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"Dirt", December 1, 2012

ROLLING THUNDER

HONDA THROWS ITSELF INTO THE ADVENTURE MARKET WITH THE VFR1200X CROSSTOURER. IT’S IMPRESSIVELY BIG, BUT DOES SIZE RALLY MATTER?

STORY BY DAMIEN ASHENHURST

PHOTO BY BARRY ASHENHURST

Honda’s VFR1200X Crosstourer is a beast of a bike. With a V4 engine ripped from the VFR1200F road bike, a machine that was launched in 2009 as a hard-top tourer, the 1200X gives nothing away in the horsepower department. But can you make a road tourer into a capable off-road machine? That was the question we asked as we rode the 1200X out of the DIRT ACTION headquarters’ roller doors.

It didn’t take long to get a clear picture of where the strengths of the Honda lay. The engine is a stunner that effortlessly mixes mountainous torque and a silky delivery. There’s little to no vibration — just a sweet, deep engine note that plays as a soundtrack to a bold surge that has you wondering if this bike is truly something you want to take into the dirt.

Thankfully, the 1200X’s brakes are also up to the task and, believe me, these are some amazing brakes. The 1200X runs permanent ABS (combined) which is something I’d prefer to have the option to switch off. That said, the ABS on the 1200X is pretty good and I think I’m coming around to the use of quality ABS off road. I’d still like to be able to lock the rear, though.

BELLS AND WHISTLES

On the digital dash there’s an ample array of information, from the gear selection, speed, revs, air temperature, real time and average fuel use as well as a clock and of course fuel and trip meters. It’s a nice display that’s easy to read even when you’re standing. The controls are pretty standard sort of stuff with nothing except a button to activate or deactivate traction control that stands out from the ordinary.

The 1200X comes with decent handguards but no heated grips. That’s a bummer and I’d like to see them as standard equipment on any adventure bike these days. That said, you can purchase genuine Honda heated grips, thanks to a sizable OEM parts list available for the VFR1200X, so all is not lost.

The footpegs are crap, though, and there’s no getting around that. Honda needs to take the guy responsible for footpegs and measure his feet. I’m sure he’s still wearing baby booties because they keep releasing bikes with tiny footpegs that feel like you’re standing on a budgie perch.

The tank is a decent 21.5 litres, which isn’t far off the mark compared to Yamaha’s Super Ténéré or BMW’s R1200GS, and the seat height is at the lower end (830mm) which will appeal to more riders than it bothers. But its claimed kerb weight (275kg) is way more than the BMW’s and a fair bit more than the Super Ténéré’s.

And thus we uncover the Crosstourer’s Achilles heel. Our test bike copped some damage while I was opening a cattle gate: the stand sank into the dirt and toppled over, breaking the handguard and clutch lever. It’s a heavy bike and not as well balanced as you’d like when you hit something like wet clay. Once this big unit starts to fall there’s bugger all you can do about it but get your leg out of the way. I dropped it twice and picking it back up again wasn’t easy.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

The engine, which initially had me concerned as to how it would perform off road, actually continued to be the star of the show. It’s got a nice bottom end and that smooth delivery is easy to keep in check with the help of a good traction control system. It’s a hell of a lot punchier than the BMW and Yamaha and in that it belies its heritage: you can take the bike off the road but you can’t take the road out of the bike.

I liked the way it came on and built up on the open roads. I took it up a steep hill, infested with rocks and tree roots, that’s only ever seen trailbikes; the Crosstourer just chugged all the way up with a little help from the slightly heavy clutch. The low-slung exhaust is a worry off road, though, and it’s open to a beating — but the turning circle is amazingly tight and especially appreciated when you head along a track that turns to crap.

I spent most of the time on the bush tracks in first and second gear while the open dirt roads allowed me to get to fourth. Everything after that is for the freeway and there really is a lot more after that. The 1200X pulls on and on and on.

The gearbox is seamless and doesn’t display any of the chunkiness we’ve come to expect from the big adventure bikes. It allows clutchless shifts when needed and doesn’t require a huge hook with your boot to wrestle it into the next gear.

The suspension does a fair job but is no threat to the class-leading BMW. The job of suspension on an adventure bike has to be the hardest of any boingers. I didn’t find any glaring problems until I ramped up the pace; then getting a good balance front and rear became more difficult but the overall weight of the 1200X can’t be dismissed here. The Super Ténéré suffers the same problem to a degree and you find yourself concentrating more than I like on not losing the front.

AND THE VERDICT IS ...

Honda’s VFR1200X Crosstourer is a good bike. Its home is with someone who rides mostly on the black top, but when they go off road they want to push things a little bit further than just a dirt road. It can take on trails but when it gets to things like single track, rock shelves, logs etc, there are better options on the market. And it’s pretty sphincter puckering when you break the back end out around a corner.

But, honestly, how many guys ride that stuff on adventure bikes anyway? If you want a bike that rides brilliantly on the road and pretty damn good on the dirt and you feel you can handle a heavy machine when the going gets rough, then the VFR1200X is on your radar. Just keep in mind that you’ll meet its limits on the dirt well before you even get a look in on the road.

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