From the moment the Africa Twin was reintroduced in 2015 for the 2016 model year, and then again this past year with the bigger, badder, more off-road worthy Adventure Sports edition, this Honda ADV bike has had my attention (and apparently a lot of other peoples’ too, according to the response I got on social media). I really, really like this motorcycle. Being a dirt guy, if I were in the market for a big adventure tourer ADV bike, it would have to handle dirt duty really well. The Africa Twin Adventure Sports is equipped to do just that, but it would need a few tweaks here and there to make it a real on/off-road weapon.

Fortunately, the folks over at Honda thought of that and offer the Adventure Sports with a bigger fuel tank, taller windscreen, more bash/crash protection, added suspension travel and ground clearance, and a dirtbike-style seat compared to the regular Africa Twin. Simply put, the Adventure Sports great ADV platform for the rider looking for the best of both worlds.

Straight off the showroom floor, the 2018 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports comes impressively well equipped to tackle your next adventure ride.

Keeping in mind this first portion of our ADV shootout is focused on the street (with part two in the dirt), the Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports is basically a giant 1000cc-parallel-Twin-powered dirtbike with a bunch of street-oriented creature comforts. Still, at its core, it’s really a rally-winning desert racer. That’s a good thing. Here’s why.

Despite its Paris-Dakar off-road racing heritage, the new Adventure Sports handles road duty with almost sport-touring-like precision, performance, and comfort – save for one standout difference – its 21-inch front wheel. Off-road, the skinny 21-inch front will allow you to roll over just about any obstacle you point it at, but on the street, especially in the twisty stuff at a spirited pace, it’s a little less confidence inspiring. Still, you can push it pretty far – further than you might think. We never exceeded its limits (well, not on the road anyhow). Ultimately, the thinner, 2.15-inch wide front wheel and 90/90-21 tire will start to squirm a bit, letting you know when they get close to their max lean angle and grip availability.

Mounted to the 21-inch front are dual 310mm rotors clamped by radially mounted four pot Nissin calipers with ABS, and they do a great job slowing the 585-pound bike down with little effort and great feel at the lever.

Our Africa Twin is equipped with the DCT transmission, which works great, but for me, nothing beats a manual clutch. With the DCT, you just can’t loft or lighten the front end like you can with a clutch. Whether it be picking the front end up over bumps, potholes or obstacles, or just wheelieing it for fun, the DCT just doesn’t suit my riding style as well as a traditional clutch and shift lever does. However, I was probably the only one of our testers that felt this way. Just about everyone else applauded the DCT transmission for its intuitiveness. Sport mode allows the motor to rev out further into the range and not shift as soon, waiting for rider input. In regular drive mode, however, you might find yourself in fourth gear before you even hit 30 mph – not so intuitive. I wasn’t the only one to notice this, Evans felt the same way, explaining how “the DCT puts the transmission in shockingly high gears.”

Honda’s DCT transmission has created a lot of fans who enjoy its easy and seamless gear-shifting, allowing them to focus on other aspects of riding. However for some, nothing beats a good ol’ fashioned manual clutch.

For performance riding, most of us preferred to shift it ourselves in Manual mode via the upshift/downshift buttons on the left handlebar housing. Our guest test rider, Scott Rousseau tells it how it is: “Apologies to you Mac vs. PC types, but it doesn’t matter to me whether I’m on the DCT or the manual version, the Africa Twin delivers an awesome ride. I actually prefer the DCT model, even in the dirt, where I can select full manual mode and paddle-shift up and down through the transmission to my heart’s content.”

The DCT allows you to shift gears with lightning-quick speed, both up and down, and the auto-blip on downshifts, especially while in the higher revs, is like aural sex.

Mated with the DCT, the Africa Twin Adventure Sports has four ride modes: Tour, Urban, Gravel and User. Each has its own presets that vary engine power output, engine braking, and torque control (essentially traction control) based on various terrain conditions, but we found that we liked messing around in the User mode best. In other words, full power and minimum technological intervention, though the torque control is handy off-road, too. It can be the deciding factor between an epic power slide, or a gnarly high side.

The Adventure Sports’ dash is simple in its layout, and all the info you need is displayed nicely. Currently in the User ride mode, engine power (P) has three levels, engine braking (EB) has six, and torque control (T) has seven, with six levels of intervention and zero for none at all.

In the power department, the Honda’s big 1000cc motor was actually the smallest-displacement motor of the group, delivering the fewest ponies, with 86 hp to the rear wheel. What the Africa Twin gave up in power it more than made up for in engine character. It also has quite an impressive exhaust note for a stock muffler.

