By Steve Tiedman

What a generous offer! Adam Cerny, co-owner with Eric Riley of Empire Cycle in Loretto, MN, (an independent repair shop) offered his own brand-spankin’-new 2016 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin to us for a thorough breaking-in, err, review. He handed it over to Sev with only 40-something miles on the clock. By the time I returned it to Adam a few days later, well, um, it was broken in. (It was still in showroom condition, except the odometer.) What a great guy, though; he took it all in stride. I asked what inspired him to offer his new bike for our review and he said he thought a lot of people would be very interested in this new Honda model. I think he’s right, and I know I am.

Honda has provided versions of the Africa Twin to other parts of the globe since the 1980s. Finally arriving in the USA, the 2016 Africa Twin joins a large, competitive field of adventure bikes, including versions from BMW, Yamaha, Triumph, KTM, Suzuki, and others. Most offer adventure bikes in various engine sizes and in livery to serve everyone from weekday commuters to weekend explorers to off-the-grid adventurers. And why not? These motorcycles can be fairly affordable (or not), there are tons of useful accessories, they’re at home on jeep trails and twisty pavement and interstates, and generally they are just damn comfortable to ride. As a group, adventure bikes are probably the most natural fitting bikes on the road. With a little fine tuning for fit and accessorizing, these machines make all-day rides a breeze, whether on pavement or off.

As comfortable on gravel as it is on asphalt.
As comfortable on gravel as it is on asphalt.

So you are able to compare to yourself, I am 6 ft. tall, 215 tubby pounds, with a 30 in. pant leg. Out of the crate and full of gas, the Africa Twin weighs about 510 pounds, the seat is about 34 in. above the ground, and the rear seat/luggage rack just over 41 in. high. She’s a tall drink of water and requires a high kick to swing a leg over the seat, not surprising since the fork provides 9 in. of travel with the rear shock providing 8.7 in., all of which is fully adjustable. Some internet searching showed there are already methods of dealing with this height if you need to bring the bike down a bit, especially if you outfit it with luggage. There is also an OEM short saddle, but this won’t bring the kick-over height down, it just gives your feet more purchase on the pavement. Bone stock with factory suspension settings, I was solidly planted on the balls of my feet, heels up an inch or two. Owner Adam has a 34 in. leg and was flat-footed on the ground. The bike is pleasantly slender between the legs and for its height it is well balanced. The Africa Twin hauls 5 gallons of fuel, and combined with the compact engine design the bike did not feel top heavy.

The engine is a 998cc, 8-valve parallel twin, moving power to the rear wheel through a manual 6-speed gear box fitted with a slipper clutch and chain final drive. (Honda also offers their 6-speed DCT dual-clutch transmission on a second version of the Africa Twin.) With a little ‘net digging I found a claimed 93 horsepower and 72 ft. lb. of torque. More on that later. My fuel usage reported an actual 47.8mpg over a wide mix of riding conditions. And the powerful Nissin ABS brakes did their job: no complaints there.

Fit and finish are excellent, typical for Honda. The red/white/black color scheme utilizes the most vivid, brilliant, almost seductive shade of red I’ve ever seen, especially in bright sunlight. Shades of gold, gray, silver and bronze also tastefully adorn the bike. Other than the hot red paint, about the only statement of “look at me!” is the Africa Twin name on the fairing. Otherwise, the appearance of the bike is clean and simple: classy for an adventure bike. The appearance of the engine is substantial, but neat and compact. Upside-down fork sliders are well protected by full length fender extensions.

An afternoon tootle around Bald Eagle Lake, northeast of St. Paul, allowed the Africa Twin to show off its dancing skills. It handles effortlessly, at posted speeds leaning way down into the beginning of an S-curve, and with an easy flick it follows into the opposite curve without losing its composure. (Thank you, Sir, may I have another?) The steering felt neutral; I didn’t have to work to get the bike to go where I wanted. I hate clichés, but the motorcycle simply felt planted and confidence-inspiring. Darn good for factory tires and suspension settings.

