I was planning a night away on the AT over the weekend, but I doubt I need to explain to you why that couldn’t happen. But despite the lockdown meaning my three-piece suite of luggage remains empty, it felt like a good time for a review.
Previous Africa Twin updates
I’ve been using the panniers and topbox for four months now and have been really impressed with some of the design ideas – and niggled by a few others.
Let’s keep it positive for starters. The construction is really good. While some panniers feel flimsy, these are rock solid. The catches and hinges all feel bullet-proof and the molded additions are similarly sturdy. The clasps locate precisely and pull the lids tightly onto the rubber weather seal, ensuring that – to date – not a single drop of moisture has found its way in.
The lid-stays prevent them from flapping right over when open and unlike my previous long term test BMW R1250GS panniers, the stays do stay put. Those bars mounted to the top edges of the panniers and topbox are also exceptionally handy.
Not only do they give you ergonomically comfortable handles to help you lug them about, but they provide great tie-down points for tents, rollmats, chickens, or anything else you need to carry.
The topbox also boasts a nice big rubber backrest for your pillion’s comfort, ensuring they’re not poked in the back by lumpy hinges and damping some of the inevitable bump and grind of British roads.
The mounting system, too, is peachy. All three cases locate on sturdy flat-topped pins before clunking pleasingly into place with their locking mechanism. That’s a raised ‘tooth’ on the plate for the topbox and twin spring-loaded tangs for the panniers.
You can mount them without the key, but not remove them – and the panniers have two indicators each side which show green when mounted correctly, red when not. There are invaluable lock covers, too – meaning your keyholes won’t gunge up with grime and cause you grief.
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Add a full set of the waterproof Honda-branded drybag liners, and you can rock-up at your destination and unpack with ease, too – which is especially handy in the rain.
The niggles? The lids don’t always locate straight, requiring a wiggle, you can’t leave the lids unlocked so need the key for every opening, the panniers feel an inch or two too far forward and they look dirty even when they’re clean. That’s it.
Update 4: Adding a big Plus to proceedings
I’ve not turned a wheel in three weeks (other than doing a few laps of the garden before being told off by ‘the boss’). It’s the longest I’ve gone without a road ride in 23 years. This lockdown is driving me crazy, but I won’t break.
So, confined to the garage it dawned on me that a few readers have asked what makes my Honda Africa Twin AS ES a ‘Plus’ edition, and whether the extras are worth it.
Well, deep breath - this is what you get: heated grips, topbox and panniers (with inner bags), tank bag, air deflectors and visors, 12v socket, high windscreen, front/side crash bars, engine bars, fog lights and a centrestand. I’ve covered the hard luggage below, so let’s only dwell on the rest here.
The heated grips are good, with five-stage adjustment and lots of punch and offer a massive improvement over the previous Honda offering. The 12v socket is useful, but there is already a USB if all you need is phone power. The centrestand is crucial. Without it you can’t look after your chain and Honda have cunningly not fitted stand bobbin mounts, meaning you can’t even use a secure paddock stand. Cheeky.
Rich Newland's long term tests
The other big mention I want to make is for the Pirelli Rally STR tyres I fitted at 2576 miles. They’ve been a serious step-up over the OE fitment Metzeler Karoo Streets. They warm faster, handle better and are oddly good in the wet (the blocky pattern would suggest otherwise).
Grip isn’t a problem and if the TC does kick in, it’s thanks to aggressive throttle inputs at lean. The only negative so far is visible rear tyre wear after sub-2000 miles. Can’t wait to see if they do another 2000 (they did on the R1250GS, with ease – and that’s a heavier bike).
Is the Plus worth another £2800? Well, the answer is yes, but only if you do more than just potter around the lanes on sunny Sundays.
Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports ES Plus hits and misses
Hit: Feeling a little windy?
These upper deflectors are small, but do appear to reduce turbulence and improve the ‘rider bubble’ you sit in, cosseting you more. The lower deflectors are completely impossible to detect.
Hit: To protect and serve
The substantial engine bars are placed right where you need them and appear to give the sort of solidity needed to stop you holing a casing by having an unscheduled lay down mid-ride.
Miss: Tanking along, badly
The 4L tankbag is a useful place to stash a dash-connected phone and other bits, but the opening is fiddly, it slides around all the time and scratches the tank, and the bike-mounted flappy clips look ugly when the bag isn’t fitted.
Miss: Screen if you want to
The bigger screen is welcome, and pleasingly quiet, although too tall once off its base setting. However, the adjusters feel like cheap bulldog clips, and you have to operate the two together.
Hit: Bars and illumination
The upper crash bars feel a little bit flimsy, but do offer a mount for the fog lights, which are actually very useful extra driving lights to help the fairly weak dipped beam on country lanes.
Update 3: A very fast average year – what has 4000 miles revealed about the Africa Twin?
Blimey, has it been a year already? Well, no, but with almost 4000 miles showing on the LCD panel that nestles neatly under the flashy CarPlay-enabled TFT dash, it feels like a good time to reflect on what an average UK rider’s annual mileage would have revealed.
After a couple of laps of the MCN250 and a week of commuting schleppery we’ve already crept over the first service marker. Service done, and we’re back on the road. Nothing remarkable has happened, but it’s about to.
