Writing about bikes for 20 years. Published in dozens of titles on five continents. Mildly obsessed with discovering how things work.
Honda’s adventure bike range is set for a shake-up over the next couple of years as the world’s biggest motorcycle firm squares up to its toughest rivals.
We’ve already revealed Honda’s plans to replace the existing CRF1000L Africa Twin with an enlarged CRF1100L version in 2020, and now it’s emerging that it will be joined by a middleweight 850cc a year later in 2021. Japanese motorcycle magazine AutoBy has revealed the plans and has a strong record of getting it right when it comes to predictions about future Hondas. Its story is accompanied by a mock-up image, reproduced above, that shows how the bike could look.
At the moment, Honda’s adventure bike range is pretty extensive – with 10 models stretching from the CRF250L to the VFR1200X – but in sales terms the CRF1000L Africa Twin massively outperforms the other machines in its adventure line-up. Whether that’s down to the evocative name or the bike’s more hard-core off-road nature is impossible to tell, but it’s clear that it’s attracting far more buyers than the softer adventure models like the VFR1200X, VFR800X, NC750X or CB500X, which are all heavily based on pure on-road designs.
The market shift towards more serious adventure bikes is clearly illustrated by the bikes that are proving popular in other manufacturers’ ranges, too. In the UK, the most popular versions of BMW’s boxer GS range are the ‘Rallye’ and ‘Adventure Rallye’ specs, while middleweight bikes like the new-for-2019 Yamaha Tenere 700, KTM 790 Adventure and BMW F850 GS Adventure have been among the most highly-anticipated models to arrive in showrooms this year. Strong pre-orders for those models mean Honda’s older, less extreme offerings in the mid-sized adventure sector – the VFR800X Crossrunner, NC750X and CB500X – are likely to take a sales hit as the year goes on.
The CRF1100L Africa Twin, pictured in this speculative mock-up, will appear before the 850cc version
With the existing Africa Twin expected to be replaced by a scaled-up 1100cc model in 2020, increasing performance to keep its target trained on the class-leading BMW R1250GS, a gap clearly opens for riders who want something a little smaller and wieldier. That’s where the CFR850L Africa Twin will come to the fore.
It’s expected to share a similar, lightweight aluminium frame design to that of the bigger bike, but its engine is likely to be completely new. For the image used at the head of this story, a CB500 motor has been used, but in reality that aging design isn’t likely to be stretched to 850cc. Nor is Honda likely to sleeve-down the existing Africa Twin’s motor, since that would result in an unnecessarily bulky and heavy unit for an 850cc bike. The new design is expected to stick to the parallel twin layout – just like its rivals from BMW, Yamaha and KTM – and power should be somewhere in the region of 90hp.
The bike’s expected introduction as part of the 2021 model range coincides with the second stage of the introduction of Euro 5 emissions laws, which could also be playing a role in Honda’s decision to make the new machine. While completely new models of motorcycle will have to comply with the stringent Euro 5 limits from January 1 2020, existing Euro 4 designs will be allowed to remain on sale until the end of 2020. However, from January 1 2021, unless an extension is somehow negotiated, all bikes on sale in Europe are due to meet Euro 5 standards.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Honda’s NC750X, which is already designed with emissions and fuel economy at the fore, and the firm’s engineers aren’t likely to struggle to get the CB500X below the new bar either. However, the VFR800X Crossrunner, which is built around the engine and chassis of the VFR800 sports tourer, could struggle. Its engine has its roots firmly in the last century, with the initial version developed before even Euro 1 emissions limits were enforced in 1999, so it would be little surprise if Honda opts to finally close the chapter on that design with the introduction of Euro 5.
While the expected 2021 CRF850L Africa Twin would easily plug the gap that the Crossrunner leaves in that scenario, it’s still at least 18 months from production according to the Japanese information. In the meantime, Yamaha’s Tenere 700, KTM’s 790 Adventure and BMW F850 GS Adventure, along with other popular middleweights like Triumph’s Tiger 800, are already making the category look increasingly congested. Honda might have already left it too late to grab a huge slice of the pie.