Since its introduction, the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin hasn’t stopped drawing comparisons to some of the best off-road-oriented Adventure-Tourers in the category, an honor it comes by honestly seeing as it’s such a great motorcycle.
The Africa Twin’s surprisingly dirt-worthy performance, its fairly light weight, simplicity and relatively economical $13,299 MSRP (for the manual 6-speed model) have made it a sales success. Honda seems to have remembered what a lot of other OEMs have forgotten, namely that complexity and weight can be the enemy.
Well, apparently KTM got the message, because for 2017 the Austrian dirtbike giant has released a new, relatively stripped-down 1090 Adventure R model to replace the 1190 Adventure R and create a little more separation from their new flagship 1290 Super Adventure R. Perhaps most tantalizing is the 1090 Adventure R’s more affordable MSRP of $14,699.
We had already been planning a comparison of the Africa Twin and the 1090 Adventure R when we received a phone call from our friends at Springfield Armory, inviting us to join them in Las Vegas for the introduction of their new Springfield XD-E 9mm pistol. As some of our staff members are military veterans and avid shooters (it’s fine if you aren’t), we jumped at the chance to plan a route between our Orange County home base and Las Vegas. Our parent company’s Powersports Editorial Director Sean Alexander even patched up the gaping hole in his right leg, courtesy of his recent trip to test the new 2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R down in Peru, to join me (Scott Rousseau, Editor-in-Chief of DirtBikes.com, part of the MO family) on an awesome three-day adventure ride.
Since we knew the trip would give us ample opportunity to put the two machines through their paces by mixing in a lot of dirt miles along with highway and city miles for an excellent shootout on the way to… our shootout, we fitted both machines with Continental’s excellent TKC-80 adventure tires for better grip in the grit. In the end, both machines were a lot of fun, and although one bike ultimately proved to be superior, the result was wafer thin.
It didn’t take long for us to make some clear determinations about in their engine characters when we began the first off-road leg of the trip near Barstow, California. While both the Africa Twin and the 1090 Adventure R feature twin-cylinder engines, their architecture and personalities are quite different. The Africa Twin’s liquid-cooled Parallel Twin uses a 270-degree crankshaft to yield V-Twin-like power pulses that sound and feel similar to the 1090 Adventure R’s actual 75-degree V-Twin. But in addition to having 52 fewer cubic centimeters, the Honda’s engine is also in a decidedly milder state of tune than the KTM’s. Its compression ratio checks in at 10.0:1 while the 1090 Adventure boasts a much higher 13.0:1, and more compression often means more power.
The KTM makes more power than the Honda, a lot more as evidenced by our dyno session at Mickey Cohen Motorsports in Placentia, California. Set in Sport Mode, the 1090 Adventure R yielded 101.2 rwhp at 9200 rpm and 67.3 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 6900 rpm. The KTM also features Off-Road, Street and Rain modes as well. Of these, both Rain and Off-Road Modes seriously curtail the horsepower (79.2 rwhp/8100 rpm) and torque (54.1 lb.-ft. at 6700 rpm) to give the 1090 Adventure R a more tractable feel in slippery dirt or wet pavement conditions.
Compared to the KTM, the Africa Twin keeps things simple, with no switchable riding modes to alter its engine response. The Honda’s 998cc engine still posted respectable numbers, 77.9 rwhp at 7500 rpm and 61.3 lb.-ft. of torque at 5900 rpm, but it clearly does not match the KTM in terms of sheer output.
So why, then, does the Honda’s engine feel so lively and responsive on the street and on the trail? A couple reasons: First, the KTM uses ride-by-wire throttle technology, which is always improving, but in this case it simply doesn’t match the more organic and responsive nature of the Honda’s cable-operated injector butterflies of its 44mm Keihin PGM-FI fuel-injection system in the dirt. There’s no question that the KTM can accelerate quicker than the Honda when in Sport Mode, but our testing on a dry lake bed just outside of Las Vegas revealed that the Honda can cover the KTM in any other mode as the KTM’s ECU simply doesn’t allow its larger and more powerful engine to ramp up to peak power as quickly as the Honda. The R motor also lacks the snappy and linear throttle response of the Africa Twin. Another reason may be aural: The Honda’s two-into-one exhaust system sounds a whole lot throatier than the KTM’s, and its more aggressive exhaust note may mask the Africa Twin’s power shortage compared to the brawnier yet quieter 1090 Adventure R.
