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Honda Africa Twin to Bring Back True Enduro-Touring Bikes?

It's almost one year ago that I was writing a rather nostalgic editorial about the death of a bike: the proper middleweight dual-sport machine which would indeed go almost anywhere. Recently, the Honda Italia boss spoke about a new bike coming for “Mr. Honda”... a reincarnation of the old, beloved, and dearly missed Africa Twin!
This has fired up endless scenarios fueled by the wildest ideas, from the most optimistic ones down to some so grim I almost feel they shouldn't even be mentioned. However, in case Cichetti is right and we get to see a new “Africana” at the 2014 Intermot, with prospects of the bike hitting the dealers somewhere in 2015, I could not resist the temptation of bringing this up for some debate.

Given Honda's lack of interest in making a true dual-sport machine like the bikes of yore, what would the new Africa Twin be like? Will Honda repent for leaving so many adventure riders longing for a nifty off-road and touring machine, or will they just continue in the same direction they have happily been going during the last 10 years or so?

The AT went out of production 10 years ago, with the bike being sacked exactly when Honda should have taken the next step in developing a modern dual-sport middleweight two-wheeler.

With the Transalp MKIII which was still a most worthy machine replaced by the new model which maintained almost nothing from the true Transalp spirit, I know many people who believed that the production break was only a short-term one and a new AT was to cover the gap left by the TA losing ground on uneven ground (if you catch my drift). It just wasn't meant to be.

Having owned a Transalp MKII for so many years and having also met hundreds of riders aboard both AT and TA machinery, we all spoke the same language and kept on wondering why Honda was doing this to our kind, dumbing the TA and killing the AT.

Honda did try to say things were not that bad and people like us should be looking into bikes such as the big Varadero and the Crosstourer and the like... while quietly sacking the Transalp and replacing it with bikes which had even less off-road DNA.

The Varadero was a liter-class machine which could go places, but I haven't met even one owner who used to go off the road aboard an older Transalp, Tenere, KLR or even 650GS and said it could compare in any way. It was more than obvious that the off-road character was being severed from the slowly dying dual-sport machines, becoming a special treat for the bike which did well off the tarmac but with zero REAL touring capabilities.

As displacements shifted a bit up the scale, we got nice machines such as the KTM 950/990 Adventure, now in an 1190 flavor, the big-bore BMW GS bikes, which went up from 1000 to 1200cc, followed by Yamaha's Super Tenere, which also got more room inside the cylinders.

Even more, an intermediate class emerged in the 700-800cc range, with Triumph charging hard to earn as much credit as possible, and BMW outing no less than 3 models, Yamaha revamping their smaller Tenere, with more similar examples at hand, including the new KLR650.

Meanwhile, Honda had nothing in this segment and was still trying to convince people that 19” fronts are better than 21” ones when the asphalt's gone and obstacles are showing in the horizon. With so many years of almost total absence in this field, I really hope Honda will make a smart move and make a true dual-sport machine worthy of bearing the Africa Twin badge.
Still, questions abound. Some said that the Africana should return to the 650cc-class it first appeared in: a modern-era 650 engine could provide the needed nerve for handling rough terrain, while being extremely fuel-efficient, and together with a hefty tank being capable to provide extensive operational range.

Even more, such a solution would also solve the weight problem, which, we must all admit, is a critical one when it comes to venturing on unwelcoming ground. Adding bigger engines and more power to heavier bikes does not solve this problem, obviously: such solutions only shuffle the variables and take things even further from the middleweight class we began with.

Bikes in the 600-750cc range have already proven they can do extremely well: I personally know guys who rode their MKII Transalps to Siberia more than once and made it back with no problems, if complaining that they could have done with some more “off factor” on really hard roads. And the TA MKII is 583cc... QED.

Another possible future for the upcoming Africa Twin is keeping it in the same class, possibly taking it closer to the 800cc mark. Again, possibly representing Honda's take on the F800GS or Triumph's 800XC and the likes of those.

However, this would require that the AT maintained all the adventure character in the first place and worked to improve it on multiple levels. If Honda can make a reliable and SIMPLE engine which would not require carrying a laptop to Mongolia, we might be looking at a great comeback.

Likewise, adding a solid luggage-focused design to accommodate multiple pannier and saddlebag systems could be a major factor in choosing to throw a leg over the heritage-laden Africana.

Some fellows claim that Honda should attempt to join the big-bore club with the new Africa Twin. That is, follow in the steps of KTM and building a 1200cc v-twin, delivering 100 HP, give or take. Honda could build a true off-road/adventure liter-class machine, this I just know. They are capable of designing a tough bike, as rugged as the older AT/TA models, and compete with the rest.

It won't be an easy battle, but legends die hard, and with an off-road-oriented adventure machine which performs well Honda could see a revival of this segment, a thing both old and new riders would surely applaud.

Saving the worst for last, it's the mother of all fears, a grim and silly future Honda fans and other adventure-loving chaps are dreading. Whether the new Africa Twin will have a smaller engine or will have a shot at 1200cc-class glory, it matters little when compared to the dread.

We can only hope that Honda finally understands they need a true adventure bike. And doing to the Africana what they did to the Transalp would be a suicide move for the segment, as none of the tougher guys would ever chose a smoothed out, politically-correct street bike with longer suspensions which can also do a little bit of off-road.

Designing a bike to bring more customers in the dumbed-down area of the off-road adventure could be good for the sales of machines like the CB500X, but would be a fatal blow to the segment we're focusing on. Fancy, huge plastic bodywork and all sorts of similar unnecessary eye-candy BS could indeed appeal for those who believe that off-road is in fact the gravel at the side of the road.

For them, a 19” cast 3-spoke tubeless wheel shod in ContiTrails could look as badass as it gets, while iPhone gadgets would be a truly nifty “touring” feature. And the large catalytic canister lower and closer to the ground would not be a problem, because the clean asphalt roads they'll be riding are definitely not an issue. Oh, and some Dakar stickers void of any other meaning would surely be great!

I hope the new Africana will not be an off-road poser bike. Otherwise it would mean the bike we were speaking about is truly dead. At least in Honda's hearts, and that would hurt.

 
 
 
 
 

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