Honda’s new CRF1000L Africa Twin revealed

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Japanese giant finally reveals official details of the all-new CRF1000L Africa Twin

After months of teasing and years of rumour surrounding a new Honda Africa Twin, Honda have finally taken the wraps off the new bike it calls the CRF1000L Africa Twin.

This is a completely new machine from the ground-up, and uses a new 998cc parallel-twin engine, twin-spar cast aluminium chassis, spoked 21in front and 18in rear wheel, the option of Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), switchable ABS, and multiple mode traction control that also has an off-road setting.

Honda say three attributes from the original XRV750 were central to the development of the new bike; off-road performance, the comfort of a touring bike and ‘everyday agility’ that makes for a bike capable of everyday riding or day-to-day commuter.

MCN has been at the sharp end of bringing scoop stories about the new Africa Twin for almost three years but this is the first time the Japanese firm have released full technical information about this critically important new model.

The new bike shares nothing with the famous XRV750 Africa Twin except for a name, but Honda are making big claims not just for the touring capability of this new bike but also for its real off-road potential – something which is clearly underpinned in key design elements, like the wheel and tyre sizes.

Honda have been making a big deal of this bike since a mud-splattered True Adventure concept bike was shown last November at the Milan show, alongside the prototype RC213V-S road replica MotoGP which went on sale earlier this month. The reintroduction of the Africa Twin name was always seen as an important thing for Honda to do as it attempts to claw back some headline interest in the brand.

It’s hard to overstate how important the new Africa Twin is for Honda; not in terms of sales numbers but in terms of image. This is a famous name and the old bike is still revered within Honda.

While some may grumble about the fact the bike is missing the trademark V-twin engine seen first in the 650 and then latterly the 750 versions of the original XRV bikes, Honda have undoubtedly chosen the design for the packaging advantages it offers over a Vee configuration. Parallel-twin engines are great for off-road style bikes as they are canted forward in the chassis allowing the space behind and above the cylinder bank for the airbox and fuel tank, and electronics to sit between the frame spars. It also offers primary advantages for ease of maintenance and the control and distribution of mass.

A parallel-twin also has none of the rear cylinder cooling issues a V-twin can suffer, removes the hassle of routing the rear exhaust, and are cheaper to develop. They’re also easier to maintain, as so much of the engine is open to the air and not shrouded by the frame, seat or bodywork – a useful selling point for a bike that is being targeted at off-road adventure riders.

Rooted in the Dakar

At the heart of the bike is the all-new 998cc water-cooled, parallel-twin producing 93.87bhp (70kW) peak power and 72.3ftlb torque. The engine is slotted into an aluminium twin-spar chassis, which owes much in terms of design to those seen on the Honda CRF250R, CRF450R and CRF450R Rally competition machines. While the front end of the chassis is a twin-spar cast aluminium design similar to that of the motocross bikes, the rear section is a steel subframe means heavy loads can be taken and in the event of an off-road crash can be unbolted and replaced.

The engine uses a fair amount of the engineering technology seen on the CRF machines and uses the same four-valve Unicam head design that contributes to keeping the engine as physically compact as possible. Honda are also drawing attention to the lightweight camshaft design, which uses the same material as the CBR1000RR Fireblade, the twin-spark heads and 270° firing order that gives the parallel-twin a more characterful power delivery as well as suiting off road riding by producing better rear wheel traction. Twin balancer shafts cancel out the vibration associated with older designs of parallel-twin.

Honda say: “The engine’s short height contributes to the CRF1000L Africa Twin’s excellent ground clearance – another prerequisite for a true adventure machine. It also uses clever packaging of componentry to both dynamic and aesthetic effect. The water pump is housed within the clutch casing, and the water and oil pumps are driven by a shared balancer shaft. Further reducing engine size is the lower crankcase design, which stores the oil and houses the pressure-fed pump.”

The six-speed gearbox continues the lightweight design mantra, and has the same shift-cam design as that found on the CRF250/450 motocross bikes, but the Africa Twin also gets a slipper clutch to smooth out deceleration and downshifts. The DCT gearbox version has also undergone a serious overhaul to make it fully fit for its on and off-road pretensions (see below).

A UK price is yet to be confirmed, but Honda have confirmed that the base model will start at €12,100, plus local taxes – which puts the entry-level Africa Twin in the region of £8600, plus on the road charges and tax fluctuations. 

