2018 Honda Africa Twin DCT first ride review
The Honda Africa Twin charts its own path. The current generation Africa Twin chose a displacement, format and set of capabilities that none of its peers did. Honda presents a dramatically different adventure tourer experience. When Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India launched it a year ago they chose to bring only the automatic. 100 Africa Twins are out there today.
The new 2018 Africa Twin which aims to powerslide into the same space as the likes of the Triumph Tiger, Ducati Multistrada and the BMW R 1200 GS, although the price range for this group of motorcycles is massively varied.
What's new on the 2018 Africa Twin
Honda didn't try to fix what wasn't broken - the changes are evolution rather than dramatic. The performance numbers for the 1,000cc parallel twin haven't really changed - 89PS and 93.1Nm. But Honda is using a lighter balancer shaft for efficiency. Honda has also moved to a lithium battery, saving 2.3kg in weight. And of course, it's good news for those of you who don't ride regularly - the bike will start easily after long periods. The big changes are reserved for the electronics set up.
The engine is under new management and Honda says it gives the Africa Twin a more energetic mid-range. Much needed, I say, because in Drive mode, the Africa Twin moves well but can feel like it's a bit sleepy. There are also updates to the gearchange logic in each of the transmission modes - Drive and three Sport modes.
Underpinning all this is the new ride-by-wire system - the ECU interprets your throttle action in the context of a number of other parameters to deliver torque. It permits Honda to take its traction control system to seven stages from three. Stage 1 is for hardcore off-road while 7 is for slippery road work. I rode mostly in 5 in slippery part-wet conditions on unfamiliar roads around Udhagamandalam.
The Africa Twin now also has riding modes. The top road mode is Tour, followed by the self-explanatory Gravel and Urban, each being a set of throttle response and engine brake control (EB) choice apart from preset traction control etc. EB is a system that controls chassis pitch when you close the throttle by injecting a small amount of fuel into the cylinders to offset compression braking. Honda has also given you a fourth riding mode called User, where you can store your own settings.
You still have the G-mode switch that improves traction in all off-road situations by simulating a clutch being slipped, in effect.
Honda has also updated the dash to a large vertical tablet though it still uses white letters on a black LCD. The screen is better organised and allows you to read more information faster.
The final physical changes are to the switch cluster which is updated, especially the rocker that you use to select drive modes. On the left cluster, the horn and the downshift buttons are still slightly confusing and often, you get a downshift instead of a honk.
Honda India continues to only offer us the red-white-black colour pattern saying the low volumes make offering colours very hard to do.
Riding the 2018 Africa Twin
In a parking lot, you'd be hard pressed to find the 2018 in a field of 2017s. The subtle things to look for is a distinctly bronze coloured front fork and a carbon-fibre look for the black parts of the sticker scheme.
Get the engine running - the typical Honda breathy-whirr surrounds you - and click the shift selector button into Drive and you're ready to roll. Our test bike also had the accessory foot shifter installed but, I used the shifter buttons more often, if at all.
Roll off and you can feel the improvement immediately. The 2017 used to make a small 'hop' as the engine started driving the rear wheel. The 2018 gets off the line as smoothly as an automatic scooter solving the biggest challenge for the Twin when you're in crawling traffic or trying to accomplish some delicate off-road manoeuvre.
On the move, the Honda's extra oomph in the mid-range is obvious and the engine seems to rev more easily too. The transmission logic, especially in Sports 2, my usual mode for spirited for not all-aggro riding, seemed more natural too. It only ever got confused entering a sequence of corners first not holding on to second despite not having any throttle on into the turn entry and then suddenly shifting to third just as I began to open the throttle.
But what Honda doesn't say anything about, and I loved, was the suspension. Did someone before me fiddle with the fully adjustable suspension? I don't know. But the 2018 ATwin rode with controlled chassis pitch that the older Twin didn't have as stock. The dive on the brakes is still quite a bit but squat under acceleration, general pitching as you open and close the throttle in traffic and over smaller, inconsequential bumps is nearly gone. The Honda tracks accurately while maintaining chassis attitude through more. This is very confidence inspiring especially when you hit a large pothole, or jump a speed breaker and confirm that all the goodness of the prodigious wheel travel suspension is unchanged.
While Honda still says it has no plans for the manual transmission in India, the Africa Twin is the closest you will get to a full-on hardcore big trailie in India. The superb suspension, great clearance and the off-road focus make the Honda Africa Twin unique in feel and phenomenally capable off-road by design.
The 2018 update is a savvy one. The crisper throttle and the robust mid-range bolster the Africa Twin's highway ability and makes it easier to pilot through traffic as well. Honda's taken a very sweet motorcycle and focussed its vast experience to create what feels like the perfect sugar balance. If you liked the 2017, you will love the 2018. Rs 13.23 lakhs ex-Delhi, thank you very much.
If you do get the Africa Twin, do two things and thank me later. Get rid of the giant non-adjustable screen for something short that ends just above the screen crossbrace. It will improve ventilation as well as visibility.
Second, take it off-road and really play with it.
Because the Honda Africa Twin is like an overgrown Dobermann puppy. It looks sharp and focussed. But even more than the 2017 version, it just wants to play.