment. Shorter riders will enjoy a seat lowered by nearly two inches to 33.6 inches, adjustable to 34.3 inches.

Ride On!

It had been a few years since I had last ridden Honda’s big adventure bike, which I always rated highly but recognized its shortcomings relative to other high-feature players in the ADV realm. It didn’t take me long aboard this new one to get my impressions recalibrated. 

First off, the 86cc larger engine elevates the AT’s game, offering a punchier response from the 1,084cc parallel-twin. Honda claims a 6% power increase, and most of that boost stretches across the entire rev range. In its most aggressive throttle setting, the motor responds with eagerness and vigor. The power is accompanied by a pleasantly loud bark—surprisingly so for a typically conservative company like Honda—with its 270-degree crank arrangement sounding nearly like a V-twin. 

Honda has always excelled at producing motorcycles that are intuitive to ride from the first turn of the wheels, and the AT ably follows that legacy. Clutch take-up is deft, gear shifts are faultless, and the 530-pound (with a full tank) machine responds with natural nimbleness. Braking is provided by radial-mount four-piston calipers with 310mm petal-style rotors up front, working with cornering-ABS.

Trans-Portation

The AT offers a trick no other ADV does: an automated manual transmission that negates the use of a clutch lever. Globally, approximately half of AT customers choose the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) versions, a greater take-up than the 37% of buyers in the U.S.

The CRF’s new IMU helps choose the optimum gear depending on acceleration, braking, and lean angles, a technological upgrade over the less-sophisticated previous version. The DCT is an $ 800 option on either AT model, carrying a weight penalty of an extra 23 pounds. Our test bike was the excellent manual transmission version. A quickshifter is a $ 531 option our bike didn’t have. 

EERA?

Showa’s Electronically Equipped Ride Adjustment (EERA) suspension underpins the AS-ES version. This semi-active suspension has the ability to dramatically transform how the bike responds in different situations, depending on the ride mode selected and the preload settings. 

I began testing in the Tour ride mode and was impressed by the well-calibrated control on streets and highways. Chassis pitch was minimal despite the lengthy 9.1 inches of suspension travel, while bump absorption was compliant. When I ventured onto some dirt trails, I switched over to Off-Road mode and felt the suspension working deeper through its stroke while ably sucking up bumpy terrain. The AT retains its enviable manageability when ridden on the dirt, feeling like a smaller bike than one with nearly 1,100cc.

Then, once back onto a twisty paved road, I was shocked by how the Off-Road setting made the chassis incredibly more pitch sensitive, diving dramatically when braking. A couple of button pushes changed it back to Tour mode, and the CRF immediately converted back to a willingly adroit cornering carver. Yet another example of how a semi-active electronic suspension is especially beneficial on a long-travel adventure-touring motorcycle. Urban, Gravel, and two customizable User settings are the other rider modes. 

Electronic preload adjustment further aids dialing in the ideal setup for a variety of rider and luggage weights with a couple of button pushes. Damping settings are tied to ride modes, so they can’t be individually customized, and neither can the engine brake control that alters the amount of compression braking with the throttle closed, depending on the ride mode. Fortunately, traction control and wheelie control can be set independently, and both can be switched off if desired. Controls are handled via switchgear with a high-quality feel and the touchscreen. 

Tour-ability

The AS-ES proves to have solid traveling potential. The windscreen provides decent protection in its low position, growing more expansive over its four higher positions. Hand guards supply protection from wind and rocks. The higher handlebars feel a bit tall, but their position provides extra steering leverage and is ideal when standing on the reasonably wide footpegs that have their cleats covered with rubber inserts. 

My 31-inch inseam was happy to have the stock seat in its lower position, which allowed me to get the balls of both of my feet on the ground. Tall riders might want to opt for the thicker accessory seat to gain extra legroom during the CRF’s 250-mile potential fuel range. 

MSRPs for the Africa Twin begin at $ 14,399 for the base model, which nicely undercuts its premium competition. The price bumps higher for the Adventure Sports ES, retailing for $ 17,199. 

While a Honda nameplate might not have the ADV cachet of European rivals, the Africa Twin Adventure Sports ES is a lithe, well-engineered ADV that exemplifies quality and now has top-of-the-line features. It’s a near-flawless multi-purpose motorcycle that makes an excellent traveling companion. RR