Adding to the Honda’s excellent road manners and comfort is its great ergonomics. As mentioned before, the Africa Twin AS is like a big-ass dirtbike, and like a dirtbike, its ergos are very neutral and adept at riding aggressively when needed. However, it’s also comfortable when there’s distance to cover.

From wind and rain to heat and cooler temperatures, the AT AS has great weather protection for its rider that comes standard. The Adventure Sports’ windscreen is 3.1 inches taller than the standard Africa Twin, and the handguards not only look cool, but they offer added safety, too.

Just about every test rider noted how well the Africa Twin steers and how maneuverable it is, especially at slower speeds. This might be thanks in part to the 43 degrees of handlebar motion before reaching the steering lock. This greater steering range will assist the Africa Twin’s maneuverability even more off-road. Despite being an almost 600-pound motorcycle, the Africa Twin’s weight starts to melt away as soon as you start moving.

Compared to the regular Africa Twin, the Adventure Sports has a number of upgrades including: a bigger fuel tank to carry an extra 1.5 gallons of gas, more suspension travel (9.9 inches vs. 9.1 in the front and 9.4 vs. 8.7 out back), and hence a little more ground clearance. A larger skid plate (perhaps not large enough, though), a flatter, more comfortable, more dirtbike-like seat for greater comfort and maneuverability, wider foot pegs, and a 3.1-inch taller windscreen complete the AS package. These upgrades proved to be as valuable on the street as they hopefully will in the dirt, too.

Of all us riders, Scott has probably put the most time on the Africa Twin than just about any bike here but the BMW, and his opinion of the versatile ergos is worth highlighting: “I love the riding position of the Honda whether seated or standing. Its seat is adjustable to suit a wide variety of rider sizes. You should be able to find a nice position for long-distance comfort.”

In its standard position, the Africa Twin AS’ seat stands at 36.2 inches tall, but it has a lower 35.4-inch setting, too (pictured above). If 35.4 inches is still too high for you vertically-challenged ADV riders out there, Honda offers an even lower accessory seat as well.

One thing that can’t go unmentioned when speaking of the Africa Twin is its seat height. I’m 6’1 and I ride dirtbikes regularly. The 36.2-inch seat height doesn’t bother me, but I can totally see how anyone shorter might have their reservations.

“OMFG. As if we needed a taller adventure bike,” laments Ryan. Tell us how you really feel, buddy. “The AT AS sits at a lofty 36.2 inches in its taller setting and 35.4 in its lowest, making it the highest seat height on the market for adventure bikes even in its lowest setting. Thankfully, Honda offers a lower seat as an accessory, in case you’re not a giraffe.”

Troy, another one of our shorter testers, is with Ryan, warning riders new to the ADV game that “this definitely isn’t a beginner bike.”

Still, it’s a very approachable motorcycle that’s very well put together with the quality and attention to detail Honda is famous for, and it’ll get you just about anywhere you need to go – on- or off-road – in style. The Africa Twin Adventure Sports in its red, white and blue paint scheme and gold wheels is a stunner. It’ll get attention and turn heads anywhere you go.

As good of an all-around ADV bike as the Africa Twin is (it really is), we can’t just talk it up without including some of its shortcomings. Fortunately, the latter is much shorter than the former. The first thing I noticed when packing for this trip is that the hard-case luggage is on the flimsier side, and it could definitely benefit from getting beefed up a little bit. The same can be said about the latch/locking/mounting mechanism. If you take a spill (most likely off-road) with the bags mounted, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they somehow broke or cracked off (As happened in our 2016 Wire-Wheel Adventure Shootout. Photo here. – Ed.). Fortunately there’s a healthy aftermarket with plenty of more rugged options.

My second beef with the Africa Twin, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this (John Burns must be rubbing off on me), is that it doesn’t come with cruise control. What kind of adventure touring bike, with emphasis on the touring part, doesn’t come with cruise control? Sooner or later, you’re going to be laying down the miles on this thing, and it would be nice to set the cruise control to a perfect 85-90 for those longer hauls.

Finally, the Adventure Sports’ added crash/bash protection could be better. The roll bars around the upper portion of the fairing certainly look cool and give the Africa Twin a more rugged look, but do very little when the bike gets knocked over onto its side. Honda actually calls them “light bars,” not crash bars, most likely because they’re designed for lighter duty than their appearance suggests, but also because you can mount accessory lights to them, too. The skid plate is definitely a nice touch as well, but it should probably be thicker and extend a little further to protect crucial parts of the motor, like the stator cover…

If only it extended another inch or so…

Those are the only nitpicks we’ve been able to come up with so far, and truthfully, they’re pretty minor. Okay they’re not. Overall, the Africa Twin Adventure Sports is a bitchin’ bike.

