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The New Honda Africa Twin, a Winner or Just Another Expensive ADV-ish Bike?

If you came across yesterday’s piece on the new Africa Twin, you’ve probably already discussed the rumors with your adventure buddies. However, with several months ahead of the (presumed) launch, the new Honda adventure bike is still controversial, and MCN’s latest guesstimations only make things worse.
To be honest, the most intriguing fact of the whole story was learning that Honda might try to get a bigger market share by coming up with a BMW R1200GS contender. Two things instantaneously came to mind: nobody can beat the R1200GS, at least not now, and even more, why even mention a bike which is not made for too much adventure riding in its basic form?

First of all, not even KTM has managed to shake the leading position of the R1200GS. The Bavarian bikes are surrounded by an almost magic shroud which attracts tens of thousands of customers even though recent events start to show that the quality standards at BMW have been undeniably lowered, to avoid saying “plummeted.” Beemer fans would obviously say that I am a BMW basher, but the recent recalls and testimonies from various customers should be pretty much enough proof to back me up.

However, the inertia behind BMW’s best-selling bike is driving sales forth, and it’s really hard to think who will be capable to dethrone the big GS. The KTM 990 Adventure could not, simply because many of those buying it are not the type of riders the R1200GS was built for. They went for a much sportier bike with proven better off-road capabilities straight from the box, and yes, poorer mileage and a tad less comfort.

The Yamaha XT1200Z Super Tenere was even lower in sales, as it was way too heavy for serious off-roading, and only the really tall riders could get a solid foothold while aboard it. Honda’s “1000cc Transalp” Varadero had nothing to do with rocky trails, instead it was an excellent road-touring bike, which could carry quite a lot of luggage. The KLR1000, 1000cc V-Strom, and the likes of that, such as Aprilia Caponord, fared even less successfully.

Both the middleweight and the bigger adventure/dual sport segments have slowly evolved into a hiatus: too much street or too much off-road character. The bikes with great street-touring capabilities were being manufactured with smaller, cast alloy wheels and were almost no good for anything more than very decent forest roads, while the machines which could carry rider, luggage and possibly a passenger across sectors of rough roads and still be in one piece were worse and worse on the highway.

In the big-bore class, the dual-sport nature was still intact in KTM 950 and 990 Adventure, and in the older GS machines, namely the 1100 and 1150, with the 1200GS already being too heavy and bulky for such riding. And with the 1150 being the last GS which could be still field-fixed, there went and entire class.

Now, choosing the new R1200GS as “role model” seems to me pure marketing BS, and a move oriented towards growing corporate profits, with little to no interest at all in the demands of the customers waiting for a glorious Africa Twin heir. Sure, the GS is the goose that lays golden eggs, and it turns a great profit, so it’s natural to see a manufacturer dreaming about its success, but this has nothing to do with anything former AT owners and would-be customers had in mind. The Africa Twin is still one of the benchmarks used for testing the ride-the-world-ability of a motorcycle, and more than a decade since Honda stopped producing it, the bike is still one of the leading machines in the segment. So, why does Honda prefer to try and create a hybrid machine “borrowing” assets from other ones instead of creating a new smashing bike? Honestly, I could not tell.

If you go out and ask riders whether they can even picture a GS-ish bike with Dakar-ish performance, they’d most likely laugh, because this is utopic. I asked the same question and was surprised to learn that more than one or two fellows replied that Honda should conduct a survey to find out what its customers want.

Various criteria were mentioned, such as the balance between “true terrainability” and “highwayness,” “a bigger, more powerful v-twin,” “an updated version of the old AT with EFI and better suspensions,” with no reference to the “fat cows.” Like it or not, when it comes to anything more than not-exactly-great roads, the modern, bigger adv-ish bikes are fat cows, with Chris Birch possibly setting the balance in the case of the new 1190 Adventure R with his extreme video.

Basically, we’re dealing with a rather widespread expectation for a new bike which would be modern, perform well in the dirt, and be anywhere above “outright uncomfortable” for highway hauls. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s not going to be like this for the new Africa Twin, and I really hope I am wrong.

Looking back several years ago, we can clearly see that this segment has been changed by customers who wanted a road touring bike with adventure looks and several features to make riding on rougher roads less horrible. While this is not exactly a bad thing, continuously adding electronics made the bikes bulkier, heavier, more expensive, and more prone to defects. Can you picture what your trip would look like with your active suspensions letting you down in the middle of nowhere? Not exactly the nicest type of adventure, is it?

And speaking about pricing, we all know that bikes, with certain exceptions, are terribly overpriced, regardless of how much corporate PR crap is pushed towards the customer to make them convince themselves that €15-20K is alright. Market success is also related to the price, and if MCN’s guess turns out to be right, then a €15,000-ish ($20,000+) Africa Twin will definitely have nothing in common with the old model, save the name. And no, it will not be a credible contender for the R1200GS (a story on broken wheels here), not even with a reduced weight, because it will do neither street nor dirt better.

As for Honda allegedly planning to surface both a “normal” and an “adventure” or “R” version for the Africa Twin, like KTM sand BMW are offering looks just like another marketing scheme to trick customers into buying, while telling them a nice, but rather empty story about the glorious choices they can make. As far as I can tell now, the new Africa Twin is not a worthy heir of the old AT’s heritage in my book.


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