A short stint on a gravel road showed that the wheel and tire sizes, the geometry, and suspension all come together as a good match. 50mph on crushed gravel and the Africa Twin didn’t flinch or shimmy. I was imagining myself up near the Boundary Waters, or in the Chequamegen National Forest, running mile after mile of forest roads…

As a nod to its long off-road heritage, the wheels of the bike are spoked 21 in. front and 18 in. rear (shod with Dunlop Trailmax dual-sport tires) helping with bump compliance, and when mixed with the wide and tallish handlebar, steering the big bike was easy and controllable. But the spoked rims require inner tubes. Still? Okay, then I learned a bit more. Other than the obvious air retention problem with spoke nipples penetrating the rim, there are any number of off-road tire pressure philosophies out there that may show the usefulness of inner tubes. And, tubeless spoked rims are likely an up-cost.

Freeway time demonstrated that this 500-pounder with 93 peak ponies pulling on the harnesses easily gallops along however fast you want it to go. Coming into Minneapolis on I-394 I was clipping along with the flow of traffic just fine, thinking I was traveling in the 60mph range somewhere. Then I looked down at the dashboard. Whoa, Nellie! Yep, the Africa Twin will run all day long. This bike is powerful enough, and the engine is smooth across the power band.

Speaking of gauges, I came across a roadside speed indicator sign stating I was traveling 49mph in a 50 zone. The big digital speedo confirmed 49mph. The busy dashboard display provides no shortage of information, but I felt that a lot of the data was small to read, and the light-on-dark LCD screen made viewing in bright sunlight a challenge if wearing sunglasses or using a dark helmet visor. The tach is a small bar graph set at 2000rpm increments: it’s not very useful. The dashboard information functions are controlled by easy to use buttons and triggers on the left grip, including the various traction control settings. The rear wheel ABS brake on/off button is on the dashboard. Being able to set the traction control and ABS functions to your liking are good for off-pavement use.

Other observations:

  • The footpegs were fine when seated, but when standing I felt they could be larger/wider.
  • Very good factory saddle lets you move around, but it could be flatter under the butt rather than the slight rearward uphill slope following the lines of the bike. Nothing minor surgery couldn’t resolve.
  • On/off throttle response seemed a little snatchy, but was a non-issue as I learned to ride the bike. It may prove a minor nuisance if you spend a lot of time standing on the pegs in technical surface conditions.
  • The engine does not like to be lugged. If the engine starts to buck, just drop it a gear and you’ll be fine.
  • The throttle return spring has a good amount of pull. A throttle paddle device, like my beloved Kuryakyn Universal Throttle Boss, takes care of that little issue.
  • Shifting gears is precise and smooth, with a nice click into each gear. Neutral is easy to find.
  • Hey, Honda, you couldn’t include a factory center stand? Sure, it’s optional, but the chain needs maintenance…
  • Luggage is optional.
  • Stock hand guards offer some wind protection, and the stock skid plate is a nice touch.
  • The small windshield tames the hard headwind pressure but still flows a lot of air fairly cleanly.
  • You’ll notice the heat of the twin radiators when their fans kick on. Relax your legs outward and the heat mostly passes between your leg and the bike.
  • A great all-purpose bike.
  • Watch out, adventure market, Honda is here to play.

MMM

By Sev Pearman

After listening politely, I said into the receiver, “Thank you for the offer, but I’m no longer with MMM®”. Road Test Editor Dave Soderholm rephrased his request, mentioning a certain old file folder with my name on it, full of questionable receipts and sketchily-filled expense account forms. After re-checking my calendar, I said I would be delighted to return to the pages of MMM® until this minor bookkeeping kerfuffle was straightened out.

This bike is narrow; more Dual-Sport single than big-bore twin.
This bike is narrow; more Dual-Sport single than big-bore twin.

