What an eventful weekend I had! Probably one of the best monsoon weekends of the year 2017. Although for many I know, a perfect monsoon weekend is more like going out on a drive with friends or family to get drenched in rain, then have some garma garam pakodas and cutting chai while enjoying nature at its best, sounds just right. But for me, experiencing the nature closely and being a part of it are two different things. Last weekend I was not just close to the nature, but I was a part of it. It’s not far from guessing what must have happened on that weekend. When you have these two things coming together, an adventure class motorcycle and rains, it’s enough to know that it’s sheer magic on the road. As someone has said already, if you don’t ride in rains, you don’t ride at all and being a motorcycle enthusiast, it’s something that I truly believe. Rains don’t just make riding difficult, but more challenging, and if you ask a rider you would know that bigger the challenge, the bigger is the excitement, and in such conditions if you have a beast to tame, it only gets better!
In the beautiful city of Udaipur, staying right next to the Fateh Sagar lake, I looked out of the window that morning and I saw it was overcast. It felt as if it was going to pour heavily. An instant thought crossed my mind, the roads are going to be wet, I have a 1000cc motorcycle to handle, it weighs around 240 odd kgs, and most importantly, I have never ridden anything like this before. So today, I can only pray for traction and count on my guardian angel to bring me back safely. After finishing breakfast as I was walking towards the motorcycle I was assigned to, a cloud of thoughts stormed my mind and with every step I was taking towards it, I was preparing myself for the unknown. It was not like I had never seen this motorcycle before. I have had my “love at first sight” kind of a situation just the night before when I saw the motorcycle at the presentation. It was standing off the screen and right in front of me for the first time in life. I had my hands on it and with jaws dropped I was looking at that beauty and I am pretty sure I never heard anything that they said during the presentation as I was busy admiring this master piece of engineering! Also, it’s the same motorcycle I have been tracking on the internet since a long long time and helplessly hoping to see it on the Indian roads. I guess my prayers were answered and finally Honda brings the Africa Twin to India. As I stepped out of the hotel I realized it was already drizzling. I kept walking towards the motorcycle running the checklist in my mind, thinking about the do’s and don’ts of riding in rains, checking my riding gear once again and I finally reached where all the Africa Twins were parked.
I had the keys in my hand and an instructor was waiting for me to get on the motorcycle so that he could explain the features to me before the ride began. Without wasting a minute, I started with my briefing session with the instructor. As he was running me through the features, I was also running a parallel to-do session in my mind about all the features I was being briefed about. Soon there was a flag off and the ride began. The first thing I noticed that the Honda Africa twin misses on a clutch lever and the gear shifting pedal. Since India only gets the DCT version of the Honda Africa twin which is a dual clutch transmission, it has pedal shifters only on the handle bar. It was my first time operating an automatic transmission on a motorcycle which definitely came as a bit of discomfort at first. Every time I had to brake my left hand would reach for the clutch lever to prepare for a downshift only to realize that there is no clutch lever there. It happened quite a few times, and every time it did, I had a miscalculation in my mind. But no matter however confusing it was, it didn’t piss me off. In fact, I was amazed by the fact that whatever I wanted to do, the motorcycle was doing it for me, and at some places, I must say it was better than what I could have done. Within first few minutes of riding I realized that this is a completely new motorcycle and I cannot have a fixed set list in my mind about how to ride it, so then I started to concentrate on knowing the motorcycle more as I was riding it through Udaipur city. With conscious efforts I was trying to read what the motorcycle was doing on the road and within a few minutes I came to a conclusion that all I have to do here is hold the throttle and brake when needed, and leave everything else on the motorcycle. As I got familiar with the process, I started feeling at home and I started experimenting on the motorcycle more.
DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) gearbox is the highlight here, it’s something that keeps the Africa twin a notch above all the conventional geared motorcycles we have in India. The DCT is a 6 speed dual clutch automatic transmission that shifts the gears according to the drive mode in which the Africa twin is running and with respect to the RPM of the motorcycle. There are a several drive modes on the Africa Twin to suit the riding style. The D (drive) mode is where the gear box is most active. It makes quick shifts on lower RPMs keeping the ride smooth and fuel economy in check. The D mode is best suited for cruising or riding at low speeds through the traffic. The next is the S (sports) mode which further has three levels to it S1 S2 and S3. In S1 the gear box will make the shifts in slightly higher RPMs than the D mode, here the motorcycle doesn’t feel sluggish at all and has quick power and quicker throttle response. The S1 is perfect for highways, and on the outskirts of the city. Then comes the S2 which brings in some fun, the RPMs at which the gears are shifted are held even longer, gaining better throttle response and the motorcycle feels punchier. The S2 is just right when you are riding on the national highways, covering long distances where you need a quicker throttle response to take on the traffic. At S3 the Africa Twin comes to life and from here it’s all about speed and power. The true potential of the 999cc parallel twin engine which is clocked at 65kW of max power, is felt in this mode. Last but not the least comes the full manual mode, where you get to decide everything. With a pedal shifter on the handle bar, you can either shift up or shift down the gears as you like. The shifts are smooth and goes almost undetected as the DCT works fast and in an even odd combination where clutch 1 takes all the odd number of gears and clutch 2 take all the even number of gears. The acceleration or the deceleration graph on this motorcycle is very linear throughout all the riding modes which helps the motorcycle to maintain a right balance between comfort and agility at any given time.
Honda is one of those manufacturers who is known for their extremely refined engines. This refinement is seen across all the range of engines Honda has ever developed. Smooth performance without losing power is something Honda excels at. The Africa twin doesn’t fall any less of flaunting one of the best parallel twin engines Honda has ever made. This fuel injected, over head camshaft type, liquid cooled, 4 stroke SI engine having the displacement of 999.11cc, produces maximum power of 65kW @ 7500 rpm at crankshaft (IS-10000) and generates maximum torque of 91.9Nm @ 6000 rpm at crankshaft.
This power plant might not look all that impressive on the spec sheet, but when it comes to action, that’s when it starts to impress you. It doesn’t fall short of power whatsoever, it stays nice and cool in any situation, because of its light weight and intelligent design, it also hangs high in the cradle giving the motorcycle massive ground clearance to flawlessly take on the terrain it’s built for. This engine also has its breather placed on the top for an undisturbed clean air intake and to save it from drowning in case, if the motorcycle decides to go for a swim. Trust me, it’s quite capable of doing that.
Frame & Suspension
The Honda Africa twin eats potholes for breakfast, which says a lot about its state of the art suspension setup. The motorcycle gets fully adjustable Godzilla size 45mm Showa inverted forks in the front which has a 230mm stroke which is the longest in its class and has got a good range of rebound and compression settings. On the rear, it’s again the off-road Pro-Link system proven and loved by the adventure junkies. The fully adjustable mono shock on the rear has a massive 220mm of travel that takes on almost any obstacle that falls in its way. Both the front and the rear suspensions are easy to adjust for quick changes to suit the terrain and can be tweaked without any tools.
The super tough, semi double cradle steel frame on which the motorcycle is built and bolted together is light weight and designed in a way that it centralizes all its weight which keep the motorcycle steady at any speeds and on any terrain. The frame also helps maintain a slim form factor which makes the Africa Twin very nimble and easily manoeuvrable. You can literally flick the 240kg motorcycle in slow moving traffic with utmost confidence. The Frame is designed in a way that its stays high above the ground giving the motorcycle a good 250mm of ground clearance which no other motorcycle in its class has ever been able to achieve.
Tyres & Brakes
The rubber on this monster falls in a bit of a controversy. The Indian version of the Africa twin gets road spec Dunlops as standard set of wheels, whereas in some countries the motorcycle comes with Pirellis as standard tyres. From what I have read and heard until now, it says that the Pirellis are slightly better than the now Dunlops. The motorcycle I rode had the Dunlop tyres. The front gets a tube type 90/90-21M/C 54H and the rear gets a tube type 150/70R18M/C 70H. As I throttled through wet tarmac, mud, slush, broken tarmac and some pacific deep potholes, I had no complaints with the set of wheels Honda is offering here in India. The tyre on the Africa Twin performs really well on most surfaces and has no problem whatsoever. It has good traction for low as well as high speeds, gravel or mud or even slush for that matter. The motorcycle also feels composed and planted even on corners and performs right, just as expected.
The brakes on this motorcycle are no less. Just like all the other state of the art hardware available on the Africa Twin, even the brakes are up to the mark and has incredible stopping power. The Honda Africa Twin gets the 2 channel ABS dual nissin disk setup. On the front it flaunts a massive 310mm of hydraulic double disks and on the rear it gets a 256mm single hydraulic disk. Both front and rear brakes are equipped with ABS while the rear ABS gets an option to switch it off. The front brakes are a bit soft and has less feedback, but at the same time stops the motorcycle well in time without losing any traction. But the rear sometimes bite too hard that you might repeatedly wake the ABS to make sure you don’t lose the traction. The Africa twin also gets a parking brake lock lever which is located where usually a clutch lever is seen. The parking brake lock comes in handy when the motorcycle is parked on inclines or declines, which in Africa Twins case is seen often.
