Review: 2016 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin
With enduros enjoying a continued rise in popularity for not only their off-road capabilities but long distance comfort, many riders are already familiar with what’s on the market. But Honda’s long-awaited big adventure bike spells trouble for the competition. Carefully planned and expertly engineered, the Africa Twin arrives at the perfect moment to capture the enthusiasm of all motorcyclists. And while it has familiar characteristics, it definitely does things differently.
In our April ’16 issue, Jon Beck compared the new Africa Twin to two older versions during his ride in France. Now, Honda has brought us out to scenic Moab in Utah to put the CRF1000L through the ringer. What better playground than red rocks galore with Arches and Canyonlands National Parks right around the corner? The first day was all pavement over the La Sal Mountains, with the second day covering more than 100 miles of trails.
Manual vs. DCT
Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Honda has decided to stick with their dual-clutch transmission (DCT) and I’m glad they did—it has come a long way since its introduction on the 2010 VFR1200F. An automatic transmission might not sound exciting, but once you experience it, it’s difficult to dismiss, especially on the loose stuff.
Many riders are already familiar with the different riding modes available on other motorcycles, like Sport, Tour, Rain, etc. Honda adds a bit of a spin. On the DCT, there’s just Drive and Sport. Drive is the default setting and the most economical. A quick press with the right thumb on the D/S button brings you into Sport mode where three levels can be chosen. S with three bars (S-3) shifts later than Drive. S with two bars (S-2) holds the rpms longer and shifts later. S with one bar (S-1) is the sportiest, which holds rpms high and shifts very late. Most of the time on- and off-road, I felt S-2 was the best option.
The next setting is Torque Control (Honda’s answer to traction control), managed with the left index finger. With three bars, traction control intervenes the most, but still allows minor wheel spin before correcting. With fewer bars comes less intervention, and it can also be turned off completely. Torque Control makes throttle-modulating a breeze when sliding through corners. You don’t have to worry about accidentally grabbing too much throttle. The dash-mounted ABS button turns off ABS at the rear wheel. The front wheel always has ABS on. The “G” button (available only on the DCT model, and presumably for “Gravel”), makes the throttle snappier. While off-roading, a snappy throttle goes a long way.
The manual transmission model also has selectable ABS and Torque Control, and you know, a clutch and a toe shifter. One down, five up. It’s not as new and exciting, but it’s already ingrained in our muscle memory.
On the Road
Hit the start button and the 270-degree parallel twin comes alive with an aggressive staccato note, underscoring the fact that this isn’t your typical Honda. This machine oozes character. Engage first gear on the manual transmission, let out the clutch, and the power comes on smoothly and predictably. While it probably won’t win drag races with competitive models, it’s no slouch. Most of us don’t need 150 hp. Sure it’s nice to have on occasion, but the majority of the time, we ride like we have a family to come home to.
At a quick glance, this motorcycle looks smaller than it is. The narrow profile really tricks the mind. While standing up, I don’t have to bend over like on the 1190 Adventure or R 1200 GS. The Africa Twin fits my 6’2 frame and 34” inseam perfectly. After just a few miles, the relaxed ergonomics of the AT make themselves apparent. Neutral body position with plenty of legroom and an easy reach to the bar.
Riding the La Sal Mountain Loop on less than stellar pavement, the Showa suspension was on display, keeping the AT planted and in control at all times. Gears slipped in easy on the manual transmission model and the bike fell into corners without effort. The seat was quite comfortable but an inch less wide and it would feel like a dirt bike. The non-adjustable windshield deflected air without causing any turbulence.
Testing the DCT on the tight mountain roads, I found S-2 or S-1 modes to be best, especially downhill, keeping the rpms high. On some steep downhill sections though, a few times it shifted before entering a curve. That’s when I opted to use the manual shifters with my left thumb and index finger. Once the gear is manually selected, the AT remains in manual mode. Apart from having to shift on narrow, technical sections, I found that the DCT worked flawlessly during starts and stops, around parking lots, and sweepers.
On the Trail
The one and only Johnny Campbell, 11-time Baja 1000 winner and Dakar competitor, joined us for the off-road loop. As soon as we turned off scenic Highway 128, we stopped to adjust all of the settings for off-road riding. The easy-to-use controls made it quick and painless. Riding the DCT through corners felt a bit like cheating, as I didn’t have to worry about shifting or even stalling. The automatic transmission did everything for me, and probably better, which allowed me to simply enjoy the ride, pick my line, and even check out the landscape around me. I rode in S-2 mode and TC-1 most of the time.
Coming out of a corner, I opened the throttle for the straightaway. The engine howled and I wondered if it would shift, even though I didn’t want it to. It didn’t. Perfect tuning, which let me set up for the next corner without having to select my own gear. The steel frame is rigid but with enough give that’s confidence-inspiring when bouncing off rocks or jumping cattle guards. At 534 pounds (511 pounds for the non-DCT) the motorcycle felt more like a dirt bike than a full-blown adventure bike. Johnny made this abundantly clear as he jumped, drifted, and floated over the fun and exciting terrain.
In the afternoon I rode the manual transmission AT. What a difference! I had to actually shift and pay full attention. My pace slowed and my line got a little sloppy. Who wants to trade me for the DCT again?
The battery is underneath the tank and accessed from the right. Remove the seat, find the Allen key clipped underneath, and remove the black cover to reach the battery. The cover also serves as a waterproof container to hold papers. U.S. models are available in silver or red. Hopefully the white color with gold rims will make its way to our shores later.
Honda’s factory in Japan was impacted by an earthquake in April, which delayed production of the AT among other models. This meant extended waiting times. As of late August, the Kumamoto factory is up and running again. Regardless, it’s worth the wait. Without a doubt, the Honda AT is one of the easiest motorcycles to ride, with features that’ll make you (almost) ride as fast as Johnny.
+ oh, that DCT! best in category for off-road riding, suspension
– DCT on pavement during spirited riding
Distributor Honda Powersports
MSRP $ 12,999 base, $ 13,699 DCT equipped
Engine liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve per cylinder parallel twin w/ 270° crank and uni-cam
Bore and Stroke 92x75.1mm
Fuel System Mikuni EFI w/ two 46mm throttle bodies
Power 94hp @7,500rpm
Torque 72.3lb-ft @6,000rpm
Transmission constant mesh 6-speed MT / 6-speed DCT
Frame steel semi-double cradle type w/ steel rear subframe
Front Suspension 45mm Showa inverted fork, adjustable compression/rebound damping, spring preload, 8.7in travel
Rear Suspension Showa adjustable compression/rebound damping, spring preload, 8.7in travel
Brakes Front 310mm dual wave floating disc w/ aluminum hub and radial fit 4-piston calipers and sintered metal pads
Brakes Rear 256mm wave disc w/ 2-piston caliper and sintered metal pads; lever-lock type parking brake system on DCT model w/ additional slide type 1-piston caliper
Tires Front/Rear 90/90-21 tube type / 150/70-18 tube type
Curb Weight 511lbs (232kg) (ABS), 534lbs (242kg) (DCT) (claimed)
Wheelbase 62in (1,575mm)
Seat Height 34.3in (871mm) standard, 33.5in (851mm) low
Fuel Consumption 51mpg (claimed)
Fuel Capacity 4.96gal (18.8l)
Fuel Grade premium
Colors Dakar Rally (red), Digital Metallic Silver