Test and previews Wed 08 January 2020

Africa Twin CRF1100L - evolution of the species!

Everything changes, everything is transformed! And Honda is the example of the "Darwinian theory" of evolution: it transformed its Africa Twin into a noteworthy "machine", proposing a radical metamorphosis of its "all-terrain" creature!
Yes, because if the first Africa Twin 1000 engine series was definitely a nice and refined bike but with a very neutral behavior and nearly too easy to use becoming almost "boring", with the 1100 Honda achieved a motorcycle worthy of the brand with the Golden Wing,  a real "fun bike" in every situation.
The new Africa Twin CRF 1100L character is immediately perceived: no aesthetic compromise, no "frills": nothing that is not functional to a use that has fun as the first objective, both on road and , above all, off-road.
You immediately notice the nice "tapered" and slim tail unit, which doesn’t even include a small luggage rack nor bag hooks, which makes it clear that the nature of this motorcycle is not long motorway journeys. Neither solo nor two up !!
Obviously, if you don’t want to use the Africa Twin only for adrenaline-fueled off-road journeys but also for long journeys, Honda offers a rich catalog of "travel" accessories to deal with them comfortably. In fact, a kit of large bags is available: a 58 lt top box and a pair of 30 and 40 lt bags, in double layer aluminum. All supplied with fastening and single key kits and also, on request, the kit of inside bags.
The boxed swingarm derives from the CRF 450: beautiful, slender, cleancut. The adjustable saddle brings the seat up to 900 mm from the ground and the beautiful Showa 45 forks and aggressive Nissin brakes stand out on the front end.

The rear frame with "hard" welds in view is fantastic and give the motorcycle a real "racing" look.
The silhouette is sinuous and streamlined, the tank of contained dimensions but not small; the plexy practically non-existent, covers a latest generation dashboard which is visually beautiful and, above all, very intuitive to use, that even becomes Touch when the motorcycle is parked. The instrumental part is completed by the blocks with which you can easily control the electronic management of the TFT and the latest generation DCT transmission, as well as all the Bluetooth connection commands with your mobile phone.
The headlights are very captivating and aggressive, simulating an "angry" look and all the motorcycle components, from fairings to aluminum processing are top level. Honda has also taken a huge step forward in this, showing that it wants to capture the taste of the European and Italian markets by adopting a level of finishes never seen before.
But the real pleasure is experienced when on the bike: the Honda Africa Twin CRF 1100, as already described above, is not even a distant relative of the previous version. Despite an increase in power by a few horses (only 7 more than the 1000) and at torque values that certainly aren’t record-braking (104 Nm), as soon as you go it feels light and precise. The engine with Gravel mapping and S "submapping" is aggressive at the right point, it pushes right from low revs and goes up with enough decision to immediately snatch a smile from its rider! Also thanks to the DCT transmission with double clutch which, both in the automatic version and in the manual version using the selectors on the left side of the handlebars, it never has any indecision, but is fluid and accurate and the electronic management system guarantees shifting at the right time. It seems almost impossible, but you have the feeling that the bike "senses" the rider's will !! The "ride by wire" system is excellent and doesn’t have the slightest delay, and the "voice" that comes out of the 2 in 1 exhaust is beautiful!
The chassis is very balanced. Agile, fast when entering a curve and stable when travelling. The front end grip is excellent, thanks to the fabulous multi-adjustable 45 Showa that work in unison with the mono: the bike is supported but not rigid, soft on holes but not "loose". A truly optimal balance for very aggressive riding on mountain mixed tracks, without fearing potholes in the middle of the curve !!
Thanks to a highly advanced inertial platform system, the bike is very light even when changing direction at low speeds. The new IMU system, patented by Honda, permits a constant control of the engine brake and ABS based on the lean angle, maintaining the bike's grip constant at all times.
Riding ergonomics are very well measured. Although the bike isn’t huge, even tall riders are highly comfortable, thanks to a large handlebar well-spaced from the body, to the right footrest-saddle distance, to the tank that allows you to close your legs and to the balance projected on the front, thus avoiding an overly seated riding position.
The top performance of this bike is achieved, in my opinion, on the terrain for which the Africa Twin was designed and developed: off-road!
It's amazing how this 235 kg dry weight motorcycle, once on rough terrain made of rubble, mud and rocks, can give the feeling of a real 100 kg enduro! The riding perception is that of the "racing" sister CRF450RX. Bikes that I know very well and that I can compare from direct experience!
The Africa Twin tackles off-road with extreme simplicity, it skids easily skating through the curve without balking or sudden reactions. The front is "welded", it doesn’t understeer, or close and the suspensions, with standard adjustments, work very well absorbing all the roughness. Riding in the standing position feels natural and never tires, with the easily operated rear brake lever and the handlebar position that greatly facilitates this type of riding.
On this type of terrain the Off-road map can be adopted which, thanks to the IMU system again, deactivates the rear wheel ABS and grants a more efficient engine delivery, without, however, subduing the torque qualities of the inline-twin engine and without the rider perceiving the minimum "gap" in delivery!
Same thing when going for "hard" paths. On stone the motorcycle has the same dynamics as on dirt roads. The suspensions perfectly copy and the bike transmits a feeling of absolute lightness and great control of the front.
A sign of the excellent solidity of this bike is also the high level of coupling of the materials, thanks to which no creaking nor flapping is heard.
With proper tires, this bike can give a hard time to the lighter "racing" enduro cousins on terrains far more technical than those where we went for our test!
Even the modern DCT transmission, despite my initial hesitation, proved excellent in off conditions. Obviously using it with the manual system and with the dedicated "off-road" map that deactivates the rear ABS.

I had the impression of riding an enduro bike equipped with a Rekluse clutch system. The bike never turns off and is always in traction and modulation.
The power of the engine is delivered progressively and, despite mounting not really specialized tires (metzler karoo), the bike doesn’t skate on slick ground and even when crossings muddy sections it comes out very well.
In general we can say that Honda perfectly interpreted the concept of crossover motorcycle, moving the bar forward and creating a vehicle that adapts to any condition and that is really fun!
In short: an arrogant ground-eater !!

Pros: excellent finishes / tasty engine / excellent suspension
Cons: difficult seat height adjustment / original tires

Available colours:
• MATTE BALLISTIC BLACK METALLIC (the bike tested)
• GRAND PRIX RED

Text and tester: Edoardo Tommassini
Photos: MBfotopress