Stuck in a ditch? Crank it, she’ll climb. Stuck in a rut? Turn, she’ll go.
Victoria, British Columbia – In 1988, Honda unveiled the XRV 650: the original Africa Twin. This came around a time where the Paris – Dakar rally caused monumental spike in demand for the adventure bike category. In fact, the popularity of the rally was so evident that bikes with longer forks and a fat tank sold 3.8 times more after the first event in 1979. The Africa Twin was Honda’s response to this rush of consumer demand: a 652cc V-twin with a 52ᵒ separation, built for the streets and the sand alike.
The bike’s light, compact motor churned out 57 hp at 8,000 RPM and garnered a great deal of respect and admiration by both Honda and its riders. The year proceeding its release, 50 Africa Twins were entered in the rally, 18 of which completed the rally. This was the last year of production for the XRV 650, after which it got replaced by the XRV 750; a symbol of heritage and status, it remained on the production line until 2002.
It’s tough to balance heritage and innovation. Some companies rely on heritage as an excuse to not innovate, while others abandon heritage strictly for technological prowess. Either way, it seems as if someone will be left unsatisfied. Honda has found this balance. Honda has found the secret to leaving both no one and everyone behind in the dust. They’ve resurrected the model; the 2016 Honda Africa Twin, and it’s fiercer and more capable than ever.
It has returned with a 998cc parallel twin and the option of a truly revolutionary Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT) system. The timing could not be better either; the Africa Twin has resurfaced at a time during which adventure bike sales are increasing at an incredibly promising rate. After spending some time in its saddle, I’m convinced its re-entrance on the market will pose a strong threat to the BMW R1200GS, which has been the best-selling bike internationally in its category for quite a while.
First of all, the bike looks the part. In Victory Red (an imitation of the CRF’s Rally Red), the bike stands out bold and proud. It’ll turn heads on the pavement and punch through dust in gravel. It’s damn pretty, to be clear. It’s also available in a suave Matt Ballistic, and a less impressive Digital Silver. The statement it makes with its animalistic appearance is properly reinforced by its undeniable ability to persevere through every environment.
Cranking out about 95 horses at 7,500 rpm and approximately 98 Nm of torque at 6,000 rpm, the Africa Twin is not exactly a monster, especially considering its weight of 511 lbs with ABS (534 lbs with DCT). That being said, the weight is so well distributed (49.1% in the front, 50.1% in the rear) that the heftiness of the bike is negligible when on the move. The weight distribution is not only sublime lengthwise, but also by height; the majority of the mass on the Africa Twin is positioned by its centre of gravity. Honda’s decision to swap the V-twin out for a parallel twin was made mainly because of reasons pertaining to weight reduction and distribution, a decision making it an incredible stable and nimble ride.
It’s a comfy ride too. Sitting on the Africa Twin feels like home; I could sit around for hours and spend my days in its loving embrace. The adjustable seat is astoundingly comfortable, and the ergonomics are both well-thought out and well-executed. Standing up feels natural, as the tank and seat are quite slim. This also makes it easy for riders to plant a foot if necessary, even though it is quite a tall bike with a seat height of 33.5-34.3 inches.
The front forks have been lengthened by 20mm since the XRV 750, reaching 931mm. Preload, rebound, and compression are easily adjustable for both the front and rear via knobs located on the left side of the bike and below the triple clamp. Honda had set up the bike perfectly for our testing in the mountains of Victoria, BC. The Africa Twin handles obstacles well and resisted bottoming out quite well.
Ground clearance is 9.8 inches, which is plenty for most off-road settings. Only when the conditions get disastrously treacherous would you find the Africa Twin struggling. In all other situations, I didn’t feel a shred of hesitation from the bike. Stuck in a ditch? Crank it, she’ll climb. Stuck in a rut? Turn, she’ll go. The geometry of the bike, like a head stock tilt of 27.5ᵒ, results in a solid 43ᵒ steering wheel lock in each direction. This works in tangent with the weight distribution to allow for a very tight turning radius.
Electronics on the Africa Twin are as refined as the rest of the motorcycle. Traction control is adjustable in 4 modes: 1, 2, 3, and off. Intervention increases with numerical value, with 3 being a bit too intrusive for my liking. ABS is also present on the front and rear. Notably (and thankfully), Honda installed the option of disabling ABS in the rear wheel, perfect for stopping effectively in the dirt. If you find yourself with a model with the dual-clutch, you will notice the presence of a G mode, along with three sport modes. Sport modes simply alter the RPM at which the bike shifts, becoming more aggressive with each click. G mode utilizes a slope sensor to optimize gear shifts when going uphill or downhill. I could not have fathomed how well this worked. It shifts exactly when I would choose to shift, perhaps with even better timing.
It’s clear that every detail of this bike was meticulously designed. The return of the Africa Twin has been much anticipated and hyped. I can confidently say that adventure riders will be snatching these bikes out of dealerships like TVs on black Friday at a Walmart Supercentre, except in this case, its exactly what should be happening.