What You Need To Know About The Africa Twin – Suspension, Chassis, And Everything Else – 3 of 3

After two days of off-road and street riding, we review Honda's new adventure bike

Here is the final installment of our first look and first ride with the 2016 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin. In the first post we discussed the DCT (dual clutch transmission) that really sets this motorcycle apart from any other dirt or adventure bikes. You can take a look here if you haven't already. The second post was about the all-new 998cc parallel twin engine, which you can see here.

Africa Twin
When looked at through the lens of ADV bikes only, the Africa Twin will give any other bike in the category a run for its money in the dirt.Photo By Kevin Wing

We’ll start with the frame, which is a steel semi-double cradle design, meaning that it is very similar to the CRF450R Rally bike. The frame itself is tuned to be as off-road friendly as possible with further tuning handled by six different engine mounts. The mass of the bike is set low in the frame thanks to having the air box far forward with two front intakes (sort of like the modern YZ-F set up) and to having a lot of the computer sensors (ABS modulator, battery, ECU) all tucked down low behind the engine.

Africa Twin key components
Heavy components were placed close to the bikes center of gravity.Courtesy Of Honda

Slowing the CRF1000L down are two 310mm floating disk brakes and one 256mm wave disk brake in the back. As you might have guessed, yeah, this big bike has front and rear ABS, but before you get all bent out of shape, the rear ABS can be shut off for “normal” off-road riding. The front ABS is always on because Honda (and us for that matter) can’t really think of an instance when you want the front wheel to slide. The wheels are spoked and are the usual off-road tire sizes of 21 x 2.15 inches in the front, and 18 x 4 inches in the rear. The stock tires are great for the street but are pretty sad for off-road riding. During our off-road day the bikes we were riding had Continental TKC80s spooned on.

Johnny Campbell on Africa Twin
Even though you'd think Johnny Campbell would be the perfect guy to develope this bike, this intro was the first time he rode it, let alone any other adventure bike. He said he had way more fun than he thought he would and could see himself easily riding the CRF1000L more often.Photo By Kevin Wing
Fork top
Compression and spring preload are adjusted at the top of the fork. The shock preload is a turn dial on the shock body for quick changes for luggage and passenger needs.Courtesy Of Honda

Now to the suspension, which Honda didn’t spend much time explaining yet was one of the major highlights of the bike. As we all know, suspension can make or break an off-road motorcycle and the Africa Twin is NOT broken. The fork is a 45mm Showa cartridge-type fork with spring preload, compression, and rebound damping adjustability secured by an aluminum triple clamp. The shock is also Showa with a 46mm cylinder, remote reservoir and linkage. Spring preload is adjustable via a dial on the shock body and rebound and compression are also adjustable (only one adjuster for compression, it isn’t divided up into high and low speed like smaller bikes).

In The Dirt

For our day of trail riding, the Honda techs stiffened up the compression, rebound, and preload on both the fork and shock. Our initial impression of the suspension once we peeled off the highway was that it had an overall performance-based feel more than comfort. Not that it isn’t comfortable, just that we were expecting a super plush adventure bike set up yet the bike felt more like an off-road bike set up than pure trail comfort. The initial part of the stroke is comfortable enough to soak up most dips and trail chatter very well, but when you start to pick up speed and start riding over bigger rocks, there is a great amount of hold up. This transfers to the rider in a way that you would expect a normal dirt bike to do. The fork and shock don’t just eat the trail up and not give the rider any feed back – the suspension has an active, sporty, springy feel that makes you comfortable popping the front wheel up and hitting a ledge with the back wheel. The mid-stroke of both the fork and shock has a firm, but not harsh, character that invites the rider to push the pace on this big bike. That being said, the very bottom of the stroke is a little weak and could use more bottoming resistance. We hit a few big dropdowns that had us use the entire stroke of the fork and it came to an abrupt stop. As long as you keep it in the beginning and mid-stroke the fork and shock are surprisingly good. For an average off-road rider, there is more than enough performance in the suspension.

Africa Twin
Both standing and sitting the bike felt comfortable and dirt-oriented. There was nearly no pitching forward or rearward when getting on the brakes or gas.Photo By Kevin Wing

Balance is another area where the CRF1000L shines – both front-to-back and side-to-side. On other big bikes, a sudden stab of the brakes can cause an unsettling compression of the fork and shifting of the weight of the entire bike forward. But the Africa Twin resisted this tendency with a surprising amount of grace. Plus, the Showa suspension gave us a similar feel to Ducati’s semi-active Skyhook suspension on the Multistrada 1200 Enduro in this regard, but without the aid of electronics. The Honda was similarly unwilling to lurch backward under hard acceleration.

Africa Twin slickrock
When making quick direction changes and line choices, the Africa Twin willingly abides. The performanced-based suspension pairs with its nimble feel to make the CRF1000L surprisingly fun even on tight trails.Photo By Kevin Wing

When standing on the bike, it feels a lot like a dirt bike and is thinner between the knees and ankles than a lot of ADV bikes. When making small direction changes or mellow turns the weight of the bike is completely hidden, yet when you have a 180 degree corner with nothing to push off of, the 511 (manual)/534 (DCT) lbs. show up. Yet given a more talented rider, the bike is capable of some serious off-roading demonstrated by Baja legend Johnny Campbell. He was on the dirt ride with us and he had no issues turning, sliding, stuffing, and railing the Honda. In the soft sand, we just let the front of the bike wonder a bit and steered with the throttle and pinching at the knees and ankles. Plus, on the DCT model, the shifting is so smooth and quick that even if the bike decides to shift mid-corner, it didn’t upset the chassis.

Though the mud Africa Twin
High-speed off-road, low speed trails, or long highway stretches, the CRF1000L shines through it all.Photo By Kevin Wing

So, who is this bike for? Johnny Campbell said it the best; “This bike is a true adventure bike. It’s like a new category of real ‘Off-road Adventure Bike.’” Sure you could spend all day on the road and hit every Starbucks down Highway 1, but that would be like buying a monster truck to ride over two-by-fours. This bike is for a pretty serious off-road rider who wants the luggage capacity and highway manners to really get out and have a legit, mostly off-road adventure. The final question is DCT or manual? If you never ride the DCT model, you will be happy as a clam with the manual version. It has the great motor and impressive suspension and traction control and ABS that the DCT model does. And for riders that have been riding ‘normal’ bikes there whole lives the manual version just feels right. But, if you are new-ish to off-road riding or currently ride with a Rekluse or plan really long trips where fatigue and massive luggage loads will be a factor, the DCT will be the way to go.

Our next move is to get a CRF1000L to our offices and ride it back to back with some other adventure bikes, especially the KTM 1190 since it is probably the closest when it comes to off-road ability. Check the pages of Dirt Rider for the print test and further coverage and comparisons of the Africa Twin.

Africa Twin Dash
There is a ton of information to check out on the dash. One of the few downsides to this motorcycle is that it doesn't remember all of the settings that you choose while riding so, every time you start the bike, you have to do a little button dance to dial it back in.Photo By Kevin Wing

MSRP: $12,999 standard and $13,699 DCT
Engine: 998cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve parallel twin w/ 270o crank & Unicam head
Transmission: Constant-mesh 6-speed manual / 6-speed DCT w/ on- & off-road riding modes
Fork: Inverted Showa® 45mm fork w/ 8.0 in. travel; adjustable compression, rebound damping & hydraulic adjustable preload
Shock: Showa shock w/ 8.7 in. travel; adjustable compression, rebound damping & hydraulic adjustable spring preload Two 310mm wave floating
Front: 90/90-R21 tube type
Rear: 150/70-R18 tube type