Honda Africa Twin - First Impressions

Like so many other riders, we also fell in love with the new Africa Twin. We were very impressed with the bike performance offroad.

It was time for Poisk to evolve. The process of learning technical skills on a trials bike led to a huge boost in overall motorcycle handling on road and off road. Thanks to Tim Coleman riding schools, Poisk Adventures staff and its students received an invaluable infusion of practical knowledge and confidence in riding bikes in gnarly terrain. It was only logical to expect the improved skills to be easily transferred to a big adventure bike, such as Triumph Tiger 800XC.

However, it was also time to test a heavy motorcycle that was more offroad capable and to continue expanding our limits of what possible on a big adventure bike. We had a privilege of playing on KTM 1190 for a very short ride on a jeep trail and we were fascinated how much that heavy bike instilled confidence into a rider by having the dirt bike “feel” to it, especially when standing on foot pegs. We didn't spend enough time to really appreciate other benefits of this mighty offroad weapon, but it gave us the idea that big adventure bikes could be made to be very capable, comfortable, and confidence-building when you take them away from tarmac.

The New Star on the Horizon

The year 2016 was full of interesting developments in the motorcycle industry. One of those developments was introduction of Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin, a modern re-incarnation of the famous Africa Twin bike, that according to some experts, created the concept of the adventure bike. Since the old Africa Twin had and still has so many followers and fans, it was expected to see so much excitement and “great reviews” of the bike in the online and the print world. Did we trust those reviews? Not really... But why?

We were very suspicious of the fact that most of those reviews gave so much praise to this bike. Test riders seemed to be too much in love with the way the AT handled offroad. Even after reading reviews of various ADV and dual sport forum inmates, we were still very cautious to believe what we've come to know about the bike. So, we stopped reading those reviews. Enough was enough. Besides we had other things cooking in our Poisk Adventures' kitchen.

But the world of adventures had other plans for us. One day we got a call from our friends at Wayne Cycle Shop to test ride a recently arrived Africa Twin and write our own unbiased report on the bike. We were very touched by such a generous offer. We agreed. However, in order for us to conduct a true Poisk Adventures' test mission, we needed to lay down some ground rules. One of those rules was – the bike needs to be red to match our company colors, the other – it needs to be a standard model with minimum technological “overhead”.

As luck would have it, a supply of Africa Twin bikes turned out to be very limited due to unfortunate earthquakes in Japan that forced Honda close its factories and put CRF1000L production on halt. We were saddened by this fact and were ready to postpone our test mission, but Wayne Cycle Shop is the place where motorcycle dreams were transformed into realities. These guys didn't mind doing the impossible and driving several hundred miles to negotiate a deal and to secure the red bike required for our experiment. Once the bike was at the shop, it was our turn to return the favor and follow through on our commitment to test-ride the red.

First Impressions

The following notes are based on comparing the new Africa Twin against a big adventure bike baseline established by our 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC, the adventurer that we rode and tested extensively in many formats: one-up and two-up multi-day expeditions, one-day recreational rides, and various offroad riding trips and exercises. This current report is about our first ride on the new bike and hence, it is not going to be as comprehensive as one may expect. We would like just give our readers some highlights and our first impressions that were immediately and strongly evident to us. We also plan to share more discoveries about this bike as the time goes by and we accumulate more seat time on it.

When we rode the new bike offroad, we turned traction control and ABS off.


Africa Twin and LogHonda did something special here. Although not being big experts on suspension, we were fascinated how stock Africa Twin suspension worked offroad. We rode relatively fast over small logs and a bumpy forest road and noticed that the suspension was stiff enough and properly rebounding to keep he bike planted and not losing traction. Then, we rode the bike slow over larger bumps and larger logs, and the ride was plush and comfortable. We got the feeling that this magical suspension had a brain of its own and knew how to behave under different conditions we threw at it. This was simply mind-boggling and intriguing at the same time.

The Africa Twin suspension brought such a bright contrast when comparing it to 800XC. While being very confidence-inspiring and stiff and plush enough on road, Tiger's stock suspension became way too soft when riding offroad even over small bumps and doing very little jumps. The front bottomed out easily under the weight of its triple. The forks seals gave in and started to leak. And we were not riding it even aggressively liked we rode the red. Thus, in the most offroad riding on Tiger we would pick a steady and slow pace once the road became uneven to be gentle and to avoid killing its suspension and to slow down on replacing fork seals.

The next day we rode Tiger on the same forest road as we did the Africa Twin, just to be sure that we were not being influenced by the fresh paint and the novelty of the Japanese adventurer. While the sporty humming nature of the Tiger's engine was such a pleasant and well known feeling we've come to love over all these years of operating it, it also became apparent that the newcomer would leave the oldtimer in the dust on this fire road...


