A new dawn? Africa Twin group test (Part 1)

Published: 20 January 2016

Adventure bikes may share common looks, but they’re not identikit clones. Honda’s 2016 Africa Twin added something new to the gene pool

he Africa Twin is here, but how does it stack up against its rivals, the KTM 1190 Adventure R, BMW’s R1200GS and Triumph’s Tiger 800 XCx? We went on an 856-mile blast to Cornwall to find out.

 

The Bikes

Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin, £10,499

Honda’s ‘true adventure’ bike impressed us on its recent launch

Engine 998cc parallel-twin liquid-cooled
Power 94bhp @ 7500rpm
Weight 228kg (kerb)
Suspension 43mm Showa fork, fully adjustable. Showa monoshock with preload/rebound adjust
Brakes 310mm discs with four-piston caliper 256mm rear disc with two piston caliper
Seat height 850-870mm
Fuel capacity 18.8 litres
Tyres 90/90 R21 front, 150/70 R18 rear

KTM 1190 Adventure R,  £14,149

Winner of MCN’s 12-bike adventure group test last summer

Engine 1195cc V-twin liquid-cooled
Power 150bhp @ 9500rpm
Weight 230kg (wet)
Suspension 48mm WP forks fully adjustable, WP rear monoshock fully adjustable.
Brakes 2 x 320mm discs with Brembo four-piston caliper
Seat height 890mm
Fuel capacity 23 litres
Tyres 90/90 R21 front, 150/70 R18 rear

BMW R1200GS, £15,055 (model tested Triple Black)

The machine that defines the class, and the UK’s top selling adventurer

Engine 1170cc boxer twin liquid-cooled
Power 124bhp @ 7750rpm
Weight 212kg (kerb)
Suspension front Telelever with ESA, rear Paralever with ESA
Brakes 305mm discs with four-piston caliper, 276mm rear disc with two-piston caliper
Seat height 850-870mm
Fuel capacity 20 litres
Tyres 120/70 R19 front, 170/60 R17 rear

Triumph Tiger 800 XCx, £10,200

In terms of price and power, the Tiger takes the Honda head on

Engine 800cc three-cylinder liquid-cooled
Power 94bhp @ 9250rpm
Weight 196kg (dry)
Suspension 48mm WP fork with rebound/comp adjustment, WP monoshock with preload/rebound adjustment
Brakes 308mm discs with Nissin caliper 
Seat height 840-860mm
Fuel capacity 19 litres
Tyres 90/90 R21 front, 150/70 R17 rear

The Riders

Adam Child,

MCN Senior Road Tester
Age 39
Height 5ft 6in
Has covered over half-a-million road test miles at MCN.

 

Bruce Dunn,

MCN Road Tester
Age 49
Height 5ft 7in
Has been professionally testing bikes for over 25 years.

 

Liam Marsden,

Web Producer
Age 25
Height 6ft 1in
An accomplished rider, with a vast amount of experience.

 

Justin Hayzelden,

MCN Guest Rider
Age 44
Height 5ft 11in
Adventure rider and former Yamaha Super Ténéré owner.

 

he last of the winter’s daylight has faded from the sky, and with it any warmth that the weak sun had brought. According to the BMW’s satnav we still have 230 miles to go until we reach Newquay. Is there a more mundane or dull road than the M5? But for once lady luck has smiled upon me, I’m cosseted aboard the R1200 GS Triple Black which means that for £15,055 I have every creature comfort and gadget at my fingertips (the standard model is £12,100). With 150 miles of M5 ahead of me, I’m bored but in perfect comfort. The onboard computer tells me it’s 5°C and dropping, so I thumb the heated grips and manually adjust the screen a little higher. Cruise control is set to 80mph, and I’ve got 100 miles of fuel left in the 20-litre tank. I set the suspension to soft and opt for rain mode as it’s a little damp and leave the traction control and ABS on. Using the BMW navigation wheel on the left bar I can scroll through the fully integrated satnav, checking everything from the tyre pressures to the route ahead. I’m warm, comfortable, and considering it’s the middle of January I couldn’t be happier. Yes, in this top spec the GS is expensive but you can see where the money has gone.

Ahead of me is Bruce on the very attractive and rugged-looking all-new Honda Africa Twin. He appears to blend with the Honda and looks comfortable, but is he? No heated grips, no electronically adjustable suspension, no adjustable screen, and he’s got a smaller fuel tank than me. I’ll wait until his fuel light comes on, which will surely be before mine, and then I’ll ask the frostbitten Bruce what he thinks of the Honda. Wild horses won’t be able to drag me off the luxurious BMW.

