2016 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin
For the majority of our thoughts, plus a look at the machine in action, click play on the video above.
Yes, a large adventure bike is something we don't see much of on Vital MX, but in the case of the Africa Twin it was a must test! Okay, well, it was a personal "must test" but it was completely worth it. For years, I personally laughed at the thought of riding a large adventure bike...initially finding them to be a bit pointless. Sort of like large street bikes meant for the dirt, but without basically any dirt prowess, while taking away a ton of that initial streetability. Now in the past few years this has definitely changed a lot, as manufacturers in this segment have really been figuring out how to get these giant beast off the street and into the dirt with some success. Now because of this, the segment is really growing and Honda saw that it was time to get involved with a real contender. So that's where the CRF1000L comes in, better known as the Africa Twin.
So what makes the Africa Twin so special? A few things... First off, the 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels offer up a selection of tires more suitable to the dirt, rather than the usual dual-sport tires found in the usual street tire sizes. Also, a set of suspension with nine inches of travel that looks like it's off a early 90's motocross bike is there to soak up the real dirt sections, plus a host of electronics that help off-road or can be turned off for the hardcore crew out there. But the biggest, or should I say most unique, thing about the Africa Twin is the choice of transmissions when you order the bike. On one hand, you can get it with a six-speed manual transmission, using a normal clutch lever and foot-actuated shifter to fly through the gears. But it also has another option, with a DCT (dual-clutch transmission) which some may be familiar from the auto industry. This transmission is an automatic, which will shift on its own at different RPMs, but can also be set in a manual mode, with the shifting being done through a set of paddles on the left side of the handlebar...no clutch required. The other great thing? The bike can't be stalled.
While I could go on-and-on about tech specs, the real question is, "What's it like to ride?" Well, to put it simply, it's just what I'd hope an adventure bike could be, something that lives up to its name...a bike that can take you on an adventure, wherever that might be. During the couple months I've had this bike, I've wandered all over California during our surprisingly wet winter. Everything from canyon roads and freeways; to some fireroads, tight trails, up technical climbs, and even a rut track (check my collection of IG videos below). And it did all of this, quite comfortably and exceeded my expectations in every terrain. On the freeways, I rode comfortably to the office with my laptop...I ventured to the track with my cameras in bags...I also just took someSundaycruises in the canyons and down to the beach. As a daily commuter, the bike is smooth and comfortable. The DCT bike I rode was great to punch in auto mode and just cruise my way through traffic. Stable enough to enjoy even the roughest of California's freeways, but nimble enough to work around the tight parking lots and between the cars as I split lanes in stop-and-go traffic. For the fun weekends, I could easily carve a canyon road at double the speed limit, leaning and throwing the bike around as if it weighed a 100 pound less. While having fun, I could shift the bike manually or kick it into the top sport mode and let it shift up and down almost at the points I would myself.
But out in the dirt is where this bike impressed me the most by far, as I had the change to ride with both the standard street tires and a set of Dunlop D606 desert tires. Now when you can get a true set of knobbies on one of these machines, it's really a whole new world and I was immediately impressed what I could actually climb and do in the dirt. What also helps is the other settings that allow you to make your off-road experience even better. First off, you can turn down the traction control or completely turn it off. You can shut off the rear ABS and kick it into gravel mode which makes the front ABS even more forgiving out in the dirt. Allowing you to brake deep in the dirt and slide the rear around corners like you're actually in the Paris Dakar Rally. The suspension is plush, soaks up high speed hits well, but wallows around a bit during repeated hits. To put it bluntly, it's not meant to hit braking bump after braking bump, but it's comfortable for a big hit here and there. It's not meant to attack sections (trust me, I tried), it's meant to soak things up and keep rolling at a smooth and comfortable place.
So where can you go with this thing? Well, in my personal experience, as long as the near vertical dirt wall/rock is taller than a foot or two, I could get up it...and as long as it wasn't too skinny for this wide machine, I really could get it in and out of any place I dared. Now of course there were definitely things like small ravines and tight singletrack I didn't dive into, but those were obvious no-go options. But at the same time, there are plenty of things I dove off into that scared the crap out of me...but it made it. Even when I had to get back out of these spots. The power is extremely torquey and so easy to use off-road. It has more than enough of course, when you take into account the 998cc parallel twin engine, but at the same time it's easier to use in the dirt than you'd think. Really, I found the more I stood on the bike, blipped the throttle aggressively and just let it get a bit loose like a normal dirt bike, the more success in the dirt I had. Just in the riding spots I've taken it that I've also taken a normal dirtbike, I'd say I went to about 60-80% of the same areas, depending on where I went. More than enough to have a great time. Especially when I could jump back on the highway and run 85-90mph for two hours to another awesome spot.
Now would a dual-sport bike do a bit better in these areas? Sure, I could go a bit crazier on a good, light dual-sport, but I also wouldn't ride a dual-sport bike ten hours each way up the coast to San Francisco and back. Well I could, but it wouldn't be comfortabl. But on the Africa Twin I could do it and it would be quite comfortable. In the end, that's what I loved about this bike...I could go really about anywhere that wasn't clinically insane to try and do it comfortably.