Honda gave its CRF1000L “Africa Twin” a complete overhaul for the 2018 model year, a rebuild so complete that the new version shares not a single part with the old, according to the factory. Engine improvements include both hardware and software that starts with a Throttle-by-Wire system that enables even more electronic wizardry under the hood, as it were.
The improvements make their way into the gearboxes on both the manual tranny and the optional, auto-shifting DCT. The factory buffed safety as well with a handful of new features such as the Emergency Stop Signal feature that flashes the hazards during hard braking actions.
It has better engine response, is lighter weight and gives the rider a real choice of engine performance and feel.
The adventure-bike design characteristics have settled on a more-or-less standard look, but Honda bucks convention with a snub-nosed entry that marks a refreshing change from the ubiquitous bird’s-beak fairing. A pair of symmetrical headlights give the new AT a similar visage to that of its predecessor with a vented windshield and fairing that opens up like a cavernous maw to scoop cooling air for the radiator and exhaust headers.
Since the front fender has to put in all the work for spray containment, it comes with a slightly larger build than usual with broad support sections that serve to protect the swept area of the inverted front-fork tube to help preserve the seal throughout your adventures. Handguards provide a measure of protection and comfort that add to the pocket formed by the fairing and shield with an easy-to-read, negative LCD instrument screen that delivers information in nearly the same format as the Dakar race bike.
The 4.97-gallon fuel tank dominates the flyline in class-typical fashion with a rise in the subframe to the pillion pad that leaves the rider’s saddle in a rather deep swale that puts the pilot in the bike. A bevel at the seat/tank juncture gives the pilot plenty of room for body English and keeps the above from biting into your thighs when it’s time to deploy the training wheels. LED emitters handle the rearward lighting with a proper mudguard/plateholder to handle the fling from the rear tire. The upswept exhaust and skidplate give it a rugged, terrain-defeating look and the wire wheels rounds out the package quite nicely.
But, the previous version was only two-years old, you say? That’s true, and Honda’s Large Project Leader, Mr. K. Morita, had this to say about it: “Our CRF1000L Africa Twin has proven itself a worthy successor to the original and very much the ‘Go Anywhere’ machine that we set out to make. Over the last two years it’s a motorcycle that’s covered millions of kilometers, and we have received plentiful feedback from owners. For 2018 we have improved the engine’s response, saved weight and given the rider real choice of engine performance and feel.”
Lots of changes in the chassis make the bike much more off-road capable.
The Africa Twin rides on a semi-double cradle frame with steel members for strength, flex and durability. Steering geometry grants the AT some stability with 27.5 degrees of rake and 4.4 inches of trail over a 62-inch wheelbase. Laced wheels run with stainless-steel spokes this year for extra toughness and resistance to corrosion with a dual-purpose 90/90-21 hoop up front and a 150/70-18 out back to make the final connection to the pavement/dirt/whatever.
Both the rider’s and passenger’s pegs were adjusted to be more suitable for off-road use this year, but it’s the stems that really do the trick in that department. Beefy 45 mm usd forks float the front end on a generous 9.1 inches of travel with 8.7 inches out back and adjustable compression- and rebound damping features all around plus spring preload out back.
The brakes are serious business as well with dual, 310 mm wave-cut discs and four-pot anchors to slow the front and a 256 mm disc and single-pot caliper at the other end. A two-channel ABS feature provides an extra layer of protection, and for advanced techniques, can be switched off at the rear wheel so you can break the ass-end loose at will.
The beating heart is a 998 cc, parallel-twin engine that runs with a 92 mm bore and 75 mm stroke just like last year, but the new plant sports a number of improvements that start with a new, 20 mm longer intake and free-flowing exhaust that opens up the entire circuit to let the engine breathe through the twin-spark/four-valve combustion chambers. A lighter balance shaft reduces overall weight alongside the lithium-ion battery that drops another five pounds off the final tally. Power clocks in at 93 ponies at 7,500 rpm, and torque delivery is flat and predictable with 73 pounds o’ grunt at six grand even. It flows through an anti-hopping slipper clutch and six-speed transmixxer on the stock version.
If you fancy a ride with a little bit lower pilot load, Honda is your Huckleberry as it offers its Dual Clutch Transmission as an available option. The DCT runs the usual push-button, manual shift mode plus the fuel-efficient “D” mode and the sporty “S” mode that comes with three separate shift patterns, plus the “G” mode that is tuned for off-road performance.
New for last year is the TbW system that enables a three-channel riding-mode feature that allows you to tune the engine’s character to suit local conditions with Honda’s proprietary torque-control system that also got tweaked to have greater input range, and like its predecessor, can be turned off entirely for a full-raw ride. The riding modes feature actually controls a trinity of factors — available power, engine braking, and traction control — for a one-stop shop to help you quickly dial in.
Finally, as a matter of mathematics, the 270-degree firing order gives the mill a nice lope at idle and delivers solid traction on soft surfaces as the delay in power pulses gives the rear wheel the opportunity to grab a hold before the next pulse arrives; just what you want for soft terrain, plus it makes a dandy hill-climber.