2016 Honda VFR1200X Ride Review
Originally published for Ride Apart
The Honda VFR1200X has been available in Europe, where it’s known as the Crosstourer, for the past few years but it only made its way to the United States in 2016. While it looks like a big adventure motorcycle, it is classified as a sport touring machine and we found that it is capable of pounding the pavement on long hauls and eating up the most twisty canyon roads. Between the heft and the street-friendly design, I don’t really see it be a true adventure bike, but I will get more into that later on.
After spending a week and a half logging about 1,500 Miles on the VFR1200X, I came away with a pretty good idea where this bike belongs in the motorcycle universe. My goal was to leave Los Angeles and get lost on the VFR, so I packed my bags, strapped them down on the passenger pillion, and suited up for an adventure.
Where would I go? I was not too sure. I didn’t even pack a map. I know enough about my home state that I can’t actually, you know, get lost. So, I just headed north. My travels took me to Rosamond and past Willow Springs Raceway as I aimed for the coast. Along the Pacific, I rode past Big Sur, Monterey, San Jose, and back down to San Luis Obispo before making my way back to Los Angeles. Ninety percent of the time spent on the VFR1200X was on pavement with about 10 percent spent exploring some fire roads in the Los Padres National Forest.
Riding the Mean Streets of the Big City
Looking at this behemoth, one would imagine the VFR1200X would be a bit of a beast in and around the city but it is surprisingly manageable. While riding in Los Angeles, I’m keen to focus on a number of factors specific to urban riding. How does the bike hold up when splitting lanes? Does it have the power to get me out of a sticky situation (i.e. stupid drivers)? Is it nimble enough in those situations? How does the suspension fare on both beat up and well-paved roads? How bad is engine heat in stop-and-go traffic?
I split lanes all the time. It’s imperative for city riding in LA because traffic is so horrible. To not split lanes means you are just as miserable as those poor souls sitting in their cars. The VFR1200X, while it is a big bike, manages the day-to-day task of splitting lanes fairly well. The ride height allows for a fantastic view of traffic and puts you well above the roofs of any sedan. Some spots were a bit tight to get through but, overall, I found the VFR1200X well equipped for the urban commute. The low speeds of lane splitting and navigating parking lots are where the VFR shows its heft, all 603 lbs. of it.
The suspension on the VFR is adjustable for compression dampening on the back but I never took the time to adjust it because it felt good right out of the box. The response in handling over potholes felt adequate and comfortable in and around the city. The hydraulic actuated clutch is effortless and is fantastic for dealing with day-to-day squeeze and ease, in and around urban areas. The standard-mount calipers grip onto two 310mm discs up front that is capable of bringing the big VFR1200X to stop in a hurry.
Photo by Joe Bonello
Riding on the Highway to Hell
The majority of my time in the saddle of the VFR1200X was spent on the highway. I firmly believe that every OEM makes a crappy stock saddle but the VFR1200X was not too bad. It wasn’t great either. After about an hour, I began to feel a few hot spots, began to squirm and move around a little bit and stood up on the pegs to stretch my long legs. Overall, the ergonomics for long-haul touring make the VFR very comfortable, especially for riders around my lanky stature of 6 feet 5 inches. The handlebars are tall and easy to reach, the 33.5-inch seat height provides a nice standard seating position too. This bike is purpose built to eat up miles.
At Home on the Back Roads
Once off the highways and onto the twisty canyon roads, the VFR1200X handles its own quite well, especially for such a big bike. The suspension is geared more for comfort than performance but I felt comfortable leaning off the saddle and managed to muscle it around corners with confidence. In tighter turns, I even found myself grinding the footpegs. Honestly, I was surprised by this as I didn’t expect to be able to lean it over that much but I did and it handled it well. The 19-inch front end provided good feedback and never felt light or wavering.
I could not help but take the VFR off-road. Now I didn’t do any heavy off-roading but managed some light fire roads and some trails with a bit of gravel and it did pretty well. The 1200X is capable, especially with the big 19-inch front wheel. However, this is not what this bike is designed for despite its ADV styling. In the dirt, the VFR felt heavy and the worry of dropping it became a real concern. At 608 lbs, with another 70 lbs of travel gear, it would be a nightmare to handle alone if the bike went down. Furthermore, the shape of the tank really inhibits the rider's ability to comfortably grip the tank with his or her legs from a standing position.
What Everyone Else Says
The one review I agree with almost word for word was done by Bradley Adams over at CycleWorld. He spent some time with a more loaded out version of the VFR1200X in Moab, Utah, and said this: “In fact, in a lot of ways the VFR1200X is exactly what you’d expect from Big Red. It’s polished, refined, and misses very few marks. I think that, for the riders who are honest with themselves and admit they will not be doing any off-road riding, it will be worth a look.”
