The Evolution of Honda's Africa Twin, From Paris-Dakar Triumphs to Street Legend

There was a time when adventure sports bikes did not exist - honestly, there was! As perhaps the most popular current class of bikes - along with naked machines - each manufacturer has their own story. BMW with the R80GS and then the famous Ewan McGregor and Charlie Borman transglobal trek. Yamaha and the venerable XT500 paved (or unpaved) the way for the Tenere. suzuki with the Dr. Big and Honda with the iconic africa twin.

honda africa twin

All tracing their roots back to the famous Paris-Dakar race created by Thierry Sabine, the lure, romance, and obvious public attention the race achieved appealed as much to manufacturers as the prospect of using the event as a technology and reliability showcase.

For Honda – who never do things by half – that meant handing over the research and task of creating a race-winning machine (that could become the blueprint of a retail motorcycle) to HRC, the Honda Racing Corporation.

The target HRC set themselves was engine flexibility and performance at all revs, a long-distance fuel load combined with an idealized center of gravity, easy maintenance in harsh conditions plus good fuel economy. The result was the XRV650 created in 1998 on which two men's teams won that year and in 1989. A strong showing, and Honda would have to wait until 2020 to lift the trophy again.

Tasked with translating HRC's "money no object" race winner into a showroom machine fell to Tomonon Mogi, who wanted the street africa twin to reflect the race bike as much as possible. So, the headlight grill was retained, the expensive cowling fasteners (after a heated exchange with the account dept!), and even the “saddle tank” which necessitated a fuel pump as a good portion of the fuel lay below the height of the carburetors.

Moving to 750cc in 1990 the accounts “penny pinchers” got their own way and the indulgences like the expensive cowling fixings made way for cheaper items, but the legend was already born. Subtle updates kept the africa twin as a core part of the Honda range until 2003 when the basic format became outgunned and outperformed by the competition; although the concept re-appeared as a new machine in 2016 in the 1000cc category.

Like Range Rovers, most Africa Twins will likely never be taken off the road, and certainly not into the Sahara but that misses the point. They only have to look like they can to imbue their owners with the pride of knowing that “if” they wanted to go wadi trekking they could. And for countless thousands of riders, that is sufficient to fuel a seemingly endless desire for this type of machine.

For africa twin spares why not venture deep into the CMSNL website we think you will discover an oasis of parts that will keep you going until the sands of time run out!

issued: Tuesday, January 02, 2024
updated: Tuesday, January 02, 2024

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