Throwback Thursday: Exclusive interview with Kenji Morita



Here's Kenji Morita. He's Honda's Large Project Leader. He's the main man behind the Japanese factories new Africa Twin and Africa Twin Adventure Sports motorcycles. He loves riding bikes off-road.

Out on the launch of Honda’s THREE new Africa Twins for 2020, we sat down with Large Project Leader Kenji Morita to ask him YOUR top TEN questions (and a few more).

We’ve recently been out on the world launch of Honda’s new Africa Twins. Over two days in Sardinia we got the chance to ride the new off-road ready Africa Twin and the two new Africa Twin Adventure Sports touring machines.

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In between the riding, we found ten minutes to sit down with Honda’s Large Project Leader Kenji Morita and Paul Nowers from Honda Motor Europe to talk about exactly what’s going on with the three new Africa Twins – asking the top ten questions submitted to us on social media about the new bikes.

And there are THREE ways to get your hands on the interview. You can LISTEN to our podcast, WATCH our YouTube video (with some footage of us putting the new bikes through their paces), or READ it (below).

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MB: There are a few things that we all know between us that we’ve gleaned from the tech specs and bits and pieces, but let’s imagine I know absolutely nothing. So first off, is there any increase in torque and any weight reduction?

KM: Yes.

MB: Is that the same for power as well?

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KM: There’s 6% more power.

MB: And weight reduction?

KM: It’s over 4kg lighter.

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MB: That’s an impressive achievement, particularly in light of recent Euro 5 emissions regulations. Is there anything in particular you’ve done to achieve that?

KM: The biggest changes are the structure of the frame, which is about 1.8kgs lighter. There are a lot of new materials in the engine; they reduce the engine weight by about 2kgs as well.

MB: I guess a big part of that is the CRF450R-derived aluminium subframe that’s bolted on – rather than welded on. What inspired that decision?

KM: The driver between having the rear subframe as aluminium, the biggest thing was to reduce the weight and go in hand with the mainframe itself to make sure it’s got the required ridgity that remains as steel.

MB: What have you done to the engine to increase torque and power?

KM: Main things are the increase in capacity but there’s a lot of work gone into the intake and exhaust efficiency, so the engine breathes a lot better.

MB: Did the upcoming Euro 5 regulations present any problems? Was that tricky to get around, while increasing power and torque?

KM: It was a big, big challenge, very difficult. Euro 5 is much, much stricter in a lot of the regulations regarding emissions compared to Euro 4. So to get the required cleanliness of the emissions whilst increasing the power and torque, that was a huge challenge.

MB: It’s quite an achievement. What in particular has gone into that?

KM: The two biggest things were the change to the catalyser, which is now near the engine itself so warms up more quickly and that’s more efficient, therefore. Another important thing was that we’ve now got a dead straight line-up between the centre of the throttle body and the centre of the cylinder, so that intake efficiency is that much better. Whereas previously it was offset, it wasn’t as good as it is now. That’s a big thing that made it possible.

MB: Was that trial and error? How did you work out that that would be the ideal solution?

KM: On that one, it wasn’t the case of trial and error. It was very much a kind of looking at the engine, and therefore deciding that that would probably be something that would probably be different.

MB: Fantastic. Changing tack slightly, what was the reason for making the Adventure Sports Tourer and the standard African more of an off-roader? Previously, the Adventure Sports one is the off-road model. What inspired that decision?

KM: I think where we were with the two previous versions was that the Adventure Sports had an element of off-road but was very good for touring. Even the standard bike was also capable of doing both very well, so in that sense there were kind of very close together in terms of the target development.

So taking a step back and looking at how we could appeal to a wider range of customers, we felt it would make more sense to have a clearer difference between the two – which is why we just focused on the big tank bike being a long ranger and the smaller tank bike now being more clearly focused on off-road.

MB: That makes perfect sense. What’s the reason for adding the electronic suspension just to the top of the line Adventure Sports rather than the standard Africa Twin?

KM: Again, it goes a little bit back to the concept with the smaller tank version being focused on the sports and the off-road, that kind of riding. Whereas the Adventure Sport one, because we feel that there’s going to be a larger percent of most of the riders riding on-road, so all the different situations that that can throw up, whether it’s nosediving or anything, that the road conditions do throw up, having that kind of suspension which can handle any change in road surfaces seemed to make more sense on the long ranger than on the Sports version.

MB: So again, it’s about differentiating between the three individual models and making a flagship, all singing, all dancing machine…

KM: There’s definitely that element to have a flagship amongst the different versions.

MB: That makes complete sense. And tagging onto that, why did you choose to decrease the seat height on the Adventure Sports?

KM: Again, with it being more of a real long range focus and bearing in mind that for a lot of people would mean loading the bike up fully with a lot of luggage, just having that piece of mind of the lower seat height in that scenario was important to us.

MB: In my experience it was a tall bike. Was customer feedback something that played into that decision?

KM: Yes, absolutely. We listen to that as well.

MB: How important is the customer feedback in your decision making when designing a new bike?

KM: Very important.

MB: Which is your personal favourite of the Africa Twins?

KM: Very difficult! Ideally, I’d like one of each. I’d want the Adventure Sport or the standard. But, at the moment, because I’ve got the previous Adventure Sport in the garage already, if I had to choose, I’d go for the standard.

MB: So you like your off-roading then? I know this isn’t really anything to do with your design, but why did Honda ever stop selling the Africa Twin in the first place?

KM: That’s really difficult to answer, as it was a while ago. It was, at that time, we weren’t in the rally anymore and it was just the kind of super sport golden age, if you like and they were selling a lot more than the off-road kind of flavour machines. That’s really where the Africa Twin reached the end of that chapter.

MB: It’s nice to have it back though…

KM: I’m really pleased about that.

MB: Me too, it’s a fantastic bike. I really enjoyed riding the new top of the line Adventure Sports today. Roll on tomorrow. Thanks a lot Kenji, thanks a lot Paul.



And for the full length world launch review of Honda’s latest generation adventure machines, check out the December 2019 issue of Motorcycle Sport and Leisure magazine. To get your hands on a copy, click HERE.


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