To sum it up nicely, we’ll turn to Scott once more: if you chose to put an Africa Twin in your garage, “you’re going to get one of the best-sorted, do-it-all adventure bikes ever produced.”

KTM 1290 Super Adventure R – 87.08%

KTM’s flagship adventure tourer received a heavy revision in 2017, and now for 2018, it seems that KTM has finally settled on an easy-to-understand differentiation of its largest travel enduros. The 1290 Super Adventure S handles more road-focused duties while the Super Adventure R gets dirty. Since our open-class ADV shootout will include both street and dirt components, the gathering wouldn’t be complete without the 1290 SA-R. KTM has placed itself atop the large adventure bike heap for many years with platforms based on decades of off-road championships from enduros to Dakar, starting with the Adventure 950 in 2003 and continuing the trend with models like the 1190 Adventure R in 2013. In our 2016 Wire-Wheel Adventure Shootout, the KTM came away on the top step of the podium. We were eager to see if this new model would provide KTM with a repeat performance.

Its choice of outfitting the R version with DOT knobbies hurt the 1290 in the handling category during our street test, but KTM feels it knows its customers would prefer them.

When the KTM landed in our garage, shod with Original Equipment Continental TKC80s, it was pretty clear that the bike was going to give up handling in the curves, but being the only entry with such dirt-focused tires, it would absolutely dominate off-road. Purpose-built off-road tires make a huge difference when the pavement is left behind, and KTM is willing to sell its SA-R with 50/50 tires to show its dedication to those looking to get their adventure bikes dirty, while being unapologetic about the missing street manners.

“If everything had gone as planned, the KTM’s stock TKC80s would have been the perfect choice – and likely would have eviscerated the other bikes’ more street-focused tires,” says Evans, “However, since we had to break our shootout into separate street and dirt pieces, I think the Super Adv would have done better with fewer knobs and more rubber on the road. Every criticism I have of the bike, from its tendency to fall into corners to its high-speed weave, is a direct result of the dirt-oriented tires.”

Even with the TKC80s, it was still fun to hustle the 1290 through the corners, and knowing how well the tires will do off-road should you decide to desert the asphalt, they’re a welcome inclusion.

Having spent some time on the 1290’s road going brother, the S model, I know just how well the bike will go around a set of corners with 19- and 17-inch cast wheels with street rubber. While Continental’s TKC80s are some of the best tires for pulling double duty, you absolutely give up cornering confidence and capability. Brent echoed the sentiment, but feels exactly the way KTM believes its customers will, “These DOT ADV knobbies definitely don’t work or inspire corner carving confidence as well as streetier tires do, but for someone like me, I’d happily sacrifice some street handling for off-road prowess.”

The attribute we could all agree on was the engine, topping our subjective scores just a few percent over the BMW. KTM’s 1301cc Twin cranked out 121.6 horsepower at 9,500 rpm and 74.9 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm. This is actually down from our previous test of the 1290 mill in our review of the 2018 1290 Super Adventure S, which put out 126.9 hp and 81.4 lb-ft of torque. Maybe it was the knobbier tires or the different dynos, but still, our SA-R didn’t leave anyone complaining about a lack of power.

Evans was smitten with the KTM’s mill, “Man, what an engine! And the growl as the rpm climb and the bike starts to weave trying to put the power to the ground…”

“This Katoom has the motor of doom! It pulls like a train throughout its broad rev range, which allows you to just pick a gear and go. Its EFI and throttle response are awesome,” proclaimed Scott.

Troy dug it too, “That 1301cc V-Twin rips. Even though it doesn’t make more power or torque than the Ducati, it’s hard to tell from the saddle. Plus it sounds way more guttural and aggressive than the Ducati (though some might call it agricultural instead).”

Although those two loved the engine, neither were too impressed with the KTM’s gearbox – Scott describing it as, “not being all that smooth” and Troy noting that the quickshifter seemed to only work well when the revs are kept high, a point I can agree with.

Dual 320mm discs with four-piston radially mounted calipers get the big orange bike slowed as soon as you want it to be.

With DOT knobbies, it was hard to get a good feeling for the brakes’ performance on the 1290, though the Brembo units combined with street tires do a fantastic job of getting things slowed in a hurry. Scott, our resident off-road expert with years of testing the industry’s dirt offerings, praised the brakes for their ease of modulation and dirtbike feel.

