The topic of which Adventure motorcycle is right for you is fraught with nuance and details – and that’s just if you’re looking at objective metrics like price, suspension components, and engine size.
Things become more complicated once you get emotions involved. Just hop on any motorcycle-specific forum for proof. The topic gets even more heated when you involve two manufacturers with loyal followings - BMW and Honda.
We’re skirting on the edges of what you might consider the middleweight category of ADV bikes here, especially considering the Honda’s nearly 1100cc engine, but it’s fair to say either choice would be reasonable to look at if you were moving away (or never considering) a bigger option like the BMW R 1250 GS or one of its competitors.
For this exercise, let’s take a deeper dive into the F 850 GS and Africa Twin. We’ll compare some specs and examine different components to see where each model stands. The whole point of this exercise is to help you determine which one is right for you.
Here we’re going to compare the base models of each machine. For the BMW we’re focusing on the $13,345 F 850 GS and not the Adventure which starts at just $1100 more.
Over on Honda’s side, the base Africa Twin, with the standard transmission and not the Dual Clutch Transmission starts at $14,399. This goes up quite a bit if you choose to upgrade to the $17,199 Africa Twin Adventure Sports ES (also with the standard clutch. DCT is an extra $800).
Keep in mind these are the MSRPs listed on the respective manufacturer’s website at the time this was written. These prices are subject to change, and they often do.
We realize things also get a bit murky with BMW because you’ll be hard-pressed to find a base, standard model on dealership floors, but we need to establish a starting point somewhere.
With the basic price parameters laid down, let’s see what each bike has to offer.
In some ways, both the F 850 GS and Africa Twin are very similar. Both engines are liquid-cooled parallel-twins, with four valves per cylinder. But look a little further and this is where the similarities end.
As the name implies, the BMW twin comes in at 853cc. The Honda, meanwhile, gets a displacement bump for 2020. Honda has increased the stroke for the Africa Twin by 6.4mm, yielding a displacement of 1084cc–a not insignificant advantage the Honda has over the Beemer, and a welcome boost from the previous AT which some felt was a little weak.
The F850 is rated at 90 hp at 8,000 rpm and 63 lb-ft of torque at 6,250 rpm. Honda doesn’t give power ratings, but it’s reasonable to assume the Africa Twin at least matches the BMW in horsepower, and due to its size advantage, it makes more torque, too.
Typically this is the part where we’d give the point to the Honda for having the bigger engine.
But having bigger pistons and a longer stroke isn’t necessarily what you might be looking for, and we haven’t even begun to talk about other factors like suspension and weight.
Again, when it comes to the running gear and suspension components, the 850 and Africa Twin appear similar but have some important differences.
You’ll find spoked wheels on both bikes, but the BMW doesn’t need tubes, which is great if you’re trying to fix a flat and you’re far from civilization.
The Honda? It uses tubes. A 21-inch front wheel is found on both bikes, but the 850 gets a 17-inch rear compared to the Africa Twin’s 18 incher.
By definition adventure riding requires long-travel suspension to soak up whatever obstacles you’ll encounter off-road.
But ADV bikes also spend time on pavement, and long-travel suspension makes for a comfortable on-road experience, too. Here, the F 850 GS and Africa Twin come moderately equipped.
Both bikes allow you to adjust rear preload with the turn of a knob, but the Honda comes with a robust 45mm fork compared to the BMW’s 43mm piece. The Honda’s front and rear suspension travel of 9.1 inches and 8.7 inches are a little more than the BMW’s 8 and 8.6 inches, too.
Stopping power also leans a little in the Honda’s favor. Its 310mm front discs beat out the 305mm discs on the BMW, and the Africa Twin features four-piston radially mounted calipers.
Both bikes arrive with ABS, and thankfully, both systems can be switched off.
Since we’re on the topic of technology, we’ll pivot to the tech each bike has. In the Africa Twin’s corner, it’s equipped with Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC), Riding Modes, Apple CarPlay (but no Android Auto), and a 6.5-inch TFT touchscreen.
The F850GS offers much of the same, though as options. Automatic Stability Control and two ride modes: Road and Rain, come standard. If you get the optional Pro and Dynamic ESA ride modes you get the electronic suspension, along with the 6.5-inch TFT display (vs. the standard analog tach and LCD dash) that allows you to connect to your phone via Bluetooth and opens up the F850 to loads more options.
Lastly, the BMW comes with optional Gear Shift Assist Pro. Better known as a quickshifter to most people, this lets you upshift or downshift without pulling the clutch lever.
Since the two bikes are similar in many ways, let’s look at some more numbers. Both have very similar wheelbases, with the Honda measuring 62 inches and the BMW only 0.7 inches longer.
The all-important seat height measurement has the Honda at 34.3 inches and the BMW measuring 33.9 inches. However, both models offer a lower seat; the Honda’s measuring 33.5 inches, the BMW at 32.9 inches.
From there, the F850GS goes even farther, with options to put the seat as high as 35 inches, or as low as 32.1 inches (with a lowered suspension).
We then come to two critical numbers; weight and fuel capacity. Things get interesting here as both tip the scales at nearly identical weights: 504 lbs for the BMW and 501 lbs for the Honda.
Both numbers are with a full tank of gas, ready to ride. What makes this interesting is the Honda’s 5-gallon tank, a whole gallon more than the BMW. To be able to hold significantly more fuel and come in lighter than the F850GS is a big accomplishment for the Honda.
There you go. A comparison of the features and intricacies of the BMW F 850 GS and Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin. If you’re more confused and unsure of which choice is right for you now than you were before, that’s understandable.
Both machines offer a lot of performance, and though the Honda can take you farther, the BMW (if you choose to option it out) will get you there with more features. The beauty of it all is that there really is no wrong answer.