Honda’s CRF1000L Africa Twin was a little late to the adventure-bike party when it was introduced for 2016, but the bike immediately established itself as a solid performing, less-expensive (and often lighter) alternative to the dominant European liter-class ADVs. Nine inches of suspension travel at each end, good ground clearance and 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels gave the bike notably good off-road handling for a 500-pound motorcycle, and it offered enough on-road manners for light sport-adventure riding and touring, too. The availability of a DCT version with automatic transmission expanded the bike’s customer base (about 37% are purchased with DCT), and some found DCT made the bike easier to ride off-road. For 2018 Honda added long-range “Adventure Sports” DCT and manual models with a larger fuel tank and more suspension travel, made minor engine changes to both to beef up midrange power and gave them throttle-by-wire. Today Honda says it has sold 87,000 units worldwide and that the Africa Twin is now the #2 best-selling liter-class adventure bike.
Despite its success, there was still room for improvement to the 2019 Africa Twin and Adventure Sports models in both directions—on-road and off. Off-road-oriented riders wanted less weight, and street and touring riders objected to the tall seat height, tube-type wheels and tires and lack of cruise control, particularly on the Sports. More power would be a plus for both camps. So for 2020 Honda has enhanced the sportiness and off-road performance of the Africa Twin, and increased the long-haul capability of the Sports, starting with a larger, more powerful engine.
Lengthening the stroke 6.5mm in the AT’s liquid-cooled parallel twin has brought displacement up to 1,084cc from 998cc, which contributes to a claimed 6% power increase along with revised valve timing and larger throttle bodies. On the Jett Tuning dyno the new mill pumped out 92 horsepower at 7,600 rpm (redline is 8,000) at the rear wheel and 69.5 lb-ft of torque at 6,300, an improvement that is quite noticeable throughout the powerband and really helps when you’re riding with a passenger and a full load. At the same time the engine is smoother now, and there’s less of the airbox noise that some found bothersome. Engine weight is down about 5 pounds thanks to new aluminum cylinder sleeves and revised counterbalancer gears, and both transmissions received numerous changes for more strength, a lighter clutch lever feel in the manual transmission and cornering detection via the new IMU in the DCT automatic.
In place of the former pressed-steel unit, a lighter new high-strength steel frame has been engineered for better front-end and rear tire feel and improved handling under braking. The CRF450R-inspired aluminum swingarm is stiffer and shaves weight, and the rear subframe has 40mm narrower seat rails (so the seat is narrower too) and is a lighter bolt-on aluminum piece now versus welded-on steel, which also makes it replaceable if it gets tweaked in an accident.
Since both AT models share the same engine and the unique changes to the Africa Twin mostly involved slimming the bodywork and removing the rear rack to save weight, here we’re focused on the new Africa Twin Adventure Sports ES, which has been given the full long-distance ADV bike treatment. Highlights include Showa Electronically Equipped Ride Adjustment (EERA) semi-dynamic suspension, new tubeless spoked wheels and tires, cruise control and a nearly 2-inch-lower adjustable seat (now comparable in height to the Africa Twin’s). Heated grips, a larger skid plate, aluminum rear rack and a 12-volt outlet are standard on the ES as well. With my 29-inch inseam I couldn’t even touch the ground on the previous Adventure Sports; now I can get the balls of both feet down and plant one foot solidly at stops. Cruise control and tubeless tires will be game changers for the Africa Twin line, too, since many riders consider them mandatory for any kind of touring machine.
The new Africa Twins share a vastly expanded electronics package with a new Bosch 6-axis IMU enabling all sorts of fun stuff. Engine braking control returns and the range of intervention for the 7-level HSTC, or traction control, has been expanded. New interventions include cornering and off-road ABS, rear lift control and 3-level wheelie control. The IMU also informs new cornering lights up front on the Sports ES, and can make changes to the damping in its new semi-dynamic electronic suspension. Four of the ride modes—Tour, Urban, Gravel and Off-Road—set the power output, engine braking and ABS to preset levels for those conditions, and two User ride modes allow the rider to create custom presets—you could create one for sport riding and one for off-road, for example, customized for your skill level or load. Wheelie and traction control and suspension preload are adjusted independently in all six modes, using either the button-heavy switch cluster on the left bar or the touchscreen at a stop.
Just to keep it interesting, three different display modes for the beautiful new 6.5-inch TFT touchscreen allow you to see varying amounts of information, from everything to just the basics. Smartphone and GPS connectivity is included, and it’s also Apple CarPlay compatible like the Honda Gold Wing—as long as you have a Bluetooth helmet headset and your iPhone is connected to the bike’s USB port, CarPlay allows you to do more on the fly rather than stopped since you can use Siri to get directions, play music, etc. Overall the media options are very comprehensive, and CarPlay puts it over the top.