The Africa twin comes with all LED setup, the twin LED headlamp setup is something without which the Africa Twin wouldn’t be a true Africa Twin after all. The LEDs on this motorcycle are bright at night and illuminate the road with a good feedback. It also is equipped with DRLs which adds up to its mature, masculine look. The all time on smart turn indicators helps the onlooker notice the motorcycle faster than usual. The motorcycle also comes with a 12V 11.2A-h battery to support all the electricals on the motorcycle which comes as standard, and also supports some extra accessories like a phone charging unit.
The Honda Africa Twin is quite a big motorcycle, but don’t get any wrong Ideas yet, the uni-flow design of the motorcycle does wonders once you are saddled in. The length and width of the motorcycle is 2334mm and 932mm respectively. The height is 1478mm with a good wheelbase of 1574mm that has a mind blowing ground clearance of 250mm. The seat height is adjustable and has a range of 840mm-820mm. The Africa Twin weighs about 245kgs with a 18.8 ltrs of fuel capacity. In a full tank, this motorcycle can do approximately 400kms which is quite an impressive mileage for a 1000cc motorcycle.
The instrument cluster on the Africa Twin reminds me of a heads up display of a fighter plane. The vertical setup that consists of two white on black LED displays and two analogue displays gets you all the information you need to see right in front of your eyes in big and bold letters, so that you get what you want at a glance. The display is bright enough even during the day time and can be read easily. Some of the important information that is always displayed on the cluster is, the digital speedometer, tachometer, gear shift information, clock, outer temperature, a trip meter, distance to empty count, and odometer and also shows engine temperature. On the analogue display you get ABS on/off indication, parking brake indication, traction on/off indication and the turn indicator lights.
The Honda Africa Twin comes equipped with two safety features as standard. The switchable traction control and gravel mode. The traction control on this motorcycle works fabulously and it has three levels to chose from, T1 T2 & T3 each level of traction has a different set of sensitivity to work with, if you have T3 selected then you might face a drop in agility in the acceleration of the motorcycle but it wont ever let you skid off. On T2, the sensitivity is slightly lowered and so you can now have more feedback from the acceleration and on the T1 which I suggest you can keep on all the time even if the roads are dry, because just in case if something suddenly comes that can take you off the road, the T1 can still save you from falling off the motorcycle. But if you don’t want the traction, that’s completely fine because you can switch the traction completely off on the Africa Twin.
The gravel mode (G) is sort of a plug in for the three different drive modes the Africa twin offers. It comes in handy when you are off roading on the Africa Twin. The acceleration is controlled in a way that there will be no sudden change in the power or torque and it will only have smooth transitions even when you are climbing down or going up the hill. The motorcycle can sense the terrain and act accordingly. With gravel mode on, you have total control of the motorcycle even on the toughest terrains which makes you comfortable even in the odd of the odds.
The Africa twin has nice and wide seats where in you can ride for hours without getting tired. The seat height is adjustable to suit your riding style. The riding posture is erect and has a good support at the tail bone. The seats are not too soft or spongy or too hard, they are just right for what the motorcycle is designed to do. Standing and riding on any ADV class motorcycle is fun, but on the Africa twin, it’s not only fun but also extremely comfortable as you don’t have to shift the gears, you just stand and throttle up and the bikes does everything else for you.
Born of the Dakar, it’s a motorcycle that has won the toughest rally in the world 4 times in a row before coming to production line. The NRX 750 is where it all began, and it now is undoubtedly the most advanced motorcycle ever produced. The Honda Africa Twin is the perfect amalgamation of a tourer, an adventure motorcycle and a naughty dirt bike. It has all in it. It is calm, composed, extremely stable, but when needed it can change itself into a monster under a second and can be agile and wild beyond expectations. It simply doesn’t let you down, no matter what you are planning to do on this motorcycle. The Honda Africa Twin is by far a perfect choice for a motorcycle enthusiast. And at Rs. 16 odd lakhs you get a package you can’t refuse.
Pros: Mean looks, stability, agility, DCT, comfort
Cons: Aggressive rear brake bite, available in only one colour.
Photography by Siddhant Nagvekar