Last year, a couple of South African journalists were fortunate enough to attend the launch of the Africa Twin right here in South Africa. This bike was billed as a game changer. Based on the sales figures, that description makes perfect sense.
The original XRV 750 Africa Twin from the late 90’s is still kicking up plumes of dust all over Africa. Peculiarly, Honda stopped production of the Africa Twin in 2003 and with Honda out of the picture, BMW made the dual-sport market their own.
A lot was riding on the new Africa Twin when it was introduced. Honda positioned it as a dirt-bike first, with just enough street capability to get you to the gnarly bits. The bike has a 21” front wheel with tall, upside down, adjustable forks. The back is also adjustable, and getting the bike dialed in for your own application is not difficult.
Honda avoided the temptation of just upgrading the 12 year old V-twin, and rather opted for a parallel twin and boosted the capacity to just shy of 1000cc. Power is an underwhelming 94 horsepower. This is, however, a gravel-road bike, so the power should be more than sufficient.
The seating position is as it should be, comfortably upright with wide handlebars. I have to commend Honda for getting the rear-view mirrors right. Being able to see past my elbows with no vibrations seems to be a lost art in the world of modern motorcycles. The instrumentation cluster is small and sits behind a fixed screen.
The particular model I had on review was the DCT model. This meant that the bike was devoid of gear and clutch levers because the shifts happen automatically. It takes some getting used to, as I was forever reaching for the absent clutch lever. You can switch cogs manually with buttons on the handle bar. – does the downshifts and + is up. The downside of this system is that the downshift button is where I would normally expect the horn. On the N1, I have geared down in anger more than once.
On tar, the Honda is just like any new bike, but it comes alive on gravel. You can switch the ABS off, but that only disables the back brake, so you can slide the rear end at will. I rode the Honda up a small rocky hill and just pointed the front wheel in a direction and went for it. The DCT worked flawlessly, as you cannot stall the bike. It even senses whether you are going up or down and adjusts the gearing accordingly.
All things considered, the Honda is an exceptional bike. The DCT is also gaining popularity, as over 40% of new Hondas are sold with DCT. It is hard to fault the Honda Africa Twin, and it was surely worth the wait. – Words and picture – Brian Cheyne