Test and previews Wed 13 June 2018

Africa Twin Adventure Sport DCT Travel Edition

About 20 years ago in the States I drove my first automatic car and I thought it was really cool. It was commonly assumed that this clutch-less system was good for freeways but completely unsuited for the winding streets of Europe.
Today, years later, standard shift can hardly be found in price-lists in favor of automatic transmission. I use my car everyday so anything that makes driving more comfortable is welcome. I don’t feel exactly the same for motorcycles. For me, riding a motorcycle is an emotional journey, so the more engaging is riding the deeper are emotions, therefore, shifting must be done through a clutch. Period!
My first motorized experience was on a “Ciao” Piaggio, a two-wheel with no soul, that I had to yank up by sheer force to pop a wheelie; I then switched to a Malaguti “Fifty”, a whole new world: clutching and wheeling became the hobby of preference of us experienced bikers.

After this brief introduction on my approach to automatic transmission and motorized two-wheels, this is the story.
“I will take part to the Sardegna Gran Tour on a Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sport, hurray! … the bike is equipped with DCT, oh no!” This is more or less my comment the day before the event. I collect the bike directly from the HQ of Honda-EU, the tricolor livery for the 30th anniversary of the Africa Twin is beautiful, the side bags, the crash bars and the big-tank are a credit to this Adventure bike designed for long trips. After a brief explanation on the different electronic commands and DCT functions, I cross the city of Rome to reach the meeting point. We already described Africa Twin’s qualities in our test: https://www.discoveryendual.com/eng/blog/test-and-previews/honda-africa-twin-the-phoenix-rised-from-the-ashes so here I’ll focus on the sensations the DCT system gave me. The bike is easy to handle through traffic, it is extremely balanced thanks to a careful weight distribution, so much so that at traffic lights you almost don’t need to set your foot down. The 24-liter tank doesn’t get in the way. The first minutes in city traffic are embarrassing, every time I brake to avoid rear-ending the car in front of me, I instinctively try to engage the clutch afraid the bike will turn off on me, but there is no clutch! Having the control unit choose the right gear allows me to be relaxed and this is a plus when riding in city traffic.
This model adopts long-travel suspensions and the clearance from the ground is 20 mm higher to overcome any obstacle off-road, but this is why I barely touch the ground with the tip of my toes; to unbalance its 250 kg weight would certainly cause a fall. The saddle has been studied to be height-adjustable simply through its interlocking system. At the first stop I chose the lowest position, because touching with most of my foot makes me feel safer. My knees will later pay for this choice which forced me to ride huddled for many km on paved roads.
I follow the GPS track that will guide me through a thousand km in four days, that include wonderful paved roads as well as a lot of off-road to help me, the skeptic, understand this sequential transmission system.

The electronic system combined with the DCT system offers a range of adjustments and settings that radically change the character of the engine, adapting it to one’s riding style as well as to the terrain.
The TBW (Throttle by Wire) gas command, doesn’t use the conventional steel cable system, but electronically commands a control unit where three different Riding Modes have been pre-set in addition to a fully customizable one. Every mapping in turn controls three different parameters: the HSTC Honda Selectable Torque Control System (T), the power (P), and the engine brake (EB).
From the URBAN mode I switch to the TOUR setting and the bike becomes fluid, output is gradual, the engine brake markedly intervenes when slowing down; I look at the gear display and note that the bike downshifted from 6th to 4th gear noiselessly and without shimming. With this smooth control even using brakes becomes almost unnecessary. The DCT is pleasant, I’ll admit it.
I decide to skip the GRAVEL mode that, from what I see, is more suitable on wet terrain and instead use the button that activates the SPORT mode; three more levels to make riding more dynamic and active even on rugged and winding roads. I feel the difference as I have to ride more aggressively. All that remains is to try the MT option, i.e. manual shifting, which can be done via two little levers positioned on left handlebar. To upshift you use the index finger, to downshift you only need your thumb. This mode doesn’t thrill me, so I go back to SPORT, choosing the USER riding mode, the customizable one: maximum power, minimum engine brake and traction and fully open gas. Since I’m riding off-road, I activate the G button another control useful on off-road because it changes the internal centrifugal forces slippage, maximizing wheel traction. I start getting the hang of it, so I deactivate the rear wheel ABS; I like that by downshifting with the lever (manual shifting is still possible even if the DCT active) I can have more directionality when taking on a bend so, go with the thumb! In the end a mix between automatic and manual DCT.

These four days allowed me to better comprehend the potentiality of the sequential double clutch transmission applied to a motorcycle. The main assertion to debunk was “it’s like riding a big scooter”; there is the possibility of selecting between Drive, Sport or Manual, in other words the mode that better suits the rider or the situation. No doubt this system is useful for beginners or for who never rode off-road and pleasant for relaxed riders, while expert adventurous riders, even without being against it, will probably keep preferring shift and clutch levers.
Despite my initial perplexities, I had to change my view, the Africa Twin Adventure Sport DCT Travel Edition marks the beginning of a new era for adventure bikes. The future is automatic!

Text: and Photo: P.B.