If you’re thinking about going off-roading on a motorcycle, buying a used one is a great way to save some cash. But there’s used, and then there’s classic. Naturally, the idea of taking a vintage bike off-road can seem rather daunting. However, while they don’t offer all the latest modern conveniences, some classic motorcycles are still stalwart off-pavement companions. For example, the iconic original Honda Africa Twin.
The original Honda Africa Twin was based on the bikes that crushed the Paris-Dakar Rally
Much like Ducati and the SuperSport, the ‘Africa Twin’ nameplate has a long history within Honda. The modern ‘CRF1100L’ Africa Twin is an excellent adventure bike. But it’s also the latest in a long line of off-roaders to bear that nameplate.
The Africa Twin story starts in the 1980s, ADV Pulse explains. Then as now, Honda was competing in the motorcycle category of the Paris-Dakar Rally. And it was facing stiff competition from the BMW R80G/S, MSL reports, the first ‘true’ adventure bike.
However, the situation changed in 1986 with the introduction of the Honda NXR750. This V-twin bike would go on to win four consecutive Paris-Dakar Rallies from 1986 to 1989, ADV Pulse reports. And to capitalize on these successes, Honda decided to introduce a road-going replica, Silodrome explains. The result was the original 1988-1989 Honda Africa Twin XRV650 ‘RD-03.’
Admittedly, the Honda Africa Twin XRV650 isn’t exactly a carbon-copy of the NXR750. It has a smaller gas tank, for example, and a slightly detuned engine. But that engine is still a liquid-cooled V-twin, a 56-hp 647cc one linked to a five-speed transmission. Plus, the XRV650 doesn’t just visually ape the NXR750, VisorDown reports. It has many of the same off-road-ready features as the race bike—but we’ll get to those shortly.
In 1990, Honda replaced the Africa Twin XRV650 with the XRV750, Bennetts reports. And this ‘Africa Twin 750’ stayed in production until 2003, going through three generations: RD04, RD07, and RD07A. Like the XRV650, the Africa Twin 750 has a five-speed transmission and a liquid-cooled V-twin. However, it’s a 742cc V-twin rated at 62 hp, Classic Motorbikes reports.
Whether 650 or 750, a classic Honda Africa Twin is still off-road-capable
Although the Honda Africa Twin XRV750 is more powerful than the XRV650, the latter is about 35 pounds lighter, Silodrome reports. However, the 1993 RD07 introduced a redesigned and lighter frame, along with improved handling. And while it’s heavier, the Africa Twin 750 also improved on some of the XRV650’s features.
Even today, the Honda Africa Twin XRV650 has decent off-road specs. It features an aluminum skid plate, a metal headlight guard, twin radiators, and a high-mounted exhaust, Motorcycle.com reports. And it has 9.1” of front suspension travel and 8.3” of rear travel, Silodrome reports.
The Honda Africa Twin XRV750 has 0.5” less front suspension travel, Motorcycle.com reports. However, it has upgraded air-assisted Showa front forks. And it also has a more-adjustable rear monoshock with 0.1” more travel. Plus, while both models have front and rear disc brakes, the XRV750’s are larger overall, and it has dual front discs, ADV Rider reports.
Compared to the modern Honda Africa Twin, the XRV750 is noticeably rougher and rawer, Brake Magazine reports. However, it actually has a few advantages over the new ADV. The classic model feels nimbler and more compact, and overall, more exciting to ride, Cycle World reports.
True, the latest Honda Africa Twin is more comfortable and has slightly more suspension travel, RideApart reports. And you can get it with an automatic transmission. But the classic bike’s simplicity arguably makes it easier to ride on off-road trails. Turns out, the old mule still has a lot of life left in it.
It’s difficult to get in the US, but not necessarily expensive
Sadly, US customers never got the chance to experience the classic Honda Africa Twins in-period. Although we did get the Transalp adventure bike, Honda never sold the XRV650 or XRV750 here, Cycle World reports. The first US-market Africa Twin didn’t arrive until 2016, Motorcyclist reports.
Fortunately, thanks to the 25-year rule, all but the last versions of these vintage Honda Africa Twins are import-eligible. 2021 marks the first time the RD07A, the last generation of the XRV750, can be imported. And despite these bikes’ status, they’re still fairly affordable. Most examples on Bring a Trailer sell for about $5000, and rarely for more than $10,000. It’s a similar story with Africa Twins auctioned through Bonhams.
Reliving those 80s and 90s Dakar dreams, then, won’t cost you a fortune.
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