Dutchman Peak

Warning: Road Not Maintained Beyond This Point Vehicular Traffic Not Advised 1 Mile Ahead

I was headed to Dutchman Peak, an old fire lookout sitting on a 7,364-foot peak in Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains, when I saw this sign on a remote dirt road. Built in 1927, it is one of the oldest lookouts still in service in the United States and is only accessible by forest and fire roads. Since I was eager to test the off-road abilities of the 2019 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports, a ride up to the lookout seemed like prime proving grounds. Then I saw this sign and like a dog spotting a squirrel I forgot everything I was doing and headed up that road.

The path was rutted, rocky and steep as it wound up the mountain. The Africa Twin Adventure Sports has four riding modes and soon as I’d hit dirt I’d switched it to Gravel mode which tones down power delivery, bumps up engine braking to medium, and sets the Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC) system on high. I popped the bike in second gear and kept it in the meat of the powerband to maintain momentum and it climbed the grade like a mountain goat. After about a mile of climbing I reached a canopy of trees as the path began to run along a stream. The road smoothed out as it cut through a green tunnel and ruts were replaced by rolling mounds about every one hundred feet. I kicked it into third, got up on the pegs, leaned back a little and romped over the whoops, my eyes as wide as my grin. With more than nine inches of travel front and back, both compression and rebound on the Africa Twin is dialed and the bike flowed rhythmically over each round hump. The verdant canopy disappeared as the road veered away from the creek and continued to climb through the pines. Even in Gravel mode the Africa Twin had plenty enough torque to power up the grade and the high traction control setting provided sure-footing for the rear. There were a couple occasions on slippery switchbacks where the system muted power a little too much for my liking and cut into momentum, which I’m sure could be remedied by dialing down the amount of intervention, but in the moment I just geared down and muscled up.

Near the top of the mountain the lightly-traveled trail spit me out on a much more manicured gravel road as the crest rose above the tree line. Summer sun had tanned the land and the wind was creating waves in the tall, dry grasses. Evergreen-covered mountains surrounded me as far as the eye could see, the forests thick and the panorama unspoiled. The path that led me to this point filled me with pioneering spirit and the view was one I would never have experienced had it not been for the Honda Africa Twin’s ability to navigate the rugged trail.

My original destination, Dutchman Peak, was nowhere in sight. Dark clouds were approaching from the south and I could see blankets of rain falling in the distance so instead of exploring the gravel road I opted to head back down the mountain. About a quarter-mile into the descent the trail came to a split I didn’t remember. The area was too remote to get a phone signal and pull up a map so I took the one that looked most familiar. My wife says I have a horrible sense of direction and you know what, she’s right. I kept looking for a downed tree that had blocked half the road on the trail I came up but never came across it. Undergrowth encroached on the road and blackberry brambles sat in some of the corners ready to spring their thorny traps in unsuspecting legs. The trail wound around the mountain before it finally spit me out on an old logging road and I thought I’d doubled back to the original trail so I ventured on. The growth on the road, fallen limbs and big rocks quickly let me know nobody had been on this road for quite some time. I pressed on, hoping it might connect to another that led down the mountain. A break in the trees lining the road finally let me glimpse the area ahead of me and all I saw was ever-thickening pines, steeper mountains, and not a dwelling in sight. If I kept going in the direction I was headed I was about to be that guy, the one on Good Morning America, found after being lost for days in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, so a flipped around and started backtracking.

It’s amazing how concentration levels intensify when you’re riding to survive. I was zoned in on the trail, picking cautious lines and avoiding anything that remotely looked like it could puncture a tire. About then I was pleased I had the foresight to fill the big 6.37-gallon tank of the Africa Twin Adventure Sports before setting out. Dodging obstacles in the road, the fact the bike steers easily and doesn’t feel like a motorcycle with a curb weight of 533 pounds worked in my favor. I finally found the path that lead me to this deserted road, followed it back to the fork, and went the other direction this time. Didn’t take long before I ran across the downed tree in the road that I remembered from my climb up the mountain and breathed a sigh of relief as I made my way down. Hitting the whoop section helped lift my spirits, as did the final spiral down to the dirt road at the bottom. I headed back toward town just as the first few drops from the approaching storm started to fall. While getting lost in the Siskiyous admittedly filled me with a little anxiety, I was glad that even though my sense of direction sucks, the motorcycle I was riding doesn’t.

