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Triple treat – Three VSM Africa CRF1000Ls

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This entry is part 4 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #23

Best known for his unsurpassed knowledge of Suzuki’s DRs, Vince Strang is also a Honda dealer. Now he’s turned his attention to the Africa Twin with the aim of offering good development information to customers. Adventure Rider Magazine was lucky enough to get a close look at Vince’s progress so far.

Honda’s Africa Twin has made a big impact on Australian adventure riders in a very short time. The CRF1000L – to give the bike its correct model designation – is available in three variants. When the chance came for us to sample all three variants in one ride…well.

We were so excited the corny ‘Triple treat’ heading for this story was the best we could do.

Crash bars from Honda Accessories fitted snug and didn’t feel as though they added bulk or much weight to the CRF.
Capable on- and off-road, and very easy to ride in almost any conditions.

Tasty trio

The three bikes ridden here are the CRF1000L Standard, the CRF1000L ABS and the CRF1000L ABS-DCT.

As the designations imply, the Standard is just that: standard. There’s no ABS or traction control and no electronic rider aids. It’s what might be called an ‘honest’ or ‘old-school’ bike.

There’s plenty of technical refinement and leading-edge technology offering good performance, but the rider still makes the decisions. If he brakes too late or too hard, he hits the deck. If he panics and spins up the rear wheel on a greasy hill, gravity will lay the smack down.

The ABS model has both traction control and ABS, but is otherwise the same bike as the Standard. Both traction control and ABS can be turned off or adjusted with a minimum of fuss.

The ABS-DCT model is the variant which will excite the most comment. We certainly thought a great deal about the possibilities before we rode it. Basically, DCT stands for ‘Dual Clutch Transmission’, and the best we can describe the system in practical terms is that it’s like the sequential gearbox on most modern automatic cars. The rider can select full auto and the bike will do it all. Or the rider can choose to select gears via buttons on the ’bars which are like the paddles or buttons on the steering wheels in cars with sequential gearboxes.

Unlike cars, the rider can select a few variations on the auto gear selection, basically a ‘normal’ setting or one of several ‘Sport’ settings.

Either way there’s still some mental adjustment to be made. There’s no gear selector at the rider’s left foot, and where there would normally be a clutch on the left-hand ’bar is in fact a locking handbrake. It’s positioned well forward compared to a normal clutch, so it’s not easy to grab it by mistake in a panic situation. We know that because we experimented with the whole panic-situation scenario.

With our left foot flailing away at thin air and our left hand frantically trying to grab for what reflexes told us was clutch-lever salvation, we barrelled toward several frighteningly solid obstructions at ridiculous speed.

Thank goodness the braking on the Africa Twin is exceptional.

Three Africa Twins, a beach, and another great day at the office.

Tech knows

Covering the basic mechanicals of the bikes includes a 998cc, parallel-twin motor with a 270-degree firing angle and Honda’s Unicam head design. The cam is a very lightweight unit and twin plugs ignite the gases in the chamber.

The transmission is a six-speeder with an ‘assist slipper clutch’ to smooth out clunky downshifts and deceleration, and drive is via chain. Wheels are 18-inch rear and 21-inch front, and overall the Africa Twin is a modern and tidy-looking unit.

The ABS and traction control model is just as the name implies.

The bike is the same as the Standard model, but has both rider aids.

The DCT is the biggee.

Honda’s own description says Dual Clutch Transmission ‘…features the standard manual mode – allowing the rider to operate gear shifts through triggers on the handlebars – and two automatic modes.

D mode offers the best balance of fuel economy and comfort cruising. S mode has now been revised to give extra levels of sports performance, with three differ-ent shift patterns to choose from: S1, S2 and S3.’

They’re the bikes Vince started with.

Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission makes riding any kind of tight or technical terrain a great deal easier than a traditional manual clutch and gearbox. It’s where the system works best.

Not much to do

The Standard model seemed like a good place to kick off, and we can sum up our opinions on that bike fairly quickly.

It’s pretty frigging good.

The motor is very manageable, suspension is way better than we expected it to be, handling is predictable and neutral, braking excellent, and the bike is a whole heap of fun.

We actually started to wonder where Vince’s development would go. The bike was so good in stock trim we doubt we’d do much of anything to it, and that included suspension…until we rode the Teknik-tuned model.

So then we jumped on the ABS model.

Sure enough, it was every bit as good as the Standard, but of course there was traction control and ABS.

The ABS did its job well and we were happy with it. The traction control, on the other hand, was way too intrusive on anything except bitumen. The poor bike stuttered and farted over any kind of irregularity in the riding surface and was really a bit of a pain. Flicking the lever under the left index finger ran the traction control through its settings, including ‘off’. We switched off the traction control and left it off. We’d have to think very hard about whether we’d pay the extra for what we experienced.

