Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Just Like A Mountain Bike - With A Motor

I was stooging around Perth, West Australia, the other day just minding my business.

My regular Swan River lap on a hired road bike was going according to plan but things were starting to heat up, temperature wise. 

You see, Perth had just endured a record breaking spell of hot weather only normally seen on the sun ward side of Mercury! 

The heatwave was officially over but it was heading for the high 30s again today. I was slurping plenty of water to stay hydrated but my mind was wandering. Wandering back to a blog post I read last week.

 Author of said blog, Mike, (BMW GS1200 owner/rider) had been for a test ride on the new Honda Africa Twin. It is an adventure bike that has been promised for a while now but was short in the actual delivery. Well no more! Honda has finally released it to a public that has until now had to make do with massively overpriced, overweight motorcycles that are purportedly for "on and off highway" use. 

I have been eyeing the BMW 800GS and the Triumph Tiger 800XC for a while but they are too heavy, too expensive and too road oriented for my taste so I have just sat on my hands, despite having a good look at the BMW during our tour of New Zealand in 2014.

Where am I going with all this I hear you ask? Well, I am going to take the bikecycle back to the hire shop - which happens to be right near Dale Britton Honda....

I thought that I might just pop in to see if they had any Africa Twins on the floor. You know, just to see what they look like in the flesh. 

Well, I was pleased to see that they had two in fact. One was the base model in silver and the other an ABS model in Honda Tricolour. There was another scruffy looking bloke sniffing around them, so we took turns at ogling each bike.

Chatting to Dale Britton himself confirmed my suspicions that this bike was generating much interest. Dealers had to beg Honda for demo bikes as the actual release date for the Africa Twin here in Oz isn't until May. The rest of the world has them NOW. The caveat for dealers to get their mitts on an actual bike was that they were under no circumstances to sell the demo bike lest they be shut out of the supply chain for 12 months! Tough stuff for people who earn their crust by selling motorcycles to punters like me......

In spite of this, he insisted I take the nice, shiny ABS model for a test ride. I came up with all sorts of reasons not to but really, I was bursting to throw a leg over it. I just needed to return the treadly and get changed into some motorcycle friendly kit, not the bike gear I had on. I would return!

And return I did! The obligatory paperwork took all of 30 seconds to complete and they pointed me at the Africa Twin, burbling away just outside the front door. I threw a leg over and tried my best not to wobble out into the traffic.

I needn't have worried, I felt at home almost immediately. The throttle was light, but not too light so it was easy to be smooth despite me not having ridden a motorcycle for maybe 4-6 weeks now. Being in a strange city, on a strange bike didn't feel that daunting because this bike was easy to ride. It felt like a big soft mountain bike.....just with a lot more GO than I can provide.

In finding my way down to the Swan River I had plenty of stop/start work at lights and left/right as I flowed through back streets down to the river. The bike felt typical "Honda". 
Smooth, polished and a little bit homogenised. 

The bike has good standover height. At 178cm(5'11") I could touch the ground easily but not quite flat footed both sides though. There is a height adjustable seat option but I am not sure what the demo bike was sporting. Either way, I felt pretty comfortable with the size of the bike and the layout of the cockpit. The bars were comfortable and despite my short 45 minutes on the bike, I am pretty sure that a long day in the saddle would be easily accomplished without needing to be hoisted off by a helicopter at the destination. The seat felt, well actually, I didn't notice it at all, so it must have been ok.

Long, it isn't.

The instrument cluster is pretty basic compared to most new bikes. I didn't have time to sort through the menus, what with trying to take photos in traffic err..controlled conditions....

I mentioned that the bike felt soft earlier. Well, getting on the gas saw the nose rear skyward. Not that the front was lifting off, just the back was squishing down. Backing off and braking firmly sees the nose dive like a football player at the World Cup. To be fair, this may be perfect for off road use, something I didn't get to try being in the centre of Perth. If it IS too soft I am sure it can be set up to suit the road a little better without compromising the off road capability.

I had read good things about the aerodynamics of the screen on various blogs and reviews in that the AT doesn't buffet your head around. I found the BMWs we rode in New Zealand to be terrible in this regard despite there being different screens fitted to the bikes we hired. They were all bad.

The only place to try the Africa Twins aeros was along the Swan River while riding into the Fremantle Doctor. My 70km/h plus the Doctor's 40km/h gave me a virtual 110km/h headwind and I am pleased to say that the result was a quiet, smooth ride.

I negotiated some more city traffic, finding the bike easy to filter at the lights. It was a hot afternoon, maybe 37C (99F) but the engine didn't give off an uncomfortable amount of heat even with the cooling fan cycling on and off.

I thought that I was pushing the friendship by now and made my way back to the dealership. I managed to surprise myself by finding the dealership pretty quickly. Being handed the keys to a brand new bike, in a city on the other side of the country to where I live, with no escort to lead me around was outstanding customer service. I know when test riding bikes here at home they will not let you out of sight, so kudos to Dale Britton Honda for trusting me with their one precious demo bike.

My thoughts? 
I must say I don't get excited by many motorcycles these days. To me they seem to be all about "more". 
More power, more speed, more weight, more cost, more "cred". The Africa Twin represents a bit "less" to me. It isn't uber powerful, it isn't a supertanker, though it isn't a featherweight either. It isn't a pose, it is meant to take on adventure. Sure, it makes compromises in what specification it can have but I must say that I feel that Honda have worked extremely hard on not allowing compromises to affect what it can do.

This is just an initial opinion and just my opinion. I do want to ride the DCT version of the bike which may be easier said than done. Finding a dealer willing to risk sitting an auto on their showroom floor, possibly to be stuck with it might be tough. Also, I need to get some dirt under it's wheels before I go making any rash decisions.....

....but it took a long while to wipe the sh#t-eating grin off my face..............