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2016 Honda VFR1200X – Road Test Review

Mark TuttleJune 02, 2016
Decked out in the full suite of factory accessories, the VFR1200X is ready for some serious sport touring, with a dirt road or two in between. (Photos: Kevin Wing and Ray Gauger)

Decked out in the full suite of factory accessories, the VFR1200X is ready for some serious sport touring, with a dirt road or two in between. (Photos: Kevin Wing and Ray Gauger)

Shortly after its groundbreaking VFR1200F sport tourer was introduced for 2010, Honda launched an adventure-styled bike for 2012 based on the same smooth and powerful 1,237cc V-4 engine used in the VFR. The new Crosstourer was designed to compete with the BMW R 1200 GS, Yamaha Super Ténéré and Triumph Tiger Explorer, so it had 19- and 17-inch spoked tubeless wheels, enduro-like upright seating, increased suspension travel and—key in this displacement class—shaft final drive. The big adventure bike market was heating up and the competition was starting to invade what had been exclusively BMW’s turf, so the time was right for the Crosstourer. Except that in late 2011, one dollar only bought about 77 yen, which meant that the bike would be too pricey for the American market. So while the Europeans went Crosstouring, we waited—a pity because in many respects it was a better fit for us Yanks than the VFR1200F, which Honda has since dropped from its lineup.

In the meantime, Combined ABS was added to the Crosstourer in 2013, and the 2014 model received a new seat for improved comfort and an easier reach to the ground, self-canceling turn signals, Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC, or traction control) and software refinements to the optional Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) to give the automatic shifting system a more natural feel, both on the highway and on back roads.

Introduced in Europe for 2012 as the Crosstourer, the 2016 VFR1200X benefits from a new seat, C-ABS, self-canceling turn signals, traction control and the third gen of Honda’s optional DCT.

Introduced in Europe for 2012 as the Crosstourer, the 2016 VFR1200X benefits from a new seat, C-ABS, self-canceling turn signals, traction control and the third gen of Honda’s optional DCT.

With the dollar strong again and the ADV market redlining, Honda has finally brought us the Crosstourer for 2016, rebadged simply VFR1200X for the U.S. While the new Africa Twin handles the real dirty side of Honda’s ADV salvo, the VFR1200X serves up some serious sport-touring performance and comfort, with just enough adventure in its blood to tackle a little dirt. For 2016, the bike gets a one-hand adjustable windscreen, a 12V socket up front with an optional one available for the rear, and three levels for the Sport mode in the optional DCT. Weighing a claimed 608 pounds ready to ride with 5.7 gallons of fuel (631 pounds for the DCT model), it’s certainly no dirt bike, but the VFR-X’s Pirelli Scorpion Trail tubeless tires, spoked wheels, 5.7 inches of suspension travel front and rear and good ground clearance help it get down graded dirt or gravel roads at a decent pace. The bike is really intended for the pavement, though, and after putting more than 1,600 miles on one at the intro in Moab, Utah, and on a circuitous ride back to California, I can confirm that—if you can deal with a seat height of 33.5 inches, or 32.5 for the optional low seat—it’s a terrific sport-touring machine with a useful touch of off-road ability.

Much of that is due to the competence of the V-4 engine, which has been retuned from VFR1200F spec to dish out more low- and midrange torque. Its split personality makes it a perfect fit, as it’s capable of lugging down to 2,000 rpm and chugging through the mud, or eliciting a soulful wail and rocketing the bike down the highway, even two-up and fully loaded. On the Jett Tuning dyno, we found torque output is up significantly in the 2,000-5,500 rpm range over the VFR1200F, then runs about even at 80 lb-ft until dropping off just before the X’s lower redline of about 8,800 rpm. Peak horsepower of 108 is way down from the VFR-F’s 150 at the rear wheel, but that was achieved at sportbike engine speeds that most X riders won’t need or use.

Honda’s VFR1200 engine is actually smaller and lighter than the VFR800 mill.

Honda’s VFR1200 engine is actually smaller and lighter than the VFR800 mill.

The X’s liquid-cooled, 1,237cc mill is a narrow 76 degrees between the front and rear cylinders, with a phase-shift crankshaft to eliminate primary vibration and the need for a counterbalancer. The two rear cylinders are closer together than the two fronts to centralize mass and narrow the engine directly under the rider. Unicam cylinder heads, which have a single overhead cam that actuates the intake valves and roller rocker arms to actuate the exhausts, help shorten the V-4 as well. The X’s engine is lighter and more compact than the 782cc Interceptor engine, in fact, no small feat with a 455cc gain in displacement.

