*This article is taken from Vol. 50 No. 3 of the digital magazine Moto Journal.
High-end adventure tourism
The Africa Twin goes up a notch to tackle European machines
From its launch in 2016, the Africa Twin was recognized for its off-road handling qualities, but it fell short of its European rivals when it came to features, technology and long-distance comfort. Over the next few years, however, Honda continued to evolve the user-friendly A-T, and the Adventure Sports version we tested here is very well equipped.
For 2020, both versions of the Africa Twin have received substantial improvements, including an increase in displacement and a six-vector inertia measurement module. The latter makes it possible to offer all the latest electronic technologies for piloting assistance, such as ABS sensitive to the angle of inclination, control of wheeliesa sophisticated traction control system, and LED headlights with auxiliary projectors that pivot to the inside of the corner when you lean the bike.
Honda also wanted to accentuate the difference between the two versions. The base version is focused on “sporty off-road riding”, while the Adventure Sports ES version emphasizes travel with its large tank, larger fairing and adjustable windshield.
Other particularly interesting features include the aluminum skid plate under the engine, the rear rack, the wire wheels with tubeless tires and the electronically controlled semi-active suspension. The machine comes with cruise control, auto-off turn signals and heated grips. The saddle height is adjustable: 850 or 870 mm.
When you take your seat, you immediately notice the new, very successful 6.5-inch (16.5 cm) touchscreen with Apple CarPlay compatibility. The handlebar gained almost 25 mm in height. On the chassis side, the African Twin has an improved frame, with new subframe and swingarm, both in aluminum, and a lithium battery, which allows you to cut a few pounds.
It took me very little time on the handlebars of the new Africa Twin to readjust my perception of the first generation machine. At the time, I liked it a lot, but I also recognized its shortcomings in comparison to other players in the high-end adventure model niche.
Honda has always had a knack for making motorcycles that deliver an intuitive and natural ride from the start, and the Africa Twin is no exception. The clutch is easy to use, the operation of the transmission is flawless and the 240 kg machine (with a huge 24.8 liter tank) can be steered with fluidity. Up front, braking is handled by radial-mount four-piston calipers with 310mm discs and lean-angle sensitive ABS.
Parallel twin now boasts 1084cc displacement3, which is 86 more than the previous version. Honda estimates that this results in a 7% power gain and is well distributed throughout the rev range. When you choose the most direct throttle response, the engine responds with vigor and enthusiasm. The muffler lets out a nice, clearly audible growl, which is surprising from a rather conservative company like Honda and considering the demands of Euro 5 regulations. a V-2.
The Adventure Sports ES version is fitted with a semi-active, electronically controlled Showa suspension. By switching from one riding mode to another and adjusting the spring preload parameters, the behavior of the motorcycle is radically transformed.
To start, I chose Tour mode and was impressed with the level of control offered. The suspension swallows the bumps with flexibility, but it does not sink unnecessarily despite its large travel (204 mm front, 220 mm rear). I then left the asphalt and selected off-road mode. We then feel that the suspension acts on a longer stroke to effectively absorb the holes and bumps in rough terrain. In off-road riding, the Africa Twin retains its enviable maneuverability and it feels like maneuvering a smaller-displacement machine.
Returning to the asphalt, I left the bike in off-road mode for a while and the difference in behavior was obvious, especially because the fork sank a lot under braking. It was enough to press a few buttons to return to Tourism mode and the big CRF regained its balance for sporty driving and rows of turns. It’s clear that the electronically controlled semi-active suspension proves particularly useful for adventure touring bikes with long-travel suspension. Two other driving modes are offered, City and Gravel, and there are also two User modes to set yourself.
Electronic spring preload adjustment also helps establish the ideal response for rider, passenger and luggage weight. The damping parameters are defined by the riding mode; they cannot be controlled separately, except in User mode. The same goes for engine brake control. Fortunately, however, traction control and wheelies can be modified within the pre-established driving modes, and both are deactivatable. The control of the various parameters is done via the quality buttons on the handlebars, and the touch screen.
The Adventure Sports ES has strong travel credentials. The windshield offers good basic protection in the lower position, and you can deflect the breeze even more by choosing one of the four higher positions. The handlebar felt a little high to me, but it offers good leverage and makes it easier to ride while standing. Toothed footpegs with rubberized interiors are a reasonable length and hand guards come standard.
Not being very tall, I left the saddle in the low position, which allowed me to put both feet firmly on the ground. Taller riders can opt for the thicker seat offered as an option, which will give them more legroom and more comfort if they want to exploit all the autonomy offered by the large tank, i.e. say almost 400 km.
The suggested retail price for the base Africa Twin is $16,499, which is below the price point of other high-end machines in this niche. The Adventure Sports ES version is offered at $20,299.
Our test bike was equipped with an excellent six-speed manual transmission, but the Africa Twin can also be delivered with a feature not found on any other adventure bike: an automatic transmission. With the help of the new inertia measurement module, the transmission selects the optimal gear based on acceleration, braking and lean angle, making it more sophisticated than the old model. The DCT (Double Clutch) transmission adds $1000 to the price, and 10 kg.
Debates about big adventure touring bikes often revolve around BMW’s popular GS and KTM’s Adventure models, but this upgraded Africa Twin would deserve a place in the discussion too.
In this niche, the Honda brand may not have the cachet of its European rivals, but the fact remains that the Africa Twin Adventure Sports ES is an agile machine, well designed, carefully manufactured and now equipped with premium features and equipment. It’s a versatile and virtually flawless motorcycle that has what it takes to become a great travel companion.