My old, shoddy paperwork aside, I was excited to ride the Africa Twin, Honda’s entry into the big-bore ADV segment. MMM® reader Adam C. is a bike nut and co-owner and co-founder of Empire Cycle in Loretto, MN. He made his BRAND NEW bike available to MMM® and Editor Soderholm leapt at the opportunity. A couple days later, I met Adam at Empire Cycle. The gleaming red/black/white beauty was parked off to the side, on its own private slab. Adam explained why he thought it a good idea to give his BRAND NEW bike to two clowns he didn’t know, gave me a brief tour of the electronics and threw me the keys.

I fired her up and headed north and east toward the Delta Diner and a slice of pie. This route gave me 200 miles on a mix of freeway, highway and B roads to get a sense of the Africa Twin. Honda has done their homework. The bike is powered by a 998cc parallel twin with a 270º crankpin. This compact architecture provides more of a V-twin power delivery. Redline is 8,000rpm. Out of respect to the new motor, I kept engine speeds in the midrange. The torque is deceptive. When the throttle is cracked open, there is no grunty kick of a V-twin. But do not be deceived: throttle roll-ons quickly propel you over 90mph. We’ll file this stealthy power delivery under “Honda refinement.”

The stock model is well-appointed. You get a frame-mounted fairing and windscreen, decent hand guards on a tapered, aluminum handlebar, fully-adjustable suspension and bash plate.  Also included is Honda Selectable Torque Control. You can choose between three levels of interference or can turn the system off completely. Settings can be adjusted on the fly via a trigger located on the left hand control. Out of respect for the paint, I kept the Africa Twin on pavement and this feature was untested. Other available options include panniers, center-stand, heated grips, light bar and 12-volt power socket. For the coffee shop set, Honda has teamed with KLIM to offer Africa Twin-branded Gore-Tex® gear.

Stout spokes are laced into robust black rims. Braking is ABS via dual discs up front and a single disc in the rear. If you have the chops to power slide off-road, the ABS system is switchable on the rear (untested). A discussion of her off-road abilities will have to wait for another day. The stock Dunlop Trailmax tires are great on pavement; they roll in nicely in corners, accept mid-corner line changes, and are smooth and quiet. But be advised: they are a fool’s choice beyond a gravel road. I’d ride the Africa Twin until I melted off the stock rubber, then mount up more dedicated off-road tires.

I liked the seat. You can set it at either 34.3” or 33.5”. With my 32” inseam and the seat in the high position, I could stop with the balls of both feet on the ground, or keep one foot on a peg and flat-foot the other. Both techniques work for me. Additionally, Honda offers a lower seat option (33.1” hi/ 32.3” lo).

On highways, she is a delight. Mass-centralization makes for light handling. Foot pegs are just behind your knees, to facilitate standing. The Africa Twin is flickable without being twitchy. While the foot pegs were fine in street boots, I would swap them for larger units for off-road work.  

During my all-too-brief time with the Africa Twin, I saw fuel mileage in the high 40s. This gives you about 200 miles before you have to start pushing. Some say that Honda is late to the big ADV bike party. My take on it is that Honda waited until they got it right. At $12,999 she is priced between the competition, with a nice blend of on-road ability, off road potential and Honda refinement. Big thanks again to Adam C. of Empire Cycle for loaning us his BRAND NEW motorcycle. Empire Cycle is a full-service shop that services a wide variety of machines; American, European and Japanese. Check ‘em out at www.empirecyclemn.com

Ups

Compact, parallel twin makes torque across the rev range.

This bike is narrow; more Dual-Sport single than big-bore twin.

Honda integration and finish. This is a nice machine.

Downs

Gauges are hard to read in bright sun.

511-lb curb weight. Don’t drop it off road unless you can pick it up.

Stock tires are for street only.

Wife’s First Reaction® “I like it; it’s a cool bike. It looks athletic…and sporty!”

Fuel Economy: high 40s (tested)

Selected Competition: Aprilia Caponord Rally, BMW 1200GS; Kawasaki Versys 1000; KTM 1190R; Moto Guzzi Stelvio, Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure; Triumph Tiger Explorer; Yamaha Super Ténéré

MMM

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