Throttle-by-wire enables more precise power control and allows the HSTC traction control to modulate the throttle butterflies, along with cutting the ignition to control wheel spin according to the TC’s set intervention level (1, 2, 3 or off). Instead of wires, the VFR1200X has regular cables running from the throttle to the TBW servo to eliminate a “disconnected” feel, and it works well.

Ample cornering clearance, a wide handlebar and firm suspension calibration give the VFR1200X excellent handling for sport touring.

Ample cornering clearance, a wide handlebar and firm suspension calibration give the VFR1200X excellent handling for sport touring.

Just like the VFR1200F, the VFR1200X is available in two versions, one with a conventional manual 6-speed transmission, the other with Honda’s automatic Dual Clutch Transmission for an extra $400. The VFR1200F’s 6-speed DCT was a first for motorcycles when it was introduced in 2010, and the X gets the third generation with numerous refinements. It offers Drive, Sport and Manual modes, with a paddle shifter on the left bar and no clutch lever. Diehards can get a foot shift lever as an accessory. The latest DCT version adds three levels of automatic operation to Sport mode, each one holding a gear a little longer than the last before it upshifts, and downshifting sooner.

For a sport-touring rider, DCT adds convenience and is a worthwhile addition to the VFR1200X. Start the bike, press a button to put it into Drive or Sport, twist the throttle and you’re off. Drive mode could justifiably be called Economy mode, as the DCT upshifts through the gears very quickly, hitting sixth at as little as 31 mph depending upon how hard you’re accelerating. Although it feels as if the engine is lugging at first, you quickly get used to the twin-cylinder-like resonance of the engine at lower rpm. Twisting the throttle hard will kick the DCT down a gear or two for passing, and you can override the system’s gear selection with the paddle shifter at any time. I spent far more time in Drive than in Sport mode, which doesn’t select sixth gear until 71 mph and tends to hold lower gears far longer for brisk acceleration. Of its three new modes I found the default, or S3, plenty playful, and just overrode it to upshift into a higher gear as needed. Selecting Manual mode makes the DCT work just like a standard 6-speed transmission, except that it will downshift into first at stops and there’s no clutch lever. The whole DCT process is much smoother and quieter than it was on the original VFR1200F DCT. We also got a spin on a VFR1200X with a manual transmission, and found that it shifted smoothly, with good feel at the clutch lever.

Paddle shifter for downshifting DCT can be seen at bottom, horn button is relocated above turn signal switch.

Paddle shifter for downshifting DCT can be seen at bottom, horn button is relocated above turn signal switch.

Power goes rearward via shaft final drive in the Pro-Arm single-sided swingarm, the yoke-shaped front of which encircles the linked rear shock and pivots on the all-aluminum twin-spar frame. The bike’s chassis rigidity and firm suspension give it a solid, stable feel on the highway and in corners, even at higher speeds with a load, and the suspension offers spring preload and rebound damping adjustability front and rear, with a remote adjuster for the rear preload. It’s firm enough that the washboard surface in places on Utah’s Montezuma Canyon dirt road caused some chatter, the cure for which was simply slowing down. Cornering clearance is ample for spirited riding on winding roads, and the street-biased Scorpion Trail tires stick well and roll nicely through the corners. The rubber was also very confidence inspiring on dirt roads as long as they were hard-packed, but with a full load in the luggage the bike had a tendency to weave a bit in loose sand or gravel. Linking the triple disc brakes rear-to-front helps the VFR-X stop exceptionally hard on the pavement, there’s good feel at the lever and pedal and the ABS prevents lockups on the street or in the dirt. It can’t be switched off without pulling a fuse, but I never felt the need to do so.

On the long ride home from Moab, which included the Moki Dugway, State Routes 95, 24 and 12 in Utah and a slog on Interstate 15 from St. George to California, the VFR1200X was a comfortable companion. The seat is firm and supportive, the grips set at a natural height and width (some may find them a little forward, but that’s easily remedied) and the footpegs are low and forward, a good position when your feet are on them, though they can get in the way at stops and it’s hard to stand up on them without hitting the tank with your knees. Wind protection is top notch from the stock hand guards and wide fairing lowers, which were extended on our test bike with optional wind deflectors. Up top, the adjustable windscreen does a better job than you would think for its size, quieting the windblast to near zero in the up position, and it’s easily raised and lowered about 4 inches with a clever one-handed lever on the left. Except for being on tiptoes at stops, overall I found the VFR1200X as comfortable and smooth for long rides as many larger touring and sport-touring bikes, and I took a short ride on the passenger pillion and found it plush, roomy and secure, with good grab handles.

