It was the era of satellite television, and I was hooked to Trans World Sport. In complete awe, I watched glimpses of the Paris-Dakar Rally on my Onida — a popular Indian TV brand from the early-90s.
It was during this time that I became a fan of Adventure Vehicles (ADVs) and wondered if these machines would ever make their way to India, and if I'd ever end up riding one of them.
Today, when we talk about ADVs, there are quite a few brands to choose from, including the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, BMW R1200GS Adventure and Ducati 1200 Multistrada Enduro.
Still, back in the late-80s, there was one manufacturer that took adventure riding and rally raid to a whole new level.
From 1986 to 1989, the Paris-Dakar rally was dominated by the Honda NXR750, better known as the Desert Queen.
In 2017, I managed to swing a leg over and adventure out on the Honda Africa Twin — a motorcycle design — inspired by the Dakar Rally victories of the NXR750.
Q and A
Is the new-generation Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission), a 'neighbour's envy, owner's pride' kind-of-ADV? Can it reclaim the Adventure category it dominated in 1989?
Or, is Honda trying to bumfuzzle segment buyers with a unique Dual Clutch Transmission technology — a world first in motorcycles.
What is the Dual Clutch Transmission?
The Dual Clutch Transmission automates clutch and shift operation, basically meaning there is no gear or clutch lever here, and the rider is free to focus on operating the throttle and brakes.
For rider-controlled shifting or manual mode, up and downshift trigger buttons on the left handlebar enable this. But if you leave it in a particular gear for too long, it will still shift automatically.
In auto mode, the DCT offers D Mode for daily riding and S Mode for sporty riding. The automatic 'D' Mode sets up the motorcycle to provide the best balance of fuel economy and comfort, which is ideal for cruising.
The 'S' Mode is what one should select for sporty riding. Honda offers high levels of customisation with the 'S' Mode, including three shift patterns with increasing levels of sportiness: S1, S2 and S3.
At first, all buttons on the handlebar with no clutch and gear lever seem confusing, but after a quick brief, I managed to thumb the Africa Twin to life.
To get the most of the DCT, one has to get familiar with all the buttons on both bars. Watch this video to understand the features and riding modes.
Once under way, the Africa Twin's light, tall build and narrow tank is something I took a liking to; especially, when sitting down or standing up and while tackling beaten paths.
Roll on the throttle, and the power delivery from the torquey 999.11cc liquid-cooled parallel twin aided by the dual 44mm throttle bodies offer crisp throttle response.
Since you have no clutching whatsoever to deal with, it nearly rides out any possibility of stalling on steep and rocky climbs.
However, the six-speed DCT seem to downshift earlier than I would have liked. Overall, the gearing is well spaced and has a suitable range for on and off-road experiences.
The Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) allows the rider to control the amount of engine torque generated.
There are three levels of HSTC: 1,2 and 3. It is also possible to turn the HSTC control off according to your riding preference.
The rider can select from the three levels via a torque control switch mounted on the left handlebar.
By default, the HSTC is set on level 3 (the highest). The ECU (engine control unit) calculates the rear-wheel slip ratio based on signals provided by each ABS wheel speed sensor installed on the front and rear wheels.
When the slip ratio exceeds a preset value, the ECU reduces fuel injection, pitches through feedback control and reduces the engine torque generated, thus restraining the rear tire slip.
The handling is commendable and gets in and out of each turn quite well; however, do not expect sportbike-level corner carving.
The motorcycle in stock form comes with a 150/70 R18 M/C 70H tyre at the rear and a 90/90-21M/C 54H up front, wrapped around the 18-inch and 21-inch spoked wheels.
The stock tyres are in no way an off-road variety. It's fair to say that you can expect them to get you in trouble, especially when you need them to work.
The suspension is on the softer side and is aided by Showa 45mm cartridge-type USD fork up front with 228mm of travel and comes complete with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping.
The rear shock is also made by Showa with a 46mm cylinder, remote reservoir and linkage — allowing for 220mm of travel. The Spring preload is adjustable and so is rebound and compression.
The suspension layout and range is brilliant for its intended purpose (off-road), allowing for various set ups over a lot of conditions.
On the street however, this set-up is a bit of a sacrifice as it is relatively soft; this kind of suspension damping is what you can experience on most big ADV motorcycles.
Twin 310mm petal discs up front and a single 256mm petal disc at the rear together with Two-Channel ABS takes care of braking duties.
The brake feel is good, and the ABS is always active in the front, yet the rear can be disabled while off-roading.
Overall, the Africa Twin is a well-suspended adventure motorcycle and offers a blend of crisp throttle response, soft suspension and comfortable ergonomics.
The Indian Deal
The Africa Twin is the first 1000cc Honda motorcycle to be made in India, brought in via the CKD route and assembled at the Honda plant at Manesar, Haryana.
Because of this, taxes are lower, and prices too, in turn, are competitive. Priced at Rs 15 lakh (on-road), the Honda Africa Twin is significantly cheaper than its competition.
Since the Africa Twin is a niche motorcycle, Honda is not displaying the Twin at all dealerships. The Honda Africa Twin is available only through exclusive 'Honda Wing World Outlets' in 22 cities across India.
CRF1000L Africa Twin DCT Specifications
|Max. Power Output||87bhp/7,500rpm|
|Fuel Tank Capacity (Litres)||18.8 litres|
|Dimensions (L×W×H) (mm)||2,334 x 932 x 1,478mm|
|Kerb Weight (kg)||245kg (DCT)|
|Seat Height (mm)||840/820mm (STD position / Low position)|
The Honda Africa Twin is a comfortable touring motorcycle, which most riders will agree with. The simple to learn and friendly to use HSTC and riding mode buttons allow Africa Twin owners to find the best of both worlds — adventure and touring!
Also, the DCT does not make the Africa Twin any less of a motorcycle. The best way to predict the future is to invent, and Honda has done just that.
However, the clutchless and automatic transmission technology on an ADV will take some convincing for the biking community who prefer a gear and clutch lever.
Would I Buy One?
I still prefer to decide the gear I want to be in, and I'm akin to a cable-actuated clutch lever. With that said, I'm all up for a red, white and black manual transmission Africa Twin, i.e., if Honda ever decides to bring the manual model to India.
Jobo Kuruvilla Thinks!
Automatic transmissions and automatic clutches are here to stay much like the way we got acclimated to disc brakes, electric starting and fuel injection. It's up to you to decide whether you want to be a part of a daring adventure or nothing!
The NXR750, on which the original Africa Twin was based, had a fuel tank capacity of 59 litres. Most cars today do not have that much fuel storage capacity. How they made it all fit in there and race it, is still unknown.