I think I’ll start off with a bit of a confession: I’ve been a bit scornful of Honda’s products over the past few years. Ever since the global economic spasm of 2008, the Big H has been noticeably, and somewhat surprisingly, quiet. Thankfully, it has stuck with its excellent MotoGP development, although the enforced perseverance with the aged Fireblade in World Superbikes has been painful to watch.
We ’re always told that this level of racing is an essential part of the trickle-down development path, with our road bikes eventually being graced with the technology refined in competition. That ’s wonderful when the new models are flowing, but Honda pretty much turned the tap off about a decade ago. As a fan and owner of several of Honda’s class-leading sport bikes, including a CBR600RR and a Fireblade, I’ve grown grey waiting for a significant update to either model. Thankfully, the prospect of action on this front has improved dramatically: there are signs that Honda is reviving from its recession-induced slumber with a new lust for biking life.
As well as a new Africa Twin, there’s a revamped Crossrunner, a bike that came in under the radar when it first appeared. I went on the original South African launch of the VFR800X Crossrunner in 2011, and although it was billed as an adventure bike, it wasn’t, really. That was the general consensus of the journalists at the launch, and it was fair comment on what was basically a more relaxed version of the VFR800F. Or was it?
Five years later, having spent a week on the Mark 2 version of the Crossrunner, I’m beginning to think that Honda was in fact too far ahead of the curve with this one. We may all be raving about BMW’s S 1000 XR and Ducati’s Multistrada these days, but back in 2011 this whole adventure-styled road bike thing was in its infancy, with Triumph’s Tiger 1050 probably the best known of a small bunch. There are now plenty of new bikes in this fledgling category, for which the recipe involves nothing more complex than mixing the ergonomics and styling of an adventure bike with a chassis and engine related to — or in the Crossrunner’s case, identical to — an existing sport-touring model. The bike market is a crowded one, and the Crossrunner needs to be on song if it wants to entice customers away from the more established models.
Using the proven underpinnings of the legendary VFR800 was always going to be a good start, so now we have pretty much exactly what you’d expect: a well built, sweet handling package with a uniquely entertaining engine. This class of bikes is populated with interesting engine configurations, from V-twins and in-line triples, to the Crossrunner’s V-four, all concentrated on plump midranges and great soundtracks for making relaxed yet rapid progress.
This V4 is further set apart thanks to its VTEC system that operates the engine with two valves a cylinder below 7 000rpm, and with four after that. The claim is that this improves the midrange without sacrificing top-end power, but it does seem a lot of trouble to go to on a 78kW unit that would probably benefit more from a simple bump in capacity to 900cc. Overall, it’s a smooth, free-revving lump that’s as happy cruising as it is howling off to the red line. I never ventured much past 200km/h, although it probably has another 30km/h up its sleeve if you’re prepared to wait. Handling-wise it’s much the same story: happy to go fast or slow, although the rear shock needs a bit more damping (available through remote adjustment) to stop a bit of wallowing over high-speed bumps.
Comfort is good, but the lack of an adjustable screen is a bit of a surprise. The instruments are comprehensive enough, but apart from ABS and traction control, there isn’t anything in the way of riding modes or adjust ability. The Crossrunner’s new look is a great improvement on the older model, and at R141 990 it is certainly priced aggressively. It’s also a few grand cheaper than the VFR800F itself — but even without the cost advantage, I’d take a Crossrunner. I like its looks, and it’s significantly more comfortable for long-distance touring — and for commuting.
It retains 95% of the sporty side of its nature, so aside from any emotional attachment, there’s very little logic to the VFR800F’s existence. The Crossrunner deserve s your attention if you’re in the market for a bike that provides just about anything you could want from a middle-weight road bike.