“The R’s brakes also remind me of KTM’s off-road bikes. They’re powerful but not grabby, and there is a lot of lever and pedal travel that allows you to dial in just the right amount of stopping power in any terrain,” says Scott… “the ABS is really good, but an experienced rider probably wouldn’t even need it.”

The WP 48mm inverted fork is fully-adjustable and has 8.7-inches of suspension travel. The WP monoshock, also fully-adjustable and also provides 8.7-inches of travel.

The off-road ABS setting on the KTM completely turns the system off on the rear wheel while staying active on the front, a nice safety net for those looking for one.

Otherwise, the 1290 R is devoid of fancy buttons to select suspension settings or semi-active adjustments measuring damping by the millisecond. That’s because KTM knows how performance-oriented folks like their clickers to dial in adjustment to the T and because they trust the WP suspension it’s developed for the 1290 R.

The suspension surely shines off-road, but is a solid choice overall, “The 1290 Super Adventure R’s WP suspension is brilliant, soaking up anything that gets in its way,” declares Scott, “You can definitely ride with a lot of confidence when the pavement ends.”

The 1290 R is a very comfortable bike with a wide handlebar and neutral seating position that left no one complaining, though John Nave did note the heat on his right foot, an issue KTM big Twins have had since 2013.

As Evans hurried to finish up photography at the end of the day, the auto-contrasting screen had changed its background to black for its night setting.

Backlit buttons on the handlebar switchgears allow adjustment to be made easily after dark and the big beautiful TFT display has an auto-contrasting setting that will change the background to suit the ambient light.

“The KTM has the features we expect from a top-shelf adventure touring motorcycle: TFT display, cruise control, and quick shifter,” notes Evans, “Unfortunately, the bags don’t seem to be of the same quality (and we’ve been told that the style we sent are no longer sold). One of the latches failed on our three-day ride. Not a good sign.”

The KTM doesn’t give up much on the road, save for the tire-induced handling issues, which is why it landed third overall in our street portion of this test.

Brent was just happy to be back on a bike with a clutch.

Ducati Multistrada 1260S Touring – 87.64%

To preface this for all the naysayers, I’ll let Evans explain the 1260 S Touring’s inclusion in this bunch, “We asked for a Multistrada 1200 Enduro, but it wasn’t available. So, we took the opportunity to sample the newer, bigger 1260 S Tour. While Ducati calls the 1260 an adventure tourer, I’d consider it to be an adventure bike cut from cloth similar to the BMW S1000XR and the Kawasaki Versys 1000. So, we got a very streetable bike with cast wheels instead of the wire ones fitted to the other bikes.”

When life give you lemons, test a new Ducati! Besides, after all, the 1260 S does have an Off-road riding mode and suspension settings that basically turn it into a rally bike! Right…? Well, maybe a Multistrada Enduro will be freed up in time for our off-road portion.

The biggest change for the 2018 Multistrada is the 1262 cc DVT L-Twin engine shared from the XDiavel. When run on our dyno, the Multi 1260 pumped out 140 hp at 9,300 rpm and 86.2 lb-ft of torque at 7,600.

For 2018, the Ducati Multistrada has been upgraded with the Ducati Testastretta DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timing) 1262cc engine previously found in the XDiavel, a new chassis, more advanced electronics, and an aesthetic update that includes new fairing panels and lighter, sportier-looking wheels. It’s a fantastic motorcycle with an immense amount of adjustability within its Skyhook suspension plus a vast electronics suite of rider aids. Of course, if you’re looking for the full review, you could just click here.

2018 Ducati Multistrada 1260 First Ride Review + Video

To be frank, I’m not sure I agree with all the negative flak the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S Touring is getting in this street portion of our shootout. Particularly so when ridden by a bunch of performance-oriented journalists. Since I so graciously threw myself down the trail on the Honda, forcing us to do this shootout in two parts, I honestly believed the Multistrada 1260 would be ranking quite high considering this is a street-only test so far. It was obvious from the beginning that the Multi wouldn’t be taking home a position anywhere close to the podium in the off-road portion, but with our new format I expected more.

Troy couldn’t help leaving darkies throughout Kennedy Meadows paved stretches, backing the Ducati in like it was his job.

