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SNAPSHOT 351: 2020 Honda Africa Twin

This is how an Africa Twin should be used. Its English owner has just ridden back home for Christmas. Total journey from Hamburg to south Manchester, including ferry: six hours. He’s buying some provisions in Waitrose.

The history of the Africa Twin starts in 1986 when the Honda factory NXR750 V-twin won the Dakar first time out. Honda went on to notch four successive victories. The Dakar Rally (formerly known as the “Paris–Dakar Rally”) is an annual rally raid for cars, bikes, quads and trucks. From its inception in 1978 it was staged from Paris to Dakar in Senegal, but security threats in Mauritania led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally and events from 2009 to 2019 were held in South America. It is now held in the Middle East. The rally is an off-road endurance event, far tougher than that used in conventional rallying, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks, and erg among others. The lengths of each stage vary from short distances up to 500 miles per day.

In the middle of Honda’s legendary run of Dakar successes, they launched the first Africa Twin: the XRV650. It was built by Honda’s competition division HRC (Honda Racing Corporation) as a no-compromise, road-going replica of the NXR750 V-twin Dakar winner. That first Africa Twin was launched on May 20th 1988 and proved an immediate sensation (even though it was never officially imported into the UK). Two years later, however, Honda produced a successor – the XRV750, which did make it to the UK and remains highly prized today. The Africa Twin lived on until 2003 until finally out-competed by bigger rivals and deleted.

Then in 2015, in response to heavier adventure touring motorcycles with an on-road focus, such as the BMW R1200GS, Ducati Multistrada and Triumph Tiger Explorer, Honda launched a lighter, more off-road focused bike, the new Africa Twin CRF1000L, a 998 cc, 270° crank, parallel-twin dual-sport bike. In a first for the category, the Africa Twin had the option of an evolution of Honda’s automatic dual-clutch transmission (DCT) technology, which remains unique to Honda in motorcycling. It was specifically developed and programmed to provide off-road ability.

The first confirmation of a new off-road focused touring bike came in June 2014 when Honda filed a patent for an externally mounted airbox configuration which would allow for a more slender and lower-mounted fuel tank. This increases off-road handling by allowing riders to slide further forward into turns without being inhibited by a wide fuel tank with a higher centre of gravity. Such was the degree of care taken to make the new Africa Twin a true successor to the Dakar winner. Another detail was the provision of two separate radiators on either side of the front vertical frame post – a simple but vital design feature that made sure that stones flung up from the front wheel hit the post and did not risk puncturing the radiators.

The bike in our Snapshot is the 2020 successor, the CRF1100L with bigger engine, a lighter and more rigid swingarm and other driver aids. It is also the more touring-oriented version called the Africa Twin Adventure Sports, built for long road journeys but still totally comfortable with setting off across dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks and erg. All things you might find here in the Waitrose car park.

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