Over two days in Moab, Utah, we put a couple hundred miles on the Africa Twin. Day one was a mix of mountain and canyon roads and high-speed interstate on bikes wearing their factory-spec’d street tires. Day two was spent traversing BLM land in the high desert on the same bikes outfitted with knobby tires.
The Good: If you haven’t ridden a big adventure bike in years—or never—the Africa Twin, with its revolutionary automatic transmission (Honda calls it the DCT, or dual-clutch transmission), is what you want, because it does away with the need to feather the clutch and throttle on technical terrain.
The Bad: The various modes available on the transmission (four different torque settings, a gravel setting) are overkill and finicky to access via push buttons.
The Verdict: This bike will make any rider look better and feel more confident in almost any condition. Bonus: It costs thousands less than the competition, and Honda service is usually less expensive as well.
Price: $13,699 as tested
Engine: 998cc liquid-cooled four-stroke parallel twin
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic (DCT) with on- and off-road modes
Honda has a legendary heritage in the motocross world for its reliable machines, and it brought that know-how to the Africa Twin. As a result, the bike is engineered to appeal to dirt riders: It’s well balanced, and the engine was designed to be as narrow as possible to make it more nimble to maneuver. That translates into a bike that rides smaller than it looks.
The six-speed DCT transmission makes the ride even better. It has three different sport settings that modulate the automatic transmission’s shifts. There’s even an optional gravel setting for experienced riders who are used to spinning the rear wheel to help the bike complete a turn—a feature that solidifies this machine’s dirt-bike connection.
Winding up into the aspens on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road, the Africa Twin made short work of the relentless corkscrew turns and crumbling, potholed tarmac. I found that leaving the transmission in Sport-3, the bike’s most aggressive setting, provided a sweet mix of on-demand power that I could tap when rolling out of a turn or passing a slower vehicle. By the end of the day, I kept the bike in Sport-3 anytime I was on pavement, even when I was doing 85 mph on the interstate or 10 mph in town. It best matched the way I ride a bike with manual shift.
When we left the highway and jumped onto the Kokopelli Trail, the Africa Twin blew my mind. I switched the DCT from Sport-3 to Drive—the setting with the least amount of tire-spitting torque—and enjoyed the ride. There was no need to exhaust myself doing mental calculations of whether I was in the right gear for a particular grade or road surface (sand, gravel, rock, slickrock, dirt). I just turned the throttle and went, trusting the DCT to leave me with enough power and torque to scramble out of a sandy wash, but not enough to send me flying off the trail.
The antilock brakes ensured that I didn’t lock up the rear tire and start sliding sideways down an off-camber stretch, while the eight inches of travel on the front shock and 8.7 inches in the rear had no problem soaking up the bumps.
After two days of riding on- and off-road, crawling along dirt tracks, and topping 90 mph on the interstate (I was passing a semi where the posted speed limit was 80), I averaged roughly 41 mpg, which translates into a range of roughly 200 miles for this Honda’s 4.97-gallon tank. That’s plenty far enough to take someone deep into the backcountry or the “scenic route” across deserted BLM land.
The Africa Twin comes with a manual six-speed transmission that’s $700 less expensive and results in a 20-pound lighter bike. But trust me, you want the one with the DCT, which should result in a more reliable bike as it removes the human element—that is, the chance that you’ll be in the wrong gear at the wrong time and damage the engine. It also means you can’t burn the clutch in stop-and-go traffic.
Other tips: Any rider pushing six feet tall should opt for the higher windshield. Also, invest in an aftermarket skid plate that wraps around the sides of the engine case (the stock skid plate protects the front and bottom of the engine). The magnesium engine case is lighter but more fragile than you’d expect on a bike that can be expected to end up on its side repeatedly when you’re out adventuring.