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Honda XRV 650 Africa Twin
For ten years Honda's Africa Twin was dominating the streets, up to this date she is the goal for all others, which all others have failed to reach. Here is a review and a look at the scene in which the Twin reached cult-status long ago.
At that time we pissed ourselves from laughter. What, ten years ago, we stood in the dealer's showrooms and shortly after that on the parking lot next to our beloved XT's, looked like a plastic-heap fallen in several colour-buckets. Overweighed and monstrous, blinding and effectseeking. A showmobile for a ride to the café or the disco, but no Enduro to conquer this world's gravelpads. A "real" biker would never climb the saddle of a XRV 650 by free will. We were pretty sure about that. And just one month after her release the Honda got it's nickname "Ape-Twin". In our eyes this bike was bound for unsuccess. But you couldn't get rid of her. Catching a glimpse on her two-eyed face in our singlepots tattering rear-view-mirrors you were just seconds away from hearing the brawling V-Twin sound passing you by without any signs of problems.
And it became even worse. Our hope to keep the black continent free from the invasion of the plasticbomber, was destroyed in 1989 at a campfire in Mali. After 1500 km tough gravel road you sat like a Single-pot hero with some even minded people and were lucky about the difficult to pass Tannezrouft-trail, as an enclosing lightbeam in the dark reveals as a fully loaded Africa Twin with sozia. Without asking they both reported about their complication free travel on a untiring seat. The shock went deep, too much is just too much. This bike seemed to be suited for everything.
Bend, turn, gravel or Kapstadt, the "civil" version of the Paris-Dakar winnerbike made its way in every situation and won nearly all comparisons in the following ten years. The winning streak of the coloured bird just had begun, and even die-hard "single-riders" switched, grown older and lazier, to the Twin-party.
Just one party stood thoroughly against them. "Get the sparkplugs out of this thing", joked BMW GS riders on every meeting and listed the necessary parts, to be taken off, to fulfil this simple task: Sidecovers, seat, tank, ignitionspool, air-shaft. Added to this ridiculing listing followed a theatrical look at the easily reachable sparkgivers of their Boxers. They didn't call in mind that the water-cooled V-Twin from Japan was hardly comparable to the old engine of Bavarian production. Honda had developed a nearly indestructible motor. Maintenance free and very elastic. Nearly suited to sell it as an emergency -Dynamo to sell it to the clinics of Africa or South-America.
The extremely high mileage of the motor was accomplished by their owners undoutably after several years. What they recognised immediately was the unequalled driving and the souverenity, with which the Africa Twin mastered all situations. Regardless of the relatively high weight of over 220 kg the Twin always followed the chosen line. No matter of deep sand, gravel or tarmac, she always stayed controllable. Good brakes, a torsionally stiff chassis and a good compromise on the suspension, between racing and relaxing, enhanced the selling success. Was there any possibility to improve this model?
Honda could. In 1990 their technicians led their 650, Type RD03, through the internal fitness-studio and enlarged the capacity to 750 ccm. The new RD04 lured for new customers with more torque, an oilcooler, strengthened frame and better brakes as her predecessor. But no muscles without more weight. The enhancement lead to 17 kg more. In 1993 with type RD07 the Africa Twin had lost some weight and for the first time it lost its repelling for riders of the type "short-legged". With a newly designed frame in combination with a replacement of the airfilter under the tank, the seat height sank from 88 to 86,2 cm. By the way she lost 8kg of weight. Due to mode lcustomizing in the following years the externally adjustable pretension was discarded because of cost, and the formerly bronze-coloured wheels adjusted to the silvery sparkling of the motor. That was about it.
There was just nothing else to do. Even though many people regarded the Twin as boring. A stylish paradise-bird without character. Always starting, driving sovereignly and no major problems, about which on campfires all around the world could philosphated. A modern donkey, which will never reach an XT 500 in cult-status, due to a lack of anecdotes. At least that's what the single-pot-party thought.
There are smiles about the two Austrians which because of the two sparkplugs per cylinder thought the Twin was 4-cylinder bike. Or the one about the horrifying fuel consumption, that made Twin-riders to see the both warning lights more often than the turn-lights or neutral-light. At yellow there are still 8 of the 24 liters left in the tank, at red you should immediately look for a gasstation. Bad hearted people tell at a speed of 160km/h the sucking sound of the carburator was louder than the exhaust. At full throttle and with a sozia and luggage you easily reach 10L many owners are reporting about their Japanese drinking comrade. Also Stephen Jaspers, co-owner of Africa Queens, speaks of a consumption of 12L on sand. He took care of this problem and offers voluminous tanks for the XRV. With an additional tail-tank a potential Rally-driver could transport nearly 60 liters of fuel - never fuel-talks were more important.
On the other hand there's no talking about heroic power. It's permanently looked for. With the series 60 HP very few are pleased, after all the brakes and the chassis easily could face 75 HP. A good task for a handful of Tuners specialised on the V2. Prices are in a range of 2000 and 7500 DM for the quest of more power. With modifications at the carburators, airfilter and exhaust-system the specialists get out up to 15 HP more. Unfortunately without Tuev. The simplest and most effective Tuning of the "every task V" is a well lubricated chain, is told by some insiders.
But regardless of the HP you are travelling with, the Twin is an excellent Travelling bike. The especially for the European market, built bike was seen on every continent. So it's no wonder that a lot of bikes show 6 digit mileages. Best example is the swiss Dirk Egli. A long trip to work as well as 5 tours to Corsica and countless travels through Europe made him and his Twin a km-eater. At 130000 km he located a noise in the motor and thought the engine would die within the next days. A sheer false diagnosis. Today his Twin got 243000 km on her - and over 100000 of them without oil change or any other service. Salt of seven winters keeps her together and the chain was changed when it was torn. Three chains have had it. "I want a bike to ride not to service", was his comment.
Ralf Linde from Hanover looks at it differently. The screwdriver-freak made from offers at used-parts dealers a reduced self construction, which took the last hair from the Tuev-staff. He had to return three times. But after that the "Linde-Light" XRV 750 weighs fully fuelled just about 194 kg - nearly a Hard-Enduro.
All owners agree, that there's nothing impossible with an Africa Twin. The balanced mixture of tourers, screwdriver-freaks, rally-Drivers and globetrotters is responsible that after all the little cult that exists was formed. Because all owners, no matter if they got a recently cleaned, with crash-bars as well as plastic-cases and street-tires, RD07 or a personalised RD03, have one thing in common, the permanent quest for the next filling-station and the 6th gear. And the knowledge you can go everywhere without any problems.
This is what Honda claimed about the recently presented Varadero, which with its 1000ccm engine, based on the VTR, 95 HP strong and regarded as the "ultimate Twin". But the name seems to make it clear: As you can go through the deserts of the black continent on the Africa Twin, the new bike was named after a famous Cuban holiday resort - which sounds rather like group-tourism than adventure, another point against gravel-pads and off-road trips is the combined braking system and the solid-steel wheels. The successor of the Africa Twin? At the INTERMOT in Munich we were pissing ourselves from laughing. Just like ten years ago.