About 4 years ago, I had my first encounter with the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin, when our riding group decided to try out some of the finest backroads of Magallanes, Cavite has to offer. We were onboard adventure bikes, of course.
That day, one of the riders brought an Africa Twin. I asked this friend if I could sit and try out his bike during one of our water breaks. It was then that I realized the Africa Twin was not only too tall for me (I’m only 5’6), but also too heavy for me. It was so top-heavy that I couldn’t even get the bike off its side stand when I sat on the saddle.
If I had a list of “Motorcycles to avoid,” the Africa Twin would be one of them because, physically, I just can’t handle the bike. Or so I thought.
Fast-forward to Christmas time 2020, our friends from Honda Philippines confirmed that the latest CRF1100L was ready for test riding. I’ve never felt so excited and at the same time anxious to ride this BIG adventure bike.
The Africa Twin (AT) traces its roots to the Honda XRV650, which was inspired by Honda’s 1986 Dakar-winning NXR 750 of the time. The XRV650 also has the distinction of being the only AT bike that was built entirely at Honda’s HRC Factory. Then in the early 1990s came the AT XRV750. Like the XRV650 before it, the XRV750 also featured a V-twin engine configuration and produced about 63 Ps of power.
Between 1993-1995, Honda released an improved version of the XRV750, this time, the frame, bodywork, and the fuel tank were reworked to improve the bike’s responsiveness. This version of the AT would remain in production until 2003.
In 2016, Honda reintroduced the Africa Twin badge, on the new CRF1000L, which was a newly-developed motorcycle from the ground up. Unlike its rivals in the large adventure motorcycle segment, the then-new CRF1000L Africa Twin was the only bike to offer a dual-clutch (DCT) transmission, giving its riders the option to ride on full-automatic mode, much like a scooter, or manual mode by shifting through buttons on its handlebar.
Since then, Honda has beefed up the Africa Twin with an engine upgrade, boring it up to the 1,100cc it has today. Design-wise, little has changed, with much of the 2016 model's looks carrying over.
The current Africa Twin
For the current model, Honda revised the front fascia of the CRF1100. The headlight now sits a little higher than the outgoing CRF1000L. To give the rider a lot of clearance (especially when stand-up while riding off-road), a short windscreen was put in place.
Engine and frame
Perhaps, the biggest improvement for the Africa Twin is in the engine, which is now 86 cc larger than its predecessor at 1,084 cc. Power has also increased from 95 Ps to 102 Ps at 7,500 rpm, as well as the torque output from 98 Nm to 105 Nm at 6,250 rpm. Honda did a great job of reworking the valve lift, piston stroke, as well as the cylinder head and throttle body to give the new Africa Twin more oomph than its predecessor.
Compared to the CRF1000L, the exhaust can is now shorter and the tip is higher on the ground, making it more capable of wading water during river crossings.
As for the CRF1100L’s frame, it now features a lighter aluminum sub-frame. The swingarm is inspired by the lighter CRF450R’s design. The overall weight savings versus the previous 1000 cc Africa Twin is around 5 kilograms.
The rider gets a fully-digital instrument panel with a 6.5 TFT touch screen, which can be connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth connection. It's mounted high, just like the navigation systems of Dakar rally bikes. The only letdown is the old school monochrome LCD screen below it (that looks like a student's calculator) that also displays some of the info already found on the TFT screen.
The CRF1100L’s electronics are top-notch, allowing the rider to select one of 4 riding modes, plus 2 user-personalized riding modes. On Touring mode, the CRF1100L will give the full 102 Ps of power, together with mid-range engine braking and cornering ABS active.
Urban mode will give the rider about mid-level power from the engine. This is perfect for city touring, still allowing for traffic filtering. Engine braking is still active along with ABS.
In Gravel mode, Honda says that the CRF1100L will only churn out the least amount of power, while the ABS for the front and rear are still active.
In Off-road mode, the CRF1100 will give about half of its power, but also tuned on the lower rpm range to give the rider full control over the bike on tricky off-road sections. The rear ABS can be switched off on this riding mode.
Modes like User 1 and 2 offer riders the chance to personalize the settings of the CRF1100L Africa Twin. In this riding mode, riders can set up the bike between power levels 1 to 4, engine braking levels 1 to 3, Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC), and ABS (on/off-road).
On-road, there is no doubt that the CRF1100L Africa Twin can keep up with larger and more powerful adventure bikes, like BMW’s R 1250 GS and KTM’s 1090 Adventure R, both of which produce over 120 Ps of power. Although on paper, the CRF1100L Africa Twin only produces a meager 102 Ps, this bike can jump into triple-digit speeds in just a few seconds, just like its competitors. And, even if the bike sport a 21-inch front wheel, I never felt any wobble during our run along NLEX and SCTEX. The cruise control was also a gift from heaven, which allowed me to relax my right hand a bit when the bike was running above 80 kilometers per hour.
At first, I was anxious to ride the CRF1100L Africa Twin off-road, but after riding it to Catanauan, Quezon, and back one Saturday, I realized that the bike was not that heavy at all. The way its suspension chewed the potholes along the Manila South Road gave me that extra boost of confidence that I needed to take this demo bike on its (probably) first foray off the tarmac.
So me and a couple of friends took the backroads of Concepcion to Capas, in Tarlac. The roads, or lack thereof, follow the mega dike that used to keep the lahar from Mt. Pinatubo away from the towns. The trail, of course, is mostly sandy, being lahar that deposited along the dike.
Here, the CRF1100L Africa Twin’s suspension was superb, almost comparable to the lighter dirt bikes I am used to riding. The bike felt so light that the slightest shift of weight on the footpegs while stand-up riding easily pivoted the bike to where I wanted it to be. And best of all, unlike top-heavy bikes like Yamaha’s Super Ténéré 1200, or Benelli’s TRK 502x, the CRF1100L Africa Twin doesn’t pull itself down (like it wants to lie down) on some of the trail’s technical sections. The bike just keeps itself straight up.
If there’s a better way to describe it, its off-road riding characteristics are close to a real light dirt bike, feeling just like a KTM 790 Adventure. It was just unfortunate that I was not able to locate the “ABS off” setting when I set the bike on off-road mode. Usually, on other bikes, all it needs is 2, maybe 3 button presses to locate the setting and turn off the ABS for off-road riding. Still, that didn’t spoil the fun during our little lahar escapade.
Since this is the non-dual clutch (DCT) version, fuel tank capacity is limited to 18.8 liters. At best, I got a fuel economy of 20.8 kilometers per liter. When I got a little excited on the CRF1100L’s throttle, fuel economy dropped to only 17.8 kilometers per liter.
The grab handle between the driver and the pillion seat lets riders pull up the rear when the bike gets stuck in muddy terrain.
We were hoping to test the DCT version of the Africa Twin to experience what feels like to ride an adventure bike with an automatic transmission. Nonetheless, this “manual version” of the Africa Twin did not disappoint at all. The Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin is easily one of the best adventure bikes Japan has to offer and is definitely more reliable than its European counterparts.