The clutch is dead… long live the clutch (or life with an Africa Twin DCT CRF1000D).
Replacing my old R1150GSA was never going be easy, we have collectively covered in excess of 136,000 miles and both have battle scars of drops and dings from the past 10 years. My travels have been recorded and published as poems, stories and photoblogs, all with the backdrop of a grey, well-worn BMW.
In 2014 when the Africa Twin replacement was first shown by Honda as a concept bike it was intriguing — a 1000cc, tubeless-tyred, chain driven, tall and narrow offering. Not wanting to swap one heavy boxer for another, I borrowed and test rode a number of other potential replacements, but I finally settled on a CRF1000. Perhaps for me, the most revolutionary element was the DCT twin clutch semi-automatic box.
The new model was showcased at the NEC in November 2015 and since then deliveries into the UK of manual bikes have been slow and steady, but very few DCTS have appeared – so in essence what is the bike like to ride?
In a word “easy”. Honda has managed to design a new engine which is a liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve Parallel Twin with 270° crank and uni-cam with a bore and stroke of 92.0 x 75.1 mm giving a capacity of just under one litre at 998cc. Power is modest, just under a claimed 94bhp @ 7500 rpm and almost 100Nm of torque, which in day-to-day riding makes the bike really easy to ride; the pickup is very swift when required.
The bike feels tall, no doubt helped by the narrowness, and if like me you move from a boxer twin you will immediately notice the change — filtering in traffic is easy and the DCT makes that whole experience even easier as you balance the throttle and rear brake to maintain forward movement at very low speeds.
My last automatic was a ‘step-through’ 90 so this was always going to be an improvement. The gearbox has a fully manual mode or the option of automatic with flappy paddle, or fully automatic (D Mode) all with selectable multiple stage traction control and power modes and a G Mode button…
D mode is default, and switching the power modes does not increase the BHP but rather allows the gearbox to hold onto gears for longer and higher in the rev range — the bike is certainly quick off the lights. Off road the G mode activates a number of additional accelerometers and inclinometers which hold the selected gear for longer and the bike does not change gear unexpectedly on descents or traversing muddy and gravel tracks. For me as an average off road rider it certainly inspires confidence and I have tackled tracks and lanes I would not have considered on my GSA in a wet and wild Welsh winter.
The switchgear is comprehensive, with the DCT gear selector switch on the RHS being complemented by the paddle gear change switches on the LHS. The left hand cluster also houses the ‘set’ and ‘control’ buttons for the LCD display which is easy to read in even strong sunlight and the combined start and kill switch obvious and within easy reach. One niggle is the proximity of the indicator switch to the horn when clumsy stabbing with winter gloves results in a blast of noise rather than a cancellation of a turn signal — these could do with being separated a little.
The information LCD display, or clocks as were, is impressive. Easy to read in both bright sunlight and rain, night-time is exceptionally good and you can choose what options to display in each of the set three switchable fields. My defaults are top; display as air temperature (useful with the early morning ice we have here on the Epynt), middle; trip range from last fuel fill and the bottom is total mileage, but these can be switched on the move if needed. The factory heated grips are adequate (but not exceptional) but trigger a display on the LCD panel as do the ABS and traction control settings. It all looks complicated but 5 minutes with the manual sees you get a grip of the options.
The front brakes are powerful non servo assisted (which is a positive benefit from my old BMW) 310 mm dual wave floating hydraulic discs with aluminium hubs and radial fit 4-piston callipers fitted with sintered metal pads and the rear is a smaller 256 mm wave hydraulic disc with 2-piston calliper and sintered metal pads. The ABS is switchable dual channel and very intuitive and the rear can be turned off which is essential when you are off tarmac and you actually want to lock up the rear wheel. The DCT is also fitted with a parking brake on the LHS which is far enough away so you cannot ever mistake it for a clutch lever. Hill starts just require a slight change in technique in balancing rear brake and throttle… the same as slow speed filtering.
The fuel tank holds around 17 litres and typically from full to the last bar of the LCD display is about 155 miles of mixed riding — at slower speeds economy is impressive and the tank range could be pushed to over 210 miles. For me at around 150 miles, as the last full bar on the gauge disappears, the range to zero option activates, the last solid LCD bar on the fuel gauge becomes half and the LCD display shows remaining fuel in both litres and range to empty. Typically I see 30 miles to empty at this point. I would prefer a longer range, but I have been spoilt, as I could get 350 miles from my old GSA. I have decided however to carry 4 litres of extra fuel with me on my longer range trips and will make a point of filling the bike at 120–140 mile intervals so as not to get caught short.
The general comfort to remain in the saddle is good. A bit like the rake and reach of the screen and handlebar arrangement, the relationships between the seat and the foot pegs is excellent and has been well considered by the Honda design team. With a 30” inside leg the standard seat set to the default setting means I can get both feet on the floor and the seat can be lowered further if a bit of extra confidence is required. There are also higher or lower seat options as extras from Honda. The footpegs are ‘stubby’ but not excessively so — some criticism has been raised at these and if you are in mud then the rubber-topped finish is not as useful as a more aggressive metal tipped option, but for me the metal tipped aftermarket pegs chew the soles of my boots so much I prefer the standard.
Perhaps most controversially Honda have fitted tubed tyres with a 21” front (90/90) and a 150/70 18” rear. The Dunlop TrailSmarts are adequate, but not confidence inspiring and are prone to twitching in the wet and on over-banding. Given current wear the rear will require replacement at 4,000 miles.
Accessories for the bike are slowly filtering through with Rugged Roads and Touratech offering a number of enhancements and replacement smaller panniers and a modest top box are being fitted to support longer solo trips. I have shelved my very old Zegas on the basis they add too much width to the bike and defeat the narrowness advantage.
A PDM60 and Scottoiler have been fitted to help distribute power to my Zumo 590 and avoid the need for tins of spray lube to be carried.
Sadly, and a bit of a con… the centre stand is an extra at about £140 from Honda. It does not compromise ground clearance excessively and when raised fits neatly into the bike and keeps the lines clean but is close to the LHS rear footrest. It looks like a bit of an afterthought but even with a Scottoiler, having a centre stand for chain maintenance and tyre replacement or puncture repair, is essential.
Six weeks have flown past, she has been dropped in the mud, I have broken one brake lever, lost or broken some of the plastic and captive bolt trim fixings… indeed disassembling and replacing the plastic trim takes care and a methodical approach. I am looking forward to putting some more miles on the bike with ferry crossings already booked.
Is the new Africa Twin a GS replacement? Yes, for me it is, I do not yet have the same feelings for it as I do my old GSA but that trust has to be earned. The reliability of the technology has yet to be proven but Honda’s reputation for excellent build quality and support help allude any niggles, and three years EU breakdown cover comes with the bike.
My old GSA now sits in my garage, covered and cosseted. I have certainly forgiven the times she left me stranded with servo or fuel pump failures. It’s time for me to change and embrace a brave new world of DCT G Mode on a lighter, more nimble bike.
Roll on the next 100,000 miles.
Prices from £10,499 in the UK