Honda’s new-generation Africa Twin made quite a splash on its launch two years ago. The versatile, 998cc parallel twin with its faux-V-twin firing order updated a fondly remembered 1980s model in distinctive fashion, and proved a genuine adventure-class contender. It has since sold more than 50,000 units worldwide, and earned a substantial North American following in the process.
But while Honda’s bold decision to take on the large-capacity bikes that dominate the adventure market with a lighter, less powerful machine has paid off, the Africa Twin fell short in some areas. Notably, an arguable lack of features, fuel range, suspension travel, and ground clearance compromised its suitability for long distances and serious off-roading. Hence the Africa Twin Adventure Sports.
With its taller screen, bigger tank, longer legs, and crash protection, this follow-up has been created to do what BMW’s GS Adventure models, KTM’s Adventure Rs, and Ducati’s Multistrada Enduro have done for their respective brands.
But while Honda’s bold decision to take on the large-capacity bikes that dominate the adventure market with a lighter, less powerful machine has paid off, the Africa Twin fell short in some areas. Notably, an arguable lack of features, fuel range, suspension travel, and ground clearance compromised its suitability for long distances and serious off-roading. Hence the Africa Twin Adventure Sports. With its taller screen, bigger tank, longer legs, and crash protection, this follow-up has been created to do what BMW’s GS Adventure models, KTM’s Adventure Rs, and Ducati’s Multistrada Enduro have done for their respective brands.
The Adventure Sports is based on an Africa Twin that is updated for 2018, notably with ride-by-wire throttle control for its Unicam, liquid-cooled engine, whose maximum output remains a claimed 94 hp (the last one we had on our dyno put out 82 hp at the wheel). Other base-model mods include wider footrests, stainless steel spokes, and a lighter, lithium-ion battery. Electronic updates introduce self-canceling indicators and a redesigned instrument panel that sits flatter, to enhance visibility when standing up.
The Adventure Sports adds a slightly bigger fairing and taller screen, crashbars around the fairing, and a hefty aluminium bash-plate. A 1.4-gallon larger fuel tank brings capacity to 6.4 gallons without losing the slimness that contributes to the Twin being one of Honda’s best looking models, enhanced by a Tricolor paint scheme that references the famed XRV650 Africa Twin of three decades ago.
The main chassis change is longer Showa suspension, which gives almost an extra inch of travel at each end and, like the standard model’s, is fully adjustable. For easier riding when standing up, the handlebar is moved an inch or so up and a touch rearward. The adjustable seat is flatter, and taller by a couple of inches, at 35.4 or 36.2 inches.
That inevitably makes the Adventure Sports trickier to climb aboard, even if you’re tall. But its basic slimness, and the relatively light curb weight of 533 pounds (add 23 pounds for the optional Dual Clutch Transmission), means it feels maneuverable and rider-friendly, aided by that flexible, if modestly powerful parallel-twin engine.
The adoption of ride by wire hasn’t marred the sweet throttle response. The Honda pulls cleanly from 2,000 rpm in the lower gears, picks up the pace through the midrange, and rumbles along feeling effortlessly smooth at 85 mph, sounding throaty and heading on toward a top speed of about 125 mph. It’s brisk rather than truly quick, and won’t absorb the extra weight of a pillion and luggage like more powerful bikes, but it’s fast enough to be fun and provides an ideal excuse to keep the throttle wound open.
There are four riding modes: Tour, softer Urban, off-road Gravel, and a programmable User. Swapping modes, via a button on the left bar, adjusts power output, engine-braking, and traction control. The latter, which can also be independently adjusted using a different button, now cuts fuel as well as ignition. Such is the engine’s gentle nature that you’d rarely require anything other than Tour mode on the road, though Urban’s Level 2 response is only slightly softer. There’s a bigger difference to Gravel mode’s Level 3.
