REVIEW: By golly we've had a bad run of weather. The rain's been persisting down and landslips are a daily feature around home, rarely cleared away and left to eventually flatten under passing tyres, leaving slippy lumps and lumpy slicks across the road and chunks of rock scattered winsomely amidships of the occasional blind bend.
Not sport bike weather then, so I noted a slight knee tremble that belied the stiff upper lip I presented to Honda when I arrived to collect its insanely powerful, sticky-tyred CBR1000 - the Usain Bolt of litre bikes, a thinly disguised track machine about as suited to a wintry rural commute as the Queen would be to a Manawatu milking shed at business time.
You can imagine my relief to discover this Crossrunner awaiting me instead. It looks a bit like the bastard child of a road bike and a true dual-purpose machine, with the upright riding position, high bars and seat and purposefully thrusting nose of a dirt-friendly bike without the truly long travel suspension, and with more plastic than you'd see on anything likely to be dropped in a mud puddle.
Once I'd got over the transient pleasure of collecting something at least marginally suited to the weather, I had to shrug off a feeling I'd been short-changed, for the Crossrunner could be accused of being a decade-old VFR800 sports-tourer in a new suit; a past-it roué in trendy shoes, sporting the image of a cross-country runner without the muscle to actually pull it off.
It didn't take long to convince me. Honda says it built the bike after customer research suggested buyers like the adventure bike image, but not the tall seat, dual purpose tyres and long travel suspension that go with it. They wanted the every-road all-year riding an adventure machine delivers, and its style, with none of the compromises.
"Ah so!" said Honda's clever engineers, riffling through the parts bin for a few tried-and-true bits, then penning a machine that could use them.
I've over-simplified of course, but it does use the VFR's engine, its frame and suspension, its wiring and brakes with freshly designed bars and bodywork, and redesigned suspension that dropped the forks through the yokes and increased the downward angle of the rear swingarm to alter the bike's attitude.
Somewhere far beneath you there's the trusty V4 powerplant Honda aficionados are familiar with, a 782cc DOHC unit retuned and mated to a new exhaust to alter how it delivers its slightly reduced power.
The 72.8Nm torque peak arrives at 9500rpm, with 74.9kW just 400rpm later. VTEC traditionally delivers a relaxed feel at lower revs, with a lurch as it fires you into higher-rev power boost. But this motor feels quite different, with a stronger bottom end.
After a brisk departure the Crossrunner accelerates steadily, the power delivered smoothly across the rev range and the noise increasing with it; spin the motor at the upper end and it emits a typical Honda V4 rasp.
But this isn't a sport bike; it's not all about the revs, as I discovered once I'd got used to the odd-shaped bars sprouting from the superstructure up front. They look more like parts-bin cast-offs than traditional dual-purpose bars, but stop looking; enjoy the more upright riding position and the better all-round view it affords; employ the leverage the bars' wide spread allows and you'll find they deliver a delightful blend of comfort and control from a riding position that like a dirt bike's, encourages the rider to move around, weighting the pegs to assist as you weave down that demanding back road.
It's not quite sports-bike nimble, but close enough, especially given how well the suspension works. The setup proved both compliant enough for road comfort yet controlled, even through bumpier bends, and that makes for a bike which feels stable and forgiving over uneven or slippery surfaces, easy to correct, and keen to take grippy corners at a lean that would startle some sport bike riders.
It's got the manoeuvrability of a dual purpose bike round town too, able to weave through gridlock while delivering a commanding view and benefiting from good brakes, backed up by ABS.
It even carries its weight well, though the 21.5-litre tank certainly lifted the centre of gravity when full - not that you'll mind come touring time.
Kiwis tend to like big motors, but this Crossrunner drew admiration despite its sub-litre capacity, perhaps because it looks quite large. Yet the seat height is relatively modest for this format as is the flattish pillion seat allowed by the low-mounted exhaust, which again makes for easy mounting for your passenger while both seats deliver what feels like a shorter seat-to-pegs distance than an adventure bike would.
Up front the high-mounted LCD instruments deliver a tacho, twin trip, coolant, air temperature gauge - useful at this time of year - and a clock.
The bodywork was shaped by 120 hours in the wind tunnel to ensure stability at all speeds says Honda; I didn't try “all speeds” but can confirm it does a reasonable job of directing air past the body, though wind off the screen hit my helmet amidships - were I slightly taller it'd be fine.
Honda says it meant this bike to suit a wide skillset and to magnify the feeling of speed and lean angle and it seems to have got it right, giving the old VFR mechanicals a new lease of life to deliver a bike that seems ideally suited to New Zealand's network of roads - as capable of long-legged Mackenzie Country cruising as it is of carving down some twisty back road or taking to the gravel.
AT A GLANCE
Honda VFR800X Crossrunner
How much? $19,495
Engine, transmission: 782cc liquid-cooled four-stroke 90-degree V4 with six-speed transmission and chain drive
Power and torque: 84.9kW at 10,000rpm and 72.8Nm at 9500rpm How big? 2130mm long, 799mm wide, 1243mm high, 816mm seat height, 1464mm wheelbase, 240.4kg wet weight, 21.5-litre tank
Suspension and brakes: Front 43mm telescopic forks with stepless preload adjust, rear Pro-Link with gas-charged HMAS damper with seven step preload and stepless rebound adjust; 296mm twin floating front disc with three-piston callipers and sintered metal pads, 256m rear disc with two piston calliper and sintered pads, ABS
Wheels: 17-inch cast wheels with 120/70ZR17 front and 180/55ZR17 rear tyres
For: Any roads all-weather capability, flexible engine
Against: It's not a true dual purpose bike – gravel is as far as it will go.
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