The low rumble of the engine erupted with a howl as I twisted my right hand. The big V4 of the new Honda VFR1200X Crosstourer catapulted me down the road at a furious pace. In that instant I remembered exactly why I love the V4 platform.
It’s been over a year since I sold my 1999 VFR800 and not a ride goes by that I don’t second-guess that decision. Well, that’s not entirely true. When I am blasting around off-road on the big British ADV bike that took its place in my garage, I don’t miss it. Who says one bike can do it all?
While Honda feels that the perfect compromise between an on- and off-road machine is the new Africa Twin, the Crosstourer is definitely intended to keep its rubber firmly planted on the street. Well, at least the rubber on the rear wheel. The front rubber is plenty capable of becoming airborne.
So how did I end up in the saddle of the VFR1200X that just made its way to the United States last week?
A few of us had just returned from a day of riding Honda’s Africa Twin in Moab, Utah, when the good folks at “Big Red” asked if we wanted to keep riding, simultaneously producing keys for a matching pair of Crosstourers.
I want to know who says, "no" to questions like this. I mean, someone must, otherwise they would stop asking. They would simply say, “Here are the keys to the big, fast, brand-new motorcycle that’s been available only in Europe for the past four years. Have fun!”
Matt Neundorf of Gear Patrol grabbed the keys for the DCT bike, which left me with the manual version. If you are unfamiliar, DCT stands for “Dual Clutch Transmission” and is essentially a fancy word for “automatic.” A fancy word for a fancy system. For 2016, Honda has upgraded their DCT with revised shift patterns: “D” shifts early and optimizes fuel efficiency while “S” mode now allows for three different levels of increasingly aggressive shift patterns. For those who want complete control, you can also opt for manual gear selection via paddle shifters on your left hand.
Matt took off toward Arches National Park (for a Canadian he sure loves the sights here in the states) while I headed west on Highway 128 as it snaked its way alongside the Colorado River. I was immediately impressed with the engine.
The 1,237 cc V4 has been retuned compared to the previous VFR1200F. The engine's power is immediate, with handfuls of torque and plenty of power all the way to the redline, which hits just shy of 9,000 rpm. There are three different levels of traction control to keep power in check and, of course, ABS.
Unlike the Africa Twin, the VFR1200X features linked brakes with ABS that cannot be disabled. As my old VFR had linked brakes, this was nothing new to me. However, it is a clear indicator that Honda’s intentions for this bike are almost exclusively aimed at street use.
For the most part, both traction control and ABS engaged smoothly without jarring the rider. If you have the TC cranked to a full three bars, it will kick in decently aggressively and slow the engine down fast. I preferred one bar for minimal interference but what I found really quite impressive was that all changes could be done while riding. If I came upon a particularly rough stretch, I could hit a button and change traction on the fly. I just wish it was a button on the handlebar, like the Africa Twin, and not on the fairing, where I have to remove my hand to get to it.
Suspension duties are tackled by a KYB fork and Honda Pro-Link shock. Both the 43 mm fork up front and the shock out back have adjustments for preload, as well as rebound damping. If I had more time with the bike, I would have tried dialing in a bit more preload and cut damping. It was a bit too soft for my personal tastes.
The shaft drive performed flawlessly with a smooth engagement between the six-speed gearbox and the rear wheel. The look of the single-sided swing arm with the spoked wheels was cool. The fact that the spoked wheels are tubeless was even cooler. If you do catch a flat on your long-haul treks, you wont have a tube to contend with as you make repairs to get you down the road.
Being that Honda has all but said, "You're probably going to want to stick to the street with this bad boy," I would have preferred to see sport wheel sizes and rubber to match. Instead of running a 110/80R19 on the front and a 150/70R17 on the rear, I would like to see something like a 120/70R17 up front paired with a 180/55R17 out back. This would place the bike squarely in Ducati Multistrada or BMW S 1000 XR territory, where it would be a more viable contender, rather than trying to look the part of a BMW R 1200 GS.
Overall, the VFR1200X felt like a big sport bike with a upright seating position. Don’t think of this so much as an ADV bike, but rather as a new-generation sport-touring machine. After all, that’s the appeal for so many when it comes to these big bikes. You can tackle a fire road and ride down a dirt path to camp by a river, something that would be a bit uncomfortably challenging on a traditional sport-tourer. But the VFR1200X can also hit triple digits on the speedo in third gear as you tear down a back road in Utah chasing the curves of the Colorado River. (Not that anyone would ever do that of course!)
After a quick stop to grab some photos with Ray Gauger, I headed back to camp. By the time Matt returned from his trip to Arches, I was already setting up GoPros on the Africa Twin for the following day's ride. He grinned at me shaking his head.
"This bike is fast," he said.
We both agreed we wouldn't want to take it far from the pavement, but Honda has a different bike for those of you who want to get dirty: the Africa Twin. It only took them 28 years to bring it to America. That's a lot worse than the four we had to wait for this VFR1200X.