Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports (2018) | UK Road and Off Road Review

Nathan Millward
By Nathan Millward
NateThePostman Round the world adventurer Nathan Millward rode home to the East Midlands from Australia on a 105cc Australian postal bike (he didn’t like flying). He’s since ridden across America to Alaska, writing two brilliant books about the experience. www.nathanmillward.com

 

The all-new Honda CRF1000L ‘Africa Twin’ has been a runaway success since its launch at the start of 2016. It came out at the right price, with the right name on the tank and with the necessary differentiation from the king of adventure bikes (whether you like it or not), the BMW R1200 GS.A few grumbled about the small tank range, and with room for improvements in other areas the Africa Twin Adventure Sports has been born, effectively ‘super-sizing’ everything about the standard bike from fuel tank, screen size, chunkier aluminium bash plate, heated grips as standard and a lift in suspension of 20mm all round. The result is a bike taller, more visually striking and arguably more suited to long distance travel and adventure. But has it become too big for its boots?

 

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports (2018)
Honda’s all conquering adventure bike gets a fancy paint job, more fuel range and even taller suspension in a bid to compete against the best. Let’s see how she gets on in Wales. | BikeSocial

 

Price

At £12,599 the Adventure Sports costs £1024 more than the regular Africa Twin and feels like a good value upgrade. The bike supplied for this test was the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) version, which pushes the price to £13,549 and makes it a thousand pounds more than the other three bikes we took to Wales…and slightly over the £13k ficticious limit.

Given its sheer size you feel like you’re getting a lot of bike for your money. The new anniversary addition colour scheme is striking and not since the GS grew to the GS Adventure have we seen a bike take on so much more presence from what is essentially a mild upgrade of the stock bike. Many will see value in the increased fuel range, tank size increasing from 18.8 to 24.2-litres, with Honda also going taller in the suspension with a 20mm increase front and rear and speccing it nicely with heated grips as standard. The test bike was fitted with optional side-opening panniers at an additional cost of £530 with the only other thing to really consider being the £180 centre stand, necessary for when fixing punctures on wheels that are (sadly to some), still tubed.

Service intervals for the Africa Twin are every 8,000 miles, with a service pack from Honda dealers costing £675. This covers the first three services, including the expensive third service involving a valve check. The service plan is time sensitive, with you needing to cover the mileage and get the services in within a 27-month window, or else you lose it. The service plan makes it the cheapest of the three bikes to keep on the road and overall, when placed alongside the other three bikes – especially the 800cc bikes – seems incredibly good value. It’s also a good £5000 less than a well specced BMW R1200 GSA, and £2500 cheaper than KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure R, although for that you do get an extra 65bhp.

 

 

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports (2018)

 

Power and torque

An adventure bike with ‘only’ 94bhp seems a bit underwhelming in this age of 150bhp competitors, but to be honest the 998cc parallel twin of the Africa Twin fees much stronger than its figures suggest. There’s a strong mid-range, torque right where you need it, with it only the rush to the top end where it loses out to more powerful machines. 

In this test the KTM 1090 Adventure R made an extra 30bhp, but on the road at progressive riding speeds you’d be hard pushed – and a good rider - to exploit the difference. The larger displacement Africa Twin engine also felt to have the bigger lungs than the F850GS and Tiger 800XCa. That’s not to say it was necessarily quicker, just brawnier and more muscular in the mid-range. I liked that you don’t have to work the engine hard and from memory the Africa Twin offers the kind of effortless speed delivery that makes the R1200 GS so popular. It certainly didn’t feel noticeably slower than my old 2014 liquid-cooled GS.

The soundtrack from the Africa Twin is muscular, although arguably a little too much, especially at motorway cruising speed, where the engine makes more noise than I would have liked. It never really softens to a relaxed beat and could get a bit tiring over long motorway distances. On the flip side, you could say that it gives the bike more character and certainly compliments the big brawny trail bike nature of the bike. 

 

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports (2018)

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

Honda supplied a DCT equipped model for this test when the preference would have been a manual, even if only to maintain a level playing field with the other bikes. For anyone uninitiated, DCT stands for Dual Clutch Transmission and is similar to the dual clutch system you get in some modern cars, in that it operates both as a full automatic, switching gears for you in either Drive or Sport mode, but also giving you the option to manually control the gears through the use of thumb and forefinger toggles on the left hand switchgear unit. 

