The Honda Africa Twin reminded me of my exgirlfriend. Before you begin hating on me for objectification, let me make it amply clear that I’m referring to the attention that would have otherwise eluded me, in the absence of either. Seriously, the last time that so many heads turned towards me was when I was in her company – and being astride the Honda CRF1000L, which recently made a pulsating comeback after more than a decade-long absence, was an experience of equal measure. And why not? Just like my former partner, the dual-sport motorcycle is a looker, in all senses of the word. It effortlessly combines style and aggression, despite looking deceptively average-sized, at first glance. It’s only once you approach it that you come to terms with its intimidating proportions. As a result of this tall stance, accompanied by minimal bodywork (akin to the halffairing on rally enduro bikes) and a lean demeanour, the styling stays true to the classic adventure nature of the bike.
Add the LED headlights, topped by a windscreen, spoked wheels with a 21-inch on the front and an 18-inch on the rear, gold-finished front forks and wave patterned discs and you have a machine that looks as cool as it is hot. Also worth mentioning are the functional bits (knuckle and sump guards that come as standard equipment) and the absence of a gear lever – that’s because the Japanese manufacturer is only offering the Africa Twin in its DCT (automatic transmission) avatar in India, just like the victory red trademark colour option.
The instrument cluster is an all-digital, back-lit unit and is laid out neatly, for added readability. The tachometer is a bar, and there are different read-outs for the fuel gauge, time, traction control set-up, gear position indicator, ambient air temperature and fuel consumption, along with two trip meters and a digital odometer. The switch gear quality is up to the mark, though it takes some time for the left thumb to get used to the horn and turn signal indicator switches.
This somewhat daunting first impression again reminded me of my former ladylove, who could easily have been mistaken for an arrogant snob. Once together, though, it wasn’t difficult to notice the harmony in the partnership – much like the Africa Twin, which feels like an extension of your own self, upon being propelled with a simple push of the right thumb. The rider ergonomics are spot on, with an adjustable seat height that goes as low as 820 mm.
Much like in a relationship, you tend to search for something that you’re used to – the non-existent clutch lever, in this case. However, you get used to it once the 6-speed auto transmission has kicked into top gear in the standard drive ‘D’ mode, even before hitting speeds of 70-80 kph. Blip the throttle, and even in ‘D’ mode, the gear ratios change and the transmission holds lower gears at higher revs, giving you the required power to sift through traffic.
The fun element in this rider-bike partnership is the ‘S’ mode, which allows for three separate shifting patterns (S1, S2, S3). In this setting, the ratios change, allowing for higher rpm gear shifting in increasing order. And then, you have a pair of manual shifting switches (‘+’ used by the forefinger and the ‘-‘ employed by the thumb) that give you the liberty to shift as per your rev demands. This also works in ‘D’ mode, and can completely override the automatic shifting in the ‘M’ setting. A word also needs to be put in for the three-level traction control, which kicks in at the slightest instance of the rear wheel losing traction. A good quality to have in any partner, eh?
As has been the case with the women in my life, you can never rule out the possibility of surprises. The Africa Twin sprung its share the minute it was taken out on the highway, thanks to the wonderfully balanced, semi-double cradle steel chassis and an upgraded motor. The 999cc, liquid-cooled, parallel twin powerplant, which makes 87 bhp at 7,500 rpm and 91.9 Nm at 6,000 rpm, might not have the most commanding numbers in the segment, but it wastes no time in building up power evenly, before skyrocketing past the peak torque revs en route the redline.
True to its nature, the Africa Twin thrives in chaos and comes into its own once the tarmac ends. There’s an ample amount of grunt, and turning on the ‘G’ switch enables half-clutch operations. Against the popular perception of it being a hindrance in rocky terrain, the DCT gearbox instead lets you concentrate on the more important things – your direction and balance – without worrying about the gear shifter. A 250 mm ground clearance inspires enough confidence to take on those boulders, both while resting on your bum and standing on the pegs.
A slightly softer yet capable suspension comprises Showa cartridge type, 45 mm upside down forks with a 230 mm stroke monoblock cast aluminium swing arm, with gas-charged dampers with preload adjustability and rebound damping on the rear. Best left unaltered, it overcomes pothole-shaped challenges almost like a beast swallowing dwarfs. As mentioned earlier, the 245 kg weight could well draw the attention of Atlas’ shoulders, but only when the bike is standing still. It’s well distributed and adds to the nimble characteristics of the bike, which you become addicted to in no time.
As is the case with most good things in life, they must come to an end. It often makes you wish that destiny could be as non-intrusive as the ABS on the Africa Twin, but it was finally time to bid goodbye. A friend, during one of his drunk discourses, once advised me, “If you each grew, loved, openedup and bettered yourself through the relationship, it is a success, irrespective of its duration.” My time with this gorgeous bike from Honda couldn’t have been summed up better. A weekend with it in the lush and rocky terrain around Pune most certainly taught me a thing or two about riding, as well as off-roading. A 10/10 might be an elusive proposition for many like me, but there’s no looking back if you’re lucky enough to earn their time and attention.
Meanwhile, for the ones who can afford to confidently venture out in this league, the Honda Africa Twin offers you an incredible motorcycling experience. It might lack ride-by-wire, but the electronics on offer make it a delightful proposition, from off-roading to highway riding. Being assembled in India, it’s priced at a competitive Rs 13.06 lakh (ex-showroom). What works further in its favour is the negligible heat radiation, which, coupled with the DCT, makes life easy even in traffic conditions as bad as Pune’s peak hours. So, if it’s an adventurous partner, with great capabilities both on the road and off it that you’re looking for, this one definitely makes for a worthy option. The attention and admiration that accompany are just bonuses.
What we like: Looks transmission
What we don’t: Weight traffic-riding
Engine: 999cc, twincylinder, liquid cooled
Power: 87 bhp@7500rpm
Torque: 91.9 Nm@6000rpm
Transmission: 6A (DCT)