Words Dean Mellor Photos Honda
It’s quite surprising that the adventure-bike market didn’t really take off in Australia until recently, especially when you consider all the wide-open spaces ripe for exploration on this massive continent of ours.
In Europe, however, adventure bikes have been popular since the 1980s, thanks in no small part to the Paris-Dakar Rally, in which manufacturers such as BMW, Cagiva, Yamaha and Honda spent countless dollars in an attempt to turn race victories into sales success. And it worked
Yamaha won the first couple of Paris-Dakar Rallies, in 1979 and 1980, with a modified version of its XT500, which went on to become one of the best-selling trailbikes of all time.
Then BMW had success with its twin-cylinder R80G/S throughout the early 80s, which also went on to become a huge sales success for the Bavarian manufacturer.
Honda’s response was the introduction of the HRC-developed NXR750, which first took top-honours in the Dakar in 1986, and backed that result up with wins in 1987, 1988 and 1989.
At the time, Honda already had a couple of V-twin dual-purpose bikes on the market in the XLV750R and the XL600 Transalp, but neither evoked the race-bred heritage of the Dakar-winning NXR750.
The oil-cooled, shaft-driven XLV750R was considered by many to be too big and heavy for hardcore off-road use and the more traditional water-cooled, chain-driven Transalp was also more suited to back-road touring than off-road adventures, and although successful in Europe, these bikes only notched up modest sales here in Australia.
To turn the NXR750’s race success into sales success, Honda Europe demanded a more aggressive V-twin adventure machine, so it set about developing a new bike, and in 1988 the XRV650 RD03 Africa Twin was born.
Then – 1988
In production for just two years, from 1988 to 1989, the Honda XRV650 Africa Twin was built by HRC rather than Honda, and it certainly evoked the spirit of the NXR750 racer, sporting HRC’s ‘Tricolor’ colour scheme, trick blue suede-look seat, twin headlights and massive alloy bash plate.
And the Africa Twin was much more than just a lookalike factory racer; weighing in at a not-too-heavy 185kg dry (220kg wet), it had a tall 880mm seat height and offered a generous 215mm of ground clearance.
The perimeter frame was made from rectangular section steel for rigidity and suspension was by way of 43mm air-assisted forks up front, with 220mm of travel, and a monoshock rear-end with adjustable preload and compression, offering 210mm of travel. Braking was taken care of by a 296mm front disc and 210mm disc at the rear.
Powering the Africa Twin was a single overhead cam, three-valves per cylinder 52° V-twin engine derived from the XL600V Transalp. The bore was increased to bring capacity up to 647cc and the engine produced a claimed 43kW of power at 8000rpm and 55Nm of torque at 6000rpm. Cooling was via twin aluminium radiators that sat on each side of the frame, hidden from view by a massive 25-litre fuel tank.
The XRV650 was replaced by the XRV750 in 1989, and this machine remained in production until 2003, with various upgrades along the way. Although the 1989 XRV750 RD04 looked similar to its predecessor, it was now built by Honda rather than HRC
The NXR750-look seat was gone, as were racing-style quick-release fasteners for the bodywork, but the bike retained strong off-road attributes such as long-travel front and rear suspension, good ground clearance and a tall seat height.
The XRV750 featured a new purpose-built 742cc V-Twin engine that made a claimed 46kW at 7500rpm and 63Nm at 6000rpm. To handle the extra power, the front disc was replaced with twin 276mm discs. Fuel capacity was down to 23 litres but dry weight was still 185kg.
The XRV750 RD07 was introduced in 1993 with a new chassis and bodywork. The fuel tank was situated lower in the frame to improve handling, but weight was now up to 207kg dry. The final version of the XRV750 was the RD07A, which was in production from 1996 through to 2003. It was essentially the same as its immediate predecessor except for revised bodywork and a redesigned seat.
That was the end of Honda’s Africa Twin story… until the launch of the all-new CRF1000 Africa Twin in 2016.
