Before Honda released its Africa Twin (or CRF1000L, if you’re using the company’s corp-speak), it had been a while since Team Red had offered a large-displacement, adventure-type motorcycle in the US. Sure, Europe got cool stuff like the Transalp, but not a single one was sold in America.
The Africa Twin took everyone by surprise because not only was it a reasonably handsome motorcycle, it was also capable and competent both off-road and on. The parallel-twin engine was smooth and sounded good thanks to its 270-degree firing order. The transmission was and precise, and even the dual-clutch transmission worked pretty much as advertised. Honda sold a bunch of ’em.
Now, the CRF1000L gains a little displacement and a bunch of tech, and it’s called the CRF1100L officially (but still the Africa Twin colloquially). It still has the same basic bones of the 2019 model — great suspension, good brakes, competent engine — but it’s available in two trim levels, and thanks to the addition of Apple CarPlay and , it’s an even better long-distance mile-muncher.
The heart of the new Africa Twin is a much-tweaked 1,084-cc overhead-cam parallel-twin engine. While Honda USA doesn’t publish official horsepower and torque numbers for its bikes, I can say that the 86-cc bump in displacement is welcome and makes the bike even easier to ride thanks to a broader powerband and fatter torque curve. The bike is available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, and the latter can function as a fully automatic gearbox or as a button-shift manual.
The drivetrain is exceptionally civilized. The throttle is linear, and fueling is perfect. There aren’t any issues with jerky throttle response, even in the sportier modes. The bike’s clutch is light and easy to modulate. The manual gearbox is also light at the lever and very smooth. I never have any issues finding neutral or and I never miss a shift. Honda doesn’t usually screw this kind of thing up, and the Africa Twin is no exception.
The base Africa Twin’s suspension consists of a 45-millimeter adjustable upside-down fork and a linkage-style monoshock out back. The more expensive Adventure Sports model gets an electronically adjustable suspension. Braking comes courtesy of dual four-piston, radial-mount Nissin calipers in the front that grab 310-millimeter rotors, and a single-piston caliper and 265-millimeter rotor in the back.
Lean-sensitive anti-lock brakes are standard but defeatable on the rear wheel only. The six-axis inertial measurement unit also brings rear-wheel-lift mitigation, wheelie control and cornering lights to the party. DCT models also get “DCT cornering control,” which helps prevent aggressive midcorner shifts that could upset the motorcycle and cause a loss of traction.
Other electronics include the previously mentioned Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integrations, which work much as they do in. This means you need to have your phone connected to the bike physically and your Bluetooth communicator paired to the motorcycle wirelessly.
The 2020 Africa Twin uses a bolt-on aluminum rear subframe and a smaller fuel tank on the more road-focused base model in order to save weight. Another significant change is the decision to use the swingarm from the CRF450R motocross bike, which also helps reduce weight and increase stiffness. Overall, the 2020 Africa Twin is 11 pounds lighter than the outgoing model.
Like most motorcycles in its class, the Africa Twin is pretty tall, making it a tough sell for smaller riders. The seat has two positions, which helps a little, but it’s still 33.5 inches from the ground, even at its lowest setting. I’m 6 feet, 4 inches tall with a 34-inch inseam, so I’m fine, but you might want to look elsewhere if you’ve got a shorter inseam.
The Africa Twin is a fantastic platform that works exceedingly well in town and on the highway. As I mentioned before, the base Africa Twin is biased more towards road use. This makes sense, given that the bulk of most adventure bikes’ lives will be spent on tarmac, far from anything more aggressive than a dusty fire road. This means that the smaller tank and its attendant weight reduction and the road-friendly tires pay noticeable dividends in terms of comfort and maneuverability around town.
The base model’s cut-down windscreen is also welcome, as many adventure bikes struggle to get enough air on the rider’s body to keep them cool at lower speeds. There is enough protection from the small screen to direct the worst of the windblast away, even on the freeway.
Unfortunately, Honda doesn’t do so well with the layout of its controls. The left grip is a little busy, and navigating through menus isn’t super intuitive. Also — because I will bitch about this until I die — Honda continues to put the horn button in the wrong place, above the turn signal switch. It sounds like a small gripe, but it’s the opposite of almost all other manufacturers, and I find it to be a safety issue. If you’re reaching for the horn button, you probably need the horn button and not the blinker.
When it comes to riding manners, the Africa Twin is a total sweetheart. It wears its weight well, so it doesn’t feel overly heavy to maneuver in traffic. It’s relatively narrow for the class and still packs plenty of height for excellent visibility. The suspension is plush, even on the base bike, and there’s enough adjustability that just about anyone should be able to dial their preferred settings. On twistier roads, the bike is happy to lean over and carry plenty of speed in corners. It’s very stable and more fun than you might think.
Even in its base form, the Africa Twin is a well-equipped motorcycle, and as such, it’s not cheap. The base Africa Twin with a manual transmission retails for $14,399 before dealer fees. The top-tier Adventure Sports model with a manual gearbox is $17,199. Going for the dual-clutch transmission on either trim level tacks on an additional $800.
Would I own one? Absolutely. The Africa Twin is a fantastic, practical, comfortable and affordable adventure bike. Like all decent adventure bikes, the Africa Twin is a do-anything, anywhere rugged piece of transportation that also offers plenty of fun for both short and very long rides. Throw a leg over one, and you won’t be disappointed.