The Honda also exhibits a more refined character in the clutch and transmission departments. Both it and the KTM feature six-speed transmissions, the Africa Twin making use of an old-school, cable-operated clutch while the 1090 Adventure R gets more in step with the times by utilizing a hydraulically operated PASC slipper clutch. Both clutches are durable and offer excellent modulation, but while the KTM’s slipper clutch does an excellent job of preventing chatter or wheel hop when downshifting in the dirt, its lever action feels less linear and connected than the Honda’s. And when it comes to shift performance, the KTM’s transmission feels notchy and stiff compared to the buttery smooth Honda when going from gear to gear.
Traction is important when attempting to negotiate a loose or rocky hill on one of these behemoths, and both the Honda and the KTM offer rider assistance in the form of traction control (TC). The Honda features three levels of intervention, and the TC can also be easily switched off by toggling a button on the left switchgear housing. However, the Africa Twin’s TC sophistication pales in comparison to the KTM’s, which was developed in close collaboration with Bosch, and is available in all four ride modes. After pounding around in the dirt for hours, we found that the KTM’s TC is much more intuitive to the terrain being traversed, especially in Off-Road mode, where it allows the rear wheel to slip at double the speed of the front wheel before engaging. It can also be completely disengaged, but it worked so well that we found it best just to leave it on for extra insurance against unwanted wheelspin.
The Honda TC, on the other hand, seemed to work best only on the lowest level of intervention. In the full and middle TC positions, the system seemed to cut power too easily, muting the Africa Twin’s ability to feel responsive to the terrain and creating a few anxious moments of drastically reduced power during hill climbs. Fortunately, the Africa Twin’s smooth power delivery and linear throttle response made the TC function almost unnecessary. Still, if the feature is going to be included, it should really work better than it does.
But that was just one area where the 1090 Adventure R proved that it is the more dirt-worthy Adventure machine. Where the KTM really turns the tables on the Africa Twin is in the chassis and suspension categories. The KTM’s chrome-moly trellis frame is far more responsive than the Honda’s double-cradle steel frame. Whether on the dirt or on the road, the KTM is rock stable and steers with greater precision than the Honda even though the 1090 Adventure R’s 62.2-inch wheelbase is only 0.2 inch longer than the Africa Twin’s.
On the other hand, the Honda is lighter, weighing 547.7 lbs. with its 4.97-gallon fuel cell topped and its accessory saddlebags mounted. In similar trim, the KTM weighs 566.4, although some of that extra weight is fuel load, since the KTM’s 6.07 (23-liter) fuel cell carries 1.1 more gallons (about 6 lbs.) than the Honda. The Honda chassis feels as if it has a lower center of gravity, and that helps it change direction quickly, but in the dirt the KTM’s front end simply feels more planted and offers better feedback and better grip.
Likewise, the 1090 Adventure R’s WP 48mm inverted fork and linkless WP PDS shock, which is an upgrade from the 1190 Adventure R components it replaces, delivers more off-road-worthy performance than the 45mm Showa fork and Pro-Link-suspended Showa shock. The fork and shock on both machines are fully adjustable for compression, rebound and preload, but try as we might, we couldn’t find perfectly happy settings for the Honda in the dirt.
The Africa Twin can soak up moderately choppy and rocky sections of trail, but aggressive riding through whooped sections reveals light valving, which causes the Honda to blow through its travel at both ends and rebound too quickly, causing the bike to pitch back and forth from front to rear. The KTM’s more dialed-in suspenders simply stand up better when the going gets rough, delivering a far more controlled ride that tolerates some fairly aggressive maneuvering even on a machine that weighs more than 565 lbs.