Riding the 2018 Multistrada 1260 S Touring in Gran Canaria during its press introduction, I came away mostly impressed aside from abrupt throttle response from Ducati’s new for 2018 ride-by-wire system, a nitpick which the other folks on that ride seemed to dismiss as negligible. Thankfully, my fellow MO staffers echoed my sentiment with Evans being one of the issue’s most vocal critics:

“I loved the engine’s power. When you pull its tail, it flat out hauled ass! However, there were some idiosyncrasies I could have done without. First, it was finicky about neutral throttle, frequently dropping into deceleration instead of neutral. While the quickshifter performed flawlessly on upshifts, the lever required more downward pressure than the other similarly equipped bikes. Also, the rev-matching was more accurate at higher rpm than lower rpm.”

In most of our opinions, the Ducati was hands down the best handling motorcycle on the pavement, though the seat made some of our riders a might uncomfortable.

Troy also viewed the Multistrada in a similar light, “The Multistrada performed like we thought it would. With 17-inch cast wheels, unlike the bigger wire wheels on the others, it was made to chew up pavement, especially twisty pavement. The 1260 engine has power everywhere (and it’s also the most powerful in the group), but in the first three gears power delivery feels like it surges under neutral throttle. It’s manageable in third, and goes away in the higher gears, but it’s annoying otherwise.”

It’s true, the Multistrada is an absolute blast to ride hard on sinuous pavement. In fact, that is precisely where everything works well, under high rpm, hard braking, and ham-fisted throttle. The Multi’s sporting bias is omnipresent in this company.

Guest tester John Nave, had this to say of the Ducati, “Quick reflexes and very fast. Fun riding in 7th position especially when playing catch up. Top three of engine audio tracks.”

“The Ducati’s pinpoint steering accuracy and handling is clearly the lightest-feeling of this heavyweight group,” says our token Frenchman, Scott Rousseau, “Front-end feedback is excellent, and the bike claws around corners like it’s on rails. Its clutch action and shift feel are nice and precise, just like a sportbike’s ought to be.”

The Multi’s new 1262cc Twin is incredibly torquey through its power band and gives the Ducati a leg up on the competition. When run on the dyno, the Multi 1260 put out higher torque and horsepower numbers than any other bike in our test from 3,500 rpm all the way to 10,000 rpm before petering out. With an approximate hp advantage of 19 ponies and 10 lb-ft of torque over its closest competitor, the brawny Italian smoked its rivals on the spec sheet to the tune of 140 hp. The 86 lb-ft. of torque also came in handy while towing the Africa Twin after I had my way with it.

That’s a cramped-looking Trizzle.

In my opinion, and apparently almost everyone else’s opinion in this test, there was one crucial component that caused every rider to complain during our shootout. Interestingly enough, it was a topic of criticism in our 2015 Ultimate Sports Adventure Touring Shootout as well: the ergos, or, more specifically, the seat. I had absolutely no issue with the standard ergonomics of the bike during its press introduction, and quite conversely, I would’ve been happy to spend days on end on in the saddle of that 1260.

That bastard seat ruined a perfectly good motorcycle.

Unfortunately, our Multistrada came with an accessory low seat causing the ergos to feel uncomfortable to riders of every height and size. “The Multi we got had a lower accessory seat which didn’t do my 6-foot-1 frame any favors. Not only did it cramp up my legs, but it also made it feel like you were riding ‘in’ the motorcycle rather than ‘on’ the motorcycle,” says B. Jaswinski, “This didn’t do much for me in the way of inspiring confidence and/or riding the bike fast. It made the bike harder to handle and throw from side to side.”

Troy, Scott and myself, who are all around 5’8”, also found the seat to be a detriment. “It’s too bad our particular test bike was fitted with the optional low seat, as it felt so scalloped that it trapped the rider in the saddle, without much room to move,” says Troy. Though Scott seemed displeased entirely, “I’m not a fan of the Ducat’s ergos. Although this particular Multistrada feels small compared to other bikes in the test, its seat isn’t really all that comfortable when you’re eating a lot of miles in between the twisty bits and, the overall package feels cramped, even for smaller riders. The Ducati is an excellent short-hop adventure tourer (Isn’t that an oxymoron —Ed.), but it suffers in comparison with the others when the miles start to add up.”

The Multistrada 1260 delivered a respectable 42 mpg average during our testing.

The low seat became a point of uniform discontent from our test riders. For me, I was able to look past the poor choice of saddle and see through to the sexy sporty Italian underneath. The fire-breathing performance, laundry list of acronyms describing the electronic adjustability of the Multi, and pant-tightening exhaust note lead it to a second place finish on my scorecard, and a concurrent second place overall after reviewing the entire team’s scores.

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