STYLING: There’s much of Honda’s CRF450 Rally in the styling of the Africa Twin with the upright rally-inspired top fairing and screen along with the side panels and tank. Look closely and you can see some hints of the original XRV750 model with the twin air-intakes, while the twin headlamps are also intended as a nod to the past.

OFF-ROAD INTENT: The 21in front and 18in rear wheel are spoked for improved strength and flexibility, and are just part of the serious off-road ability Honda are claiming for the new Africa Twin. The short engine allows for excellent ground clearance, and the twin radiators are mounted high and out of the way of stones thrown up. Note the rear brake disc protector, too.

STEEL SUBFRAME: While the front end of the chassis is cast aluminium the subframe is steel and the rear footrests unbolt which means it’s going to be easier to repair any crash damage and continue a world tour. Subframe is also strong enough to take big loads and a pillion too.

NEW DCT: Honda have worked hard on the new DCT fitted to the Africa Twin because in previous iterations of the technology it not only added significant weight but also width to the engine. While there is still a 10kg weight penalty with DCT, Honda have managed to engineer it into the same width crankcases as the conventional version.

COLOUR SCHEMES: The Africa Twin will be available in four paint schemes: CRF Rally (that’s the red one), a more heritage inspired Tricolour, plus Silver or Black. The tricolore version seems likely to attract the most sales as it’s the one that harks back so closely to the original XRV750 models.

More advanced DCT

Honda remain unique in the motorcycle world by offering a twin-clutch transmission, dubbed Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT), on many of their production bikes. For the Africa Twin the firm has introduced a new, more advanced system that can be specified as a cost option at purchase.

The DCT has a standard manual mode, where the rider can change gear using paddles on the handlebars, and there are two different automatic modes. In ‘D’ mode the bike offers the best balance of fuel economy and cruising. In ‘S’ mode (which has been revised over previous DCT bikes) there is a sportier performance available and there are also three gearshift patterns to choose from in ‘S1’, ‘S2’ and ‘S3’.

What separated the DCT in the Africa Twin from any seen before is that this bike has been tuned and built to tackle off-road riding. With this in mind the ‘G’ switch; located on the right side of the instrument panel; improves traction and machine control by reducing the amount of clutch slip during gearchanges. The new DCT system also detects when the bike is on a steep incline and holds onto gears longer to give more engine braking on descents.

Why the Africa Twin is important to Honda

In 1984 Honda gave racing arm Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) permission to develop a desert racer which resulted in the NXR750; a bike that won the Paris-Dakar rally from 1986 to ’89 with the XRV650 Africa Twin born from that project in 1988. It was sold in the famous red, white and blue HRC colours and was one of the few Honda road bikes allowed to be sold with HRC logos.

The bike remained unchanged until it got a comprehensive revamp in 1993 with a bigger 742cc motor and a host of other revisions including a new frame, body work, fuel tank, and a lower seat. Apart from colour changes it then remained on sale until 2003 but remains a much-sought after bike for those embarking on long adventures for the combination of unburstable engine reliability and ease of maintenance.

Honda already have a number of adventure bikes in the range including the VFR1200 Crosstourer, VFR800X Crossrunner, the CRF250L along with the NC750X and the NC500X but none of them have managed to grab a slice of the lucrative market sewn up by the BMW R1200GS.

Honda know they need to work hard to get into this market and while the VFR1200X Crosstourer makes for a luxurious touring bike it doesn’t really have any off-road credentials; something that’s essential in this market.

Full Technical Spec

Engine 998cc, Liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve Parallel Twin with 270° crank and uni-cam
Claimed Power 93.87bhp
Claimed Torque 72.3ftlb
Bore x Stroke 92 x 75.1mm
Electronic Assists HSTC 3-levels +  Switch Off (ABS 2-Channel with rear ABS off switch & DCT models only, not on STD model)  
Chassis Aluminium semi-double cradle type with high-tensile strength steel rear subframe
Kerb Weight 228kg (STD), 232 kg (ABS), 242kg (DCT)
Fuel capacity 18.8 litres
Wheelbase 1575mm
Seat Height 850-870mm
Front brakes 310mm dual wave floating discs, radial 4-piston calipers
Rear Brakes 256mm wave disc with 2-piston caliper, Lever-Lock Type Parking Brake System on DCT model
Front wheel 90/90 R21 tubed tyre on wire spoke with diecast aluminium rim
Rear wheel 150/70 R18 tubed tyre on wire spoke with diecast aluminium rim

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Andy Downes

By Andy Downes

Former MCN Senior Reporter