A wise man once said that success is where being prepared meets opportunity. I am reminded of these words as I see the perfect opportunity slowly unfolding before me. I am referring to an African Sunset in the Limpopo Province. With the lush, grateful bushveld as the foreground, the amber sun lazily makes its way towards the backdrop of the Wolkberg. Loosely translated, it means the cloudy mountain. On this occasion, it does the name perfect justice, as the clouds obscure the brightness of the setting sun until the perfect moment for me to take the perfect picture.
I am aboard Honda’s newly launched CRF1100L Africa Twin, Adventure Sport derivative. I was eager to test this highly anticipated model in real-world circumstances and Riaan Fourie, brand manager at Honda SA made it possible for me to do so. I will comment more on the bike as the story unfolds…
I find the perfect, lesser travelled side road as the setting for my envisioned picture. I pull the Honda over into the middle of the road and cut the glorious-sounding engine for a sound even more glorious. The sound of silence takes over. If you have ever been privileged enough to hear an African silence, then you will know that there is no such thing. The silence is always interrupted by the song of birds, crickets and the like, celebrating life.
I almost gasped for breath as the perfect moment arrives. The glorious ball of fire peaks from under the dense cloud cover for just a few moments before it winks a final time across the mountain line and then it’s all over. Only the many sounds of the bushveld remain as I take a moment to reflect. I have seen and experienced many tailor-made sunsets on my travels, and they have all been perfect in the eyes of this beholder.
And yes, it has been a perfect day. For adventure travellers, the many imperfections from a long day in the saddle all add up to this kind of perfection. It was a day where I encountered many glorious challenges and changes of scenery. There had been extreme amounts of rain in the preceding days all over the region as the thick patches of mud, ruts and wash-aways bear testimony.
This new incarnation from Honda was tested and tested again in the four days that I spent up north. The hype from the SA launch is a thing of the past and it was time to test her in the real world, the habitat that she was presumably created for.
My travels started as a solo, primarily dirt ride from the eastern suburbs of Pretoria, towards the majestic, overflowing Loskop Dam and onwards through the rolling hills of Mpumalanga. Cobus Bekker, my faithful travelling companion decided to join me from the “Bospot” Restaurant at Loskop Dam, all the way to the highest tar road in the old Transvaal, the timeless Steenkampsberg Pass acting as the glorious window into Mpumalanga proper. From there we parted ways as he made it back to Mokopane, his hometown and I pressed on towards the shores of the Letaba River, close to the small town of Tzaneen, famous for its logging and farming activities.
My favourite place to stay when visiting this part of the world is Oppie Oewer Adventures in Lushof, remotely situated on the outskirts of town. This glorious wooden lodge is owned and very professionally run by Gerrit and Alta du Toit who are both native to this part of the world.
Oppie Oewer is best translated as “On the shore” which is aptly named for this venue. It was strategically built to be a mere stone throw away from the shoreline of the latter mentioned river. At night, the sound of the gushing water over the many rapids reminds me of evening walks of the beach. This biker-friendly venue is a hidden gem that I almost want to keep as a selfish secret for my closest friends and travel family. But that would be a real sin, as everyone deserves to spend some time in this tranquil setting after a hard, rewarding day in the saddle.
Gerrit and Alta go to great lengths to keep weary travellers happy and comfortable. Gerrit’s guided rides into the surrounding forests and bushveld always form the highlight of my stay as he has routes that cater for every conceivable type of rider and bike.
This time he chose the Serala plains as our ultimate destination. By now, Cobus and family had joined as well as Jacobus Botha, a close friend whom I had known and travelled with for close to nineteen years. We know each other’s likes and dislikes and share many philosophies about travel and life in general.
It turned out to be another day of imperfect perfection! The ride was tough and quite demanding. Our efforts were rewarded by the most awesome scenery that took us close to the highest point in the region, overlooking lush green plains, riding on the ridge of the mountain lines with glorious valleys on either side, most of the time.
Have you ever been on a ride that was so good, that you almost found it a crime to interrupt with stops and picture taking? This was one of those rides! Missing a hundred photo opportunities, we soldiered on from mountain tops into glorious valleys.
