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HONDA CRF1000L AFRICA TWIN: THE BIG RED

Motorcycles are a part of who I am, and always will be. Like many children growing up in a middle class family, I grew up straddling the tank of a commuter motorcycle. The wind on my face and my small hands gripping the rearview mirror bars for dear life, it probably wasn’t the safest means of transportation but by golly it was the best. And so it began, my love affair with motorcycles. It was years before I could reach the foot pegs properly, but only a few months thereafter before I toppled it over for the first time. There were plenty of firsts that followed and I fell more and more in love with motorcycles.

However, apart from the commuter motorcycles, sightings of higher displacement motorcycles were few and far in between. Young motorcycle enthusiasts, like me, had to make do with the Suzuki GSX 750s that were part of the police fleet escorting carcades. And maybe a few Triumphs or BSAs from time to time. Long story short, the best we could do was flick through magazines and fantasize about how we’d spend hours riding these beauties (still talking about motorcycles here).

With time, every kid developed a liking towards a particular school of thought when it comes to motorcycles. The majority loved the full-faired sports styling, some divulged into naked sports and some into cruiser styled motorcycles. To each their own, but for me, it was always dual purpose motorcycles. Ever since I first laid eyes on the Honda XL 125 I was hooked, not just because it looked badass but also because it made sense with its purpose. Depending on your capabilities, you could take it anywhere you pleased and you wouldn’t be bound within tarmacked roads. And it’s stuck with me ever since. I dreamt about owning one for myself for 15 years and ended up getting myself the Honda XR250 Tornado, and I love it to bits. Dual purpose motorcycles and adventure motorcycles have always been my thing, and traveling the world on a capable two wheeler will be right on the top of my bucket list. Which is why I hope you will understand why I was so excited about getting my hands on this beauty.

What we have with us is an adventure motorcycle that holds a lineage that dominated the Paris-Dakar Rally in the late 1980s. A motorcycle that holds its grounds against any other adventure tourer out there, and a beast that has the potential to conquer the world on two wheels; it goes by the name of CRF1000L. However, it is better recognized as the Africa Twin. We here at AutoLife just call it the BIG RED.

STYLING

As the name we’ve given implies, the CRF1000L Africa Twin is a big motorcycle. However, in a global ADV market that has big-bore touring machines that are large and heavy it is considerably on the smaller side of the spectrum.

The flagship bikes from BMW, Ducati, KTM, Triumph, and Yamaha all displace around 1,200cc, and most have claimed weights closer to 275 kgs (except for the 225-kg–dry KTM), Honda has opted for a 999cc twin and hit a measured dry weight of 220kgs. It is comparatively smaller in its class, but it is still a towering beast amongst motorcycles.

While I understand the adventure motorcycle styling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is no denying that Big Red is a beautiful motorcycle. Twin headlights sit under a tall windscreen much in adventure style. A massive tank, that holds 18.8 liters of fuel, gives the front-end bulk while things taper to slimmer dimensions toward the rear.

A bash plate undertakes the protection duties of the underbody. If we haven’t mentioned it already, the Africa Twin we had with us used dual clutch transmission. The parallel twin engine with dual-clutch transmission is immediately obvious because the engine case sticks out slightly further, and there’s no clutch lever. Instead there is a parking brake in its place, tucked away behind the handguards.

There are plenty of buttons and switches on the handle bars and instrument console to customize your riding style. The all-digital dash displays speed and revs clearly in the top section with a lower section showing gear position, traction control, temperature, fuel gauge, trip meters and kmpl. On either side of the dash are warning lights to indicate if the traction control has been activated.

RIDE AND HANDLING

You get an option of standard six-speed manual gearbox, or Honda’s exclusive automatic six-speed Dual- Clutch Transmission (DCT); we had with us the latter. The Honda CRF 1000L Africa Twin is a proper adventure tourer, and it holds up its end of the bargain despite lacking a clutch and manual gearshifts. It is absurd how quickly people put it down for this. Honda’s goal with the Africa Twin is to offer a bike that is easy to ride anywhere. As far as I can tell, the DCT is certainly an awesome feature that – once you get used to it – makes the riding experience a bit more… simple. It takes the mundane task of shifting out of the equation and allows you to enjoy the ride, soak up the scenery, and focus on the road ahead.

It is pretty simple to ride. Shift into D (Drive), accelerate and you’re off. Gearshifts are definitely earlier than you would like but it provides adequate power for smooth riding. You will not be able to hold revs as well as you’d like but you can work around that. You have 3 sports modes you can toggle through with a push of a button that will give you more than enough punch on the tarmac. If that still doesn’t satisfy you, you have the option of switching to manual shifts via buttons you can access easily with your left forefinger and thumb.

The suspension is on the soft side so the 45mm Showa fork compresses into the stroke, but it soaks up the weight of the bike without wallowing or acting funny in corners. The brakes are decent, too, with a pair of four-piston calipers and big 310mm dual discs that are more than up to task on the street or dirt.

The Africa Twin’s claim to fame is its capability off-road and now we know why. Take it off the beaten path and it finds its groove. But it is still a pretty big bike and you can forget about manhandling it on the dirt. If you try to blast through rough trails you will eventually get out of shape and risk a crash.

The 3-stage traction control is not only effective, but it’s simple to use. Using level one the bike spins up and it will hold a slide, but will ultimately intervene to keep the rear wheel in check so that you don’t have to. Level two is more intrusive, while level three constantly interrupts the power in loose conditions, but still finds any available grip and keeps you moving.

In its standard position, seat height is 34.3 inches, but it can be lowered to 33.5 bysimply sliding the saddle into different mounting slots. The tall tapered handlebar provides good comfort on road and is also well positioned for standing when riding off highway. Fitted with one of the most comfortable seats my rear end has had the good fortune of resting on, all day rides are simply a must with the Africa Twin. The bike has a narrow waist which positions the rider down in the bike instead of perched on top of it. For enduro riding this is a boon and will help you maneuver the machine in a way that is deceptive of its size.

VERDICT

I’ve been aching to ride a proper adventure motorcycle for ages and my prayers were finally answered. And man the Africa Twin brought the biggest smile across my face.

While it may not be the most capable big tourer in the world, I think it is the perfect one to start things off in Nepal. There are bigger caliber machines like the BMW 1200GS and the KTM 1190, and there are smaller offerings like the Triumph 800 Tiger, but the 999cc parallel twin engine could be the perfect middle ground offering that provides the best of both worlds.

Regardless, Big Red is the best and only option in Nepal that can potentially fulfill my, and maybe your, dream of traveling the world in.

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