The GS’s fuel light comes on at an indicated 160 miles, claiming there’s 42 miles left. I’m waiting for Bruce to wave a cold hand on the Honda as he must be out of fuel, but he isn’t. As we roll into the nearest fuel station I’m primed for the complaints from my team, but there aren’t any! The fuel light on the Triumph came on just before the BMW, but the Honda and KTM both have fuel left and nobody is complaining of being cold.

Bruce is impressed with the Honda. “It’s comfortable, the screen is better than it looks, the handguards help keep the wind off, and the motor is super-smooth with a really tall top gear – and the fuel light hasn’t come on yet.”

The KTM was always going to have the best range from its 23-litre fuel tank, even at quick motorways speeds it averaged just below 49mpg which means a potential range close to 250 miles. But it’s the Honda achieving the best mpg figures so far, averaging just above 50mpg on the motorway and only dropping to 47.84mpg when ridden hard, while the KTM drops to 40.71 and the BMW down to 39.72 after some spirited riding.

I opt for the Honda on the next stint and am immediately struck by how much smaller and lighter it feels than the BMW. The seat is narrower near the fuel tank, which means I can comfortably get my short legs on the ground and easily paddle it backwards from the petrol pumps without breaking into a sweat. Accelerating onto the M5, the parallel-twin lacks the grunt of the BMW, but it isn’t slow. There’s little point revving the Honda, just tap through the smooth gearbox using the motor’s diesel-like torque and you’re quickly up to speed.

At an indicated 80mph the tall gearing means the Honda motor is hardly working, no wonder it’s been so frugal on the fuel. It feels composed and smooth, with very little vibration. The screen isn’t that large, but does an excellent job of keeping you out of the wind blast, making it much more comfortable at speed than I was expecting. The bars are wide, but they’re not an uncomfortable stretch, and feel a little lower than the BMW’s. The ergonomics are scoring highly. It feels natural and dare I say Africa Twin-like. Like every man, I’ve neglected to read the manual before jumping on board, so it’s all trial and error as I familiarise myself. The high quality switchgear is easy to use, intuitive and obvious in purpose (KTM please note). You don’t need to read the manual or have a briefing before setting off, it’s completely intuitive, and makes the Honda arguably the best of the bunch for get-on-and-go. The all-digital dash shows speed and revs along the top, with the lower section showing gear position, temperature, fuel gauge, trips and mpg, and the traction control level. Where you’d normally find the passing light on the left bar is a simple button to change the TC, or even turn it off while on the move, and there’s a big ABS button on the dash to scroll through ABS settings – it’s all simple and idiot-proof, thankfully. However, although it’s more intuitive than the KTM system there also aren’t any rider modes like the KTM or BMW, there’s no way of increasing or limiting the power and there aren’t any suspension modes either. What you have is all it’s got.

The 80-mile stint of A30 from Exeter to Newquay was nearly deserted, as you’d expect on a cold, dark January evening. Normally this undulating, fast dual carriageway is riddled with tourists, and broken down VW camper vans that can’t make it up the long hills; I should know, I’m normally one of them! But tonight it’s all ours, and as we increase the speed the Honda’s lack of outright power shows. Sixth gear is more like an overdrive, which means you have to cog back into fifth when you want to overtake. Don’t get me wrong, the Honda will happily accelerate in top gear from 50mph to an indicated 90mph and more with ease, but with nothing like the urgency of the KTM. The KTM romps away in the power and torque stakes; it’s almost unfair, like a beach bully kicking sand in the Honda’s face. The BMW easily showed it a clean pair of heels too, and the quickshifter is a nice touch. And while it was just about a match for the Triumph, the British bike’s motor is way more emotive and engaging. I’m guessing very few customers will ever complain about the Honda’s lack of grunt and will actually applaud the low-revving, perfectly-fuelled motor. But add a pillion, luggage and altitude, and the Honda may feel a little lacking when hauling ass over the Alps.

As we peeled off the A30 we still had miles of nadgery Cornish back roads to negotiate before our final destination, the Victoria Hotel in Newquay. This is when you want excellent headlights and rider aids. All the bikes on test have traction control and ABS as standard, but only the KTM has cornering ABS. The KTM and BMW also have selectable rider modes, which allow you to limit the power and increase rider aid assistance, lovely when your concentration is on its last legs. The Honda’s headlights are excellent, but they’re not lighting up half the Atlantic Ocean like the BMW’s, so powerful that passing ships must think they’re close to the rocks.

The Honda negotiated the tight and twisty back roads with ease and, as we thread our way into town, the Africa Twin feels almost scooter-like. You only need one gear as it will pull in fourth from walking pace. There’s a lovely balance to it, not top heavy like the Triumph, and I can easily touch the floor at traffic lights unlike the imposingly tall KTM. The Honda would be my first choice if you were after an adventure bike for commuting on; it’s so simple, easy and unintimidating.


Photos: Gareth Harford