An original Africa Twin inspired by the Dakar-winning ’89 NXR of Gilles Lalay!
In 1982, a single-cylinder XR550R gave Honda their first win in the legendary Paris-Dakar Rally, the world’s most demanding desert race. In the years that followed, however, it became clear that a twin would be needed to regain the top step of the podium:
“The singles lost more and more ground against the two-cylinder machines on the fast stages in Africa. With a top speed of around 160 km/h the single cylinders lost a lot of time compared to the 180 km/h of the two-cylinder bikes. It was too great a disadvantage for their more agile handling to compensate…” —ADV Pulse
For 1986, Honda unveiled their newly-developed NXR750, sporting a 779cc V-twin with 70 hp on tap, as well as a massive 15-gallon gas tank. This “Queen of the Desert” would secure the first of four consecutive Dakar wins and give birth to a production version, the Africa Twin.
The first Africa Twin was the XRV650 (RD03), whose chief designer, Tomonori Mogi, wanted the bike to be as close to the factory NXR as possible. The AT featured a 647cc liquid-cooled 52° V-twin, twin aluminum radiators, quick-release fairings, a bash guard, and the lovely tricolor HRC livery. Of course, Honda made much of the bike’s Dakar pedigree:
“Sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see. Stony paths burning hot in the sun. Villages in the middle of nowhere, buried in deepest Africa. This was the atmosphere, the unforgettable setting, that gave birth to the Africa Twin, Honda’s Queen of the Desert. The Africa Twin incorporates expertise proven in the motorcycle that has consecutively won the toughest test ever taken by a two-wheeled machine: the Paris-Dakar Rally.” –Honda
To prove the Africa Twin didn’t just look the part, the French Honda importer came up with a bold initiative — they put 50 amateur riders on modified production AT’s for the ’89 Paris-Dakar Rally!
“Under the slogan ’50 Africa Twin à Dakar’ privateers were offered an opportunity to participate in the rally on only mildly-modified Africa Twins (two 8-litre rear tanks, rebuild suspension). A remarkable 18 amateur riders reached the finish line.” —ADV Pulse
In 1990, the Honda XRV750 (RD04) appeared, featuring a slightly larger 742cc liquid-cooled 52° V-twin with 62 horsepower and a dry weight of 457 pounds.
That’s where our new friend Blake Jones comes in, a professional forester from New Zealand who loves to tinker with bikes on the side.
“I’ve built CT110s, Dax’s, Cubs, a CB50 and CT185 scramblers. My other larger bikes are an XR250r and a BMW R80G/S PD I’m restoring.”
His father-in-law, however, has a 100% stock XRV750 RD04 — a bike never sold in NZ — which ignited Blake’s passion for the legendary Africa Twin. After some searching, he found one for sale from a round-the-world traveler in quite a sad state. The plastics were missing, the carbs all but ruined, and the previous owner had painted it yellow with a brush!
“It was one of the most ugly motorcycles I had seen, but the bones were there so I grabbed it.” –Blake
Over the last year, Blake has worked to bring the bike back to its former glory. He learned fiberglass to rebuild the missing OEM plastics, and even melted down Lego pieces to create an ABS plastic paste to repair the cracked fairings! The bike is also sporting custom crash bars and pannier racks.
The inspiration for the Rothman’s design came straight from the 1989 Paris-Dakar winning NXR of French rider Gilles Lalay, the 9-time ISDE champion and one of the fathers of extreme enduro, who would perish in a Dakar accident in 1992. The paint and decal creation/application were carried out by Slipper’s Refinishing and Watermark Signs, respectively, and Blake was very happy with the result.
“The custom fiberglass side panels and rear fender I’m particularly proud of, as it was all new to me. I just love how it looks, but that’s more a testament to the sign writer. I just gave him a bunch of photos of the Dakar bike and said, ‘make this.'”
Blake’s Africa Twin is no show pony, either. In fact, he just finished a 7-day, 2100-mile tour around the South Island of NZ! Below, we get the full story behind this Queen of New Zealand.
Honda RD04 Africa Twin: Owner Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name Is Blake Jones, I’m a professional Forester in New Zealand and love tinkering with bikes on the side. Other than my Xl185 I had as a kid, most of my bikes have been small bikes and usually Hondas. NZ has lots of local small bike clubs that often get together for big rides. I’ve built CT110s, dax’s, cubs, a cb50 and CT185 scramblers. My other larger bikes are an XR250r and a BMW R80G/S PD I’m restoring.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1990 XRV750 Africa Twin (RD04).
• Why was this bike built/restored?
My father-in-law has a very tidy, 100% stock RD04 and that’s where I fell in love with Africa Twins. I had never seen another RD04 for sale in NZ, as they weren’t sold new here. This one came up for a reasonable price — the previous owner purchased it after a crash and “kitted it out” to take over to South America for a big tour. This involved throwing away lots of broken plastics, using checker plate as side panels and the dash. Installing a high front mudguard that didn’t sit right and painting the entire bike yellow with a brush. The chokes had been stuck so they were blanked off with half a tube of RTV that made it start like a dog. It was one of the most ugly motorcycles I had seen, but the bones were there so I grabbed it.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
All the inspiration for this bike came from the 1989 Paris-Dakar winning NXR750 Africa Twin ridden by Frenchman Gilles Lalay. This was the 4th consecutive Paris-Dakar win for the Honda Africa Twin.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
The previous owner threw away the factory side panels and rear mudguard section. These are very expensive to buy now and I wanted to make the rear slimmer for panniers. This brought on the challenge of learning how to fiberglass. I made plugs out of flooring insulation and then molds. I was very happy with how these turned out in the end. Other than the crash bars and pannier racks, those are the only custom bits of the bike — other than the paint job and decals of course. The paintwork was done by Slipper’s Refinishing and all the decals designed and applied by Watermark Signs in Wellington.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Almost all of my bikes have a nickname except this one, it mostly gets referred to as “the Africa” or “the Twin.”
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
Compared to my other bikes, it’s like riding a couch. Very comfortable neutral riding position where you can eat up 700km in a day no worries (I just got back from a 3400km 7-day trip). I tell people it’s like a jack of all trades, but a master of none. It will do everything, but nothing particularly well. It’s best suited cruising on gravel roads. It will ride technical trails, but at 200kg, you can really feel its weight, and the suspension isn’t like a dirt bike. It’s fun on tarmac twisties, but you can feel the high COG. It’s a really good “all rounder.”
• Was there anything done during this restoration that you are particularly proud of?
The custom fiberglass side panels and rear fender I’m particularly proud of, as it was all new to me. I just love how it looks, but that’s more a testament to the sign writer. I just gave him a bunch of photos of the Dakar bike and said, “make this.”
The fairings were very badly cracked, I repaired these by melting down Lego pieces with acetone into a paste, as they are both ABS plastic — this worked surprisingly well.
Follow the Builder: @blakejhones
Great article and great build! Just two minor corrections: The Dakar winning bike of 1982 was an XR550R, not an XL550R. And the Africa Twin designer’s name is Tomonori Mogi, not Tomonon Mogi.
Corrections made — thank you, sir!