The benefit is that it offers lightening quick - and smooth - gear changes and in the case of the Africa Twin is claimed to make life easier for the off-road novice, allowing you to focus on the trail ahead rather than having to worry about gear changes. For the Adventure Sports the system adds £1000 to the price tag and 10 kilos to the kerb weight, bringing it to a total of 253-kilos. It’s claimed that almost half of Africa Twins sold now come with DCT, so the system has certainly proven popular with many.

The concern for the Adventure Sports was that with such a tall and relatively top-heavy bike, the loss of that fine level of control you need for slow speed manoeuvring stability is lost, requiring a lot more finesse in the throttle to meter in the power. Things have improved massively over the last few years however, with this latest iteration of DCT much smoother and less snatchy then when I rode a DCT equipped standard Africa Twin on launch a few years back. 

Pick up is clean and linear, aided by the new ride by wire throttle which is probably the most natural and precise set up I’ve tried on a bike in recent years. Sometimes ride by wire can seem artificial (which it is) and jerky. Honda has done a brilliant job with this one and combined with the latest generation DCT take off is smooth and once rolling you can really feel the connection between throttle and engine. This is particularly useful off-road, where pulling out of tight corners with the traction control off you can work that throttle to bring in a nice controllable rear end slide. It’s the same when moderating the throttle mid-corner on tight road turns, with a real sense of precision through the throttle.

You also learn to work around the slow speed manoeuvre issue, dragging the front brake with your middle finger to harness the bike, almost acting as reverse clutch slip. This is the best technique I found for tight u-turns and for negotiating slow speed off-road obstacles. I also liked that there’s now a lot less delay between starting the bike and being able to engage Drive than there used to be. It was only a second or so, but it seemed like an age when you were in a rush to get going and the bike needed a moment to ready itself.

Given the choice I would still prefer the manual. My brain doesn’t always want to be in the same gear as the DCT puts me in, and there’s something about not being in charge of the gears with a clutch and lever that seems to rob you (me at least) of some connection with the bike, which I miss. I’d also prefer the bike without the extra 10 kilos, or the extra £1000, but DCT really works for some, and in the instance of the Adventure Sports, is the best it’s ever been. If you’re thinking of DCT then try and get an extended test ride. It can take a few thousand miles to really dial into it, so an hour or so just isn’t enough to conclude whether it’s for you or not.

 

 

Economy

During the course of the three-day test, covering a mixture of motorway, B roads and trail, the Adventure Sports averaged 49.5mpg, which I’d say was fairly respectable for this type of bikes. A manual gearbox would probably have upped that by a few digits, while the 24.2 litre tank of the Adventure Sports means that a 300-mile range is just about achievable, although topping up at 250 miles would give a nice safe margin. The Honda was consistently showing 100 miles more to its range than the BMW and Triumph in the test, and all in all the range of the Adventure Sports was more impressive than expected.

Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

Longer travel suspension is one of the selling points of the Adventure Sports, although I’m not sure how many customers asked for it. Standard seat height of 920mm is far too lofty for the average person, with the standard seat lowered to 900mm by way of the fiddly and imprecise seat adjustment hooks. There’s also a lower seat and mid height seat option, offering a reduction of 60mm and 30mm respectively at an additional cost of £120.

At 5’10” I never felt comfortable on the Africa Twin at stationary speeds, even on the 900mm seat height setting and would certainly spec it with the mid seat option to give it a more manageable 870mm seat height. It doesn’t help that the new 24.2-litre fuel tank sits high on the bike, especially in comparison to the 1090 Adventure R which manages to carry its fuel much lower in the bike, lowering the centre of gravity and making the bike feel more manageable despite similar weights. 

Once moving the Africa Twin sheds its weight and becomes instantly more manageable - well balanced even - the fully adjustable longer travel suspension set on the soft side as standard and meaning there’s a fair amount of pitch and dive under acceleration and braking. The sensation of pitch is accentuated by the thick soft foam seat, which compresses under hard acceleration but only after compression of the rear shock, meaning you get a double dose of pitch. It’s an odd sensation to begin with. 

This is a large trail bike suspension set up and the compromise comes on the road. You can still make swift progress and it’s quite nice to be on a bike not running rock hard suspension, but you do lose a bit of feel and accuracy through the Showa equipped front end. There’s a touch of vagueness to get used to and even a little pattering from the 21-inch front wheel when you start to push on along bumpier Tarmac terrain. You could adjust this out, but adjustment for preload, compression and rebound damping takes some fathoming to get just right. The easy adjustment of the BMW’s ESA unit would work well on the Africa Twin. 

