It’s only an auto gearbox but the DCT Africa Twin could point to more autonomous tech for motorcycles. Paul Myles reports.
SUVs have been a huge driver of new car sales globally in recent years and, unsurprisingly, the rarefied world of motorcycles has followed suit with the two-wheel equivalent Adventure bikes.
This sector remains strong despite a sales slump in most large capacity machines because it offers the customer a vehicle that spans a variety of roles, from commuter, long distance tourer, sports styling and handling plus the ability to take to dirt roads for the adventure experience.
Few of the latest offerings cover-off all these functions better than the Honda Africa Twin CRF1000L and none offer the bike’s ‘smart’ double-clutch transmission (DCT) automatic gearbox. This piece of automobile technology is especially notable because it’s bolted onto a ‘dirt’ bike where gear choice and throttle response are key to building confidence to use the machine on slippery mud and gravel.
It’s this application of technology that is a possible indicator on where connectivity could take the two-wheeled market. Let’s first look at how smart this gearbox is: not unlike many car systems, the gearbox gives the rider the choice of fully automated or manual selection plus two drive modes, standard or sport which holds the revs longer and sharpens gear changes. On top of this, there are three traction control settings plus the ability to switch them off completely.
The ‘smarts’ with this system comes with the throttle response being able to communicate the rider’s wishes very quickly to the engine management system where clutch engagement and gear selection match the rider’s intentions, for the most part, very well. It’s only trickling along at slow speeds that I found the gearbox sometimes a little slow to ‘understand’ instructions especially when trailing the rear brake with a whiff of throttle – I know, but it’s an old-school habit impossible to break.
That said, the system worked very well and is a real bonus for part-time off-roaders who want to concentrate on clearing obstacles without the need to worry about which ratio to select. Of course, it helps that Honda’s extensive experience of building race winning off-road bikes, right from the Paris-Dakar XRV650, shines through with the latest model that, despite a relatively tall seat height even in its lowest 850mm setting, is narrow and carries its weight nice and low to help off road control. Techie gadgets also include ABS that can be set to aid off-road use to allow the rear wheel to lock while ABS is still operating on the front wheel.
The parallel 1,000cc engine is also quite benign in its power delivery although 94hp is still enough to allow high speed motorway touring in a delightfully relaxed manner.
So where could this technology lead us to? Well, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the bike, and its gearbox, hooked up to the internet could make this form of adventure riding even more accessible to a greater range of rider abilities. Let’s think about a system that uses GPS positioning plus user downloaded local information to ‘brief’ the gearbox on what sort of terrain it’s being steered towards. This mixture of on-board sensor technology and streaming over-the-air instructions could turn a novice dirt rider into a veritable expert with little more to do than stand up on the pegs, move body weight for balance and steer the machine.
None of this is overly fanciful because the technology – modifying engine response, gear ratio and electrically controlling suspension settings – already exists on premium cars so connecting this to a specialist database is not a leap into the unknown.
Naturally, purists will baulk at the prospect, and we bikers are among the biggest control freaks on the planet, but for manufacturers and suppliers looking to broaden the appeal of their products, this sort of connectivity could open up a new world for novice adventure seekers.
08 Jan 2018, LAS VEGAS, USA
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