And if you’re going to try and go fast in the dirt on one of these big boys, it helps to have a set of brakes. Luckily, both machines are equipped with competent binders. The Honda Africa Twin boasts dual 310mm wave-style rotors with Nissin radial mount four-piston calipers and sintered metal pads up front and a 256mm wave rotor with a Nissin two-piston caliper out back. The KTM 1090 Adventure R’s brakes are slightly larger, with twin 320mm rotors and Brembo radial mount four-piston calipers and a radial master cylinder up front. A 267mm rotor and Brembo two-piston caliper handle the rear stopping chores.
Both machines also feature the modern safety and convenience of ABS intervention. The Honda’s two-channel system features a handy on/off switch to disengage only the rear ABS for off-road use. The KTM’s more advanced Bosch 9M+ two channel ABS can also deactivate its rear wheel intervention by switching to Off-Road mode, and the system can also be set to completely disable ABS at both wheels, although we don’t recommend that; tucking the front end on a big ADV bike in the middle of nowhere isn’t our idea of a good time.
We give the edge in braking performance to the Africa Twin for its natural ease of use and more progressive lever feel, which helps its rider to dial in just the right amount of braking for a given situation. There’s no question that the Brembos on the KTM are powerful – other than a few Husqvarnas we’ve sampled, we’ve never found Bembo units to be lacking in bite. Where the KTM seems to come up a little short is in the responses exhibited at the front brake lever and the rear brake pedal, forcing the rider to be a little more on his game in order to generate the right amount of stopping power. Rousseau never found a suitable setting when adjusting the KTM’s front brake lever, which only offers four positions of adjustability compared to the Honda’s six positions. Alexander on the other hand agreed with the feel assessment but didn’t have any trouble finding a comfortable lever position on either bike.
Both machines offer solid-performing brakes front and rear. The Africa Twin’s Nissins have a slight edge in lever feel over the 1090 Adventure R’s Brembo units.
All of our dirt fun put us seriously behind schedule when it came time to make it to the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino in time for our meeting with the Springfield Armory folks, who are genuinely rabid motorcycle fans. Springfield Armory CEO Dennis Reese has an even longer history with motorcycles than he does with firearms manufacturing. Reese was a talented off-road motorcycle racer at about the same time as his family acquired the legendary firearms brand in 1974. Reese would go on to earn factory support and compete in three consecutive ISDTs from 1977-79, winning a gold medal in Värnamo, Sweden, in 1978, and a silver medal in Neunkirchen, West Germany, in 1979.
The American Iron Road Tour
Just as he did with his racing efforts, Reese has put his heart and soul into Springfield Armory for the last 40 years, and the company continues to develop new and innovative products that occupy the upper-midrange of the shooting market and seem to earn a lot of favor with firearms enthusiasts. Their latest pistol is the new Springfield XDe 9mm, a variant of the company’s Croatian-built XD pistol line. The greatest difference between the compact 9mm XDe and its siblings is that the little XDe features a hammer at the rear of its slide, and a manual safety/de-cocker control lever on its left flank, a lot like the legendary 1911-series of pistols, only lighter, smaller, and partially made of polymer. The rest of Springfield’s XD line of polymer pistols utilizes a hammerless, striker-fired design that’s available with or without manual external safeties.
Springfield’s moto roots show through in its media events, which are very much modeled after similar product intros in the motorcycle and automobile industries. A rather diverse group of journalists was invited out to the Clark County Training Facility to sample the new XDe. While everyone else boarded shuttles to get from the hotel to the range, we naturally chose to ride our Africa Twin and the 1090 Adventure R test bikes and meet the rest of the group at the shooting facility. It didn’t take long after we arrived before Reese and Springfield-sponsored national shooting champion Rob Leatham were begging to ride aboard our dusty Adventure steeds. We spent the entire day running through a series of combat and self-defense training drills designed to demonstrate the XDe’s capabilities. To say we had fun would be the understatement of the year. A hearty thanks goes out to the Springfield Armory staff for inviting us to participate in the event.
