Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports DCT Review
Africa Twin test by Wayne Vickers
‘No clutch for you!’ Trev said, laughing a little… We’re both easily amused. He’d ridden the Africa Twin DCT over three days a while back and was interested to hear what I’d make of it in the real world, with the mix of riding I do every week.
I hadn’t ridden one before, but I’ve recently spent some quality time with the terrific new BMW F 850 GS and I’ve clocked up over 250,000ks on my own Triumph Tiger 800XC. So I have some pretty reasonable benchmarks for comparisons.
First impressions? It’s big. Certainly not a bike for those with ducks’ disease. It’s a decent leg throw to get over the 920 mm seat height, which is a fair step up from the 870 mm height of the standard Africa Twin. I’m close enough to call it six-foot and when on board I have to shift my weight ever so slightly to the side and stretch down to reach the ground.
You get used to it pretty quickly and after a few days I wasn’t even thinking about it any more, but it is worth noting that short stacks need not apply. And that whole front section is a big Juan, which offers great wind protection with plenty of open slots to allow a nice amount of airflow through without getting any buffeting.
The big 25-litre tank of the Adventure Sports, six-litres more than the standard Africa Twin model, see the Adventure Sports variant boast an impressive range of 450-500kms, which as someone that covers 1200-kilometres a week I did enjoy. All of that adds up to just on 240 kg in DCT trim (10kg less with the regular manual gearbox), yet along with most modern bikes it seems that all that weight and bulk seems to disappear once you’re on the move. There’s an impressive amount of steering lock too, which I’ll come back to.
The other major changes over the original standard Africa Twin are
- A fly by wire throttle (which works just fine – excellent feel and fuelling)
- Fully-adjustable, longer travel suspension front and rear (which is also without fault – terrific control and feedback)
- Modified airbox and exhaust, lighter balancer shaft and better mid-range
I was given a quick rundown from the Honda boys on how the switchgear works and a reminder to just roll the throttle on gently from standstill – not to grab the left lever which is actually a park brake. If you’re wondering – it’s quite a significant reach forward to the lever and I wasn’t able to reach it absentmindedly. It’s funny how the mind works though. After literally just hearing all that – I instinctively went to grab a handful of clutch to start the bike up… Idiot.
So I set off from the workshop and a couple of things struck me immediately. On the move the bike’s a doddle, with a really solid combination of chassis, suspension and that steering lock, combining for very nice low speed manners and maneuverability – and the DCT shifts super sweetly.
I pulled out into peak hour traffic and was straight into filter mode. What struck me is that when you don’t have to spend any concentration on gears, you only need to focus on line and throttle, meaning that filtering becomes even easier – you can basically ride this thing feet up to a standstill – then put your foot down. For a big bike, it’s also surprisingly easy to filter on.
The only thing I miss is ironically the ability to grab a handful of clutch and give the throttle a blip to get the attention of the driver in front who’s head down on his phone and crowding the line. If Honda can make that happen somehow that’d be ace because even with stock pipes the 1000cc parallel twin has too good an exhaust note to not be able to liberate occasionally. For a stock pipe it’s loud, meaty and all things good.
There’s a bunch of riding modes for both the engine management and DCT box. So let’s talk engine first. The ride-by-wire throttle brings with it three preset modes, Urban, Gravel and Tour – each adjusting power level, engine braking and traction control with a fourth mode ‘User’ letting riders set your own which is conveniently remembered even after you turn it off and back on. Nice.
Bloody handy to be able to flick through them on the move – I ended up using that most of the time to be honest, with the TC backed down to allow for a bit of shenanigans. The dash also has options for disabling the rear ABS and has an extra ‘G’ button for more serious gravel duties. Unfortunately I didn’t really get to put through its full off-road paces as the bike I had wasn’t running chunky knobbies.
So, the engine. I’m a big fan. Really nice fuelling and throttle feel and gruntier than the numbers suggest. The big girl pulls hard and shows no signs of running out of puff at any speeds you’re likely to throw at it on the road. It’s deceptive too – that short-shifting, no fuss DCT translates into rapid progress even if it doesn’t always feel it.
