2020 Honda Africa Twin CRF1100L – Honda’s best selling dual sport motorcycle. Since 1959, Honda is the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world which sold around 20 million motorcycles worldwide in 2018, and more than 300,000 came to North America. Africa Twin is one of the best selling Honda motorcycles in Canada, as it is very capable do-it-all type of motorcycle which Canadians love – like Sport Utility Vehicles of the car world.
The original Africa Twin dates all the way back to 1980s, and it became popular with Paris-Dakar Rally. The original Africa Twin won the famous Paris-Dakar rally four times. Today, the current generation Africa Twin not only keeps it’s heritage from the 1980s, but also it is much better when it comes to daily ride-ability and technology implementation.
Honda decided to refresh the Africa Twin completely in 2015 after several years of absence. It was a revolutionary step for the Africa Twin, as this is the first time they switched from V-Twin to Parallel Twin engine. Honda also decided to use Dual Clutch Automatic Transmission (DCT) for the first time in an Africa Twin which is still available today. As it is previously named as CRF1000L, it had 998cc two cylinder engine which produces 94 horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque. Though it is a parallel twin, it has 270° firing order which makes it sound like a V-Twin engine.
Unlike 30 years ago, now people buy Dual Sport bikes not only for off-road riding, but also travelling long distances, touring or even daily commuting. So Honda shifted it’s target market from hardcore off-road riders to all-rounders, which is the right choice as it has much bigger market share. However, that means you have to sacrifice some off-road capabilities to make it better for all types of riding. Honda found a great balance with the Africa Twin which you can use it for all circumstances. It still comes with 21″ front rims and long suspension travel, which shows it’s off road capabilities and heritage.
What’s new with the 2020 model?
This is a question actually we were very curious before we started riding the 2020 Africa Twin. Is this a model refresh or entirely new platform? Previous generation (2015-2019) was criticized for lack of power and comfort features, especially compared to its premium segment rivals. It is very obvious that Honda created a much better bike with the 2020 update. It is now called CRF1100L which makes 7 more horsepower – 101 hp total and 78 lb-ft of torque. New engine offers much more usable torque almost from idle all the way up to the rev limiter which is around 8200 rpm. It is compliant with the latest Euro 5 emission norms, that’s why it comes with a huge (and ugly) muffler in the back. Despite the muffler’s size, the engine still sounds pretty good, thanks to the exhaust control valve.
The updated engine has longer stroke with the same bore size, as well as larger throttle body, better air intake, updated ECU, revised cylinder head and valve timing. So the updated engine lost approximately 5 lbs and offers 6% power increase all around the rpm range. Last year, we had a chance to ride the 2019 Africa Twin for a short period of time, and we can confirm that with all of these changes, there is a noticeable difference in the torque curve. Now the new Africa Twin is much more refined and more fun on pavement. It is not a high revving engine by any means, but the torque makes the bike pull like a train. Although it is a parallel twin, the engine is not buzzy at all, thanks to the 270 degree firing order. There is a slight vibration you feel on the handlebar and foot pegs after 5000 rpm, but nothing too crazy.
Our tester was the manual transmission and it is a great match for the engine. Shifts are crisp and there is no false neutral. Gear ratios are slightly on the taller side but it is okay. This engine has plenty of torque you don’t need short gear ratios. In fact, you don’t even need to downshift to pass other vehicles on the highway. Although clutch lever is not adjustable, it is very predictable and easy to use. So the engine and transmission is a great combination for all types of riders, even for beginners!
Engine updates are not the only technical changes with the 2020 Africa Twin. Compared to the previous generation, the bike is almost 10 lb lighter. Honda revised the whole frame and included bolt-on aluminum sub-frame and swing-arm to lose more weight. So the new generation is lighter and more powerful which means it is a perfect recipe for better riding dynamics in all types of circumstances.
Like the previous generation, it comes with two different trims and two different transmission options. However, those trims are targeted completely different type of riders. The previous generation higher trim, called Adventure Sports were the off-road oriented version, and base trim was more of a touring option. With the 2020 update, the base trim is the off-road version, whereas now the Adventure Sports trim is for long trips and more highway oriented alternative.
As a result, there are some technical differences between the two versions. The Adventure Sports trim comes with bigger gas tank, taller and adjustable windscreen, tubeless tires, larger skid plate, larger fairings for better wind protection, aluminum tail rack, accessory socket. Fortunately, you can choose either manual or DCT for both trims. If you choose the base trim, you loose approximately 1.5 gallons of fuel capacity as the tank size drops from 6.5 gallon to 5 gallon which means your range will be significantly less. Even with the base trim, the plastic parts have very high quality, there were no weird gaps or flimsiness, all plastic and metal parts look and feel very durable.
