2020 Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin Adventure Sports ES long term review part two

Honda’s updated Africa Twin is proving as good at the functional as it is at the freedom adventure fantasy

 

Honda CRF1100L Africa twin Long term test part two

The miles are coming thick and fast. Just over 2000 in three and a half weeks riding and we’re only just into March. And that’s the point for me. If you’re going to spend this much money on a bike, you want to be using it at every opportunity. For those of us who see bikes putting the ‘fun’ in functional grinding-out-the-miles in March is as important as the big adventure in summer.

This is the time you get to know the bike – what it does well and how to make the most of the tech. Three things I learned last night:

  1. Having the cruise control on the throttle-side switchgear makes it tricky to set without either opening or closing the throttle. So, while the intention was to do 50mph through the speed cameras in the roadworks, I actually set it at 41mph and then 65mph before working out that using my left hand made life much easier.
  2. Taking your hands off the bars at 50mph with the cruise control set has the handlebars starting to wag from side to side. It doesn’t develop into anything more serious and doesn’t happen at all at higher speeds. I have no idea what’s causing it other than maybe a top box, perched four-or-more feet above the ground full of laptops and locks, acting as a giant crowbar on the front tyre.
  3. Sticking to the speed limit on long motorway journeys takes the fuel consumption to seriously impressive levels. 65.3mpg average over 157 miles with a 60mph average speed despite 34 miles of speed-restricted roadworks, rush hour on the M25 and some challenging high-speed filtering on the M11.

Nothing about any of the above bear any resemblance to the sand-tinted, rooster-spraying, escapist adventure-fantasy. In fact, nothing about the M11 inspires anything other than frustration at trucks and whichever road planners decided that two lanes is sufficient for the major commercial freight route connecting the south east to the midlands. Navigating my way through that lot on a Tuesday evening in rush hour is as much of an adventure as the brochure’s desert fantasy.

 

The Woolwich Ferry. Possibly the most adventurous thing in…Woolwich

 

This is a bloody good bike when what you need is functional, efficient transport. And it encourages you to find some humdrum, urban adventures. Last month, riding to the London Motorcycle Show, I swapped the M25 for a ride through south London, crossing the river on the Woolwich Ferry instead of the tunnels. Not the quickest route, but the view down the Thames through the barrier of the City is lovely and the experience (it’s free and takes about 20 minutes including waiting to get on and off) is something a bit different.

I haven’t pushed the tank range beyond 250 miles yet, but I’m pretty sure I can get another 50 if I need to. Likewise, I haven’t been flat out on it either – can’t see the need when it covers ground from point-to-point so quickly. The armchair pundits will criticise Honda for ‘only’ giving the Africa Twin 100bhp, but when you ride it you never notice and the easy, soft usability is more important for 90 per cent of the time.

The handling through greasy roundabouts and semi-flooded, ready-salted February backroads has been as composed and confident as I hoped it would be and the now-bedded-in electronic suspension makes stupidly light work of the pock-marked craters that pass for a road surface these days.

Honda sent a link to this; https://powersports.honda.com/legacy/mksa/index.html#simulator

which helps explain the options and set-up a little more clearly, but I still haven’t even looked at the manual or begun to explore the possibilities for setting-up the electronics, Bluetooth and media. I’ll save that for the really long journeys.

 

Two journeys, one fast and frantic, the other calm and measured. 3mph more average speed requires £3.50 more fuel to do ten miles less

 

Now the bike’s run in most of the initial stiffness in the gearchange has gone, the throttle response is clean and sharp, like you’d expect from a 21st Century Honda and (just-about) everything is lovely.

There are just three niggles. Firstly, the seat height. I shouldn’t complain because anyone who buys one has already made the decision to either live with it or fix it. At six-foot-nothing I struggle to get my leg over the bike in winter kit. That’s crazy and it’d be worse after your fifth fall in an hour riding off road where you might not be able to get the stand down to assist.

