Acerbis X-Factor handguards

Most OEM handguards tend to do a very good job protecting from the wind and the rain, but do not usually offer much protection if any at all in the event of a fall, so you are more than likely to end up with a broken gear or clutch lever even if you drop the bike while moving it around (years ago some idiot knocked my V-Strom off while parking and the brake lever snapped).

The handguards on the AT look great, but offer the same level of crash protection as the ones on the V-Strom or the ST. The problem is that those ones were good at keeping your hand relatively dry and warm, but the ones on the AT are too small for that, so they are merely cosmetic additions to make the bike look more rugged.

Even before taking delivery of the AT I knew that I was going to fit it with a pair of Barkbusters like the ones I had on my V-Strom, which had proven themselves to be very efficient in a number of falls/drops. However, as I was comparing prices and trying to find a shop that had a specific kit for the AT, I saw some people on Adventure Rider and the Spanish AT forum that had fitted the Acerbis X-Factor ones.

I thought they would be more expensive, as the aluminum back bone they use is huge, but it turned out that not only were they cheaper than the Barkbusters, but they were available immediately, as no specific mounting kit is required for the AT.

I may not have considered Acerbis handguards for the V-Strom, as they look too ‘enduro’ for that bike, but on the pictures I had seen, they seem to suit the AT fine, so I got a pair.

IMG_8008I went for the black and white combination, as the OEM were also black and I was afraid the red ones might not match the shade of the bike. I got them in a week, and today I got down to fitting them, which is a very straightforward process.

Here it is:

First step is to remove the OEM handguards, including the weights both at the ends of the handlebars and the long ones inside.

Loosen the 5mm Allen bolts that hold the handlebar weights and pull the handguards mounts away from the weights.

IMG_8011Remove the bolts that hold the handguards to the brake and clutch lever mounts. Both nuts and bolts are 10mm, except the brake bolt, which is 12mm, annoyingly.

IMG_8009Remove the OEM handguards and put the lever bolts back in place. With the handguards removed they are a bit too long, but you can use the spacers that came with the handguards.

Now comes the difficult part – pulling out the inner weights. They are very long and have a couple of rubber rings, so they do not slide out easily. There is a small cylindrical plate that holds them to the handlebar weights bolts, but it is very easy for those to come apart. In fact, I pulled out the first one and then saw that the plate and the weight were still about 1cm inside the handlebar.

IMG_8016IMG_8017These cylindrical plates are fragile and can come out easily, be careful with them because of they do come out it is practically impossible to grab hold of the inner weight to pull it out. Having suffered this, when I removed the second one I unscrewed the handlebar weight bolt, then pulled gently but firmly until about 1cm of the inner weight emerged and then pulled it out with a pair of pliers.

To get the first one out, I used a pair of long thin pliers to hold the plate and pressed it with a screwdriver to prevent it from opening and coming apart from the weight.

With the most difficult part out of the way, it is time to fit the new handguards.

IMG_8020Do not try to put the expansion shell directly into the handlebars first, as there is a risk that the nut at the end comes loose from the shell and then you might push it further inside when inserting the bolt, making it very difficult to recover. Fit the shell to the aluminum backbone and then insert it in the handlebar.

IMG_8021Then fit the support arms to the handlebar but do not tighten, as you’ll need to adjust the levers. It is necessary to move both brake and clutch lever assembly about 1.5cm to the inside to prevent them from touching the backbone when released. Be careful with the clutch lever, too far in and it will touch the switch assembly, too far out and it will touch the backbone. You need to find the sweet spot.

IMG_8025IMG_8029Once everything is in the position and angle you want, start tightening first the mounting arms and then the expansion shells. The mounting arms come with two sets of brackets to fit handlebars of different diameters. In my case I did not need to use either of them.

IMG_8023IMG_8026IMG_8027IMG_8028The bike looks great with the backbones only and it is tempting to keep that look, but I want more protection, not less, so the last touch is to fit the plastic covers, which are attached with three Allen bolts each. Done!

IMG_8030I know this is a matter of personal opinion, but I think the X-Factor handguards look great on the AT, particularly in black:

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Running in the new AT

After clocking 150,000km on her last trip to work on Friday, the V-Strom was safely tucked away in the garage and I started to get ready for the run-in trip over the weekend.

