The Honda Africa Twin is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to adventure bikes and I think they have pushed the bench mark with the new CRF1100L from a technological point of view, as well as a developmental point of view. There was a huge amount of excitement around the launch of this bike as the Africa Twin has been extremely popular since being released in 2016, selling an impressive 87 000 units worldwide.
The design brief for many of the new bikes if not all, are lighter, faster and better. That is it. However, when Honda was designing this new Africa Twin there was clearly more thought that went into it. The innovation with the electronics and touch display are absolutely awesome, but more on that a little later. Honda invited us to the South African Launch hosted at Amazingwe Lodge just outside Hartebeespoort Dam. An amazing venue for the bike, we were taken from there in a game vehicle to a secluded location where the bikes were going to be unveiled. After a brief press conference, the time had come to unveil the new Honda Africa Twin CRF1100L.
Once Riaan Fourie and the rest of the team unveiled the bikes everyone in the room moved from their seats to go and interact with the new bikes. The bikes that were on display were the manual Africa Twin CRF1100L as well as the DCT Adventure Sports. The bikes look incredible, I didn’t think it was possible to have a nicer head light on an adventure bike but Honda have made the head lights look really aggressive. The bike Adventure Sports looks a lot slimmer than the previous model and the bikes are a bit lower, I found this to be really nice as the rider sits more in the bike opposed to on the bike like you’d have to with the previous models.
There are two different seating positions on the bike, allowing the rider to adjust the seat between the high and the low seat settings which has to be done manually.
Honda introduced a 6,5 inch touch screen TFT display to their new models. I can’t fault the screen as it is absolutely awesome on how interactive it is and REALLY EASY TO USE! Once all the small images on the screen are explained to the rider, regarding traction control, wheelie control and ABS, to deactivate or adjust any of these controls is as simple as clicking the + or – symbol right next to the setting you are wanting to adjust. Honda has taken the science degree needed out of riding without rider aids on. While we are on the topic of rider aids, there are a few new ones added to this Honda like, Wheelie Control, off-road ABS (which keeps ABS active on the front wheel, but completely off on the rear), cruise control and six rider modes.
The next morning we got off to an early start where we were driven to Gerotek to test the bikes. Once there, we were split into two groups and had the option of riding off-road or road first, I opted to ride off-road first and chose a DCT Africa Twin first. Now, I want to just say that I have been quite out spoken about how much I dislike DCT or automatic bikes in general. However, after having ridden the DCT Africa Twin off-road, I realised that there is a space in the market for these bikes.
They are great bikes for people who enjoy a bit of an easier ride or are novices. When speaking to some of the older journalists, they said they preferred the DCT off-road as it was easier to ride in some of the more technical parts of the course. I better understood the reason behind having an automatic bike off-road as the bike is always in the right gear and the rider doesn’t have to worry about stalling the bike.
The bike handles amazingly well, you can definitely feel the weight difference on the bike and although it doesn’t seem like a lot, but the 5 kilograms make a big difference. The seating position is comfortable and the confidence you get from sitting in the bike also helps when you putting the power down. The handle bars have also been mounted slightly lower from the previous model. I had the traction control deactivated on all the off-road riding but not the wheelie control. It took a bit of getting used to as the bike would cut power to the motor when going on a very steep incline. Although the front wheel wasn’t off the ground, by the end of it, I turned off the wheelie control as I found it hampered with the power output of the bike too much when doing a more technical ride. There were more experienced off-road riders at the launch and they could make it up the climbs with the wheelie control on simply because they were carrying more momentum than I was. However, for the extremely novice riders, you would not be taking a bike up some of those climbs.
Next up I tested the manual Adventure Sports, again I was pleasantly surprised at how much lighter the bike felt to the previous model. The heavier bike is not as purpose built as the Africa Twin, but it can handle anything you throw at it. Both bikes offer something so different to the other. The Adventure Sports is definitely for the rider that wants to ride a much further distance opposed to more serious off-road.
Up next I rode the DCT Adventure Sports with the electronic suspension. The electronic suspension only comes on this model and is adjustable with three pre-sets (single rider, single rider with pillion or two riders with luggage). The bike wasn’t as soft as I thought it would be as a lot of the time the bikes tend to feel a bit ‘spongey’. Another really cool feature we unfortunately didn’t get to test is the three stage cornering lights. How this works is in partnership with the 6 axis IMU, the spot lights on the bike move around the corner allowing the rider to see further through the corner when turning at night in a dark road, the further the rider leans over the further the lights shine around the corner.
Lastly, I got to ride the bike I was looking forward to riding the most and the one I thought I would enjoy the most; the manual Africa Twin with a quick shifter. This bike would be the one I personally would own. I loved this bike off-road and on the road riding sections and I really loved this bike on the closed cornering track we got to take the bikes on. The pop of the quick shifter sounds amazing on the up shift.
With regards to the way the motor produces the power, it feels a lot more linear than previous models, I had ridden Clinton’s Long Term Adventure Sports a few days prior to the launch to feel more of a difference and also report better on these bikes. So with the current models (2019) that Honda are selling there’s a bit of a lag in the revs where the bike doesn’t pull as strong from about 5000rpm and wakes up again from about 6500rpm to 7000rpm. The new bikes don’t have that lag and pull all the way from the bottom right to the top. Honda has also developed the exhaust of the new bikes and these beasts sound so good compared to the last ones.