Along with the engine, there are some new technologies come with the 2020 update. First and foremost, now it has a cruise control and it is available in all trims. It also comes with the new screen and infotainment system which is customizable and easy to read. The new Africa Twin comes with several different riding modes, and two custom modes. The difference in power mode is very noticeable, and the least powerful mode makes it very smooth and forgiving if you ride it in the stop & go traffic, but it is gutless on the highway. You need to switch to full power mode to get the most out of it.
Honda is the first motorcycle manufacturer implemented Apple CarPlay in their motorcycles, which is standard with the Africa Twin, but you can still use Bluetooth if you don’t have an Apple device. Even without the CarPlay, you can still see your call list, messages, see who is calling, or pick up the phone as long as you have an intercom system in your helmet. Once you get used to the button and screen layout, it is very convenient to see what you are listening inside your helmet, and changing the song while you keep your hands on the handlebar.
The infotainment system is very detailed, but it can be overwhelming for the first time. You need to take your time to go through each section before you start riding it, otherwise it would be very distracting if you try to learn when you are on the way. It has a touch screen feature which you can use when you are not moving, but you can use buttons on the handlebar too! Our tester was not DCT and even without it, it has more than 12 buttons just on the left side of the handlebar. Although you get used to it after certain period of time, this is very confusing for the first time, and it gets harder to find essential buttons like horn or emergency lights without actually looking to the handlebar.
Even with the base trim, Africa Twin comes with safety nets, such as self cancelling signals, traction control and wheelie control. They are all adjustable through the infotainment screen. Also, LED headlights and signals are standard which is an important safety feature for motorcycles. If you opt for the Adventure Sports trim, it comes with cornering headlights and fully adjustable electronic suspension as well. We think the base trim has a very good price point considering all the features you get, but with the top Adventure Sports trim, we wish it came with center stand and push-button start as a standard feature.
Our first impression was the bike feels very tall as soon as we sat on it. You can still adjust your seat height, but it will never be as easy to throw your leg over to a naked bike. However, it doesn’t feel too much top heavy, despite having a large gas tank on top of the frame. Once you start moving, you don’t feel the weight at all, which is important as it would be very hard to do low speed maneuvering with a tall and top heavy bike. Turning radius is also great, which helps with low speed tight turns. The seating position is very relaxed, the rider sits upright, it has a wide handle bar and skinny tank so it is very easy to ride when you stand up.
The seat is comfortable for long rides, maybe not the softest seat but definitely good enough for few hours of riding. We were not a fan of small and non-adjustable windscreen though, it causes more wind pressure towards your helmet which is not the most comfortable experience. This is definitely not a big problem for short trips, but if you take it to highway you should get a taller windscreen for less wind noise. This is not a deal breaker as it is just a simple windscreen swap, should only take few minutes to install a new one.
Handling wise, it is excellent for what it is. We were very impressed how capable the new Africa Twin is on pavement, despite having skinny 90/90-21 off road oriented front wheel. The new Africa Twin is very nimble for its size, it is very stable in the middle of corner. Brakes are also great, it comes with a dual 4-piston 310mm front discs in the front and single 1-piston 256mm disc in the rear. The initial bite is good and they stop the bike fairly quickly. We didn’t have a chance to take it to off-road, but rear brakes are a little bit too sensitive which is great on pavement, but we think this would not be ideal for off-road riding. Speaking of brakes, you can completely disable the ABS if you take it to off-road.
The suspension is fully (but manually) adjustable on the base trim. You need to opt for the Adventure Sports trim to get the fancier electronic suspension. Even with fully adjustable suspension, it is still on the softer side, which is normal for a touring/off-road oriented motorcycle. It gives you a lot of confidence and as long as you know the bike’s limits, it is very fun to take it to the twisties. The forks have long travel, that’s why you never get beaten up by the potholes or road imperfections.
Last but not least, when you ride it in stop & go traffic, you may feel a little bit engine heat around your legs. This is barely noticeable, but it is still there. Once you start moving, excessive heat goes away. In our tests, Africa Twin consumed 6.0L / 100 km fuel, which is totally acceptable considering it’s weight and engine size. If you ride it on highway or slowly, it is not hard to see 4.5L / 100 km, which is great for 1100cc bike.
Overall, 2020 updated version is a much better bike in every way, compared to the 2019. it is a well balanced motorcycle and great do-it-all bike. It’s one of the best alternatives for every day use regardless of weather and road conditions. Honda Africa Twin starts at $16,499 and if you choose DCT, it bumps the price $1,000 up. If you opt for the Adventure Sports trim, it starts at $19,999 and $20,999 for DCT. In our opinion, unless you really need bigger gas tank, we believe the base trim is a better value, in fact it is one of the best options in this price range. We would highly recommend the new Africa Twin if you are looking for a bike that can do everything really well, within a reasonable price range.
For more details, please visit https://motorcycle.honda.ca/
Article by Dan Gunay
Photos by Dan Gunay & Burak McKars