What the hell is this thing anyway? We were all so caffeinated about the new Africa Twin that when Honda offered up the new VFR1200X for us to ride around upon, I had almost forgotten about it. Known as the Crosstourer since 2012 across the pond, here it is now in the U.S., available in six-speed manual form like our tester, or with Honda’s excellent DCT automatic transmission for only $400 more ($15,999).
On paper, it all looks pretty cool. In person, it looks rather large. Honda says this is its “range-topping Adventure Touring bike,” unique in the class by having a V-Four engine. The seat’s 33.5 inches off the deck, meaning my 30-inch legs can just touch toes on both sides, and Honda’s claimed curb weight of 608 pounds is backed up by the official MO scales, which say 612 with a full complement of fluids including 5.68 gallons of fuel. (Honda says the DCT version is 23 pounds heavier than our bike.)
To put that in perspective, the heaviest bike in our Epic Sport Adventure comparo last year was the Triumph Explorer XC ABS, which weighed 6 pounds less than the Honda. The one that won it, the BMW S1000XR, weighed 550 with bags attached.
The way Honda wants to spin it, which makes perfect sense, is that the X is mostly for paved-road riding but with the ability to traverse the occasional graded dirt and/or gravel road. It’s your basic big sport-tourer, almost, in an expensive off-road suit featuring niceties like 19- and 17-inch tubeless wire-spoke wheels. Guess we’ll be forced to ride the thing up into the Los Padres National Forest on a beautiful Saturday in mid-May then. Dang.
Just as we discovered in the aforementioned Epic Sport Adventure comparison, these bikes work better than you might expect on dirt roads, a theme that the new X carries on quite well. The transition from 150-horsepower sport-tourer to 108-hp Adventure Tourer is due mostly to different camshaft specs and ECU settings for the 1237cc Unicam V-Four, but also to exhaust header diameters shrinking from 38mm all the way down to 28mm. The X uses the same 44mm throttle bodies and 12:1 compression ratio of the F. The overall effect is that the X just doesn’t feel as free-revving as the F, but it does run more smoothly and happily down low.
This one’s ride-by-wire (the VFR1200F was Honda’s first r-b-w bike), and Honda’s tuned the X so that you get power the instant you crack the throttle. Response is immediate and a bit abrupt; new Euro 4 emissions conformity probably doesn’t help. It feels like “A” mode on bikes that offer different ride modes, but on the X there’s no B or C. I actually got used to the immediate power delivery after riding the bike a while, but it was a trait Duke and Troy both mentioned first after riding the X for the first time.
The tuning changes are all for the good if you’re riding down rutted dirt backroads. It’s easy to adjust the traction control with a button on the left fairing panel; I had it on full, 3 of 3, and thus set it’s a doddle to point the Honda’s beak up slightly steep loose dirt hills and hang on while the X clambers confidently up on its Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires (intended for dual-purpose motorcycles used mainly on road, says Pirelli).
You know the TC is helping you out because it activates a yellow light on the dash, which is constantly flashing while you hold the rpm at a steady 3000-4000 rpm or so in second gear. Grab more throttle, and the light flashes more but the rear tire never steps out of line as the bike maintains momentum. Which allows the rider to concentrate on steering his way between sharp rocks and gullies and things. Which makes this kind of riding waaay safer for people like me who didn’t grow up on dirt bikes.
In fact the more you ride the Honda, the greater your confidence grows and the easier it is to forget it weighs 612 pounds. Don’t. Actually it all depends on the size and strength of the rider; if you’re a big healthy mesomorph confident in your ability to pick the thing up should it fall over, have at it and more power to you. It does come with cheap plastic handguards that may keep your levers from breaking. For me, with my short legs, the hardest part about riding this thing down gnarly dirt roads is turning around; its 62.8-inch wheelbase is two inches longer than the VFR1200F (and longer than any of the bikes in our recent 9-Way as well). I’m pretty certain it’s the most pounds of adventure bike per dollar you can buy.
Front suspension travel is 6.5 inches, and 5.7 in at the rear – it feels a bit harsh off-road, biased as it is more toward road use, where you don’t encounter many sharp rocks and tree roots poking up unless you’re in certain parts of L.A. But at my speed and weight and considering all the possible scenarios this motorcycle has been designed to deal with, no complaints. You’re not getting the pushbutton magic carpet electronic ride provided by the Ducati Multistrada or KTM Super Adventure – but then you’re not getting the complexity either or spending over $20K.
The Honda gives you a knob to twist to adjust rear preload, and rebound damping adjusters at both ends; I didn’t touch either one. If you’re a big guy traveling with a passenger and opt for the nice aluminum optional bags, it’ll be good to be able to crank up the preload and rebound. (Honda’s aluminum panniers will set you back $1399.95; the matching top case is $659.95.)
Thanks to the TC system, climbing steepish hills is electronics-applied-to-motorcycling at its finest. Coming back down hills with Honda’s Combined ABS system is not quite as confidence inspiring since you can’t turn the ABS off or adjust it. The smart system does let you lock up the rear a bit more than the front. Its latest C-ABS, Honda says, “reduces the hydraulic pressure being applied to the relevant brake and distributes the force optimally between both wheels.” That’s kind of how it feels; when the front’s skittering, the rear’s retarding and vice versa.
