Think back to the era of pith helmets, thick handlebar moustaches, and a gently British chap approaching you and saying, “Dr. Livingston, I presume,” and you’re close to the character and experience delivered by Honda’s superb Africa Twin CRF1000L adventure motorcycle. The two-wheeled time-machine mirrors the exploratory renaissance of the 1800s while providing innovative engineering and contemporary comfort.
Honda’s off-road motorcycle forays have generally been limited to small dirt-bikes. The brand has offered other on-road dual-sport motorcycles, but none have competed in the segment like the Africa Twin. Thus, the new Africa Twin represents a paradigm shift in Honda’s road-motorcycle strategy. The company is entering an already full field, as Ducati, BMW, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Moto Guzzi, and KTM, all offer world-class machinery. That sort of competition would lead most companies to shelve plans of entry. Not Honda. The Japanese company has successfully forded the adventure motorcycle waters and developed a bike that is not only comparable to the competition, but holds its own against the best on the market.
The Africa Twin is powered by a 998cc twin-cylinder engine that develops 94 hp and 72 ft lbs of torque—plenty of grunt to wallop through Dakar’s dunes, the salt pans of Peru, or your local backcountry trails. However, unlike most motorcycles, the Africa Twin gives customers the option of choosing between the standard 6-speed sequential manual transmission or Honda’s proprietary 6-speed Dual Clutch Transmission—an automatic alternative—to couple to the engine. And while most seasoned riders would scoff at the thought of having a motorcycle with an automatic transmission, the dual-clutch system not only eases the strain of regular road riding by making shifts a thing of the past; it makes streaking across pitted and pockmarked off-road trails an absolute breeze.
Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission truly shines, however, when the terrain gets rougher and speeds halt to an infant’s crawl. Novice off-road riders often stall the engine—due to not being able to feather the clutch or bang off the rev limiter—while getting around larger objects or through deeper sand. But the dual-clutch capability removes the necessity of having to think about the motorcycle’s clutch and throttle position, and reduces the need to worry about getting out of the situation you’ve put yourself in. Just pick your line, stay away from the ravine, give it some gas, and send a rooster tail of sand sky high.
And while the dual-clutch configuration makes slower speeds far easier, the Africa Twin’s long-travel suspension and optional off-road knobby tires will make even the greenest of off-road riders feel ready to blast through the Baja 1000 endurance race.
Up front are 45mm inverted Showa long-travel forks that offer up 9-inches of suspension travel, while at the back, the single Pro-Link shock tenders slightly less, measuring at just 8.7-inches of travel. (To put that into perspective, Ford’s F-150 Raptor, a truck built for dashing through the desert, offers only a few more inches of suspension travel at all four corners.) This amount of travel gives the Africa Twin’s rider the ability to traverse long distances in the wilds of Africa, South America, or the American Southwest unimpeded and in greater comfort. With that said, it also makes highway riding an absolute pleasure; soaking up bumps and potholes like a 1970s Cadillac on blown shocks. The ride is silky smooth, even when romping across the desert floor.
With the addition of the knobby tires (slicker road tires are standard), and the Africa Twin’s standard long-range 5-gallon gas tank, you have a motorcycle ready to tackle any and all adventures. And unlike the mustachioed English nobility that navigated the world back in the day, you won’t need a Queen’s ransom to pay for your expeditionary exploits. The Honda Africa Twin starts at $12,999 for the standard shift-your-own-gears transmission, or $13,699 for the dual-clutch version. Now all you have to decide is where you’ll go.