The X’s bulky weight, limited suspension travel and 90/10 on/off-road tires confine it mostly to the pavement, but it can easily tackle  a dirt or gravel road.

The X’s bulky weight, limited suspension travel and 90/10 on/off-road tires confine it mostly to the pavement, but it can easily tackle a dirt or gravel road.

Although bells and whistles like electronically adjustable suspension, riding modes, cruise control, an adjustable seat and such are nowhere to be found despite the VFR1200X’s premium price, it is still nicely equipped with adjustable brake and clutch levers, an accessory outlet, LED turn signals and taillight, and a useful LCD display with gear indicator, fuel gauge and basic trip computer with reserve range countdown. Our test bike was also equipped with nearly every accessory in the bike’s catalog (see specs), including good heated grips and the very pricey but functional hard luggage, which is made of lightweight plastic with a brushed aluminum finish. The X comes with integrated mounts for the panniers, which help keep them narrow at just 36 inches across the back despite their generous size. They mount easily and the 39-liter left one will hold a full-face helmet (the 36-liter right is indented to clear the muffler). The cost of that integration is dear, though, at $1,440 for the panniers and $760 for the 39-liter top case.

For many riders the VFR1200X’s character-filled V-4 will be all it takes to sway them, getting all the satisfaction they need and more from the ripping-velvet growl that emanates from one of Honda’s most venerated engine layouts. Others will look at the X’s price and wonder why they should pay the same or more than the competition for fewer standard features. We’ll see if the VFR1200X was worth the wait in an upcoming comparo.

The VFR1200X lies in its own zone between cheaper ADV-styled bikes with chain final drive and well-established 1200s for street and dirt like the BMW GS and Yamaha Super Ténéré. Will it catch on here as in Europe?

The VFR1200X lies in its own zone between cheaper ADV-styled bikes with chain final drive and well-established 1200s for street and dirt like the BMW GS and Yamaha Super Ténéré. Will it catch on here as in Europe?

2016 Honda VFR1200X

Base Price: $15,599

Price as Tested: $19,429 (DCT, Light Bar, Luggage, Centerstand, Heated Grips, Foot Shifter, Accessory Socket, Tank Pad)

Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles

Website: powersports.honda.com

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 76-degree V-4

Displacement: 1,237cc

Bore x Stroke: 81.0 x 60.0mm

Compression Ratio: 12:1

Valve Train: Unicam SOHC, 4 valves per cyl.

Valve Insp. Interval: 16,000 miles

Fuel Delivery: PGM-FI, 44mm throttle bodies x 4

Lubrication System: Wet sump, 4.2-qt. cap. (as tested)

Transmission: 6-speed, DCT automatic w/ 3 modes

Final Drive: Shaft, 2.545:1

Electrical

Ignition: Electronic

Charging Output: 570 watts @ 5,000 rpm

Battery: 12V 11.2AH

Chassis

Frame: Aluminum diamond twin-spar & seat subframe w/ aluminum single-sided swingarm

Wheelbase: 62.8 in.

Rake/Trail: 28 degrees/4.2 in.

Seat Height: 33.5 in.

Suspension, Front: 43mm USD fork, adj. for spring preload & rebound damping, 5.7-in. travel

Rear: Pro-Link single shock, adj. for spring preload & rebound damping, 5.7-in. travel

Brakes, Front: Dual 310mm discs w/ floating 3-piston calipers & C-ABS

Rear: Single 276mm disc w/ floating 2-piston caliper & C-ABS

Wheels, Front: Spoked tubeless, 2.50 x 19 in.

Rear: Spoked tubeless, 4.00 x 17 in.

Tires, Front: 110/80-R19

Rear: 150/70-R17

Wet Weight: 667 lbs. (as tested)

Load Capacity: 360 lbs. (as tested)

GVWR: 1,027 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 5.7 gals., last 1.5 gals. warning light on

MPG: 86 PON min., 91 recommended (low/avg/high) 39.4/42.4/47.0

Estimated Range: 242 miles

Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,600

C-ABS brakes offer great power and feel.