The wide bars make the bike very easy to steer, tipping into corners with no effort. They also suit the off-road terrain as well, the setup of the bike really coming into its own on the dirt trails we rode on the test. You can’t deny the bike is big, tall and heavy, and compared to the KTM it’s not half as sharp or responsive – it’s all a bit roly-poly – but equally it’s well balanced, that throttle response is perfect for small inputs and the long travel suspension gobbles up rough terrain. It’s not as dynamic as it could be, and if you’re coming from a GS or GSA then that could take some getting used to, but the Adventure Sports is still definitely capable of covering ground quickly.

 

 

Brakes

The brakes are a strong point on the Africa Twin, with twin 310mm discs and 4-piston calipers at the front offering good feel and stopping force. Given the soft suspension the bike does dive under braking, something you get used to, and overall the brakes do a good job of stopping the bike’s 253 kilo wet weight. The bike comes with ABS as standard, with option to disable it on the rear wheel only. For a bike of this nature – intended for dirt use – it would be handy to be able to disengage the front as well, as sometimes on loose surfaces ABS can struggle to cope with heavier braking and leave you exposed to overshooting the corner, or hitting the obstacle.

On this DCT equipped bike in place of the clutch lever you get a parking brake lever, positioned just out of reach of your hand when on the grip. It’s a bit of a faff to engage but thankfully easier to disengage. With DCT in Sport mode, of which there are three levels of Sport mode, you do get a good chunk of engine braking, with the downshifts metered by a slipper clutch to give a loud gunshot-like boom as the bike works down the gears on the approach to a junction or tight corner. You’ll either like that or you won’t. Most probably will.

 

Comfort

Given the tall seat height there’s certainly a lot of room in the leg, meaning less pressure in the hip joint. The bars are nicely placed and the bench seat comfortable for half day rides. A full day in the saddle did start to become uncomfortable. For sure there’s plenty of foam in the bench seat, but with no contouring you just start to get that compression ache in your buttocks, possibly remedied by a sheepskin seat cover or Air Hawk.

The screen is also a little disappointing. It’s 80mm taller than that on the standard bike but seems to give a lot of bluster around the shoulders, the top of the screen also directly in my line of sight. But screens are personal; what work for some don’t work for others and it might be something you have to look to the after-market suppliers to fix. As for carrying a pillion, there’s a big old pad on the back, along with decent grab rails to hang on to and newly designed passenger pegs. Getting on and off given the height of the bike might be the only thing to consider, as unlike the rider’s seat, the pillion seat isn’t height adjustable.

 

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports (2018)

Equipment

The Adventure Sports come well equipped. On top of the standard bike you get a much more protective aluminium sump guard, engine bars as standard, heated grips, a taller screen, the 30th anniversary colour screen and a sturdy aluminium rear rack. It’s a shame they couldn’t have added chunkier foot pegs as that was one of the biggest gripes of the original bike, with just not a big enough platform for off-road riding. You also must question the decision not to feature cruise control, something that the forums have been crying out for ever since the original bike launched. Now with ride by wire throttle you’d think it possible, but possibly the reason for its omission is that on the DCT equipped bike especially there’s just no room left on the handlebar controls. Tubeless rims would also have been a good upgrade – or at least an option - simply for the convenience of fixing punctures.

The information screen has been redesigned for this year, although arguably not for the better. There’s a lot going on there now, with most of the data displayed at the same time making it cluttered and hard to distinguish. You also get quite a bit of glare from the sun and from rain droplets that pool on the screen. The control buttons on the left-hand switchgear are also fiddly, with it hard to see what you’re adjusting. It makes me wish for the simplicity of switches and dials and some of the new touches such as being able to adjust engine braking and power output seem a little unnecessary. There are now three riding modes (Tour, Urban and Gravel), 7 stages of traction control, 4 levels of DCT, Gravel mode, 3 power modes and 3 engine braking modes.

On the DCT model especially it feels like technology overload, reaching an off-road section and not being sure whether to change the riding mode, or traction control, or engage G mode, or put DSG in manual or turn ABS on or off. For me at least it’s too much. It needs simplifying somehow (or just more than a three-day test to get used to), but at least now the system retains its settings when you kill the bike with the kill switch. Previously you’d have to go through it all again every time you stopped the engine.

