With all our KTMs now sold, and perhaps a few expeditions on the horizon, we have been taking a serious look at the new Honda Africa Twin.
I briefly had a Honda Africa Twin in the early 1990s when I was in the Royal Hong Kong police, but I have to say I didn’t care for it that much. It was just too lethargic and dull.
Besides, I already rode a slow and heavy Honda for up to seven hours every day as a traffic cop and didn’t need another one.
In those days I was a bit of a speed freak and so I quickly replaced the Africa Twin with a Yamaha 1200 Vmax upon which I cahooned about Hong Kong as fast as I could.
My attempts to go faster were helped with a Kawasaki ZXR 750, the ridiculously quick Suzuki GSX 1300 R Hayabusa, a Honda CBR 900 RR Fireblade, and of course my maddest bike ever, a tuned up “racing spec” Yamaha YZF-R1.
With all these fast racing bikes, leaping off cliffs with my paraglider, insane Mrs Utley, and Yip Kai Foon and his triads all trying to kill me, I am surprised I am still around.
Later when I got into long distance motorcycle expeditions I was fortunate to get hold of a superb KTM 990 Adventure, and stuck with KTM for over a decade, with a few Kawasaki KLRs here and there.
Now, the Honda Africa Twin is back and on paper it ticks all the boxes. It is certainly getting glowing reviews from the increasing band of owners.
But how good is it really?
The only way to know is a test ride, and the best I know of is the off road course offered by the Honda Adventure Centre in the Brecon Beacons in Wales.
I rather optimistically chose to go to the UK in June, hoping that the weather would be kind and that the two sunny days of a British summer would coincide with my visit back to the mother-ship. Also, I planned to go to Florence… but I’ll explain that later.
I flew from Hong Kong to Gatwick via Dubai, and then suffered the dreadfully unreliable and painfully slow Southern Railways train to Bexhill on the south coast where I picked up my KTM 990 SMT. After doing some work (yes, I do some occasionally) I then booked my place on the next available course in Wales, and then after finishing a work report I rode to Merthyr Tydfil.
I brought my tent and sleeping bag as I planned to camp, but as soon as I crossed the Severn River the skys turned grey and it just never stopped raining and so I threw in the towel and checked into the designated hotel where I met some of the other riders who were joining the Honda Adventure course.
There are three levels of off road course offered by the Honda Centre in Wales and each lasts two days and takes place in the forests and trails within the beautiful Brecon Beacons National park.
The new Africa Twin comes in two forms and we got a chance to try both. The most radical version being the DCT (automatic gearbox with sequential gear changing paddle on the left hand-grip ) and also the more usual 6 speed manual gearbox version with a clutch that purists like myself feel more inclined to ride. All the UK bikes come with ABS and three levels of traction control.
So how did it handle? How does it compare with the KTM 990 Adventure R and KTM 1190 Adventure R?
Very simply, I liked the Africa Twin so much I will get one.
In the UK the Africa Twin comes in black/grey; white/red/blue; and red/white/black. All look good and the black/grey actually looks better in the flesh than in the pictures. However, the gold wheels and classic rally look on the white/red/blue probably sway this particular colour scheme for me.
With 232Kgs and only 94 BHP the Africa twin’s power to weight ratio is not that special, however I found the bike to be very nimble and more than fast enough. In fact, its weight is deceptive and it handled like a much smaller enduro bike off road, and like a good touring bike on the tarmac. Even with a big 21 inch front it corners round the bends extremely well. A lot of R&D has gone into its design, it has a very low center of gravity and is extremely well balanced.
Its also a very comfortable bike, the seat is just right for me and can be adjusted, the handle bars and riding position couldn’t be better. And the exhaust note ? yep…not bad at all given all the EU restrictions on modern motorcycles.
I threw it around in the mud and trails pretty competently after I got the hang of adjusting the traction control and ABS whilst on the hoof. The only time you are aware of the weight is when you are going down steep wet slippy slopes and even then I had no problems. In the mud, water and gravel it charges around like a smaller enduro bike giving the rider bags of confidence. And its a lot of fun.
Could I see myself riding one around the world on every surface Planet Earth has to offer?
So, what was the DCT bike like?
At first a bit strange, not least because there is no clutch. The rev and go “Honda 90″ feel quickly disappears when you open up the throttle and it charges off over the rocks and mud pools like a Dakar Rally bike. Clucking Bell!
Allegedly, the automatic gearbox can change gear more efficiently than Guy Martin or Valentino Rossi and I strained my ears to hear the gears actually change, but all I noticed was the indicator on the display flicking up through the numbers. There are various settings to alter at what engine revs the gears actually change …”sports” “road” etc.
On the manual version bike I rarely got out of 2nd gear, occasionally 3rd, on the Welsh trails, but I noticed that the DCT bike quickly went through the gears up to 6th. A bit strange to be in 6th at a relatively slow speed off road, but seemed to work.
There is a sequential gear shift paddle like on high performance sports cars if you want to manually change gears. Suffice to say, I got used to it reasonably quickly, and against my initial reservations, I thought it was actually pretty good. The DCT will certainly improve most people’s riding ability.
Below are a few videos from Youtube of the very muddy course I was on in Wales.
BTW- I am on Bike #17 with number plate index RX16 KXV – black boots and DPM style Arai Helmet.
Great fun… and many thanks to Steve for taking, editing, narrating and publishing the video.
Well all good things come to an end until you start more good things. I really enjoyed the course and made some good friends. Importantly, the Africa Twin was all I hoped it to be and more. I am sure Fanny will love riding it too and we have it penciled in for the next big one, unless the new KTM 800 Adventure steals a lead.