The AT is, you could say, stark naked. Apart from the centre stand, not a single accessory has been fitted to it yet, so packing for the weekend was the first challenge – not that I needed a lot of things for a couple of days over which most time would be spent on the bike, but when you start counting, it adds to quite a few items: rain suit, winter and summer gloves and scarf, cameras, batteries, food, water, etc. In the end it all fit neatly into a small Ortlieb bag strapped to the rack and a backpack.

At a quarter to seven I walked into the car park and fired the AT for her first big trip. The engine roared to life instantly, happy to know it was going to be taken for a proper ride – it is curious how motorbikes sound different when they know you are taking them out on the open road instead of on the daily commute.

I met a friend of mine who has recently joined the biker world and was adamant that we took it easy, so it was a perfect chance to run the AT in gently. Looking forward to a good weekend of riding practice, he led the way out of the city on his Bandit and we started the first leg of our journey on the motorway.

With a lot more time to assess the motorbike, this first stint revealed that the AT is a very good long distance touring bike – the engine is smooth and relaxed at a steady motorway cruise, and I found wind protection to be rather good, particularly around the legs, which I had not expected on a bike that is a bit on the narrow side. On the other hand, while the screen works definitely better than other screens fitted as standard, it is too short for me, so that is one thing that will need changing as soon as possible. My other complaint regarding wind protection were the hand guards – they do not extend low enough to cover the tips of your fingers, and on such a chilly morning, my hands got cold fast. They are attached to the brake and clutch lever mounts, so they cannot be rotated down without the levers also moving. Again, it is not a big issue since I was planning on replacing them with Barkbusters anyway as they are merely cosmetic, they do not offer any real protection for the levers in case of a fall.

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After a stop in La Panadella to put on some extra warm clothes – it was 5ºC – I started to regret not having fitted the heated grips. I thought I could postpone that investment now that summer was coming, but I was already missing them sorely on this trip. The day did not get warmer until we turned off the motorway and took the C-12 heading south to our first fuel stop in the town of Maials. Fuel consumption had been surprisingly low for an engine that was still tight, and on the fast, undulating 30km of C-12 leading here the AT felt light and eager to gain speed even though I was keeping the revs below 4,000 and sticking to gentle throttle openings.

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Time to turn to the back roads, then! From Maials we took a road that was little more than a paved dirt road – I cannot even give you the road number because Google Maps does not list it as a road – and it revealed that the AT suspension was a bit on the hard side.

I was amazed at how agile a bike with such suspension geometry and a 21” front wheel was and how well it behaved on the road. Now, I must confess I am close to a complete illiterate when it comes to suspension set up – my V-Strom has a simple system and other than fitting stiffer progressive springs my experience in fiddling with the suspension is limited to dialing in more preload when I carry luggage or a passenger. What I can tell is that the AT suspension felt harsher than I expected on bumpy roads and broken tarmac, unlike the Super Ténéré, which had a very plush ride. I imagine that the AT is set up on the hard side to favour good on road behaviour, so I will have to experiment a bit with compression and rebound settings. The problem is, I do not really know where to start, so if anybody want to offer advice, leave a comment below.

Once we reached the town of Mequinenza we took better roads to Alcañiz, where the AT really shined. The weather was getting warmer, the wind that had been bother us since early morning had calmed a bit and we were heading towards one of my favourite rides – the road that crosses the Maestrazgo hill region (route description coming soon).

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The roads on this route are a perfect combination of a complete lack of traffic, good road surface, mountain passes, slow and fast corners, and an absolutely stunning landscape. It provided the perfecto opportunity to run the bike in properly – lots of regime changes and working up and down the gearbox.

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The only negative comment I have to make is that sometimes the bike did not go into 6th gear smoothly. On those occasions the gear lever would not click all the way in and the indicator on the dashboard would be slow to change from 5 to 6. Then, when opening the throttle again, the gearbox would jump into a false neutral. This happened several times and the only way to prevent it was to kick 6th gear in firmly when changing up. Hopefully it was just a run-in issue and it would get smoother after the first oil change. I made a mental note to point it out to the mechanics in the first service. Other than that, the bike was performing faultlessly and exceeding my expectations. Halfway through this part of the route it reached 500km and I started bringing the revs up to 5,000.

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We reached our destination by early evening and after settling in and starting a good fire in the hearth we set about checking the bikes. Oil consumption had been negligible, chain tension was correct and all nuts and bolts were still tightly attached – I double-checked the ones on the front mudguard, as there have been several reports of people losing them.