Golden

Every rider has one, that favorite little ribbon of road close to home, your go-to when you want to get away from it all. For me it’s Merlin-Galice Road and Lower Graves Creek Road, a twisty little strip that runs through Hellgate Canyon and along wild and scenic sections of the Rogue River. There’s little traffic, plenty of turns, and no shortage of scenery.

The 2019 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports has four different riding modes, including a customizable User mode, which I set on the highest power delivery (1), little engine braking (1), and just a little traction control (2). With User mode engaged, I fired up the Africa Twin for another Oregon adventure. The bike is one of the tallest street bikes I’ve ridden and it took me a bit to figure out a routine for swinging a leg over its saddle. The seat of the Adventure Sports version of the Africa Twin sits 36.2-inches above the ground in its standard position and thankfully has 0.8 inches of adjustability because even in the lowered 35.4-inch position, it still sits high though I stand six-feet-tall. Luckily, the seat tapers toward the tank and if I snug up to it I can get both feet flat on the ground at a stop.

The road out of town skirts the Rogue Valley as it passes by small family farms, green pastures and dairies. I’m barely out of town before the fun begins, the road becoming a series of “S” turns before changing to smooth arcing corners. The Adventure Sports’ tall seat height becomes a moot point once in motion as its ground clearance is generous and it transitions with just a hint of roll between tipping points. Its stock Bridgestone tires are definitely more street-oriented, suitable for light off-roading but a little slippery in rocky, loose conditions.

Hopping on Galice Road just outside of the tiny town of Merlin, there’s a long straight so I open the Africa Twin up. Clutch pull is pretty tight but the throttle-by-wire system is ultra-responsive and the 998cc engine is quick to spool up. It’s definitely a Twin, packing a solid punch off idle followed by a meaty midrange and top-end that tapers off fairly quickly. The spread of power is compact, so I find myself banging through gears fast to keep it in the heart of the powerband. Luckily the six-speed transmission is slick and smooth, so rowing up and down the gearbox is a cinch.

It doesn’t take long to get to Hellgate Canyon. The steep slopes and rocky cliffs have been the backdrop for several movies, from Rooster Cogburn starring John Wayne to The River Wild with Meryl Streep. The river cutting through the canyon is full of rafters as floating the Rogue is a great way to beat the summer heat. The road follows the winding path of the river, and the Honda Africa Twin feels very sporting on the edges of its tires, exceeding expectations from a bike that’s both tall in the front (21 inches) and tall in the saddle. Contrarily, turn-in is quick and light, it's steadfast in corners, and is a fun bike to ride in the twisty stuff.

This would become even more apparent on Lower Graves Creek Road which punches out to I-5 at Wolf Creek. The road is tight and narrower, squeezing down to one lane at times, with several blind switchbacks. Thanks to winter storms, the road can also be pretty rough, but between the responsive suspension package and grippy Bridgestones the 2019 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports felt composed at lean and exited corners with gusto thanks to its punchy engine.

We dialed it back coming into Wolf Creek, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot on the Oregon map. Before jumping on I-5 and blasting back home to Grants Pass, we took a leisurely ride over to Golden, an old ghost town just down the road from Wolf Creek. According to the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, Golden is “a sinister ghost town near Wolf Creek, OR. During the investigation, Zak is overtaken by an aggressive entity, Aaron is incapacitated by a dark force, eerie figures appear and a voice warns of a demonic presence.” Fortunately, we didn’t get accosted by any ghouls during our visit, but the rustic wooden buildings of the old mining town, particularly the Golden Community Church, did serve as a cool backdrop for some photos with the Africa Twin. But apparently people do believe this place is haunted because sure enough right before we took off, two young girls and a guy showed up. I watched as one of the girls in a long, flowing dress was scouting for spectral energy while the guy had some special camera and was videoing the main house when we left. All that was missing was the Mystery Machine and some Scooby snacks.

Sturgis

The Honda Africa Twin isn’t the first bike that comes to mind when you’re talking about road-trippin’ to Sturgis. Which is exactly why I wanted to ride it the most famous motorcycle rally in the world. What better way to really get to know a bike than to spend several days and thousands of miles in its saddle?