I could have stayed there all day, and many more days for that matter. When we left the plains behind, a part of my heart stayed there too. I always joke and say that parts of my heart are scattered all over Southern Africa. Almost every place I have been too had somehow left its mark in some unexplained way and this time was no exception.
That evening, back at the lodge there was much to celebrate and talk about. These nights around the open fire, cold beverage in hand and comic exchanges have become such a wholesome part of our travels. The guys mocked me for taking half a day to figure out how to switch off the Honda’s traction control. It eventually took an embarrassing text message to Riaan at Honda, who explained how to disable this feature. It seems that Google does not work too well in super remotes spots.
Ever advancing interfaces…
I have a general gripe with modern-day adventure bikes and all their features. Sometimes, getting these modern beasts set up correctly is pure luck. There is just too many options and settings. Simple instrument clusters have made way to a myriad of menus and layers of info on modern-day TFT, LCD and other digital displays. There is even an indemnity message from Honda, reminding you that the display should only be operated where and when traffic conditions allow.
With that being as it may, it must be said that Honda’s very informative visuals are as crisp as any I have seen in recent times. Of course, the display has many different configurations to cater for all tastes. It also has touch screen capability, which is a useful feature. I did find that the processing power was a bit slow as I could detect a fair bit of “lag” at times. Enough said about this topic.
The most confusing, most debated part of the modern-day setup, is riding modes. Allow me to quickly explain the 4 pre-defined modes;
Touring mode: This mode delivers the highest power output and quickest throttle response. Suspension damping force is at its hardest as it is expected that you will ride with a passenger and luggage.
Urban mode: This mode delivers high power output and quick throttle response. Suspension damping force is set to medium as this mode is meant to cater for everyday road riding conditions.
Offroad Mode: This mode delivers mild power output and mild throttle response. Damping force is progressively adjusted in accordance with spring travel. The further the spring compresses, the higher the damping force. This mode is meant for more Adventurous, technical offroad conditions. So if you deem yourself to be a “Kick-Ass” Adventure Rider, use this mode on unpaved surfaces.
Gravel Mode: This mode delivers the mildest power delivery and the mildest throttle response. Suspension damping force is set to its softest setting. This mode is meant for travelling on flat, normal dirt roads.
User Modes: Two user-defined modes, which can be customized and configured to your very specific requirements, are also available.
Suspension, suspension, suspension…..
What I did find super useful is the electronically adjustable suspension. What started out as a very harsh, choppy ride over ruts and wash-aways, turned into a plush, controllable ride in the end. This was attributed to me stopping every kilometre, adjusting, riding, stopping, adjusting….. This was repeated to a point where it really suited my taste and riding style. It must be mentioned that this Honda is the first adventure bike where I could feel the bike respond to the finest of suspension adjustments. This is and will remain the most outstanding feature of my encounters with this bike.
What I was also grateful for was the low seat fitted to the test bike. Earlier encounters with the previous model Adventure Sport left me with only one real gripe, which was the motorcycles physical seat height. For shorter riders, this can become a real issue. This time around, the low seat made all the difference and was super comfortable to boot…
Our journey ends
The last day in the saddle took us back to the “Big Smoke” via roads less travelled. I especially enjoyed the ride from Mokopane back to the east of Pretoria through regions with endless game farms and green bush. Very little traffic was encountered all the way back to my abode in the eastern suburbs.
Once home, I rushed to get ready for my flight down to the Eastern Cape, where some family adventures were awaiting me, this time by the sea and the surf. The days ahead gave me ample time to reflect on our adventure and the new CRF1100L Africa Twin.
With the hike in engine capacity to 1084cc, Honda has crossed over from the middleweight category, joining the heavyweights. The Africa Twin used to have the benefit of being somewhere in between these categories and had the luxury of arguing both ways. This has changed and the AT now goes head to head with rivals such as the BMW R 1250 GS, the KTM 1290 and the Triumph Explorer 1200 to mention but a few. Is the CRF1100L Africa Twin ready for this fight? Only time will tell…
Much has been said about big, heavyweight adventure bikes and even I am not convinced that these big bullies are the way forward for our sport. What I do know is that this segment is the largest and most hotly contested of all adventure bike segments, which should say a lot about prospective buyers.
For more information on the new 2020 Honda Africa Twin range visit: www.honda.co.za