As the owner of a 2018 Africa Twin, I’m not ready to kick sand on my bike just yet, but the new models have made a huge leap forward in just two years. Now that the seat on the Adventure Sports ES is low enough for me, its 6.5-gallon tank—good for more than 300 miles of range from regular gas—is a real attraction, and its tubeless tires mean not having to carry or deal with tube-type tire changing tools on a serious backroads ride. The ES has a larger fairing, tall adjustable windscreen and hand guards that provide substantial lower and upper body wind protection, and its load capacity is quite good at a measured 443 pounds as tested, or 466 after subtracting the weight of the Honda accessory aluminum panniers that we installed. These 37- and 33-liter quick-release bags are quite rugged, versatile and very easy to install, and with mounts the pair weighs 35 pounds total. They are on the pricy side and can’t be left unlocked, a minor inconvenience if you key them the same as the ignition. Now that it has tubeless tires, the accessory centerstand isn’t as vital, but I would still add it for chain maintenance at least.
Most riders will love the ES model’s Showa EERA suspension, which constantly adjusts for conditions in real time and offers 4-level preload adjustment at a stop and four overall damping modes, Hard, Middle, Soft and Off-Road. These can be changed on the fly by changing preset ride modes, and customized in the two user modes. Off-Road is intentionally on the soft side, but firms up quickly based on the suspension stroke speed over bumps and ruts. Since the bike’s fixed spring rates determine its suspension baseline, as is often the case among the larger ADVs, the EERA’s rates are on the soft side for comfort on-road and a moderate pace off-road. That’s a good thing for most solo riders, since you can just raise the spring preload and firm up the damping to compensate for a faster pace on some gnarly dirt. Two-up and fully loaded adventurers, on the other hand—depending upon how close to the load capacity they get—may find the bike needs more spring at both ends for sport and off-road riding. Overall, though, the system works impressively well.
With the suspension firmed up and a twisting road unfolding in front of you, the Africa Twin clearly handles more sharply than before, with less fork dive under braking, neutral, effortless steering and good grip from it stock 90/10 Bridgestone Battlax A41 tires. Braking up front has a soft initial bite—presumably for dirt riding—that gets stronger as you apply more effort, and the rear brake has a strong, linear feel. In Off-Road mode the ABS adjusts for loose surfaces front and rear, and it can also be turned off in back.
Passenger comfort is pretty good on the ES, with a wide flat seat and easy-to-reach grabrails on the large rear rack, which is ready for an accessory top case and backrest. For easier stand-up riding the Adventure Sports formerly came with a higher handlebar than the base Africa Twin, and now its bar is about an inch higher as well, so the bikes share both handlebar and seat heights. The overall position is pretty comfortable for long rides, particularly since taller riders can raise the seat, and the bar can still be rotated back for road riding. Serrated footpegs have rubber inserts for comfort on-road and I didn’t notice any vibration in the seat, grips or footpegs.
When you consider that this is only the Africa Twin line’s fifth model year, it’s pretty remarkable how much the base bike has been refined in such a short time, and that both actually weigh less and make more power than last year. With more separation between the versions—one for sport riding and ADV terrain and the Adventure Sports ES for long hauls and dirt roads—we really do get the best of both worlds.
2020 Honda Africa Twin CRF1100L Adventure Sports ES Specs:
Base Price: $17,199
Price as Tested: $18,315 (aluminum panniers)
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin
Bore x Stroke: 92.0mm x 81.5mm
Compression Ratio: 10.1:1
Valve Train: Unicam SOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 16,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: PGM-FI w/ 46mm throttle bodies x 2 & throttle by wire
Lubrication System: Semi-dry sump, 4.2-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated assist-and-slipper wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Ignition: Fully transistorized
Charging Output: 490 watts max
Battery: Lithium 12V 6AH
Frame: Tubular steel semi-double-cradle w/ aluminum subframe & swingarm
Wheelbase: 62.0 in.
Rake/Trail: 27.5 degrees/4.4 in.
Seat Height: 33.7/34.3 in.
Suspension, Front: 45mm USD Showa fork w/ EERA & 9.1-in. travel
Rear: Pro-Link w/ single Showa shock w/ EERA & 9.4-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 310mm discs w/ opposed 4-piston radial calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 256mm disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Spoked aluminum, 2.15 x 21 in.
Rear: Spoked aluminum, 4.0 x 18 in.
Tires, Front: 90/90-21 tubeless
Rear: 150/70-R18 tubeless
Wet Weight: 560 lbs. (as tested) 525, formerly 533
Load Capacity: 443 lbs. (as tested)
GVWR: 979 lbs.
Horsepower: 92.0 horsepower @ 7,600 rpm (as tested)
Torque: 69.5 lb-ft @ 6,300 rpm (as tested)
Fuel Capacity: 6.5 gals., last 1.1 gal. warning light on
MPG: 86 PON Min (low/avg/high) 44.0/47.8/50.8
Estimated Range: 310 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,500