C-ABS brakes offer great power and feel.

LCD display clearly shows engine and road speed, gear position and clock, and has a basic trip computer

LCD display clearly shows engine and road speed, gear position and clock, and has a basic trip computer.

DCT adds a little width and a second oil filter with the same replacement interval.

DCT adds a little width and a second oil filter with the same replacement interval.

2106 Honda VFR1200X Dyno Chart.

2106 Honda VFR1200X Dyno Chart.

7 comments

  1. Honda reduced the power of the VFR’s engine by 30% and then put it in a 600-pound motorcycle? They’ll sell about a thousand of these and that will be the end of it. Why would anyone buy such a fat, overly-complicated motorcycle that makes less power than a twin-cylinder BMW or KTM? If they’d have given us a long-travel sport tourer with 150 horsepower and street tires a la the Ducati Multistrada or Triumph Tiger Sport, then I’d get it. But this bike…I don’t get it at all.

  2. Where did you get the light bar/crash guard? It’s not currently listed as an available accessory on Honda’s US site…

    • It is in fact a Honda accessory, but for some reason it isn’t listed on the website. You should be able to order it from your dealer, though. – EIC Tuttle

  3. Its always kind of hard to read the tests and comments on these bikes. In general Adventure bikes are just a platform on which you customize to your desired tastes. I for example like highway and fire road with single track/dual track only needed on the last little bit as you cross over a pass in Montana back country. You change out for 50/50 tires so you don’t get a puncture on sharp rocks and you are good to go. You don’t jump these creatures and you don’t go where you have very little area to turn around. But you would be surprised as long as the CG is real low how easy they are to ride in the back country, even two up. Crucial is fuel supply. Crucial is low end torque and a low speed first gear. I think the DCT is a huge advantage here as well. I know as I ride a Stelvio at 650 lbs and it is often easier than my Dakar.
    The Transalp is a terrific bike and if it had shaft drive I would consider it. I like Honda dependability and plenty of dealers.
    But real dirt riding to Adventure Riders is like road racing at 175 mph with a 150 hp bike is to sport cruisers….not intended and seldom done.
    For the record, I absolutely love my Guzzi, yet I look forward to the test ride of the VFR.

  4. The Honda base price is $15,599. The R1200GS is $18,695. Toe are not paying the same. The $3,100 gets you more electronic fuel mapping and electronic suspension adjustment. I’ve owned the 1200X since May and it is an awesome bike. Nothing compares to the V Four engine. I wanted a bike that would take me from my home in So Calif and get me rapidly over the interstates and then transition to two lane twisteis and graded dirt roads. I have been to Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Nevada covering as much as 975 miles in one day. The bike has plenty enough HP and torque to easily pass the 18 wheelers at speed on the inrerstates. Grab a gear or two if you want neck snapping acceleration. Or, just twist the throttle and it will move out smartly. It has all the functionality without the last level of electronic wizardry for a $3,100 savings. Mine has performed flawlessly.

  5. Since buying a 2012 NC700X, my wife realizes she enjoys motorcycling as a passenger (first bike she’s been on in her life). So, now I am in the market again, this time looking for a machine which will accommodate a two-up situation for extended trips. I am looking for a machine which has the ability to perform on/off road, as we would like to do tent city occasionally. My main criteria is it is fitted with a shaft drive, as I am so over the chain maintenance. In my search, I have found several machines which seem adequate except for load capacity. I had been seriously considering the Honda VFR1200X (Crosstourer) as my choice until I looked into the load capacity. My Honda NC700X has the ability to carry more weight than the Honda VFR1200X, WTF. I don’t understand why a motor bike which is intended to carry all the gear necessary for an off the grid trip with passenger provides for such low load capacity (relatively speaking). According to my math, by the time you load the bike, it is near or over its load capacity which could in turn prematurely damage components (if not immediately, eg. blow out shocks, etc.) not to mention, void warranty. WTF

    • The Yamaha Super Tenere is a good choice. Shaft drive, Japanese dependability, good on/off-road capability, and a load capacity of 397 pounds (for the ES electronic suspension model). You can find good deals on new or nearly new Super Tenere’s, there’s good aftermarket support and there’s a large dealer network. We’ve had trouble with snatchy throttle response, but online forums provide several solutions for this.

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