I’ll also add, that if you are OK with throwing around the weight of the VFR, then, yeah, it’s a drop-dead reliable bike that will make you happy day in and day out.
The Little Things
Every bike has something that annoys its rider. Some have more issues than others but let me take a moment to address my gripes with the 1200X. My first question is: why doesn't this bike, which claims to be a sport-touring motorcycle, not come with cruise control?
Second gripe: the bulbous tank design could be slimmed down in future iterations. Regardless of off-road ability, I would like to be able to stand up occasionally and not have the tank mashing into my thighs. Third: either the foot pegs are too small or my feet are too damn big.
Fourth: I really like to have options. Of those options, I want to be able to turn off the ABS. I can select a variety of TC settings, why can I not choose my ABS settings? I’m just saying.
Fifth: I have never liked digital tachometers.
Lastly: the 5.68-gallon tank and low fuel economy kind of puts a damper on the idea of putting a ton of miles on this bike. When I was nursing my fuel, I got almost 190 miles out of a tank before the panic-attack feeling of, “OK, it’s time to find gas,” began running around in my brain.
The Best Things about the VFR1200X
Here we go, what stands out? What about this bike sang to me like an angel from the heavens during my 1,500-mile trek? First, I really like the engine. It’s not remarkable but rather predictable and smooth. The 76-degree V4, 1237cc powerplant has smooth and nice, even power delivery along the low and mid-range. It provides excellent power to punch through any and all traffic and enough zest to be fun in the canyons. Even at higher RPMs the engine maintains a tolerable amount of “buzziness” and cruising at 88 mph in 6th gear for miles after miles of highway proved effortless.
Press the traction control button three times to deactivate traction control and power wheelies are easy after that. The VFR1200X is a heavy beast, so bringing it down gently is a necessity. However, if you are buying this bike you’re not in it for the wheelies.
The adjustable windscreen is a godsend for both the long hauls and short jaunts along the interstate. With the flip of a lever and a push-up or down, the windscreen is adjustable on the fly and can be set at multiple heights. In the down position, there is considerable buffeting and wind noise. Put it up, and you become wrapped in the cone of silence. The windscreen does a good job for someone who is as tall as I am; for those who are shorter, the windscreen is fantastic. I am happy that Honda chose to make the windscreen adjustability analog rather than electronic. There’s something about the basic nature of a lever that gives me confidence that it won’t falter.
Honda offers a fair amount of luggage options for the VFR1200X but they get a bit pricey. I am a simple man and if there are points where I can fit a cinch strap around something I’ll just strap down some dry bags and go. Which is exactly what I did. The openings where the hard case panniers attach to the bike were wide enough to feed through a couple of tension straps bought at REI for $8 and voila – instant waterproof luggage.
The 12v charging port made it easy to keep my phone and little portable power banks charged while riding, and I enjoyed the readability from the digital speedometer and having a clear display that tells you what gear you are in. This bike actually looks really nice with its ADV styling without being an ADV motorcycle. It is a big bike but you know what? I like big bikes because I am a big dude. Touring- and budget-minded owners will also like the enclosed shaft drive. No chain maintenance to deal with on this baby.
Would I Buy It?
If it were my hard-earned money would I be dropping my stack of Benjamins at the Honda dealership for this motorcycle? Sadly, no, and here is why:
Let me first remind all of you that this is my own opinion based on my own preferences as a motorcyclist because I can see the potential appeal that the VFR will have for others.
At $15,599 for the manual transmission or $15,999 for the DCT transmission (my press bike was the manual transmission version). I feel like there are a few other motorcycles out there that would prove just as highway worthy, offer better fuel economy, and enable me to sport-tour while also allowing me an option to go off-road. Now, with that being said, I grew to enjoy the VFR1200X in the sense of it being a sport-touring motorcycle. If what you are looking for is a reliable, straightforward big bike that can travel and nothing else, then the VFR 1200 X is worth consideration.
The VFR1200X comes in a little less than its European competitors, like the Aprilia Caponord, BMW R1200 RT, and the rival Japanese, Yamaha Super Ténéré. For this reason, it’s the bargain motorcycle. However, for an extra one or two thousand dollars with the other brands in the same displacement category, you get more features that will add to your adventure sport-touring experience. On the other hand, you could get away with an equally enjoyable motorcycle capable of handling highway, back roads, and city riding by jumping down to the 1000cc sport-touring specific motorcycles and save quite a bit of cash.
VFR and KTM On Hill
Name: Sam Bendall - @livemotofoto
Words and Photography by Sam Bendall
Riding Photos by Joe Bonello
Keywords: ADV, Big Sur, Bike Review, Honda, LiveMotoFoto, Los Angeles, Motorcycle, Motorcycle Review, Revit, Revit Sport, Sam Bendall, Schuberth, VFR1200X, Willow Springs, samuel Bendall Photography
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