Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Ride Review: 2016/2017 Honda Africa Twin DCT


Ride Review: 2016/2017 Honda Africa Twin DCT

Thanks to test rides at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach this year, I had the opportunity to hop on a 2016 Honda Africa Twin DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission). The unit itself is very no-frills and ready to "farkle." What is pictured below is a model with several of the optional accessories offered by Honda, such as a taller, non-adjustable rally windshield, built in engine guards, skid plate, hard cases, and a pannier.

Ergonomically, the bike had me sitting up quite straight. The Africa Twin offers a stock adjustable seat, and although I was sitting on it at its highest setting, my 29.5" inseam still allowed me to have the balls of my feet comfortably on the ground. The handlebars were at a comfortable width and my arms were in relaxed position, ready to control the bike.

I was a bit skeptical on the DCT, which eliminates the traditional manual clutch (left lever) and replaces it with a six-speed automatically computer-adjusted transmission. For those who need to downshift or adjust for torque, there is a manual setting that can be activated so a set of paddles on the left hand or the shift foot lever (available separately as an accessory) can be used instead of fully relying on the bike to do all the work.

The most noticeable "habit change" I had to make when operating this bike was that I could only rev the engine while it was in neutral. Placing the bike in "drive" meant that the thing will go once you twisted the throttle. So for those riders out there who like to make the engine noises while at a stop, just be aware that doing that on this bike without returning to neural will send you lurching forward.

Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) adds several buttons to the throttle side, including Neutral, Drive, and Sport Mode (automatic with option of up and down shifting). The Automatic/Manual button gives you the choice of letting the bike do the shifting or you to take full control with up and down paddles on the clutch side.

The downshift button is right below the turn signal while the upshift button is behind the housing like a passing light. The left lever now acts as a parking brake in the style of an ATV.

Closeup of the very narrow, low-profile 998cc parallel twin engine. It's very recessed in the frame which helps reduce the chances of damage in case of tip over.

Quick shot of the cockpit. All information is right in the middle and the whole display is digital. What is hidden by the cables on the right is the ABS off-switch and a "gravel mode" button that increases sensitivity of the throttle when dealing with unstable terrain. There is also a three-stage torque control system to fine-tune throttle control even further.
The ride itself was smoother than I expected. The DCT did its job during the ride, and I never felt at any time that the Africa Twin was going to stall. Knowing that the bike's acceleration and shifting was under control at all times was very comforting, especially as I was still reaching for a non-existent clutch lever at times until my brain figured it out. The bike itself was very nimble and responsive to my movements. I really enjoyed the quick, yet smooth, acceleration of the DCT and its non-choppy deceleration. I could see the DCT being advantageous in heavy traffic situations especially when it would eliminate the need to mash through low gears during lane-splitting. I did try the manual setting toward the end of the ride, and it feels similar to using a traditional manual clutch, with buttons instead of a lever for clutch actuation.

After speaking with one of the Honda representatives at the demo ride tent, I realized that DCT can be advantageous in off-road situations. Removing the need to shift gears allows the rider to focus more on balance and control in uneven terrain rather than having to unbalance oneself to shift up and down. Also, the Africa Twin comes with traditional spoked wheels that require tubes with the intention that this bike be used in the most desolate of places where extra tires can't be taken. This is definitely a bike that's meant to ride both on and off-road. I do wonder, though, what the hardiness of this type of transmission is when it's put in the most extreme conditions. Then again, I'd also think that a model that has the name "Africa" in it is meant to be as tough as nails.

Honda has a impressive number of optional accessories to dress up a stock Africa Twin. The unit I tested sports several of them, including the built in engine/frame guard that doubles as a mounting rail for fog lamps, panniers and a top case, and the foot shift lever which doesn't come on a DCT model.

Closeup of the engine guard/light bar optional accessory.
The 2017 offering for this bike is unchanged except for color. In my opinion, this bike blurs the line between street and dirt riding and presents itself as a bike that can do both conditions extremely well. If you're looking for a large dual-sport that can be that commuter and a dirt bike as well, this is definitely a formidable consideration.