If we were doing a lot of road riding we probably would, but it’d be a waste on any kind of dirt surface.

Then we jumped on the DCT model.

We were pretty sure we’d never get used to the idea of an auto with no gear-selection lever or clutch, but it took all of about five minutes. The gear selection is so smooth and rapid we very much doubt we could get the bike to perform as well using manual controls. Manual controls are more fun for us, but, geez. It’s really easy to slide into that lazy frame of mind where you can leave those things to the bike and concentrate on just hitting lines and braking points.

The DCT system works a treat.

All Africa Twins are ready to accept the Honda Accessories panniers. Just slip them in place, turn the key and you’re good to go
Honda Accessories panniers fit straight on without racks.

Add ons

So what had Vince done to improve the bikes?

The Standard was privately owned by Adrian Vickery. Adrian’s family owns Green Valley Farm in Tingha, NSW, where the Northern Congregations are held, and Adrian was happy for us to dash about on his new bike.

Being privately owned and very near to new, the Standard had little development beyond personal tuning for Adrian’s size and occasional lunatic riding antics (Vince had wide-eyed tales of ‘huge skids’ he’d seen following Adrian). A Tractionator graced the rear and a Pirelli Rally the front, and a Barrett pipe, B&B bashplate, radiator guards and rack rounded out the package.

The ABS model had a few bits and pieces.

First up were the Honda Accessories crash bars and pannier kit.

“The pannier kit’s quite interesting,” explained Vince.

“The adapters to accept the panniers are right on the bikes. You can take the panniers off one bike and fit them straight to any other Africa Twin. You don’t need extra pannier racks and you don’t have to spend any extra money.

“It’s quite a good thing.”

Otherwise the ABS bike had stock exhaust and stock suspension, but Pirelli tyres front and rear.

We had Vince’s initial opinion when he first rode the Africa Twins back in issue #17, but we asked how he felt about these new bikes with a little time on them. He started with the ABS model.

“Out of the box, basically, it was very good. Even with the stock tyres, off-road I quite liked it. When we put on the more dirt-oriented tyres, and turned the compression and preload up a little on the suspension, I reckoned it was really good.”

The Barrett pipes don’t offer a big performance difference as far as Vince can tell, but he’s chasing a weight saving, and the aftermarket muffler is substantially lighter.

On the DCT model the same Barrett pipe and Honda Accessories crash bars were in place as the ABS model, the tyres had been changed and the footpegs swapped for Pivot Pegz.

The big change was Teknik suspension.

An excellent bike for getting away from the cities and pressures of work.
The B&B Off Road gear on Adrian Vickery’s Standard bike was premium quality and looked awesome.

Trail trial

When it came time to ride the bikes we were struck by a couple of things.

The first was how easy the Africa Twin is get comfy.

Honda is sometimes criticised for its bikes lacking character, but we don’t think that makes any sense. These three bikes demonstrated beautifully Honda’s knack of producing bikes that will suit riders of a wide variety of shapes, sizes and abilities. It’s very seldom we evaluate a bike without thinking how we’d need to set it up for ourselves.

All three of these bikes, despite their different riders, felt good. The power delivery was smooth and manageable – even though there was no shortage of horsepower – the bikes handled well, and we felt at home on all of them pretty much straight away.

And that brings us to the DCT bike.

We were pretty sure we’d never get used to that set-up, but in a very short time we were roosting away in a carefree and cavalier fashion, allowing the bike to select whatever gear it thought would do the job. Vince advised us to select the S1 option for more aggressive changes, and he was dead right. That bike snorted and rorted around our test loop with little or no effort from us. On those occasions where we looked to make things difficult for the bike it all but ignored our malicious stupidity and selected a gear that drove us up, over or around everything we pointed it at.

We were big fans of DCT by the end of the ride.

On top of all that, we couldn’t see how the Teknik suspension was going to make a big improvement over the stock suspension. It was really compliant and plush on the two stock bikes. But we should’ve known better. The Teknik suspension on the DCT bike was just a little firmer, and when the bike was pushed the upgrade really showed itself.

While we were behaving badly trying to get the DCT to fail or land us in trouble, the suspension played a big part in ensuring the bike stayed stable and ran true.

It was an eye-opener, and if we owned an Africa Twin we’d think very long and hard about the suspension upgrade.

It’d be high on our wish list.

Controls feel nice in the hands and ABS and traction control settings are a breeze. This is the right and left of the DCT model and the extra controls are clearly visible.

