Photography: Rohit G Mane
Everyone wants a slice of the suddenly mushrooming adventure motorcycle segment in India. So you have the uber-cool sportsbike slaying Ducati Multistrada, the humbler Kawasaki Versys and Suzuki V-Strom. There is the BMW GS1200 as well but their numbers are nigh negligible in the overall scheme of things. The one motorcycle that can truly lay claim to the crown in this class of motorcycles however has to be Triumph’s Tiger 800. Beautifully balanced with a powerful triple-cylinder motor, thoroughly practical yet utterly enjoyable, there really has been no real threat to the Tiger’s domination of the adventure-touring bike jungle thus far. Now however there is an upstart, one who draws inspiration from The Dark Continent and is all set to take on the Tiger on home turf. Allow us to introduce you to the long awaited and much talked about Honda CRF 1000 L Africa Twin.
Out on the narrow and well surfaced road that connects a rain soaked Udaipur to Daya dam about 45-50km away, this tall Honda adventure tourer feels marvellous. Its 245 kilo weight is barely noticed as the convey scythes through the lush hills towards the dam. The semi cradle frame is taut and she handles beautifully but there is just enough flex in the chassis for the bike to work well in a variety of conditions. At some level it’s hard to make sense of how Honda has managed to make a bike with a rake of 27.3 degrees and a wheelbase of 1574mm turn in so quickly, so instinctively. I would think the answer lies in the suspension setup, which is on the softer side in the best traditions of an adventure tourer. As you brake for a turn the front forks compress a fair bit, resulting in a sharper rake momentarily as the front loads up. At that point when you release the brakes and turn in, she cranks over intuitively. And then as you open the throttle and the suspension extends the bike offers fantastic mid-corner stability, which carries on through to the straight and until you hit the brakes again for the next turn. For a tall adventure tourer where you are sitting bolt upright, the Africa Twin’s cornering abilities are closer to that of a sports tourer.
Complementing this capable dynamic setup is a smooth running but punchy liquid-cooled 999.1cc parallel twin motor that develops a very healthy bottom and mid-range. Honda has used a 270-degree crank with offset firing intervals, ostensibly to give the parallel twin its characteristic gruff “pulse” but a quick conversation on the side with Honda’s top R&D people reveal that there’s another reason why such a setup has been adopted. At the time of designing the engine Honda’s R&D realised when the firing happened in sync the surge of power was too much for average riders to be able to manage. As a result they opted for an offset interval where the power surge became more manageable, and hence far less intimidating. The result is an incredibly easy machine to ride. You can pretty much put her to any use and she will perform capably, be it touring on highways, soft-roading, pottering through traffic and carving up a hill. Unlike its rivals, the Africa Twin does not get ride-by-wire and instead has to make do with an old school cable operated throttle. But be that as it may, fuelling is immaculate and the throttle is very responsive.
The star of this Honda however has to be the six-speed dual clutch transmission. It takes a little bit of time re-wiring the brain because like in the old VFR1200F that Honda had launched over half a decade ago with a similar transmission, there is no lever for the left foot (unless you pay extra and get an accessory fitted) or a clutch lever. Operation of this transmission is ludicrous because you don’t really have to operate anything at all. Switch on the engine, flick the itsy-bitsy button on the right handlebar to D or S and you’re all set to go at the twist of the throttle. The rest of the ride’s gear shifting is taken care of by that DCT auto ’box. There is of course a couple of toggle levers on the left handlebar to let you have manual control over the transmission but mostly you won’t need to because the shifts happen based on requirements. That said, you can still confuse the system by varying your throttle inputs to this predictive system.
Oddly enough, the motorcycle comes with tube type Dunlop tyres that wouldn’t have been out of place a decade ago. Apart from suggesting that this is a nod to the original Africa Twin that won the Dakar, Honda also said that having tube type tyres would allow riders/owners to go from the dual purpose tyres that our bikes were shod with to knobby off-road tyres to on-road tyres without really having to go through too much trouble. We aren’t entirely convinced on that count, especially since the Africa Twin’s rivals seem to be doing fine without offering this unusual versatility and also because the Dunlop tyres did not seem particularly impressive on road and certainly not on the little off-roading that we indulged in at the Daya dam. Besides, the versatility comes at the cost of ruggedness since a punctured tyre, even if it’s a slow puncture, on the highway would certainly have you stranded wherever the unfortunate event occurs until you can find a way to repair it. You will not be able to fill air and carry on to a safe point.
The issue with tyres notwithstanding, Honda’s litre-class CRF machine is probably the best adventure tourer money can buy in India right now. Not in its technological superiority for the Multistrada would shame it no end with its high end gadgetry. Compared to the Ducati, the Honda’s electronics package is rather down-to-earth and simple in operation. But it is exactly this simplicity that one finds endearing when riding the bike for you actually focus more on the riding than on trying to keep up with the myriad settings – something that many riders find overwhelming. On the whole, I would say the Honda Africa Twin checks in at eight to eight and a half on a scale of one to ten. So, what does that mean for Triumph? Simply, that Tigers aren’t going to have an easy time with prey anymore in this jungle called the adventure-touring motorcycle segment.
|Technical Specifications||Honda CRF 1000 L Africa Twin|
|Price ( ex-showroom)||Rs 13.07 lakh|
|Engine & Transmission|
|Type||Liquid-cooled, parallel twin with 270-degree crankshaft|
|Bore x Stroke||92.0 x 75.2mm|
|Maximum power||88PS @ 7500rpm|
|Maximum torque||91.9Nm @ 6000rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed, dual clutch|
|Chassis & Suspension|
|Front suspension||Showa 45mm cartridge type USD forks, adjustable|
|Rear suspension||Monobloc cast aluminium swingarm with Pro-Link monoshock and gas charged damper, adjustable|
|Brakes & Tyres|
|Front brakes||310mm discs x 2, Nissin four-piston radial callipers|
|Rear brake||256mm disc, Nissin two-piston calliper|
|Front tyre||90/90 21|
|Rear tyre||150/70 R18|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|L x W x H||2334 x 932 x 1478mm|
|Fuel tank capacity||18.8 litres|