Now – 2018
While Australia had its fair share of dual-purpose Hondas throughout the decades, including the XLV750R (1985-1987), the XL600 Transalp (1985-1989) and the single-cylinder NX560 Dominator (1988-2000), the Africa Twin never officially made it Down Under until the launch of the current CRF1000 in 2016.
Of course, there are a few private import examples around the place, but it’s rare to find an XRV650 or XRV750 for sale in Australia.
Other than the Africa Twin name, the CRF1000 has little in common with its V-twin predecessors, and it’s certainly not based on a Dakar factory racebike, which these days are all single-cylinder 450cc enduro-based machines
But it’s no softy either; unlike other recent big-bore dual-purpose machines from Honda such as the XL1000V Varadero or the VFR1200X Crosstourer, the CRF1000 Africa Twin is a genuinely off-road capable adventure bike.
The CRF1000 is powered by a 998cc parallel-twin engine with PGM-FI electronic fuel injection that produces a claimed 68kW of power at 7500rpm and 95Nm of torque at 6000rpm. A 270° crank ensures the engine has a 90° V-twin-like characteristic, and it develops a deep growl while producing good tractability for slippery conditions.
There are two transmissions offered: a six-speed manual gearbox (CRF1000L) or Honda’s trick Dual Clutch Transmission (CRF1000D), the latter featuring manual or automatic operation and various on- and off-road riding modes.
The engine is housed in a compact steel semi-double cradle frame with a steel rear subframe, and the CRF1000 runs fully adjustable 45mm USD forks up front and a monoshock rear with hydraulic preload adjustment. The frame design and compact engine result in excellent ground clearance.
Honda tweaked the intake design and exhaust for the 2018 model to improve midrange output and a new Throttle By Wire (TBW) system provides three rider modes to tailor engine response to suit riding conditions. Other changes include standard ABS across the range, a 2kg weight reduction (thanks largely to a lightweight lithium-ion battery), new footpeg hangers and stainless steel spokes.
The 2018 model year also heralds the introduction of the Africa Twin ‘Adventure Sports’ models, which feature longer-travel suspension, an impressive 270mm of ground clearance, a flatter seat with more upright riding position, extended fairing and taller screen, heated grips, a charging socket, 24.2L fuel tank (up 5.4L), larger sump guard and 900-920mm seat height.
A quick-shifter is available as an option on the manual variant and a the Adventure Sports is offered in HRC’s ‘Tricolor’ colour scheme to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the launch of the XRV650 in 1988.
For those after a go-anywhere adventure bike, the Honda CRF1000 Africa Twin fits the bill, and there are countless genuine and aftermarket accessories available for those who want to tailor their bikes for extended trips on the road… and off it.
Honda Australia recently announced pricing for its MY2018 Africa Twins, starting with the Manual CRF1000L at $17,499, the Adventure Sports Manual CRF1000AL2 at $19,499 and the Adventure Sports DCT CRF1000DL2 at $19,999.
Key Specs Then // Now
1988 XRV650 Africa Twin // 2018 CRF1000L Africa Twin
Engine: Liquid-cooled 52° V-twin, SOHC, 3-valves per cylinder // Liquid-cooled parallel-twin, SOHC, 4-valves per cylinder
Capacity: 647cc // 998cc
Fuelling: 2 x 32mm CV carburettors // EFI
Power: 43kW @ 8000rpm // 68kW at 7500rpm
Torque: 55Nm @ 6000rpm // 95Nm at 6000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed // Six-speed
Front suspension: 43mm fork, air adjustable // 45mm fork, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable preload & compression // Monoshock, adjustable preload
Front brakes: 296mm disc with twin-piston caliper // 310mm dual wave discs with four-piston calipers and ABS
Rear brake: 210mm disc with single-piston caliper // 256mm wave disc with two-piston caliper and ABS
Front tyre: 90/90-21 // 90/90-21
Rear tyre: 130/80-17 // 150/70-18
Wheelbase: 1565mm // 1575mm
Seat height: 880mm // 850-870mm
Ground clearance: 215mm // 250mm
Fuel capacity: 25L // 18.8L
Weight: 220kg (wet) // 230kg (kerb)