Unlike Tiger 800XC, the CRF1000L front-end felt very light that made going over obstacles a very easy undertaking. Tiger's front-end once started plowing in one direction, it would be better to avoid fighting it and you just had to flow with it and find the best route in the path already partially picked by the bike. Initially, the British ironhorse gave us quite a scare and tons of sweating before we learned to work with the bike's high center of mass and the “determined” nose when riding offroad.  Handling of the red was nearly a complete opposite.

Although the inertia consistently reminded us about the heaviness of the bike, riding slow and picking a line was a blast on the Africa Twin. The rider was in much more control on the CRF1000L then on the 800XC. We quickly forgot that the bike was nearly 500 lb (220kg+) machine. Once you threw your leg over the new bike and started to move, its weight “magically disappeared”.  This ultimately led us to having even more fun on the new adventurer. Log hopping was the next thing we tried.

What a surprise it was, when we easily lofted the front wheel over a small log while clearing it. The bike had street stock tires on it, but it still allowed to lift the front wheel before touching the log and  without much rear wheel spin. It was all puzzling to us. It was not a pure-breed enduro machine, it was a heavy bike, and it lifted the front wheel with so little effort? We also tried the same log next day on Tiger and it was not that effortless... While we still cleared it without much fuss, the heavy front of the oldtimer really reminded us of not taking it too far on the trying different log sizes we wanted to clear.


While there several aspects when it came to ergonomics, such as how informative the dashboard was, how comfortable the riding position and the seat during the log rides, etc. we were not focused on that initially. Our attention was diverted to the fact that riding the Africa Twin by standing on the foot pegs was perfect right from the start. On our Tiger 800XC we had to invest into bar risers to raise the handlebar enough to make the upright standing position more natural and not leaned so much to the front,  its' wider tank was also a little hindrance on the road to the perfect offroad riding comfort. Thanks to its narrow seat and its tank and just the right height of its handle bar, the new bike truly outbid the 800XC in the upright standing position department.

Despite losing in the comfort of riding while standing up, Tiger's lower seat position was noticeably lower then that of the Japanese challenger. For riders with a 34.5 inch inseam or less sitting on the CRF1000L was a tippy-toe ordeal, but on the 800XC they had a sure footing. That would be critical when you were trying to paddle through a gnarly section or making a sudden and unplanned stop and not having enough foot leverage to secure the bike from laying it down or even dropping it. To CRF's defense, when moving a still bike from side to side, the new adventurer felt lighter then the oldtimer. However, when we significantly increased the bank angle, then the struggle to save the motorcycle from falling became similar for both bikes. They both were heavy!

We didn't play with all electronics options yet, but it was good to discover that to turn traction control and ABS off, we had to press 2 separate buttons on the Africa Twin. That was very user-friendly and straight-forward. There was no need to “travel” through a myriad of display menus to access a simple switch. Although some people complained that to turn ABS off on a 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC was cumbersome (our Tiger didn't have traction control), after doing it hundreds of times, we learned to do it really fast and it never really bothered us.

But what bothered us is the fact that Honda broke the de-facto usability standard when it came to turn on or off blinkers on the new bike. For some unknown reason, one of the best mechanical engineering companies in the world placed a horn button in place of a switch for blinkers/turning lights, and placed the horn button where the rider was accustomed to “blindly” operate the blinkers. It led to weird and awkward situations when we started riding the newcomer: blowing the horn when were supposed to indicate our intent to turn or pass. Some motorists with whom we shared the road got puzzled, while other got scared when a horn blew for no apparent reason.

Finally, we were happy to learn that the new Africa Twin came with a hazard alarm switch which turned both blinkers on at the same time to indicate a situation when an elevated state of attention was required for motorists passing you by. This type of alarm was very useful when you stop on the side of a road or when you encountered unusual situations on the road. For adventure riders this feature would be very nice-to-have. Having just a parking light, like our Tiger had, was a good option, but it might be mistaken for many things when it was pitch-dark. We were planning to add our own custom hazard alarm switch on Tiger for safety reasons.


While we had only the initial introduction into the heart of new Africa Twin, two things immediately became very apparent to us: amazing torque at low RPMs and the absence of easy engine stalling when riding slow. Unlike Tiger 800XC, CRF1000L is a like a tractor, just kept pulling itself and its rider without a need to worry about stalling the engine. On Tiger we had to rev the engine quite a bit to avoid it stopping, feathering the clutch a lot when riding slow or negotiating obstacles. When we took the oldtimer for the first time africa twin engineoffroad, we stalled it so many times. The engine also got hot quickly with the fan working non-stop.

Besides ease-of-stalling the British ironhorse's first gear was too tall, making the bike even harder to ride slow offroad. The bike would ride just too fast in its first gear. So we had to drop one tooth from the front sprocket and that made the bike a lot more manageable for the type of riding we did. Installing a smaller front sprocket led to an increased final gear ratio, which led to increased fuel consumption. While the fuel trade-off was not that bad, we noticed that at highway speeds the bike had to work harder and because of that a bit more vibration was felt sacrificing super smooth riding comfort by its much acclaimed triple engine.

