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Off dirt trails and river crossings
Shenanigans on Honda's Africa Twin. In the tropical jungles of India's favourite beach state.
I decided to leave my trunks at home for this one. I somehow had an inkling they wouldn’t be of much use. Not on this trip anyway. Not while the grass painted the landscape in several shades of green and the clouds rolled over the hills to let you play hide and seek with the tops of hills; not while I had the keys to a motorcycle like this one. The monsoon is possibly when Goa looks its prettiest and with the exceptional downpour this year, things seem to look even better. There is, of course, the important little detail about seeing it from the rather high saddle of an Africa Twin, which makes it that much more special. Here is a machine that the makers waited on for more than a decade, before giving it the nod and declaring it fit to inherit its legendary name. Parked in the middle of wilderness, I cannot imagine many others that would blend in this naturally with its surroundings. Nothing else that would transition so seamlessly from tarmac surfaces to dirt trails and water splashes.
Nothing that can rack up this much of filth and still look so good, like it was meant to be so. I’ve been raiding back roads and turning into spaces I would generally not venture into with a motorcycle this size. After an initial burst, out on broad open highways, with the 999cc, twin-cylinder motor singing its raspy tune – all 87 horses on tap unleashed – I turned away, satisfied with its mile crunching appetite. I mean if I didn’t give it a shot with this motorcycle, what else would I have ever done it with? There is also the question of expectation, which clearly outstrip my abilities, but I was willing to learn how far I could go. Luckily though, the Africa Twin is in the habit of lending a generous hand to move things along. Back roads make for some fantastic scenery, but it also, very often, makes for crumbling surfaces and gravel strewn corners.
I tip-toed through the first few corners, mindful of what my right hand was doing and careful with the brakes. There isn’t a clutch to handle and I carried on with the transmission locked in ‘S2’ – a mode I’d taken a liking to since my first encounter with the motorcycle. The DCT held gears and functioned rather intuitively. Having one less thing to worry about, I started making sure I was positioned properly on the bike and gradually started opening up the throttle. A little more with each corner. It did not take long to shift to minimum interference from traction control and use the throttle to get out of corners with the rear wheel hanging out slightly as I moved my body to keep the bike upright. If you can remember the time when you achieved this, you would know the exact feeling of glee that overcomes your senses and all the teeth that appear at about the same point. Done with corners going uphill, it was time to descend on the other side, something I am terrified of.
However, the ABS allows for just a hint of lock (you can turn off ABS for the rear wheel) in the rear wheel and the gearbox remains in a lower gear to allow for some amount of engine braking. Combine that with the newfound ability to get on the throttle and allow some wiggle, the downhill section was dealt with too. Not only was the big Honda proving itself to be every bit worthy of its name, it was also making me a better rider along the way. And, most importantly, I stood vindicated about my decision to leave behind the trunks. I may have gotten a little carried away with things and stopped for one too many pictures, because the night snubbed out the last rays of sunlight by the time I got to the steepest part of the climb. In absolute darkness and with clouds rolling in, it did not help matters much. For all the things that the Africa Twin does well, its headlamp seems rather high even in low beam and it wasn’t until I came up on a car that I was able to see much of what I was negotiating.
Keeping up took a bit of effort, but having understood how well the big adventure bike behaved helped me power through broken corners, bumps and everything in between. Not an ideal situation, but nevertheless something that proved the Honda’s friendliness and ease of use even further. There was enough saddle time put in to realise that despite the motorcycle’s formidable 245-kilo kerb weight, it was happy to be dealt with like a much lighter bike on the move. With a set of tyres designed for mild gravel at best, I decided to venture further. Having explored some fantastic country roads, deep in the south of Goa, it was time to show the Africa Twin some dirt trails. Despite the shallow tread on the tyres, it did not flinch, although getting my weight behind the handlebars on the slippery trail was a bit of problem. As little as I have to complain about, the handlebar does feel too low for proper stand-up-and-ride situations and I could’ve done with the footpegs allowing for a bit more room while sitting for extended highway jaunts too.
Apart from that, the fixed windscreen worked perfectly for my height, but I am sure six-footers will have a thing or two to say about it. And, as I painfully found out on the trail, the plastic knuckle guards may keep the weather away, but the lack of a metal brace makes the levers easy to break. In case you are wondering how I found out; recall that bit about my expectations outstripping my abilities – well it happened. On the trail that went deep into the jungle, I followed like a mouse digging deeper through a hole, until I came up on a river. A mouse, of course, would’ve been smart and fled, but I was feeling a bit cocky with the Africa Twin for company. Watching a rickety old pick-up breeze past gave me courage and the swell didn’t seem too bad either. So, I ventured in, and got past the first few rocks only to realise that they were getting bigger and the water deeper.
Worst of all, I did not have a second set of wheels to balance things out – a bit of a miscalculation then. I swallowed my pride and decided to waddle across. That is when I hit an even bigger rock and got wedged in place. At about the same time, the tyres let me know that they had run their course too and there wasn’t any further traction possible. The motorcycle that felt so lithe on the move suddenly made me very aware of its fondness for gravity and the raised seat height (yes, I should’ve figured a way to adjust it) wasn’t doing any favours either. Eventually, as I tried to rock my way out from between the rocks with a steady current flowing in from the river; I lost my footing and the bike tipped over, taking me with it. Only for me to realise that maybe, just maybe, I should’ve carried my trunks after all and left the bike on the shore.