Crossing over Honda style
The sense of deja vu that I feel when riding the new Honda VFR800X Crossrunner is overwhelming.
For I can clearly remember the day when the same motor company unleashed the CR-V soft-roader upon an unsuspecting world. It was at the launch of a rather ordinary Civic range in Arrowtown, and suddenly we Kiwi motoring scribblers were introduced to a spin-off from the new Civic's development that was destined to inspire a whole new class of motor vehicle.
Prior to the CR-V, the term crossover was reserved for use by the music industry to describe a hit song capable of climbing relentlessly up more than one chart of popular music. After the CR-V, it also applied to the whole gamut of versatile vehicles that the compact 4WD Honda inspired.
So will history repeat with the VFR800X? Unlikely, because this new Honda two-wheeler is a follower rather than a leader.
For the "let's pretend I'm an adventure tourer" niche was discovered quite a few years back by European bike brands. The Crossrunner can hardly claim to be something entirely new when bikes like the Ducati Multistrada and Triumph Tiger 1050 have been around for almost a decade. Like the newest Honda 800, these bikes look like adventure tourers, but are in fact targeted at sealed road use with their fat radial tyres, and sporty short-travel suspension. They adopt a high-flying, upright and spacious riding position not in the interest of promoting dirty deeds, but because it provides more sustainable comfort levels when travelling long distances. Such is the growing popularity of multi-role bikes with a more adventurous image, that some bike makers now make them their sole offerings to sport-touring customers (eg, Ducati axed its ST range after it was quickly overtaken in sales by the Multistrada).
The new Crossrunner faithfully follows this fashion, turning the existing nine-year-old VFR800 sports-tourer into something that cosies up to the highly-successful BMW R1200GS with its new look, but can't recreate the Bavarian wunder-bike's let's-get-dirty dynamic. For once you've conquered the climb to the Crossrunner's higher-riding seat, the rest of the ride is so close to that of the venerable VFR800- without-the-X that the differences are hard to pick. Just two spring immediately to mind. Firstly, the 90-degree V4 engine likes to rev a little freer thanks to subtle changes to the exhaust and intake plumbing, a lighter flywheel, and a more intelligent VTEC system which irons out the transition of each cylinder from stodgy two- valve operation to four-valve zippiness at 6500rpm. Second, in a change that only trackday tragics are likely to notice, the motor now calls closing time on power production at 10,000rpm in top gear (other gears: 12,200rpm), strictly limiting the top speed of the bike to 200kmh (old VFR800: 240kmh). Presumably this latter change was driven by concern that the higher, wider handlebars of the Crossrunner might cause instability if capable of higher speeds.
For road-riding this is an even smoother, better-performing powertrain than before, with a slightly stronger mid-range than the VFR800. The V4 burbles enthusiastically when the VTEC finally applies the extra two valves that you've paid good money for in each cylinder, and the extra kick above 6500rpm can be chased with one of the sweetest- shifting six-speed gearboxes in bikedom. However, bombing along at the open road legal limit in sixth ensures that the engine is ticking over meekly in its dead zone at 5000rpm, and roll-on top- gear overtaking performance is virtually non-existent at this speed. That said, the Crossrunner does consume fuel gently at such times, and with the ability to sip fuel at a rate of 6.2litres/100kmh (45.3mpg) and store 21 litres in its generously-sized tank, the Honda is a consummate consumer of distance with a comfy seat to match. The more bulbous bodywork of the X-machine also provides more weather protection than the racier-looking plastics of the VFR800.
I just wish Honda had sorted out the sporty side of the sports- touring spectrum for the Crossrunner with as much attention-to-detail as they paid to the bike's touring aspirations. For the spring preload of the rear suspension is harder to adjust as Honda has deleted the VFR's handy hand-crank for this chore, and C-spanner access to the seven- position preload adjuster is hindered by the bike's more enclosed bodywork. And you really want to get at that shock quickly, for the Crossrunner delivers a harsh ride out of the box.
At $18,495, the Crossrunner has the $18,990 800cc Triumph and the larger $19,990 1050cc version for company.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 782cc liquid-cooled dohc 16v 90-degree V4 stoked by fuel injection to develop 72kW (96bhp) at 9900rpm and 71Nm of torque at 9400rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Aluminium twin-spar frame with aluminium swingarm, unadjustable 43mm telescopic forks, and horizontally-mounted rear monoshock adjustable for spring preload.
Hot: Honda's venerable VFR800 enjoys its twilight years as a cooler-looking adventure bike.
Not: Front forks lose any ability for adjustment, while spring preload adjustment of the rear end is made more difficult.