I was never really a biker. I’ve always loved cars. My first car was a very impractical 1977 MGBGT which I acquired while I was at university and caught fire soon after on an expressway in Southern England while I was trying to impress a French girlfriend with its overdrive button. I’ve had a succession of sensible and less sensible motor vehicles since. Nonetheless, it’s a bike - the Honda Africa Twin XRV750 - which has played perhaps the most significant role at the crucial junctures in my life, and to which I feel most affection. (Below: A pro, killing it on the way to Dakkar)
The Africa Twin was based on the classic Honda desert racers – the NXR family – and the road-going one first came out in 1988. This was the XRV650 model, not officially brought into the UK, where I herald from and mostly reside now. It played on the fashion for the Endurer Paris-Dakar racers of the day and pumped out 57bhp through the 52-degree V-twin engine. Also known as the RD03, this was based on the Transalp motor - Twinkie experts consider it the best put together of the lot. At the end of 1989 the NXR had been winning the Dakar race from 1986, so to celebrate this great success the Africa Twin got a full revamp with the 750cc (well, 742cc) RD04, which was the first machine to reach UK shores officially. As well as more motive power and many cosmetic changes, the bike got an extra brake disc up front. (Below: Your humble scribe on a milk run.)
For 1993 more changes were made for the RD07 model, most notably the electronic ‘Tripmaster’ (basically just a set of clocks looking like a Dakar road-book) redesigned bodywork and a new frame.
I am lucky enough to own a red, white and blue XRV750 from the next year, 1994, and I’m ashamed to say it’s only done 1,250 miles since new. I acquired it out of necessity for work and had it sent out to Madagascar where there were not many roads and those roads which were passable tended to be easier to negotiate by bike. I used my beast of a machine on a one-day bottom-breaking trip between Tana (Antananarivo) and Mahajanga, from where it was shipped back home to Blighty while I recovered my ability to walk. (Below: The author -about to hop on for a Sunday ride.)
There were two reasons why I chose an XRV750 in the first place:
First, I’d used an XRV750 to go visit my wife’s family in a remote area of Monagas in Venezuela when we were courting back in 2007. The roads in that part of Eastern Venezuela were far superior to those found in Madagascar but the Honda’s long, soft, off-road springs compressed beautifully to make any potholes evaporate and its huge tanks ensured we would never get stranded. There was one moment, when I was riding between Puerto de la Cruz in the north and El Tejero in Southern Monagas with my then fiancée on the back, when, too late, we spotted a huge, fat boa constrictor lazing across the road. Let’s just say the snake didn’t have the best day but we were fine and indebted to the Africa Twin.
It’s the sheer, rugged simplicity of the XRV750 that makes mere car drivers like me feel confident riding it – the bike is designed without all the paraphernalia found on more urbane machines and its commanding power ensures you stay upright when you really need to, like when you hit a boa constrictor. Or, like another time in Venezuela, when a few days after our local river had broken its banks and the potholes in our road were still drying out in the sun, occasionally containing hungry, angry piranha.
The second reason for choosing the Africa Twin in Madagascar was the time I spent with one in Mindanao in 2010, zooming up the mountains to distant outposts from Gingoog City and Cagayan de Oro. The fact is that the Honda saved my life on more than one occasion, whether dodging overtaking doubled-up Jeepneys on winding roads, or getting the hell away from gin-soaked, armed locals way off-road. I knew the Twin was a bike you could trust, whatever the circumstance; in poor conditions, when you were in a hell of a hurry, or when you needed to carry something or someone from one location to another and be sure of success. Carrying me, a huge sack of rice, and a local with two live chickens dangling from his hands, was no problem at all for the Africa Twin.
Nowadays I am a more responsible fellow. I am the father to two children, I drive cars, and I’ve mostly swapped adventurous work destinations for family-friendly ones. My caribou-riding days are history, especially now my right leg has been rebuilt after decades of playing rugby and contains about as much titanium as my bike’s oval titanium exhaust. So, alas, my Africa Twin sits in the garage undercover and rarely gets a run-out, although I do often sit on it and close my eyes, reminiscing. Every now and again my wife and I ditch the kids and go for a romantic spin on the bike, but such wistful voyages are summery and seldom.
Would we ever sell the Africa Twin?
Never. (Below: The author - "cruisin" through the Surrey Countryside.)
You never know when you’ll need such a beast of a machine. Use it properly as I have done around the world, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. below: (The author - reminiscing on past adventures.)
Dominic Wightman lives in Surrey in the UK and serves as Editor and co-founder of
Country Squire Magazine: https://countrysquire.co.uk
Find more info on him here: https://countrysquire.co.uk/writers/