After another night in the hotel, which was largely spent sampling some craft brews at the hotel’s Beer Park Beer & Sports Bar, we bid our pals at Springfield goodbye and headed to the craps tables where both Alexander and Rousseau proceeded to lose $60 each while our new video producer, James Martinec, who knew nothing about the game, made money. Figures. Early the next morning we saddled up and headed for home.
Adventure bikes are meant to be ridden long distances, which means spending a long time in the saddle. Both of these machines offer tremendous comfort levels that are on par with any other machine in their class and, indeed, can even put some full-fledged touring rigs to shame. Shorter riders are likely to prefer the Africa Twin, which offers a comfy seat that is adjustable to two positions, the standard 34.3 inches or a lower 33.5 inches. The 1090 Adventure R’s saddle is set at 35.0 inches, which works well for taller testers but can be a bit unsettling for riders with stubby legs, especially when the need arises to dab a foot or to paddle while negotiating loose off-road terrain. One thing we especially loved about the KTM was the accessory footpegs that were fitted to the 1090 Adventure R. They feel like rigid and secure floorboards when compared to the Honda’s smaller rubber padded pegs, and their aggressively serrated teeth did an excellent job of giving our boots plenty of traction.
Large or small, our testers found happiness aboard either machine. Both feature comfy ergos from the waste up, with the KTM offering a slightly higher bar position than the Honda. All of the rider controls are easy to manage when bombing down the highway for endless miles or even when crawling down a rough trail. All around, we’d give the comfort edge to Honda’s Africa Twin over the 1090 Adventure R simply because the Honda has a cooler cockpit in hot weather and because it seems to be able to accommodate more riders of various sizes than the KTM.
When it comes to fuel economy, the numbers gathered on our trip are by no means indicative of just how fuel efficient the Honda and KTM are – remember we did a lot of off-roading, plus a lot of 90 mph freeway hustling, both of which consume extra fuel. The Africa Twin achieved an average of 35.7 mpg while the 1090 Adventure R achieved an average of 35.5 mpg. That would give the KTM a substantial range advantage, since its 6.07-gallon fuel cell is larger than the Honda’s 4.97-gallon unit. The math equates to 215 miles for the 1090 Adventure R and 168 miles for the Africa Twin before you go from riding to pushing.
Fit and finish is comparable between the two with one notable exception: the Honda’s accessory saddlebags are simply not worthy of being on such an otherwise competent machine. Their aluminum cladded exterior portions bely their subpar build quality, and they mount so loosely that they flop around during bumpy off-road rides, even if they never actually fell off. They are also hard to close even when empty. The accessory bags on the KTM are more spacious and, more importantly, way more securely mounted. They also feature a very positive mechanism that allows easy opening and closing. If bags were the only test criteria, the Honda would be in serious trouble.
However, the KTM does have a fault of its own, and that’s the excessive heat generated at the upper-rear of its V-Twin engine. KTM really made some neat moves by redesigning the 1090 Adventure R’s bodywork to give it a more streamlined appearance, and we really like the fact that the material on the tank shrouds is high-impact plastic similar to what is found on KTM’s off-road and motocross machines, but the rear cylinder’s heat soaks back into the rider’s legs and up to their crotch and abdomen. While we were blessed with beautiful 72-degree (Fahrenheit) spring-time weather in the desert, the 1090 Adventure R’s heat wasn’t that big of an issue most of the time, but on the 90+ degree interstate surface it quickly became easy to see how can be a problem in warmer weather.
