Honda's done an excellent job building buzz for the return of its Africa Twin model. But with more information now coming out, I'm questioning whether this machine will live up to its legendary reputation. Based on specs alone, the new Africa Twin could be a dud.
When the first hints of a new Africa Twin came in the form of the True Adventure "concept" bike unveiled at EICMA last year, I was completely uninterested. But several months and several slickly produced YouTube videos later, I'll admit to having gotten all kinds of stupid giddy when full images were released this week. I share Sam Bendall's enthusiasm; this feels like kind of a big deal.
I have to correct Sam on something, though. Honda is not "entering the ADV game" with the new Africa Twin. To paraphrase the great poet LL Cool J: Don't call it a comeback, Honda's been here for years.
The original Africa Twin ceased production in 2003, but Big Red stayed in the adventure game via the Honda Transalp (a 700-cc V-twin in production until 2012) and Varadero (a 1,000-cc V-twin in production until 2010). It followed these up with the V4-driven Crossrunner (aka VFR800X) and Crosstourer (aka VFR1200X) bikes, still in production.
Admittedly, the latter two fall more into the category of bikes that are "adventure styled" –– similar to the NC750X and CB500X –– and I'm not sure any of them have been available in the United States.
So, yes, the return of the Africa Twin feels like kind of a big deal. Good marketing isn't the only reason for my interest. In early spring, I became the owner of an adventure motorcycle –– a 2015 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 –– and it has opened my eyes to the incredible usefulness of the class, even if you never take them off road.
Great googly moogly are they awesome. I recently rode my Strom through Europe and it handled the 125-mph autobahn, psychotically twisty mountain passes, 30º cold and 100º heat, urban madness, poorly maintained dirt roads, and roughly 100 lbs of luggage without a hint of problem or discomfort.
Keep in mind the Strom sits in the middle of the adventure class. I think it's a fantastic bike, except it's not necessarily as "good" as class leaders like the BMW R1200GSA or KTM 1290 Super Adventure. I personally like to think of the Big Strom as being like George W. Bush in college: resolutely average but secretly capable of big things. Others are less kind, decrying the Strom as heavy (228 kg wet), underpowered (100 hp) and lacking in technological wizardry (it has ABS, traction control, slipper clutch, and not much else).
If you accept the claim that the Strom is not best in class, a glance at the Africa Twin specs sheet leaked this week will be a cause for concern. Claimed power for the Africa Twin is 93 hp, or 7 hp LESS than the V-Strom 1000; claimed torque is 72 lb-ft, or 4 lb-ft LESS than the Strom; fuel capacity is 18.8 liters, or 1.2 liters LESS than the Strom; and claimed weight for the ABS version is 232 kg wet, or 6 kg MORE than the Strom. If you want the Africa Twin with DCT (dual-clutch transmission) it will weigh 14 kg more than a Strom.
Height, width and length of the Africa Twin are equally similar to Suzuki's stalwart machine.
So, great. Honda has made a V-Strom. If we're being kind, perhaps they've made a KTM 1050 Adventure (95 hp; 79 ft-lb torque; roughly 230 kg wet). Either way, it's hard to see it as game-changing.
If the Africa Twin is going to be greater than the sum of its specs sheet, it is going to need a lot of whiz-bang technology to make it stand out. And that's worrying, because tech-loaded bikes aren't necessarily a Honda thing. Perhaps there will be cruise control, traction control with rider modes, and maybe an integrated GPS. Things like heated grips and center stand could come standard. All that can be found on other Honda models. But it's hard to imagine Honda taking the lead with something mind blowing, like cornering ABS.
Some might say that DCT, Honda's motorcycle version of an automatic transmission, is exactly the mind-blowing thing to return the Africa Twin to iconic, cult status. If that's what Honda's hoping, it could be a hard sell. Quite a lot of moto-journalists are staunch defenders of "The Old Ways" and look upon automatic transmissions with open disdain. Unfortunately for Honda, those moto-journalists are often the shapers of opinion.
If I can be classed as a moto-journalist, I'm happy to swim against the tide on that one. Ultimately, I think DCT could help draw more people to motorcycling. I have had more than a few conversations with guys who have quietly admitted that one of the main reasons they don't ride is nervousness in operating a bike's gears. I know a few other folks who are concerned their hands or feet are not as dextrous as need be for manual clutch operation.
Putting DCT in the Africa Twin is a good way to legitimize the technology. Up until now it's been allocated to the motorcycling fringe of novelty bikes (NM4 or DN-01) and incomprehensibly bland machines (NC750X, CTX700, et al). But will DCT elevate the Africa Twin? Will DCT help steal the adventure crown from BMW? Will DCT be the thing to make grown men dress up in branded gear, like kids in replica uniforms at a MLB game? I'm not so sure.
There is clearly a lot to be revealed about the Africa Twin, a lot that will ultimately determine how we see this bike and talk about it. But at the moment I'm looking at a middle-of-the-pack adventure bike with a novelty transmission and an almost certainly hefty price tag, and I have to admit I'm not feeling as excited as I was.