While we haven't explored all types of riding on the new bike yet as we did on our Tiger, we didn't notice the need to change the final gearing. The Africa Twin had the “right” first gear and pulled very strong at low speeds. Despite us being lazy at times and not engaging the clutch, the engine didn't stall. In fact, during our first initial ride we didn't stall the engine even once! That was the first. We have to confess though: the new toy gave so much confidence that we rode it faster then we would probably ride another heavy bike unless it had a very similar dirt bike feel to it. And when we rode the adventurer fast, that's when we got even more love and appreciation of the bike's design and it's performance. We strongly believe that CRF1000L can be easily ridden slow, but it truly shines when you start to ride it a bit more aggressively. That's when you realize that 500lbs of machinery is no hindrance once it's packaged and engineering so well.

Road Performance

During our initial test of the new Honda Africa Twin we got a chance to ride it on local country roads as well as on highway. The stock windshield that came with the bike gave us more wind protection then we had assumed. On our Tiger we had to install an OEM touring windshield, Africa Twin on the roadbecause the stock one was too small and not giving much protection at all. On highway the ride on the stock Tiger was noisy and with too much air buffeting. We would need to ride the Twin more in order to decide if upgrade is required.

At highway speeds CRF1000L worked well, but this was one area where Tiger 800XC really excelled and outbid the newcomer by a margin. There were several noticeable differences: more vibration on AT, more engine or air-intake noise, and the acceleration was not as crisp as the oldtimer's. When riding over 70 mph and we needed to quickly accelerate and to pass a car or two to avoid a high-risk situation, Tiger would be a real cat, jumping on its feet, putting the claws into the ground and obeying the operator's command flawlessly and immediately, no questions asked. It was not so much with the Twin.

The newcomer had a very nice power to spare, but it didn't show it right away. There was no bogging down, but there was a noticeable delay after opening throttle and expecting one-liter bike jump at your command to accelerate. Down-shifting and keeping the revs higher before giving the same command certainly made a difference, but on Tiger we didn't have to seek gearbox assistance often. Even in the sixth gear 800XC would accelerate like it was a race bike.

Vibrations were also more felt through a 100+ mile ride on the CRF1000L. Thanks to Tiger's super smoothness of its triple, 800XC stands out as a very comfortable sport touring machine. Recently, we did 500+ mile one day excursion on our Tiger, riding mostly small country roads, a bit of highway and some gravel roads. When we came back from the trip, the hands didn't feel vibrations at all. Only the stock seat reminded us that we had too much time on it.

Small Things

They were small things about the stock Africa Twin, but they were instantly discovered and appreciated by Poisk Adventures' crew. What got our attention were a mud guard protecting the rear shock, plastic covers on both sides of the frame to shield it from scratches by boots, an aluminum skid plate, a rigid tube behind the windshield to mount GPS and other devices, and a gear shifter with a folding tip. While all these things could be added to any bike, the fact that Honda really thought this through and made it a part of the stock package deserved a praise.

It was a major pain to clean the rear shock on Tiger after riding through muddy and dusty roads. The rear wheel would pack that area with a lot of mud some of it would get stuck between the shock and its spring. A special mod was required to solve this problem by drilling the plastic box, cutting and securing a flexible rubber piece to protect the shock. The Honda bike didn't have this problem and from the showroom floor you could take it right into the muddiest trails you could find. The CRF1000L just like its smaller cousin CRF250X protected its shock with the mudguard.

After riding a lot offroad, we noticed that our bikes frames got scratched by motorcycle boots all the time. Some frames held up very well. The Tiger's paint was so good that boots didn't make through it yet and didn't come in contact with bare metal. But it was a matter of time, before all this motorcycle hugging of the frame would leave a trace. So we started buying side frame protectors and installing them. The Twin engineers thought this through ahead of time and equipped the bike with the required protection, which meant fewer headaches for its owners.

2012 Tiger 800XC came with very durable and strong gear shifter, but after a few falls and bending it backward, the shifter lost its paint and started to rust. The Twin team approached it as a true dirt bike team would: installing a dirt-bike shifter with a folding tip so that in case of a fall, the tip simply folded and didn't do as much damage to the pedal itself.

The Verdict

Like so many other riders, we also fell in love with the new Africa Twin. We were very impressed with the bike performance offroad. While riding the Twin on tarmac was not as exciting as the Tiger, the new bike could easily be a great commuter and a long-hauler for multi-day expeditions. The fact that the stock CRF1000L came with quite a few nice little additions that made it even more offroad-worthy, deserves a special remark and a praise. Its' low center of mass, easy clutch and the dirt bike feel would certainly open new horizons of where this true adventurer could be taken.


Written by Hawk

Disclaimer: Poisk Adventures is not being paid to write this article or promote Honda brand, a specific motorcycle or a motorcycle dealership. Hawk, the author of this article and the primary rider of the new Africa Twin is a recreational rider and not a professional racer. He is simply very passionate about motorcycling, adventure biking and learning offroad skills.