There’s a marker I use for reference where I know that my Tiger 800 hits 100 km/h under normal everyday acceleration and the Africa Twin smashes it in the same scenario. With the traction control settings right it’ll loft the front wheel up easily enough for me too. Whack the DCT into manual mode and just roll off the gas, let the front dip and then get back on gas. Done.
That DCT comes with three modes. When you start the bike it defaults to neutral every time and the Honda boys advised to push the bike around in neutral to avoid any unwanted throttle inputs that might end in tears while I was still getting used to it. A quick tap of the multi-function button on the right drops the box into drive mode. I found the standard ‘D’ mode very eager to shift up and use the copious amounts of torque available to lope effortlessly along.
Too eager for me personally, and while filtering I wanted a few more revs for more immediate response which was found by tapping the button again, changing to ‘S’ mode. That one holds revs a bit higher and will change down earlier on deceleration. The third option if for full manual, even if it’s actually not. Confused?
Well it will let you take over all the shifts via the paddles on the left bar (thumb push for downshift, finger pull for upshift), but still helps you out by dropping down a cog or two if you mess things up and forget to downshift to lower gears. Works surprisingly well and allows you to have full manual control on upshifts, and if you want you can let the DCT take over coming up to intersections.
I actually found it really easy to get used to the DCT and liked it more than I thought I might. Filtering through traffic was a lot more nimble than I’d expected a bike of this size to be – low speed control by just dragging a bit of rear brake was supreme. I reckon it’d be handy in tight stuff in the dirt too.
It really is much the same as a Rekluse clutch in the whole twist and go thing, but this has the added value of acting just like a full auto box and shifting up and down for you as well if you want. Or leave it in manual mode and it’ll only shift down if you royally cock things up by letting the revs drop too low for the gear you’re in. It’s not bad! And that’s probably the answer to the ‘but why?’ question.
For much the same reason riders go for a Rekluse only more-so…. You can’t stall, ever. You won’t get arm pump from clutching like a maniac in the tight stuff when you aren’t used to it. And not having to worry about the clutch gives you more brain cells to focus on line and speed.
Would I have one one over a standard box? Maybe. Before riding it I’d have said no, but now I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. I’d prefer the system if it held a shorter gear than it does in even the S setting at most speeds though.
For example at 100km/h, the DCT sits just under 4000rpm. Right in the meaty zone of the power curve. Nice. But at 60km/h (in S mode) it’s sitting around 2500rpm in fifth… In D mode it’s still in sixth at just above 2000rpm!
Even my ute sits in fourth at 60km/h and it’s a 3.2L turbo diesel so it’s not short on torque! It felt to me like it shouldn’t be dipping too much below 3000rpm to still have solid response. Whenever I put it into manual mode – I ended up downshifting to bring it back up to around 3000 all the time as it seemed like the engine’s sweet spot.
So maybe the big H should keep the D mode but rename that to E for Eco (as I’m sure that’s what its tuned for), rename the S mode to D and add a new S mode that holds higher revs. You might need to read that bit twice for it to make sense…
Revs and modes aside, I liked my couple of thousand kays on the Adventure Sports a lot. There’s no denying that the Africa Twin range represents pretty awesome value. 17-and-a-half big ones for the standard model with ABS and manual box. 19.5k for the Adventure sports with ABS and manual box – add another 500 bucks for the DCT. Rides well, sounds great, looks pretty good too I reckon. I couldn’t resist the family shot sitting up next to my CRF250R either… They looked pretty sweet side by side in the shed.
Anything else? Oh – the high beams are quite centrally focussed – I’d recommend some wider focussed spot-lights for picking up wildlife further back than just the roadside, for those doing any decent night-time riding.
Why I like it:
- Terrific value.
- Great exhaust note for a stocker.
- Big range.
- DCT shifts nicely, offers more relaxed riding options.
- Cheaper ‘normal’ box option if you aren’t DCT inclined – try it first though!
I’d like it more if:
- The DCT held gears longer, modes up-shift gears a bit early for my liking.
- Ummm, not a lot else really!