Test Ride: 2017 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin

There seems to be a quiet wave of excitement that is created every time the words “Africa” and “Twin” are uttered. It’s no wonder, as the name is the very epitome of adventure and has the legacy to support it. In its early days, the name Africa Twin was the mainstream nomenclature of the Honda XRV650, then of the XRV750, a derivative inspired by the Paris-Dakar-winning NXR750.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past thirty years, the Paris-Dakar rally was a 10,000-kilometer raid from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal with a path across the Sahara desert. A dangerous endeavour some have not come back from. Tensions in Mauritanie have forced the cancellation of the event in 2009 before it was relocated in South America.

With its high stance and long-travel suspension similar to that of a motocross, combined with the comfort of a road-dedicated bike, this dual-sport model surfed a growing trend in Europe in the late 80s. Riders wanted a motorcycle that could be at ease both on and off the road as well as one that could travel long distances – like in a rally.

The Africa Twin remained on the market for close to 25 years before disappearing from the Honda line up. The name made a come back in 2016 in the form of the CRF1000L, which got the nostalgic and the aficionados equally excited. From a V-twin engine, the Africa Twin revival now sports a 998cc parallel twin engine that sends a capable 84 horsepower to the rear wheel. Not overly powerful, but if speed is your motive to shop for a bike, you are looking at the wrong motorcycle. This one will follow wherever you go.

After having done a road trip on the fully-equipped Yamaha Super Ténéré, it seemed like a logical comparison to make to take the Africa Twin on a trip. Granted, the Yamaha has more to offer in terms of comfort and features with such luxuries as cruise control and heated grips. The Africa is a little barer in that regards. What it does have over the Super Ténéré, however, is an available automatic dual clutch transmission.

The DCT shines off-road, altogether eliminating the need to constantly pull and hold the clutch. I found the experience a little alien, as the automatic box eliminates the need for a gear lever at the foot and a clutch lever under the left hand. I have to admit that I stretched my fingers a few time before realizing the motorcycle was doing everything on its own. Like an automatic gearbox on a car, the one on the Africa Twin can be switched to semi-manual which allows you to shift using a toggle found on the right handle. Electronically shifting gear is, in my opinion, even weirder than not shifting at all so this isn’t a feature I took advantage of much.

A standard sequential transmission is available on the entry-level model for the riders who prefer a more nostalgic experience.

Overall comfort on the CRF is acceptable, though compared to the Yamaha, you can see they both have slightly different missions on the road. You can feel the conflicting personalities of the Africa Twin. The seat is narrower, and the riding position is spread out, with the arms wide open. The habitable gas tank is also designed in a way that the ride remains close enough to the handlebar without having to lean in or reach out. The knees are bent at 90-degree angle and the footpegs are positioned just high enough to allow you to stand should the terrain require it, or when after hours on the road, your seating area gets a little sore.

Light – in fact, the lightest in its segment – equipped with a set of optional, sharp-looking aluminium cases and an 18.8-liter gas tank, the Africa is always ready for an adventure whether you tackle the highway or a rocky road. It turned out to be an overall pleasant partner on the long road to and from Quebec.

Though I would personally opt for the more affordable $15,099 standard model with the manual sequential transmission – the dual-clutch adds $1,100 to the bill – it was convenient not to worry about shifting gears. Plus the aluminium cases were both practical, deep enough for plenty of storage, and looked admittedly wicked. I’m happy I got to hang out with a model that has such a proud legacy to its name and this new iteration makes its ancestors proud.



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