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For the ride back I was planning to take a more direct route on A-roads for the first half of the journey and then the motorway for the last 200km. We set off later to avoid the cold and the day rewarded us with glorious sunshine and little wind for the first half of the ride. My friend, who was still on the learning phase, was completely transformed, leaning more confidently into corners, braking later and keeping a faster pace. So much so that when we stopped for breakfast he suggested skipping the motorway altogether and continuing on A and B-roads, so we turned east on the N-420 and then north on the C-12B until we reached Flix, where we took a much narrower and deserted road. This leg was quite windy again, but the AT proved to be a very stable touring bike even in those circumstances.

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We rode past the Montsant and Prades mountains, the AT happy to be revved a bit higher and my friend making incredible progress with his riding. This detour added a good two hours to our return journey, but it was most definitely worth it. We rejoined the motorway in la Panadella, where we had made our first stop on the outbound journey, and from there it was a relatively short stint back into the city, which cemented my decision to order a taller screen.

It was about 1,200km and the total fuel consumption came at 4.9l/100km (58mpg)

The only thing we did not do was go off road, partly because I wanted to be gentle on the AT for the run-in period, partly because my friend was on a road bike, but the AT proved to be a more than versatile bike in all other aspects of the trip. Well, it also proved to be an attention magnet… I had people walk up to me to chat about it every single time we stopped. There is no better way of meeting new friends!

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New new baby

We’re back! It has been some time since the last time I published, but fear not… the blog is finally back on track. But first, a quick recap of the events that led to this post:

(read in a deep voice)

Previously, on Stroming The World…

My faithful V-Strom was replaced by the first new baby, an almost new Super Ténéré that I enjoyed for a few months here and there before it was stolen right from my front door. Fortunately, the insurance company paid a decent compensation and I was left with two choices – try to find another good deal on a second-hand Super or wait and save money until the new Africa Twin was on sale. I so wait I did until I could get a test ride on the new AT, which I happened in early February. The bike was amazing, and the decision was made.

Fast forward to Wednesday, last week.

Having saved enough for the new AT, I had made enquiries at a few Honda dealers in Barcelona, but they were all aware of the high demand there was for the bike and everyone was asking list price for it. Then a good friend from Sant Just texted me to say that he had dropped by his local dealer and had a very tempting offer in black on white. Besides the offer, they also had a Rally red motorbike in stock, which was the only color I had not seen in the metal, so I went to have a look.

Ever since the bike had been officially unveiled, I had spent hours looking at pictures of it, imagining what colour I would get, but these things can change a lot when you see the real thing. I thought that the silver model looked a bit bland, and it did when I saw one, unlike the black, which had not really caught my eye in the brochure but had captivated me in the dealer where I took the test ride. The one I actually rode was the one in the classic Honda tri-colour paint scheme, and that was the one I, like many others, had a crush on. However, now the moment had come to make a decision and order one, I found it a bit too fussy, even more so if I was going to fit it with crash bars, metal panniers and other stuff, so I was practically sold on a matte black one.

Or so I thought… when I walked into the dealer and saw the red one, I fell in love. It looked way better than in the pictures – not so much going on at the same time as in the tri-colour, but not as dark as the black one. It was elegant enough to drive to work every day and sporty enough to look in its element blasting down a dirt road. Perfect.

Any last minute thoughts on the tri-colour were blown away when I learned that the expected delivery dates were around October, and I put down a payment on the red one.

I use the bike to commute every day, and I did not want to run the new one in like that, so we agreed that I would pick her up on Friday the following week to take her for a long ride on the weekend and have her serviced once I came back before putting her to her daily duties.

Why wait a week and a half? you may ask. Why not just do it the following weekend? Because it was Nat’s birthday on Saturday, and we were having lunch with some friends. They did call me on Friday to say that if I wanted, I could pick the bike up on Saturday, and my friends could not believe that I would not, at least, take her home until the following weekend. The reason I didn’t is very simple – I knew that if I went to the dealer and got on that bike, by lunchtime I would already be 500km away from Barcelona… So I patiently waited until I had a free morning… today!

After a thorough explanation of all the controls of the bike and booking the first service for next week, the new baby is finally tucked away in the car park, waiting to hit the road on Saturday morning. We will take three days to ride a combination of motorway and back roads and make sure the bike is properly run in. A longer post will follow when we come back. In the meantime, here are the very first pictures!