Both machines offer easy-to-read and easy-to-manage instrumentation packages. The Honda Africa Twin’s Dakar Rally-inspired, vertical instrument panel is all LCD, featuring a speedometer, bar-graph tachometer, clock, gear-position indicator, TC indicator, odometer, tripmeter, ambient temperature, and fuel gauge display. The KTM 1090 Adventure R’s VDO instrument cluster features a large analog tachometer in the center of the unit while the speedometer, fuel gauge, clock, and water temperature indicator are viewed through an LCD screen to the lower right of the tach. Odometer, trip meter, Ride Mode and ABS information is displayed on a separate LCD screen to the left of the tach. We’d call it a draw as both machines offer plenty of information that’s easy to read and easy to toggle through. The KTM also allows the rider to make ride mode changes while the bike is in motion so long as the throttle is held closed for a few seconds to confirm any changes.
Like we said at the beginning, we knew the result of this particular matchup was going to be close. The Honda Africa Twin represents a ton of bang for the buck in any motorcycle category. With the exception of its bags – and you don’t have to buy ’em – the Africa Twin delivers an extremely high level of refinement and good overall manners whether your jungle is made of asphalt or dirt. Its peppy parallel-Twin punches above its displacement level, and its two-position adjustable seat can accommodate a wide range of riders. The Africa Twin is a great Adventure motorcycle. In fact, it’s so impressive that before we had the insight of the scorecard, our guts were telling us the Honda might win in a squeeker (see video).
But where the Honda falls short, especially in the dirt, is right where the KTM 1090 Adventure R comes on the strongest, in the chassis and suspension categories. Sure, the horsepower freaks out there probably believe the KTM should dominate this comparo by virtue of its more powerful engine as well, but while its multiple ride modes are tantalizing, its throttle response really isn’t. However, the KTM’s ability to seriously plow through some awful nasty stuff thanks to its amazingly responsive frame and a fork and shock that are well-tuned for the task at hand, is really enough to give it the edge on the Honda. And in the end, the 1090 Adventure R just does edge out the Africa Twin on our scorecard, garnering a rating of 84.98% compared to the Honda’s 83.09%.
When all’s said and done, the KTM 1090 Adventure R is a better off-road bike than the Honda Africa Twin, and if you’re looking at either of these machines as a possible future purchase, you probably plan to spend a fair amount of time doin’ it in the dirt. When it comes to that end of the ADV spectrum, the Africa Twin is a great machine, but the KTM is slightly better.
|Specifications||2017 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin||2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R|
|Engine Type||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, Parallel Twin||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 75° V-Twin|
|Valve Train||SOHC; four valves per cylinder||DOHC; four valves per cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke||92.0mm x 75.0mm||103.0mm x 63.0mm|
|Induction||PGM-FI; 44mm throttle bodies||Keihin EFI; 52mm throttle bodies|
|Ignition||Full transistorized ignition w/three-mode TC||Keihin EMS with RBW, twin ignition, w/ride modes, TC|
|Clutch||Cable-actuated manual clutch||Hydraulically assisted slipper clutch|
|Final Drive||16T/42T; chain||17T/42T|
|Chassis||Double-cradle, steel||Chrome-Moly steel trellis|
|Front Suspension||Showa 45mm inverted telescopic fork; 9.06 in. travel||WP 48mm inverted telescopic fork; 8.66 in. travel|
|Rear Suspension||Pro-Link w/Showa shock; 8.66 in. travel||PDS w/WP shock; 8.66 in. travel|
|Front Brakes||Twin 310mm hydraulic discs w/Nissin radial four-piston calipers; switchable ABS||Twin 320mm hydraulic discs w/Brembo radial four-piston calipers; Bosch 2-channel ABS|
|Rear Brakes||256mm single hydraulic disc w/Nissin two-piston caliper; ABS||267mm single hydraulic disc w/Brembo two-piston fixed caliper; ABS|
|Trail||113mm (4.4 in.)||123mm (4.8 in.)|
|Seat Height||Standard 34.3 in. / Low 33.5 in.||Standard 35.0 in.|
|Ground Clearance||9.8 in.||9.8 in.|
|Wheelbase||62.0 in.||62.2 in.|
|Fuel Capacity||4.97 gal.||4.97 gal.|
|Claimed Curb Weight||511 lbs.||471 lbs.|
(fully fueled w/saddlebags)
|547.7 lbs.||566.4 lbs.|