In fact, I will be riding one fairly soon along the BDR in Utah and Colorado with my friend, John Drury, although I am not sure if the US Africa Twins have traction control. We will see.
So, what to do now?
Well since I was in Wales and the rain had stopped briefly I decided to go on a ride…a ride to Touratech in South Wales in fact to have a look at all their toys.
When I arrived at Touratech in a place beginning with a Y and no vowels I asked where the Africa Twin was with all the Touratech add-ons? I was told all their bikes had been taken to the Horizons Unlimited gathering near Hereford and so that’s where I went next.
A great ride as always across Wales and when I arrived at the HUBB meeting I could see the usual swarm of adventure and touring motorcycles, a few stalls and a noticeably middle aged crowd. I had not booked a place, but a very nice lady signed me in at 60 quid for one nights camping in a wet field! Britain, huh?
Oh well, I did manage to meet the Dakar legend, Nick Plumb in the flesh and so it was worth it.
I also saw Alex Jackson from Kaapstad tours, and some other commercial motorcycle tour operators who had their stalls set up and were doing their marketing thing. I expect its a tough old life trying to sell motorcycle tours to independent minded motorcycle adventurers. A bit like selling ice to Eskimos I suppose.
I was bouncing around telling Alex and his “aw wight aw wight inch yaa” business partner I had met Nick Plumb and was waxing lyrical about how he had completed the Dakar ….twice, and featured on the Charlie Boorman “Race to Dakar” TV Series.
He didn’t seem impressed. How can you not be impressed?
To me completing the Dakar on a rally motorcycle is the all time achievement …second only to walking on the moon. I would love to do it myself and have the utmost respect for anyone who has and I was truly honoured to meet Nick Plumb.
Horizons Unlimited is a strange and wonderful gathering of rather odd people. There are a few “Round The World” motorcycling legends sharing their stories, some interesting presentations for budding adventurers, some very nice motorcycles to look at, and most importantly a bar.
For the large part though, its like a village hall lawn bowls committee meeting, except with leather tassels and smelling faintly of damp nylon and exhaust fumes.
This was my last jolly on my KTM 990 SMT as I decided to sell it to my mate, Nick Dobson who has been looking after it in England for the last three years. It is always sad to say goodbye to a bike, and it has been a truly awesome bike.
One of the deciding factors to part company with a UK plated bike was that I lost my temper with Bennetts, the British firm I insure my bike with as I (Nick actually) missed the automatic renewal date by three days and so they said I have to go through the whole rigmarole of getting a new quote ….and pay a premium of a hundred quid (72%) a year more than the previous year despite no accidents or incidents.
The complete moron I spoke to on the telephone from Bennetts said he must ask me all the questions again. ALL OF THEM. And in his annoying regional accent and Millennial grammar.
I said he must be joking, but he insisted he must ask the questions without interruption, despite the obvious “jobs worthy” ridiculousness of the whole thing.
He was half way through his, ‘I MUST finish the question….have you had any… blah blah blah?’ when I told him quite descriptively what he could do with his quote … and hung up.
That was annoying, I thought, I will have to sell my bike now.
In actual fact, I had pretty much decided to sell my bike as riding it for just two weeks out of fifty-two really isn’t a good reason to keep a motorcycle in the UK, and I was starting to go through one of my “England’s a real dump” episodes which was bolstered by a combination of the awful weather, the awful traffic jams, the truly awful food, having to look at fat orange people with tattoos and piercings, Nick’s mum scaring the crap out of me … AND …a particularly disturbing and unpleasant visit to Starbucks in Pevensy in East Sussex.
They were all signs from the Soul of the Universe to sell my KTM and move on .
One of the reasons I booked a ticket to England was that Ducati had informed me I was shortlisted to ride their new Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro on a leg of their Globetrotter round the world marketing trip and invited me to go to Florence for a final selection. Therefore, I headed to the UK to pick up my bike as I had planned an interesting ride through Europe to Italy.
Having purchased my air-ticket I was told by Ducati they thought I was too young and handsome to ride their motorcycle and so I was unceremoniously “cut” from the event. A bit harsh I thought, but on reflection the whole thing sounded like a bit of a faff.
I had Sri Lanka and USA biking expeditions coming up, and this Ducati marketing thing was more costly and inconvenient than I initially anticipated and so I wasn’t too disappointed.
I suspect Ducati have messed up a bit. Seven contented adventure riders, and at the same time 4993 really “pissed off” adventure riders who are probably evaluating buying a Honda Africa twin now. Must have learned their marketing skills from KTM!!
As I had finished the Honda Africa Twin off road course and had no reason or desire to hang about in the UK I decided to go back home to Hong Kong, but I couldn’t change my ticket without a costly surcharge.
As none of my relatives like me very much and I had nowhere really to go, I had to find a place to stay for a few days. I had my tent but it was still raining a lot and in England its really difficult to camp as everywhere is private or off limits. Luckily, I found a Lapland style wooden hut in the middle of Dorset … in fact in the garden of April Cottage near Harman’s Cross.
My sort of place. Run by a super chap called Peter from Switzerland and his lovely wife, Joanna, it was a great place to stay, write up some reports for work, and explore the Purbeck Way and Dorset coastline, even in the rain.
I believe Botox works wonders although how can you improve on perfection.
And went for a run along Purbeck Way
Next Chapter (s) ……Riding Honda CRF250 Baja motorcycles in Sri Lanka and Riding a Honda Africa Twin across the BDR in Colorado and Utah, USA