Those issues aside, it feels like you’re getting a lot of bike for the money, with the sense of it being the best value package of the four bikes with the highest level of equipment as standard. 

 

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports (2018)

 

2018 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports verdict

In many ways the Adventure Sports improves on the standard bike, and in a few ways it doesn’t. The added fuel range greatly improves its usability and visually the Anniversary colours means the bike now packs a lot more showroom appeal. The addition of a proper aluminium sump guard and sturdy rear rack are good additions for adventure riders and make the bike more practical for getting out and using on the back and beyond.

Less positively the screen is bigger but not necessarily better, and whilst the longer travel suspension means it will hop even bigger rocks, I can’t help but feel that it’s gone a bit too far - too tall - and that most owners of the stock bike would simply have preferred the extra fuel tank but maintained the standard ride and seat height. I’m not sure it does much for the on-road handling either. The new instrument panel is hard to read and on DCT equipped bikes you just get the sense that there’s too much going on, reaching an off-road section and trying to figure out what to select and how to select it. The buttons and menus just aren’t as user friendly as they could be. Cruise control and tubeless rims would also have been on my list of requirements and I reckon people would have paid an extra £1000 on the price tag to get such things. It still then feels then that the Africa Twin has potential for more development to come.

That said, you can’t deny that this is a very accomplished bike. It has a strong, grunty engine, brilliant brakes and whilst there’s a lot of roll in the corners and under braking, you can make good swift progress on this bike and out of the four we tested it’s the bike (albeit with the lower seat height) that I would genuinely consider taking on a long-extended trip. It feels strong, it feels sturdy. It has a genuine breadth of talent and for the last two years the Africa Twin has proven itself reliable and largely unbreakable. The bike isn’t perfect. It still faces stiff competition, but for the first time since the bike came out I could see myself owning an Africa Twin. The Adventure Sports widens the appeal of the bike, and therefore is a welcome addition to the Africa Twin range and to the adventure bike market It’s now a good (and cheaper) alternative to the R1200 GSA.

 

Three things I loved about the Africa Twin Adventure Sports…

• Strong, muscular engine

• Great value. You get a lot of bike for your money. 

• Genuine off-road capability 

 

Three things that I didn’t…

• Cluttered and hard to read instrument panel

• Tall seat height

• Absence of cruise control and tubeless rims

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports (2018)

 

2018 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports spec

 

New price

£13,549 (DCT model), £14,194 as tested.

Capacity

998cc

Bore x Stroke

92.0mm x 75.1mm

Engine layout

Liquid-cooled 8-valve parallel twin

Power

94bhp (70kW) @ 7,500rpm

Torque

73 lb-ft (99Nm) @ 6,000rpm

Average fuel consumption

49.5mpg tested

Tank size

24.2-litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

280 miles

Rider aids

ABS, HSTC (Honda Selectable Torque Control)

Frame

Steel semi-double cradle type with high-tensile strength steel rear subframe

Front suspension

Showa 45mm cartridge-type inverted telescopic fork, 252mm stroke, 224mm axle travel.

Front suspension adjustment

Preload and damping (compression & rebound) adjuster

Rear suspension

Monoshock, 240 mm rear wheel travel, 101 mm stroke

Rear suspension adjustment

Preload and rebound damping adjustment

Front brake

310mm dual wave floating disk, 4-piston calipers

Rear brake

256mm wave hydraulic disc with 1-piston caliper

Front tyre

90/90-R21 Bridgestone Battlax

Rear tyre

150/70-R18 Bridgestone Battlax

Rake/Trail

27.5°/115mm

Dimensions

2340mm x 930mm x 1570mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1580mm

Ground clearance

270mm

Seat height

920/900mm

Kerb weight

253kg (DCT)

Warranty

Unlimited miles / 2 years

Website

www.honda.co.uk

 

To insure this bike, click here

 

Latest News from Bike Social

Latest News

  • Brough at Bonhams
    TV star Brough Superior up for auction
  • 2019 IOM TT Start Numbers Announced
    2019 IOM TT Start List Announced
  • Lazareth demonstrates its flying bike
    Lazareth demonstrates its flying bike
  • Yamaha Niken becomes official Grand Tour support bike
    Yamaha Niken becomes official Grand Tour support bike