Engine braking from the big motor is enough to keep your downhill speed under control on most reasonable terrain, but you don’t have to be going very fast over a bunch of rocky bumps to overwhelm the brakes’ brain and just keep rolling when you’re asking to slow down. You’re on your own if you start down a steep hill of loose shale… write and let us know how that turns out.
Anyway, we’re back to if that’s the kind of riding you want to do, you need the Africa Twin, which is almost exactly 100 pounds lighter than the VFR1200X and much more biased toward off-road use. Like the old dancing bear line, it’s amazing that the VFR goes off-road at all, much less as well as it does. Like my friend Jim said from the seat of his KTM 500 EXC, “When are they gonna put dual-sport tires on a Hayabusa and call that an Adventure bike?”
You have to assume the reason the VFR1200X came to be was that the success of the F (lack of) caused Honda to have a lot of those expensive engines lying around the factory. An Adventure Bike version made perfect sense, apparently, since that’s what people are buying lately.
My 160-mile ride up the freeway Saturday morning en route to our off-road paradise just beyond Neverland was a lane-splitting bummer part of the way due to lane closures, cars running into one another, and a systemic lack of family planning. My 7am Sunday morning blast back down the coast, though, was a completely different matter. I didn’t bother to air the tires back up from the 28 or so psi I’d dropped them to for the dirt ride, my speed picked up considerably on the empty 101 south, and this is the kind of adventure the X is really made for.
A clever manual windshield adjuster lets you crank it up and down with your left hand on the fly; it blows a gaping hole in the wind: 5000 rpm equals 90 mph according to the bar tachometer, which nicely coincides with the engine’s 80 lb-ft torque peak. It’s no 150-horsepower Multistrada or BMW S1000XR, but the Honda has a soothing, syncopated rhythm to its V-Four that those bikes don’t, and not nearly as much buzz in its aluminum handlebar as the BMW.
If you whack the throttle open when nobody’s looking and the 101 is empty, the Honda starts running out of steam past 120 mph or so (where the BMW and Multi would continue rocketing forward), but how fast do you need to go in the U.S. anyway? The X’s happiest place is right about 80, where its suspension and cush seat give it a fluid, supple ride (especially with 28 psi in the tires) – and its long wheelbase and conservative steering numbers give it more stability than most Amtrak trains. Your magnetic tankbag will stick to its tank, and you can charge your stuff up from the 12V outlet up there. Heated grips are another option, $199.95. Cruise control is not.
It’s not even so much having to hold the throttle on for a couple of hours, thanks to the VFR’s excellent handlebar bend and my trusty Crampbuster, but CC is nice to have so you don’t have to constantly monitor your speed instead of taking in the scenery. On big powerful bikes like these, it’s all too easy to let the velocity creep up until the authority figure with the flashing lights appears. Traffic was strangely light on my Sunday morning return leg, so I blame the lack of CC for allowing me to make the final 40 miles from LAX to my house in 27 minutes. The X was yawning when I parked it and my body felt as nice as if we’d been upon a Gold Wing. Not bad for a big dirt bike.
It’s swell that the Dual Clutch version of the bike is only $400 more, and comes with what Honda calls a third-generation DCT with enhancements including the ability to detect uphill and downhill slopes and adapt its shift-pattern schedule accordingly; I would’ve really liked to try it on those dirt roads.
For $16k, you could forgive the lack of cruise control and electronic suspension. For me personally as a 5-foot-8/160-pound runt, I can’t forgive the lack of lightness. It’s good enough on dirt roads that I know I’d grow overconfident in the outback and insert myself eventually into a place from which I might not be able to re-emerge, particularly should the X fall on top of me. If I was 6-foot-4 and full of muscle with a frequent passenger, on the other hand, the X would be a definite contender.
At the end of the day, the X feels a lot like the VFR1200F that preceded it: an extremely nice motorcycle with a unique, soulful V-Four that falls slightly outside the established class parameters. The five or six people who bought VFR-Fs seem to really love them, and they are not wrong. The X is like that, and a more practical, way gruntier motorcycle for everyday use, too.
|2016 Honda VFR1200X|
|+ Highs ||– Sighs |
|2016 Honda VFR1200X Specifications|
|Engine Type||1237cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke Unicam 16-valve 76° V4|
|Bore And Stroke||81 x 60|
|Induction||PGM-FI electronic fuel injection|
|Final Drive||Enclosed Shaft|
|Front Suspension||43mm inverted telescopic forks with hydraulic damping, preload and rebound damping adjustment|
|Rear Suspension||Pro-Link with gas-charged damper, preload and stepless rebound damping adjustment|
|Front Brake||Dual 310mm discs, Combined ABS|
|Rear Brake||Single 276mm disc, Combined ABS|
|MO wet weight||612 lbs.|
|Seat Height||33.5 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||5.68 gallons|
|MO fuel economy||37 mpg|
|Available Colors||Pearl Black|
|Emissions||Meets current California Air Resources Board (CARB) and EPA standards.|
|One Year||Transferable, unlimited-mileage limited warranty; extended coverage available with a Honda Protection Plan.|