Honda VFR1200X

HONDA’S VFR1200X Cross Tourer is perfectly named. It’s a touring machine which can quite easily cross over from tar to dirt.
Either stripped for solo work, or equipped with panniers and top box for two-up touring, the Cross Tourer is a very capable machine.

Capable of going lots of different places, and capable of giving its rider a very wide grin.

History

Honda hasn’t been a big player in the adventure bike market. It’s had some bikes which loosely fit into the category over the years but it’s not the first manufacturer you think of when looking to buy an adventure machine. You could say the VFR1200X also loosely fits into the ‘Adventure’ category. Like many of Honda’s earlier products of this genre, it’s designed more for tar than dirt.
Sure, you can modify it to suit more aggressive off-road riding but there are more suitable machines on the market, if that’s your intent.
That said, the VFR1200X is an awesome piece of kit, in a surprising variety of conditions

On the stand

Honda pretty much owns the V-Four engine layout, at least in the sports/touring market segment. It has produced a V-Four engine since the early ’80s. There’s a very good reason why this engine layout has a huge following. Simply put, they are one of the most superb engines you will ever try. Not the most powerful, but powerful enough, and flexible.
And it has the sound to boot.
This V-Four engine is the latest in the line – looking quite different than earlier models – and is pretty much the same as the that in the VFR1200F sports tourer. The ‘X’ doesn’t have the top end of the sports touring model as it has been retuned for more lower and mid range power to suit touring duties.

Besides the obvious adventure styling, the bike wears spoked rims, 17 inch at the rear and 19 inch at the front. Tyre sizes are smaller than you might expect, with a 150 on the rear and a 110 on the front. This is no doubt to make it a better machine on dirt roads, as the narrower tyres cut through loose dirt and gravel better than fatter ones, especially a 17 inch front. The rims are laced to the edge, so tubeless tyres can be used. This a great idea as you can use tyre repair kits in the boondocks, or use a tube if you need to.

We love the single sided rear swingarm, which allows quick and simple rear wheel removal. Shaft drive is another plus on the ‘X’. Suspension is easily adjustable too. The forks offer pre-load and compression/rebound, and the rear shock has a hydraulic pre-load adjuster – simple. The shock also has rebound damping adjustment.

Honda fits linked brakes to just about everything these days and the VFR1200X is no exception. Honda calls it a Combined Braking System, where essentially a combination of front and rear caliper pistons are activated depending on which brake lever you use. Use only the rear caliper and some of the front caliper pistons come into play, and vice versa. Overall it’s a very well engineered system which has much better feel than the linked brake systems of the past. ABS is fitted standard.

You can get a number of accessories for it. The test bike was fitted with left and right Fairing Deflectors. Honda reckons they add to rider and pillion comfort by minimising turbulence. Besides that you can get a tall screen, alloy panniers and top box, crash bars, heated handgrips, a 12 volt power outlet, spot lights, Akrapovic slip-on muffler, and even a centrestand, which in our opinion should come standard. Our test bike had the centre stand, and the top box, both of which worked well.
In fact the bike is easy to get up on the centre stand. Road or trail Our first test of the bike was a 600 kilometre two-day strop up Thunderbolts Way, down the Oxley Highway and home to Newcastle via Comboyne and the Buckets Way.

This type of riding is exactly what the VFR1200X is aimed at. Bumpy tar roads, and dirt roads are no problem at all for it. The suspension was set up on the soft side when we got it, but we found it spot on for the bumpy Thunderbolts Way. It would compress quite a bit on big dips in the road, especially at speed, but glided over the short sharp bumps.

Either stripped for solo work, or equipped with panniers and top box for two-up touring, the Cross Tourer is a very capable machine.

We did play with the rear shock settings later in the test period but opinions differed on how well those changes worked. While the bike smoothed out the bumps, it was how well it performed on the smooth and fast Oxley Highway which was perhaps the biggest surprise.
In fast corners the bike showed only the slightest hint of wallowing with the soft settings, a trade-off we were happy to take, but in the tight corners it handled and steered beautifully, almost making a mockery of the listed 275 kilo weight.
Yes, it is heavy when you are manoeuvring it in a car park or out of the shed, but this weight almost disappears on the move. It might be worth noting that the DCT semi-auto equipped VFR1200X weighs an extra 10 kilos.

Even though the power is slightly down from the sports touring VFR1200F it’s hardly worth noting on a bike like this. Never did we feel wanting for grunt, and the only thing stopping the front wheel from lifting skyward is the traction control, and the engine is very flexible, allowing the rider to be very lazy with gear changes. Open road touring will see you sit in sixth gear all day if you want to.

The TC system is unobtrusive, like the ABS. Yes, of course you can feel them working, but the TC works smoothly, and the ABS only ever came on when we actually tried to engage it. Good job in both regards from Honda.
But, we feel the brakes are a bit underdone. When punting along on the tight Oxley Highway we would have liked a bit more from the front brakes.
You do have to squeeze them on hard in this environment, and if two-up and riding quick you would want more. That said, the brakes work very well on dirt roads, as the initial bite isn’t too savage. This could well be a compromise Honda worked into the system.

You might think the narrow tyres would let the bike down in sporting situations but that isn’t the case. You could feel them squirming at times but never once did they ‘let go’. In fact, most of the dual purpose tyres on the market these days grip like nothing else. You can ride this bike very hard on the open road. One of the bike’s strong points is its riding position. It is very comfortable, and the seat/handlebar/footpeg ratio is spot on for a six footer. It’s also easy to ride standing up.

We wouldn’t change anything here. As fitted our top box was easy to use, although difficult to work out how to get it off the bike. We gave up in the end and left it on. There’s no tie down points to speak of, although you can use the pillion grab rails. Put tape on them first to stop scratching the paint. Fuel range from the 21.5 litre tank is well over 300 kilometres.

We managed 350 kays on one tank. Not sure what the bike would crash like if you were doing some adventure work. We never crash tested it, thankfully, but it does look like you would be able to ride out of trouble, if it was a low speed one.
If you were doing lots of dirt road work you should buy a bash plate to protect the header pipes and crankcases.
The pipes are the most prone to damage from rocks, but it’s good insurance overall.

Verdict

At $20,120 it’s good enough value (Auto version is $1000 more). The engine in the Cross Tourer is a gem and has more than enough power to do its job. If comfort is on your desirable list you should check out this bike because it has it in spades.

Is it an adventure bike to take on the established players?
Not really, but it’s a damn fine all roads machine, and suited to Australia’s conditions.
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