Engine-braking and traction control are also fixed for the three named riding modes, which can be irritating because engine-braking is curiously light in the Tour and Urban modes’ Level 2 setting. Selecting User allows Level 1 to be chosen, to give a more normal amount of assistance when closing the throttle. Similarly, traction control for all three fixed modes is the intrusive Level Six. This can then be reduced with a few flicks of left index finger, but allowing the rider to select the level for each mode would surely make more sense.
Another potential source of frustration is the lack of adjustment for the windscreen, which is a few inches higher than the standard screen but shorter than the Touring accessory for the current model. This will doubtless suit some riders, but not all. Being very tall, I suffered with turbulence that would have been annoying on a longer trip; as would the continued lack of cruise control.
The Adventure Sports does come with heated grips, though even the highest setting isn’t especially hot. There’s a power socket on the dash, but no USB socket or compartment for phone or coins. And there’s a storage compartment on the right of the seat, apparently inspired by a similar one on the original Africa Twin, but instead of being usefully lockable it is secured by two Allen bolts, making it neither convenient nor secure.
At least the new fuel tank is capacious, being good for more than 300 miles at 50 mpg (US), if you believe Honda, or a still very respectable 250 miles at my launch average of about 40 mpg. Another useful addition is the rear carrier, which extends either side of and at the same height as the pillion seat, forming a broad base on which to strap even a large bag.
Thankfully the Adventure Sports’ most important bits, its engine and chassis, work just as well as those of the standard Africa Twin. Road-going stability is excellent, and the narrow front wheel allows reasonably light steering despite being a tall and skinny 21-inch variety. The long-travel suspension doesn’t have a particularly adverse effect on road-going handling either. Good news there.
Sure, there’s a bit more diving when the unchanged blend of wavy discs and four-pot Nissin radial calipers is used in anger, especially if you slow sufficiently hard to activate the new hazard system that flashes both rear indicators. But the new, multi-adjustable fork’s extra damping, especially on compression, helps the Honda feel poised when the going gets twisty.
Those narrow wheels helped the Adventure Sports steer very controllably off-road too, especially when wearing knobby Continental TKC80 tires on the second day of the Spanish launch. Off-road the engine’s low-end grunt, sweet fueling, and reasonably light weight are welcome, along with the quality of its suspension, which soaked up bumps with more composure than the standard Twin’s springs.
The Adventure Sports’ ergonomic changes are welcome off-road, especially if you’re tall, when there’s less of a stretch down to the bars. Honda’s latest Dual Clutch Transmission system is also impressive. On dirt roads it quickly feels natural to ride the bike like an automatic, occasionally changing down by pressing a button with the left thumb, rather than using a bulky boot on the gear lever.
A conventional clutch’s assistance with slow-speed control is sometimes useful off-road, especially in more technical or slippery ground. But unless I was planning to ride in such conditions frequently, I’d be tempted to pay the extra for a DCT system that can make off-road riding enjoyable and effortless.
The Adventure Sports’ premium of roughly $2,000 over the standard Africa Twin also looks like decent value. This second model of the family doesn’t eliminate all the original’s drawbacks, and shorter riders are likely to find it a stretch. But its extra wind and crash protection, fuel range, and suspension travel are all worthwhile additions that help make Honda’s classy parallel twin more of a genuine ride-anywhere machine.
|ENGINE||998cc, liquid-cooled parallel twin|
|BORE/STROKE||92.0 x 75.1mm|
|CLAIMED HORSEPOWER||94 @ 7500 rpm|
|CLAIMED TORQUE||73 lb.-ft. @ 6000 rpm|
|FRAME||Steel semi-double cradle|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||Showa 45mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression, and rebound damping; 8.8-in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Single shocks, adjustable for spring preload, compression, and rebound damping; 9.4-in. travel|
|FRONT BRAKE||Nissin 4-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS|
|REAR BRAKE||Single-piston caliper, 256mm disc with ABS|
|FRONT TIRE||90/90 x 21-in. Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41|
|REAR TIRE||150/70 x 18-in. Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41|
|SEAT HEIGHT||35.4/36.2 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||6.4 gal.|
|CLAIMED WEIGHT||533 lb. (556 lb. DCT)|