Words: Dave Manning
Although the looks are near identical to the standard version, the bike you see here is the Adventure Sports version of the Africa Twin and, as such, it has one or two upgrades, such as the larger 24.8-litre fuel tank, and the Showa EERA electronic suspension. Although it still has the same 1084cc, 270 crank parallel twin powerplant that is so effective in the standard machine. Like most examples of a prime adventure bike, the Africa Twin has a big chassis, in excess of 100bhp (just), a steel frame, a plethora of electronic doodahs and, in order to illustrate an ability to venture off of paved road surfaces, a wheel combination of 21- inch front and 18-inch rear that will allow the most dramatic of knobbly tyres if so desired.
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Those wheels, incidentally, are of a tubeless design. When we tested the basic Africa Twin in the Cotswolds last year, I made a mention of ‘that bloody screen’ and, while the Adventure Sport version apparently now has a ‘new, shorter, improved screen’ the issues remain exactly as before, despite it now being adjustable. It’s noisy, and it also rattles your head as soon as you hit 50mph, and although it is height adjustable, when it was raised I still got the head rattling, albeit at 20mph faster. It’s a rather subliminal rattling though (and that’s on top of the noise), which blurs your vision, although I did discover that I could shift closer to the screen and the rattling stops and the noise subsides a tad, but this gives an odd riding position that is only sustainable for about five minutes.
Having said all that, I did seem to get used to it over the four days in the Lake District, but it must be said that most of the riding was at lower speeds. Or maybe it was just that I was getting steadily more deaf? Naturally, I must point out that this could be totally different for someone of a different stature to me. The second thing I noticed was that the gearbox seemed to be not quite as smooth as the one in the CRF we tested last year, although this could simply be down to the fact that last year’s bike had more miles on it than this one, although the optional quick shifter would have been nice to have. The electronic suite is rather comprehensive, with lots of buttons – eight on the right, and no less than 16 on the left bar!
While it was difficult to get used to all of these functions in just a few days, especially while jumping from one bike to another, as an owner you’d certainly get used to what button does what. And while there is the argument that the ability to change rider modes is unnecessary (as the detractors will say, ‘the throttle goes both ways’), the Africa Twin has the options of refining the way it rides, not only on Tarmac but also for off-road, which is arguably more important. For example, traction control can be tweaked through seven stages; antilock braking can be switched off at the rear and reduced at the front; and the adjustable power outputs and engine braking levels can be altered to suit all rider abilities for all kinds of terrain.
Although as an off-road novice, I just left everything switched on and played around with the controls that I felt made a difference. As it was, the heated grips are a bonus, and while I had thought last year that the electronic suspension was an unnecessary gimmick, given that the rear preload is easily accessible even when seated aboard the bike, the Adventure Sport model here has the ’leccy suspenders fitted, and I did find myself tweaking the rider modes while we headed through the Yorkshire Dales to get a softer suspension set up via the ‘Electronically Equipped Ride Adjustment’. The advantage here is that the suspension can be changed very quickly to suit the terrain and/ or the way you feel at any particular moment, and it seems that the only downside is the cost and the extra 2kg that it adds to the bike’s weight. And the Honda is a big bike, no doubt about that.
It does feel a little cumbersome on the green lanes for someone, like me, who has little in the way of off-road experience, and while it is very capable (as you’ll know if you’ve seen that Tony Bou video!), it is rather intimidating thanks to its size, mass and high seat height. Step from the Africa Twin on to any of the other bikes that we used in this test, and they feel much more manageable off-road, but the flip side of that is when you get back aboard the big Honda for some road-riding it immediately gives you a feeling of safety and road presence. And, as a road bike, it is supremely accomplished with a low-speed agility that defies its size, and a power delivery that is seemingly tailored for A-road overtakes in which the seat height (850mm or 870mm as standard) provides the ideal lofty viewpoint.
The self-cancelling indicators are a pain, constantly switching off when you want them to stay on. And, talking of small issues that might appear to you, as a reader, as being nit-picking, but are something that’ll become increasingly irritating the more you ride the bike, that TFT screen message of ‘The rider is responsible for the safe operation, blah-de-blah…’ that needs to be tapped on before the screen reverts to the mode display (Every. Single. Bloody. Time) is a proper pain in the posterior. The seat didn’t feel quite as comfortable as I remember from last year’s test, although once I shuffled a little more to the rear, sliding back against the rise in the seat, it was a far better place to be, albeit with a slight stretch to the bars. Not that that is an issue on motorways and dual carriageways, where the cruise control becomes a joy to use (and yes, I have surprised myself with that statement, given that there was a time when I thought cruise control was a gimmick, and had no place on a motorcycle of any kind). This is one very capable motorcycle, but there’s still that bloody screen!
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