Interesting

After another tough day at the office, nibbling our way through a late-afternoon gourmet lunch provided by Vince Strang Motorcycles, we gathered our thoughts.

The Africa Twin is a very bloody nice dualsporter. It’s extremely capable off road, the motor punches out bulk power without being intimidating, braking is really excellent, and the both the manual and DCT gear arrange-ments worked well. The bike is comfortable, handling is neutral, and there’s some great luggage and accessories available.

On the negative side…well,we couldn’t think of anything we didn’t like about the Africa Twin.

And, the kicker, the price of these bikes is amazing. You get a whole lot of capable, comfortable adventure-tourer starting at around $14,500 plus dealer charges and on-roads for the Standard. Add a few Vince Strang Motorcycles’ ideas, Teknik suspension and Honda Accessories and this bike is ready to travel the world.

Footpegs are about the same as most dualsporters. The rubber inserts need to be removed and the ’pegs themselves are ade-quate, but not sensational.

Honda CRF100L Africa Twin

Web: www.motorcycles.honda.com.au/
Adventure_Touring/CRF1000L_Africa_Twin.
Rec retail: Standard $14,499. ABS $16,999. ABS-DCT
$17,999. All prices plus on-roads and dealer charges

Engine type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, eight-valve parallel twin with 270-degree crank and uni-Cam
Displacement: 998cc
Bore/stroke: 92mm x 75.1mm
Compression ratio: NA
Starter: Electric
Carburation: PGM-FI electronic fuel injection
Ignition: Computer-controlled, digital, transistorised with electronic advance
Clutch: Wet, multiplate with coil springs, aluminium cam assist and slipper clutch
Transmission: Constant mesh, six-speed MT/six-speed DCT with on- and off-road riding modes
Final drive: O-ring sealed chain
Front tyre: 90/90-R21 tube type
Rear tyre: 150/70-R18 tube type
Front brake: 310mm, dual-wave, floating hydraulic discs with aluminium hub and radial-fit, four-piston calipers and sintered metal pads
Rear brake: 256mm, wave, hydraulic disc with two-piston caliper and sintered metal pads. Also lever-lock type parking system on DCT model
Dimensions: (LxWxH) 2335mm x 875mm x 1475mm (Standard)/2335mm x 930mm x 1475mm (ABS/DCT)
Wheelbase: 1575mm
Seat height: 870mm/850mm
Ground clearance: 250mm
Fuel capacity: 18.8 litres
Kerb weight: 228kg (Standard). 232kg (ABS). 242kg (DCT)

Technically Teknik

Nick Dole at Teknik Motorsport in Sydney’s west has done a great deal of testing on the Africa Twin suspension, especially measuring shock performance at various temperatures.

The result on Vince Strang’s Africa Twin left us in awe. We thought the stock suspension was pretty good, but when we tried the Teknik mods, it was chalk and cheese, especially when we pushed the bike a little and asked it to cope with higher speeds.

“The stock fork springs are progressive, but there’s not really much progression there,” said Nick.

“I didn’t change the springs, though.

When I put them on the dyno they weren’t far from where they should be.

“The problem with the forks really was they lacked preload. That makes the front hang down a little bit. It can be fixed by winding up the external preload adjuster all the way, but for Vince’s bike I machined up a six-millimetre preload spacer. As far as fork spring and preload goes, that was all I did.

“I left the oil height at the stock level, but as far as damping goes, the fork is very soft. It sort of fits in with what Honda’s trying to do, but it doesn’t suit the guys who ride the dirt. So I revalved the fork.

“The shock was the same. The spring rate wasn’t bad, but the preload’s really light. On Vince’s bike I actually fitted a lighter spring, but with more preload, so the bike is sitting level.

“The damping of the shock is probably the worst part of the suspension package. It’s really lightly damped all over, and it only takes a temperature variation of about 20 degrees for that shock’s performance to go from acceptable to unacceptable.

As the heat affects the viscosity of the oil, its performance deteriorates.

“So the changes I make to the damping of the Africa Twin shock mean it goes from having too much damping when it’s freezing cold to having good damping when it’s hot.”

To put that in perspective, a rider commuting on his Africa Twin will probably never have a noticeable change in his shock temperature.

A motocrosser might see a rise of 60 degrees in his shock operating temperature. An Africa Twin coping with a bush trail would fall in the middle somewhere. That’s plenty enough temperature for the shock performance to decrease.”

Nick also had another tip: some of the Africa Twins he’s serviced have worn the anodising off the inside of the fork tube.

Ask your tech to check next service.

Better still, get your bike in to Teknik and have an expert check it out.

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