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Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin 2017 Reviews

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Eric Hall

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   9 of 9 members found this review helpful 9 / 9 members

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photo credit - Justin Coffey WestX1000

I cannot tell you how honored I am that Honda US chose us to review their 2017 Africa Twin with DCT.  You the forum member have made this a grass roots big bike community and bike manufacturers are starting to take notice!  They want us taking a good hard look at what they have to offer not simply because of who we are but who we are not.  We are not the paid magazine industry who dares not bite the hand that feeds them lest they be cut from the next model launch their income is so dependent on.  We have some serious “dirt cred!”

Honda is a legendary motorcycle maker with a very long history of quality, dependability and most importantly race victories.  The original Africa Twin has FOUR Dakar wins to its credit and this new machine is light years beyond the original.  Makes one wonder what the possibilities would be if there was a new big bike class at the Dakar (as they have at the Baja Rally we’re racing Oct 9-15)?

So what is the big deal with the 2017 you may ask?  CycleNews had the Africa Twin besting the KTM 1190R last year but even just this past Aug they compared it to the impressive 1090R and it still won!

So how is it?  In a word: fantastic.  I’m really just blown away at everything the bike has to offer from it’s zen-like design & balance to its power & control to even its stunning graphics.   Is it not already obvious Honda has a winner on its hands?  This bike will sell many units from now until years to come, no doubt.

Pavement

This bike is such a dream to ride, especially with the DCT (most appreciated in stop & go traffic), that it immediately had me realizing this bike is a GS-killer.  Sure it’s “just” 94 hp (or is it?) but it doesn’t lack for power at all and handles so incredibly well (even with its 21/18” wheel setup) that combined with the value (~$13,700) and dirt-ability has me scratching my head why anyone (who likes to ride beyond Starbucks) would ever buy another GS.

The bike was a pleasure riding the highway about 700 miles to and from our High Sierra event and passing cars was a cinch with the DCT quickly downshifting and catapulting my 235 lb frame with ease.  I’ve read that riders above the 6’ mark will suffer buffeting on their heads but at 6’3” this wasn’t noticeable.  Range is roughly 200 miles with its 5.0 gallon tank & mileage in the 40’s (even with a heavy throttle).  The reserve light came on at 178 miles.  Cornering was a bit mushy but tightening the suspension is all that was needed.

photo credit - Spencer Hill @the_gear_dude

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Dirt

Worth noting that I typically ride mostly dirt and the tougher the better so I’m not really representative of the typical adventure motorcycle rider.  There are a few advantages to riding with DCT off road such as paddle shifting (my favorite!), shifting in corners and letting the bike clutch itself giving you essentially near perfect traction so you can concentrate on your line.  However, there were a few things I did have to give up such as the ability to loft the front wheel, locking then spinning the rear wheel in corners, starting in deep sand in second gear and the inability to engage gearing when in a rolling start (have to stop first, then engage).

While at our High Sierra event, I chose to ride in manual mode and once I stiffened the suspension I had fallen in love with this machine!  We do some pretty gnarly tracks at High Sierra and in the OHV area between Mammoth and June Lake there was literally not a single thing that held me up.  We did end up turning around on a long sandy incline but guess who made it the furthest?  I aired down the Motoz Tractionator Adventures a bit more and found the Africa Twin just laughs at deep sand.  A riding partner’s 1190R fared the worse in these conditions.

While at the Sierra ADV Rally I chose to ride dirt in DCT full auto mode and learned quite a bit about its development from the one and only Johnny Campbell who was there filming a video on that very topic where he rode both to demonstrate the benefits of DCT off road.

While the Africa Twin, unlike other bikes, does let you change settings very easily on the fly, what it doesn’t do is save these settings when you turn the bike off (leaving the key on); something that happens quite a lot in group rides.  Each time I resumed my off road ride there were four buttons I had to push: traction control (off), gravel mode, engage gearing then switch to manual.  I got really good at it though and it doesn’t take but 5 seconds once you’re used to it.

I was a bit surprised I didn’t need risers either.  I did not find that I was hunched over the bars or felt I was going to fall over the front of the bike.  I would probably go with a 1” riser given I’m so tall but it wasn’t glaringly absent as I’ve felt on other bikes.

The pegs could be larger but didn’t bother me as much as I thought they would (removed rubber inserts for off road).

What makes this bike so great off road is probably its low center of gravity thanks to its parallel twin engine & patented air box.

photo credit - @Spencer Hill @the_gear_dude
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DCT

The DCT (dual clutch transmission) is seriously something to behold.  I’m not an engineer and I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface of everything it does but it’s obvious to me this is a huge technological advance and will grow in the future.  I see it as the future of riding both on and off road.  It just takes so many things out and lets the rider concentrate on enjoying the scenery & focussing on their line.  The average rider is not competing in an enduro event and will appreciate these features even more than I do.  I can see the world traveler too… all loaded down and riding down a slippery muddy road in the middle of nowhere eager to get to the next town being able to simply pick a line and let the bike do most of the work for them.  Manual transmissions in cars used to be much more popular too but few of us really miss all that clutching and shifting.

Who knows… what with such an easy introduction to off road, I wonder how well the Africa Twin could introduce an entire new segment of rider to the dirt?  That would be a good thing!