Having forced myself to do the first miles in the bike’s standard ‘Tour’ setting, I now allow myself a bespoke twiddle with the electronic spanners and set up a ‘User 1’ custom suite of suspension and rider aids. It’s a revelation. All the pitching and yawing, aggravating traction control interventions, and other imperfections are – almost without exception – dialled out without touching a real toolbox.
The seemingly endless storms that welcome 2020 into our lives reveal that the Africa Twin has a wind problem. But it’s not how it passes gas, but how it deals with stormy gusts. Regardless of any fitted luggage (although at its worst with a top box on), the AT gets blown around like a paper bag, with that 21in front wheel acting like a spinnaker. It’s not desperate, but I’m struggling to think of another bike that suffers as much.
The Carole Nash MCN London show gives the first opportunity to load up the panniers and top box and spend a bit of time ticking off fast miles. In town, on the motorway, and blatting down country lanes all reveal a similar story: the AT is a pleasing companion in every environment, but also exhibits no particular favouritism for any single one.
If you’re looking at an adventure bike to slow you down, this one won’t. It’s hardly rampant charging through the gears, but it’ll cruise effortlessly with silly speeds on the dash all day long.
The OE fitment Metzeler Karoo Street rubber is already getting tired. The rear is squaring and both ends suffer a slightly plasticky numbness that – particularly on cold, wet roads – gives you little pulses of adrenaline when tipping into turns.
They make way for Pirelli Rally STRs, which I’ve used them on smaller, fatter rims, but the AT’s narrow rear and bicycle-like front are an unknown. But the STRs prove an immediate improvement, boosting feel and feedback and reducing the TC dash disco. Now it’s time to see how well they wear.
Lashings of rain, salt, road grit are nibbling away at some metal parts. There are a few chips to the front frame downtube, a smattering of cheap parts (like the rear sprocket) now look a bit worse for wear despite cleaning and protection attempts. The fuel tank has suffered some rubbage from the Honda official tank bag, too – but otherwise it’s still looking box-fresh after a bit of soapy love.
An average UK biker’s annual mileage reveals the AT might not wow you or set your pulse racing like a dangerous one-night stand with a hot looking psycho – but it is the marrying type. Here lies happiness, if not outright thrills. It’s still exciting, still capable, fun to spend time with, great to been seen on, and draws quiet admiration everywhere it goes. But all without the sort of drama that gives you palpitations.
Update 2: Playing in the genepool
When legends are resurrected, you really want them to be worthy successors – bikes capable of building on the legacy of their forefathers. For me, the reborn Africa Twin didn’t quite hit the mark. Don’t get me wrong, it was (and is) a lovely bike, but it was just a bit too light on specialness. The 2020 model addresses much of that, giving us the bike that it should ideally have been in 2016 – albeit at a much saltier price point.
So what’s changed? Well, Honda have given it a bit more mumbo at its heart to ensure that you don’t get bored in the saddle, added some useful tech, and done their best make it feel more like a quality-laden market leader.
It’s a positive step forward, but is it all good news? Read on…
Hit: Playing at being a car
The CarPlay-enabled system is slick, sharp and delivers a great user experience (once you work out which buttons to press). The only downside is the need for a physical lead connection and comms system. But if you’ve got an iPhone and a Bluetooth helmet system – it’s superb.
Hit: Grunty boost
The fitter, larger capacity engine on the 1100 is a welcome boost. The extra grunt makes the big AT feel a tad sprightlier in every gear, all over the rev range. That fitness makes its mass feel less intrusive, injects a bit of fun to proceeding in a disorderly manner.
Miss: Stopping power
My 1998 VFR800FiW stops with more aggression than the AT. How Honda have managed to make a decent set of hardware so uninspiring is a mystery. You need a rock-climber’s squeezing tension on the front lever and a ruddy good prod of the back brake.
Hit: Bendy illumination
The arc of illumination delivered by the three-stage cornering lights gives a huge visual benefit. These bright white day-makers help erase the guesswork about what your front wheel will meet next. They’re the most effective cornering lights I’ve experienced.
Miss: Switch roulette
Whoever designed the switch cubes deserves a slap. Not only are there more switches than should ever be fitted to any motorcycle, they’re arranged and operated with infuriating quirkiness, sometimes in tandem between right and left clusters, too.
It’s madness. Even worse, they’re not even used in a consistent manner between different screen functions. It’s like they gave a bag of buttons to ten 8-year-olds and told them to do whatever they wanted, so long as they didn’t agree on a system. And they’re not backlit – so good luck finding anything you need after dark. An awful cluster.
Update 1: Has Honda's Africa Twin come of age?
The Honda Africa Twin holds a special allure for me. I loved the last of the old breed and have covered a lot of miles on the new version – including riding 2100 miles from Oslo to Nordkapp on a DCT version in 2017.
This new 2020 model appears to answer many of my criticisms of that first version – but can it answer all of them?
I want to rack up over 10,000 miles in search of riding enjoyment both on and off-road to test its reliability and to see if an emotional connection – which never materialised with the previous model – emerges.
The rider Richard Newland, MCN Editor, 46, 5ft 11in. Riding for 35 years, all year round. Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org
Bike specs 1084cc | 100bhp | 240kg | 850-870mm seat height