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Review – Honda CRF 1000 L Africa Twin

18th of January, first day of the Africa Twin week in the Honda dealers in my country. It is 9:30 in the morning and below me Barcelona has shaken off the last shreds of morning mist. The months long wait has been worth it: I am very likely to be the first regular customer who has the chance to take the new AT for a spin.

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When this bike was Little more than a mud covered prototype with a camouflage paint scheme I swapped my indestructible V-Strom for a Super Ténéré because I came across a bargain I could not miss, but as the months went by and more information trickled to the press about the 21st century incarnation of the legendary Africa Twin I could not help but wonder if that was the perfect motorbike I was looking for.

Months later the prototype became the CRF 1000 L Africa Twin. As technical specs were confirmed, so grew the expectation, and not just mine, specialised media and adventure bikers all over the world were looking forward to getting their hands on one.

It was around then than my mint condition Super Ténéré was stolen. Luckily, the insurance company delivered on their promises (these are the times when you realise how important a good insurance policy is), and by the time the date of arrival of the AT to the dealers had been set in January I was faced with a dilemma: should I try to find another good deal on an almost new Super Ténéré or wait, save and go for an AT?

When I was looking to replace the V-Strom a strong candidate was the Triumph Tiger 800 XC. On paper, it was the perfect bike, but when I tested it I was disappointed. We did not get on well. Before making a decision it was essential that I tried an AT in the metal.

I surfed the net almost constantly for a couple more months, gathering all the details I could find about it, the official presentation took place in South Africa, the press fell in love with it and I was more and more anxious to sample one, until at long last the arrival of the first test units was announced. As soon as I could, I dropped by Honda Control 94, in Aragó street, were the sales man told me to call him the following week. Meh. The next dealer was Honda Moto Aranda in Pau Clarís street, where pulled out a schedule immediately and asked me ‘when do you want to test it?’. Marvellous.

Back to the present. I have arrived at the dealer at 9 o’clock and I have finally been able to see it person. Impressive. It is a gorgeous bike, well proportioned, tall, sleek. The one on static display is matt black, and even though I love that colour, I was not very convinced when I saw it in pictures. Big mistake. In the metal it looks great.

The test bike is painted in the classic AT colours – pearl white, red and blue, with golden rims and handlebar. Even if the black one is beautiful, it is easy to foresee most customers going for this paint scheme. It brings out the bike’s details and shows its heritage.

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After a short explanation on how the dashboard works (lots of info), it is time to fire it up and go for a ride. The engine has a very attractive sound, the 270-degree crank gives it a special sound and unlike the Super Ténéré the exhaust has a throatier, deeper note. There will soon be third-party options, but the standard pipe sounds wonderful.

I put the bike in gear (the test unit is the ABS and HSTC model, but without the auto box) and I joint the rush hour traffic in Barcelona. This is throwing her in at the deep end – nothing reveals how tractable (or not) a bike is like riding in these conditions. First impressions are a list of positive points – the gearbox is smooth as silk, the clutch, which despite being cable-operated offers no resistance and can be depressed with one finger, is progressive and together with plenty of low-down grunt the bike is ridiculously easy to use in the city. The handlebars are wide but high, so it is above most cars’ mirrors, and it has an excellent turning circle, which helps a lot when zigzagging between stopped cars.

Thousands of red lights before reaching the road that connects Horta with Cerdanyola through Collserola give me the opportunity to study the dash and the riding position in detail. This bike could have been tailor-made for me. The riding position is upright, natural, with high handlebars that put zero strain on the wrists or the back. With the standard seat in its lowest position I can easily reach the ground, resting both feet on the soles and with my knees bent. I could set it to the highest position and I would still be able to move the bike around without problems (I’m 1,84). The fact that it is a narrow bike where the tank meets the seat makes it feel smaller and lighter than it really is, after five minutes of first getting on it you feel comfortable and confident. It is a bike that makes things easy for you. It is also very easy to ride standing on the footpegs, although I would fit some raisers if I had to ride like this for long distances. A few grannies were surprised to see me looking at them at eye level from their seat on the bus.

The dash offers a lot of information, but Honda has managed to make it very easy to navigate the various displays without letting go of the bars thanks to the buttons on the left handlebar and, most importantly for me, traction control and ABS can be adjusted or disconnected with dedicated buttons without having to stop the bike, forget about having to dig into menus, reset things or pressing combinations of buttons. Simple and easy.