I thought the more avid off roader like me would probably prefer the manual option but now I'm not so sure.  DCT does add about $1000 and 22 lbs too but I found I was the first one up every difficult hill and other riders better than I were left struggling for what I attribute the AT's DCT basically auto clutching for me.  Some say the DCT is always a step behind and can't see the road ahead but that's why the paddle shifters are less than an inch from your left hand; just change them yourself.  This video Johnny Campbell has coming out on the benefits should be very instructive (will insert here when it's released).  We chatted for about 20 minutes about what it does well and his involvement in its development.

Here's Johnny! - photo credit: Miguel Santana @masfotografia

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I won’t liken DCT to this beer-pouring machine I found in Tokyo but there is a certain cultural fascination with engineering and automation you have to visit Japan to appreciate.

But is it better than my 990?

Apples.  Oranges.  My 990R is heavily modified with aftermarket suspension (Konflict), wheels (Woody’s), performance parts (Rottweiler), auto clutch (Rekluse) and is lighter than stock.  I did once ride Ed Luke’s 990 (standard) with bone stock suspension and can say the Africa Twin is certainly better than that but am not sure if both were modified that I’d still say the Africa Twin is better (off road at least).  I will say the Africa Twin is better on pavement and more comfortable to ride.   For the average rider I’m sure that counts for quite a bit.

Bottom Line

I would buy an Africa Twin and feel very good about it.  I admit I was skeptical that any Japanese XLADV bike would be this good both on and off road.  You just can’t deny the design, functionality, performance, quality, etc…  I’d go with a set of full bars and skid plate (AltRider), some wider foot pegs and soft bags (Wolfman Luggage) and maybe stiffer front fork springs and a re-valved suspension (Konflict) and more stout hand guards and that’s it.

I would love to get the chance to try a 1090R similarly and tell you all about it given my orange history and preference for the dirt but for now I’ll just have to take CycleNews’s word for it.  In their words: “The KTM is what you ride in the Roof of Africa extreme enduro. The Honda is what you ride to the Roof of Africa to spectate, then around Africa, up into the Middle East, to Europe, and eventually on the boat back to the U.S—an adventure we can all do.

Likes:

  • Plenty of power!
  • DCT is a dream on the pavement & especially in stop & go traffic
  • Hill climbs with near perfect traction/slip
  • Really tight turning radius helps in slow speed maneuvers & contributes to balance
  • Bar height even sufficient for my 6’3” height!
  • Handles remarkably well off road for its weight (534 lbs) 
  • Fuel economy in the 40s & a heavy throttle yields about a 200 mile range

Dislikes:

  • Can’t loft the front wheel
  • Can’t lock the rear then spin it (cornering)
  • Can’t start in 2nd gear (deep sand)
  • Rolling start can’t get in gear without stopping first
  • When stopped and turned off (key still on), still have four buttons to push to get back to where I was: traction control, gravel, put in gear then switch back to manual.  Other bikes won’t do that as long as the key is still on.
  • The tank does throw off some heat requiring you to back off in summer temps but I can see this as a feature in colder temps; basically a groin heater but not "surface of the sun" like the KTM
  • Suspension is soft but when tightened up performs even better than most stock adv bikes

 

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Paul Crown

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Love this machine

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rider_marc

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2017DEC15: After many years of multiple bikes in the garage, I have gutted the garage and settled onto one bike--the Honda Africa Twin. This occurred in early August, 2017. During the first four months, my AT has been to KY, VA, NC, SC, and of course many places in TN. With the exception of about 25 miles, all have been pavement miles and the OEM street tires. 

So, now that the winter temperature are moving in, the AT has been sitting more than the Concours 14 would during these days. Why? Probably time available to ride which is now different (temporarily), but also maybe wind protection and heated grips. Really, though my riding gear is good, heated grips are here awaiting installation, and there is some nice engine heat flowing on the upper legs, but it could be more that the days are shorter and I am having to re-ride the same roads to get into the hilly areas that are about two hours east of here.

For the winter riding in my area, the street tires will remain fitted. In the mean time some 60/40 Shinkos are in the garage and will be fitted as close to a departure for areas out west. Have never used Shinko tires, but figure I would try these once. 

So, about the bike. I like it! Engine power/torque is more than adequate. Gearing is fine for pavement, but too tall for out west. Having ridden many nice roads in the Appalachian mountains and the Cumberland plateau, and of course the Tail of the Dragon, I have to say the bike works well. From the start, I was not confident in the skinny front tire, but the rubber compound is soft and sticks well. 

The OEM handguards are not robust enough for tip-over impacts with the ground, so Bark Busters have been added. Also, since I like having trail spares, the OEM levers were moved to the E12 saddlebags for standby duty. Some blue anodized short levers from an eBay seller in China have been mounted. These are sturdy levers and more economical to use. I had an orange set on the 690R and they survived four tip-overs. 

 

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PeteN95

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Great review!  But I am curious about a couple of things.  What do you mean by "engage gearing" and why do you have to stop to do it?  Also, why won't the bike brake slide the back tire and then spin it?  It has the ability to disengage the rear ABS, correct?  And a 1000 twin should be able to spin the tire with the traction control off.

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