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Two can play that game

It’s time for a good old fashioned Japanese head-to-head: the Africa Twin versus the Super Ténéré.

Yamaha’s Super Ténéré has always been the Honda Africa Twin’s biggest rival. The Dakar Rally was hot news in the late 1980s and both bikes truly capitalised on the hype. Round headlights, 21-inch front wheels, long travel suspension and twin-cylinder middleweight engines were an obvious design nod to the famous desert rallies.

These days, Honda has to compete with KTM’s 1050 Adventure and Triumph’s Tiger 800 XC too. But with Honda ditching its V2 configuration for a parallel twin, what better than a good old fashioned Japanese head-to-head: the Africa Twin versus the Super Ténéré.

Although both names refer to sandy places and both bikes share the same engine configuration, they each have a very different focus. The Africa Twin is slim and with its large 21-inch front wheel, one-piece seat and long, soft suspension, it’s clearly leaning towards being an off-roader.

The Super Ténéré has more capacity, power and torque, plus a low-fuss shaft drive, larger 23-litre tank (18.8 on the Honda), an adjustable windscreen, heated grips, additional wind deflectors, separate rider and pillion seats, a standard centre stand and more tarmac-oriented wheel sizes. Anything so luxuriously equipped is bound to be heavy and the S10 is a fat 30kg heavier than the Africa Twin. It’s like a plush two-wheeled tank.

The Africa Twin also packs less punch than the Super Ténéré: 95bhp and 72lb/ft of torque compared to 112bhp and 86lb/ft, but its engine is still peppy enough to be really good fun. Despite the modest figures, the Honda has character, it is playful and sharp and the clutch is light and smooth although the gearbox isn’t entirely flawless. What’s more, the 998cc twin is almost vibration free and it sounds like a spicy dirt bike. Hence the CRF prefix.

Although both names refer to sandy places and both bikes share the same engine configuration, they each have a very different focus

The Yamaha is completely different. True, it has bigger lungs and more poke, but its 1,199cc parallel twin engine also seems to have more internal inertia. Wind the throttle back and the S10 not only vibrates in the lower revs, but shifting its 265kg kerb weight from the starting blocks feels comparatively laborious.

It is more responsive and enthusiastic in the sport mapping, but then the throttle response is also vague and abrupt. It’s fine in fifth or sixth gear for motorway overtakes and the Super Ténéré is also deceptively and surprisingly quick, but in twists and bends, the touring mode is simply more predictable and enjoyable.

Invite a pillion along for the ride and the previously peppy Africa Twin suddenly accelerates with considerably less zest, whereas you could probably stick Geoff Capes on the back of the Yamaha and barely notice him. And you can adjust the S10’s suspension in the dashboard’s menu. You have to change the Honda’s rear preload by hand if you don’t want to feel like you’re riding an adventurous chopper.

That said, the Honda is the obvious choice for attacking your favourite corners. It is lighter, sharper and has more agility and ground clearance than the Yamaha. And although you do lose some sensation and feedback due to the front suspension’s long travel, the brakes still feel immediate.

The Yamaha has its own advantages though. It’s faster, more planted and tractable and those smaller wheel sizes means it can hold tighter lines. Generally, it feels more communicative and stable and although the braking power is subtler, it is still powerful and predicable. The S10’s illusion of being an off-roader isn’t really credible, but as a comfortable two-up tourer and long distance adventure bike, the Super Ténéré is very convincing.

Honda has hardly revolutionised the Africa Twin and it’s bucking the technical trend of loading the model with electronics and pure power. It’s rather like a contemporary version of KTM’s 990 Adventure, with better brakes, a finer finish, improved wind protection and a sophisticated power source that produces less vibration. And those quality components prove that less can be more.

At a glance

Model
Honda CRF1000L
Africa Twin

Engine
998cc parallel twin producing 95bhp @ 7,500rpm and 72lb/ft @ 7,500rpm

Transmission
Six-speed sequential manual, chain drive

Transmission weight (Kerb)
232kg

Seat height
850-870mm (adjustable)

Fuel capacity
18.8 litres

At a glance

Model
Yamaha XT1200ZE
Super Ténéré ABS

Engine
1,199cc parallel twin producing 117bhp @ 7,250rpm and 86lb/ft
@ 6,000rpm

Transmission
Six-speed sequential manual,
shaft drive

Transmission weight (Kerb)
265kg

Seat height
845-870mm (adjustable)

Fuel capacity
23 litres

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