When Honda North America heard of my intentions for the motorcycle, to my delight they offered up an Adventure Sports model. I say this because the Adventure Sports has a 1.4-gallon larger tank than the standard Africa Twin, holding a generous 6.37-gallons of the good stuff. Its handlebars are set 1.3-inches higher and 0.2-inches further back, too, so not only will I be stopping less thanks to the bigger tank, miles spent in its saddle should be more comfortable because I’ll be perched even more upright in the saddle. The Adventure Sports’ larger windscreen is another welcome addition. It also has more suspension travel (0.8 inches front, 0.7 inches back), a larger skid plate, and wider footpegs than a stock Africa Twin. They were also kind enough to throw on a set of Honda locking saddlebags for me knowing I’d be living off the back of the bike for a couple weeks.

I’ll fess up. The first time I saw the bike I was a little intimidated. It was tall, barrel-chested, and looked like a whole lotta bike to handle off-road. But first impressions can be deceiving.

Two things stuck out to me within the first few miles. The first time I whacked the throttle, the pull of the bike surprised me. I was also immediately impressed with its suspension. I set out for Sturgis from Los Angeles and between the city's broken pavement and railroad tracks, the shock and fork gobbled up everything I rumbled over and made for a very smooth and comfortable ride. As far as the engine goes, keep it in its happy place and it’ll get-and-go.

The first day of my trip the desert tried to cook me alive. The motorcycle’s ambient temperature gauge hit 119 degrees as I crossed the Mojave Desert. The button for the heated hand grips is right off the left grip and I turned them on three times accidentally that first day in the desert. I was grateful for the taller windscreen keeping me from getting thumped in the chest by the wind on the highway but there wasn’t much it could do about the sweltering furnace-like heat that enveloped me. I spent most of the day putting down miles as fast as I could in fifth and sixth gear and the bike got a little buzzy in the bars at higher rpm, particularly the throttle hand. The seat was good for about an hour-and-a-half before I found myself shifting around, but the more time I spent in it, the more I got acclimated to it because on the way back from Sturgis I did an 800-mile day with no complaints, albeit with plenty of breaks. Grab a handful of front brake and the fork dives heavily, but it’s fully adjustable for compression and rebound damping and I never tinkered with it because otherwise it was fine. The front brakes are plenty strong and the initial bite isn’t overly aggressive. Used solo, the back brake has modest power and pulses pretty hard when the ABS kicks in. I was impressed with the motorcycle’s range because in 3,365 miles I used 75.361 gallons for an average of 44.65 mpg.  With the Adventure Sports big tank you can easily put in 200 miles before even thinking about stopping for gas.

After three days on the highway, I met up with some fellow riders from J&P Cycles in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who were also on adventure-tourers, so we kicked off the next day with about 45 miles of logging roads. The first stretch was super rocky and curvy and I was uneasy at first simply because this was the first time I had ridden off-road on the Africa Twin. The more time I spent on it though, the more I relaxed and trusted the bike. Midway through the ride, the road narrowed and got more technical and tighter for a short stretch, but I stood up on the pegs and the Africa Twin powered through everything with ease. On the final third, the road was hard-packed and fairly clean and we were confidently hitting 50-60 mph on it. That first rocky stretch was the only section I wished for more off-road worthy tires, but they provided plenty of grip for the rest of the ride.

Riding in extreme heat did expose a fueling gremlin though. The scenario was pretty much the same each time it happened. It was hot as hell and I’d been riding for about an hour and a half. The tank was generally about half full, I was rolling along in 6th gear, and I lost power. The bike was still revving but it felt like no fuel was being fed to the engine. I rolled off the throttle, then rolled back on, and the engine would rev but still no power. About the third or fourth time of rolling on and off, it finally kicked back in. No diagnostic lights came on to give a hint at what might be going on. I reported what happened to Honda and they said it was most likely an issue with the fuel pump. I researched online and found a similar case on AfricaTwin.org, but for the most part it seems more an anomaly than the norm.

After 30 days and 3,641 total miles on the 2019 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports, I love the versatility of the bike. It performed better than expected on the street and proved its worth in the dirt when it got me out of a jam when I was lost in the wilds of Oregon. With the Honda Africa Twin there’s really no end to the road, because it’s when the pavement stops that the adventure just gets started. I’ve been bitten by the ADV bug and now I’m itching for a cure.

If you're looking for adventure, the 2019 Honda Africa Twin is a worthy vessel.