 

2020 Honda CRF1100 Africa Twin ES

So tall it blots out the sun

 

The other night at the end of a very long couple of days at work - knackered, soaked, windswept and very weary, I stopped for petrol 30 miles from home and couldn’t get my right leg over the seat to get off the bike. In the end I had to stand on the pegs, swing my leg over and climb off the bike.

The flip side of this is of course that the Africa twin, in these colours especially, looks absolutely right in every sense. The road presence is very welcome when filtering and the mirrors are the right height to avoid car wing mirrors and most trucks too. It’s the most beautiful adventure bike (not a hard challenge, admittedly) on sale by miles and every time I look at it I want to ride it. When Honda gets this stuff right, no one else comes close. The proportions are perfect, if only it was 25 per cent smaller. Maybe I just need some platform-soled 1970s-tribute adventure boots, but I’ secretly hoping that there’s an NC750-based Barnsley Twin (now that would be an adventure) coming along next year.

 

Honda’s updated Africa Twin is proving as good at the functional as it is at the freedom adventure fantasy

Lower chain guard prevents paddock stand use meaning chain lubing is a two-person job. Optional main stand is on order and costs £200

 

The second niggle is chain adjustment and lubing. A centre stand is a £200 option (on a bike already costing £16k), but the lower chain guide prevents the use of a paddock stand meaning the only way to lube the chain is to either find a friend to do it while you lift the back wheel off the ground on the sidestand or lube a small section, move the bike forward, do another section and repeat until the whole chain is lubed, by which time you will have travelled so far it’ll be time to adjust the chain again.

Big twins ask a lot of their chains and regular maintenance is essential. I’ve been adjusting mine every two weeks (1200 miles), which is still too long – even on a new chain getting a relatively easy ride - and lubing it every 500 miles. If I were buying an Africa Twin I’d negotiate to get a mainstand thrown in with the deal.

Finally, and this is more about getting used to the bike than a fault, braking hard, like every other old-school trail bike results in half a second of suspension travel before the actual braking. BMW’s GS has a trump card here in Telelever front suspension that works independently of the brakes. I’m hoping to improve the Honda’s performance by dialling in some extra engine braking – I’ll let you know if it works.

 

Honda’s updated Africa Twin is proving as good at the functional as it is at the freedom adventure fantasy

Honda’s top box is huge and very spacious, but sits high up and care should be taken not to overload.

 

Three things I really like about the 2020 Honda Africa Twin adventure Sports ES

  • Commutes as confidently as it tours
  • 65mpg at 60mph average speed.
  • Whatever electronic function you need, it’s got it covered

 

Three things I’m not so sure about

  • Does it need to be this tall?
  • Centre stand should be standard
  • Complex switchgear needs to be lit to be useful at night

  

New Price

From £16,049 (CRF1100L Adventure Sports ES model)

Capacity

1084cc

Bore x Stroke

92.0mm x 81.5mm

Engine layout

parallel twin

Engine details

8v sohc, l/c

Power

100.6bhp @ 7500rpm

Torque

77.4 lb.ft @ 6250rpm

Top speed

135mph (est)

Average fuel consumption

54mpg

Tank size

24.8 litres

Max range to empty

294 miles

Rider aids

Cornering TC, ABS and headlights. Anti-wheelie, cruise control, four rider modes plus two programmable ones, Bluetooth and USB connectivity

Frame

steel double cradle

Front suspension

45mm Showa usd forks

Front suspension adjustment

fully adjustable (semi-active option)

Rear suspension

Showa monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

adj. preload and rebound (semi-active option)

Front brake

2 x 310mm discs, four-pot radial calipers, cornering ABS

Rear brake

256mm disc, one-pot caliper, cornering ABS

Front tyre

90/90-R21

Rear tyre

150/70-R18

Rake/Trail

27.5°/113mm

Wheelbase

1575mm

Seat height

850-875mm

Kerb weight

240kg

Warranty

unlimited miles/2 years

Website

www.honda.co.uk

 

Looking for motorcycle insurance? Get a quote for this motorbike with Bennetts bike insurance

 

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