Indicated fuel consumption in very heavy traffic for the first three and a half kilometres has been about 29mpg. After the initial shock and leaving the worst of traffic behind, the rest of the ride through the city and up the starting point of the BV-1415 road yields a more reasonable 50mpg.

On the open road, and with no other cars sharing it with me, the AT is a pleasure to ride. Yes, the engine only produces 95hp, but let me make it clear here and now that you can forget about figures. It is a very torquey unit that pulls strongly in any gear and it sounds great too. At no point do you think ‘it could do with 30 more hp.’ If you really need more, you might be riding the wrong kind of bike, and in any case, all the more powerful models have offroad modes that limit power to these figures to keep things under control in the dirt, so… why more?

Not only is the engine delightfully smooth and vibration-free, it is also perfectly mated to the chasis. I have not altered the suspension settings from what they were at the dealer, and it is an effective setup, but one of the best things about this bike is that in comes with first-class suspension as standard, with all the regulations you need to set up the bike according to your preferences if you know what you are doing. It does not have electronic suspension. So what? It does not need it? A well set up suspension does not need constant adjustment, and those who will take this bike to the places it has been designed to go do not want to risk a faulty servo motor in the middle of nowhere… Adjusting preload with a screwdriver is 100% reliable.

As for spirited riding, high speed cornering is stable and precise, and its agility is at an incredible level. I do not know what Honda have done with this bike, but as I am writing these lines I still find it hard to believe that a bike with a 21” front wheel turns into corners more keenly than my other two bikes, both with 19 inchers. You do not have to coax the bike into turning or changing direction, it just flows from one corner to the next, surprisingly good fun. Obviously, I do not have the time to get to know the bike and its limits, but I have the feeling it give a lot more than what I am asking for today.

After the city and the winding road, it is time to make it back on the motorway to see how well it manages airflow and how the engine feels at cruise speed. Despite this unit having the standard low screen, above 120km/h the wind is clean and free of turbulence, it is clear that they have done a good aero job on the bike. I would personally fit the taller screen or maybe a wind deflector if you are going to ride often on the motorway, though. At an indicated 130km/h the engine is turning at about 4,000rpm, so you can keep up a good cruising speed without much noise or vibrations, and with power to spare. The best thing? An average 58mpg.

With about 40 minutes left on the bike there is one last thing I want to try… How does it work in the dirt? With not much time left (I had to get back to the city centre to return the bike) and not wanting to get into trouble (the tires are road-biased and after all it is not my bike) I manage to find a dirt road in good condition and try it out.

Like the Super Ténéré, the ABS system is very well set up and can stop the bike without much trouble in hard-packed dirt. Still the system can be switched off in the front wheel for those who want to get more serious off road. Traction control has three levels of intervention and it can also be switched off altogether, although in the most permissive setting it allows you to play hooligan before cutting in to help. Again, off road mode for offroad heroes.

On sand and gravel the bike is confidence inspiring. It feels very light, which makes it easy to correct any slide or mistake, and when I reached the end of the dirt road I feel comfortable enough with it to cross a couple of those ruts dug by rain erosion. As a witness to how easy this bike is, when I tested the Super Ténéré (also on road tires) before buying it I did not feel brave enough to venture even into an easy dirt road, the weight demanded respect. With this one, however, I feel capable of tackling more complicated terrain far from tarmac on my own. The weight is low and centralised, which makes the bike easy to control and I imagine that in case of a fall, if I am able to lift my V-Strom when loaded, the AT cannot be much harder.

On the way back to the city centre traffic is much better and riding at 80-90 km/h on the ring road the bike manages an impressive (always indicated) 74 mpg.

Once at the dealer, the next customer is already at the door, helmet in hand, waiting for the bike to come back so that he can have a go too. It looks as if it is going to be a busy week for her…

There are as many kinds of bikes as riders, and I imagine that some people will be quite indifferent to the Africa Twin. As for me and what I do with my bike, the best verdict I can give is that this bike seems to have been tailor-made for me. Simply perfect.

The good:

  • Smooth engine and gearbox
  • Power delivery
  • Suspension
  • On road and off road behaviour
  • Riding position
  • Light and agile
  • Sound
  • Does not have a beak 🙂

The bad:

  • .. the fit of the two halves of the left handlebar controls case was a bit off, but these are almost pre-production bikes.
  • The centrestand is not included as standard, and nor is a 12v socket.