Road Test: Honda Crosstourer

The Crosstourer, a belated arrival from Honda, adds a distinctive and promising new option to the most vibrant category of motorcycling. We got astride it in Spain recently to see how it fared vis-à-vis BMW’s class-defining R1200GS or Ducati’s Multistrada

It’s not surprising that Honda have taken a while to create a bike for the large-capacity adventure bike class. The Japanese company’s product planners tend to take a logical approach, developing models for specific roles. And some would say there’s nothing very logical about a big, powerful, heavy street bike with off-road styling and long travel suspension, especially when many owners won’t ride it further off road than a gravel covered car-park.

But despite that the class is booming while most of the market is in decline. Today’s typical big bike buyer — a middle aged chap, not quite as quick or brave as he used to be — dreams of two-wheeled exploration, even if the reality doesn’t always match the ambition. And anyone who’s ridden BMW’s class-defining R1200GS will agree that adventure bikes do make sense as stylish, comfortable all-rounders that work well even when their continent-crossing potential is barely scratched.

In fact, Honda say they’ve been planning the Crosstourer for several years, because it was conceived at the same time as the VFR1200F. It uses a variation of the VFR’s 1,237-cc, shaft-drive V4 engine in an identical frame. Although this newcomer looks very similar to the Crossrunner and NC700X that it joins in Honda’s so-called Crossover family (more street-oriented than the ageing, dual-purpose Varadero), it’s a bigger, more powerful machine that aims to provide the VFR’s comfort and touring ability in a more laid-back fashion.

Honda began their changes by de-tuning the VFR engine, retaining its basic layout of 76-degree, longitudinal V4 that puts the two rear cylinders in the middle of the four, allowing it to be narrower at the rear. The Unicam valve layout with its space-saving single overhead camshaft is also retained. But the Crosstourer gets a different cam design that gives two millimetres less valve lift and also has longer, narrower intake trumpets and narrower exhaust pipes to boost low-rev output at the expense of top end.

The result of that is a substantial drop in maximum power, to 127 BHP at 7,750 revolutions per minute from the VFR’s 170 BHP at 10,000 RPM. In return, the Crosstourer has a hefty increase below 6,000 RPM and especially below four grand, where it’s much stronger even than the re-tuned, 2012-model VFR. The Crosstourer also features a new ride-by-wire throttle control system, incorporating traction control, and comes with the option of an updated version of Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission system.

That unchanged twin-spar aluminium frame holds longer-travel suspension, with 43-mm forks that give 165 mm of movement (compared to the VFR’s 120 mm), and a revamped Pro-Link rear end with similarly increased travel. The wire wheels have rim-mounted spokes to allow tubeless tyres, with a 19-incher up front. Beaky styling follows that of the Crossrunner and is attractive if not exactly fresh.

This new bike is different when you get up close, though, mainly because it’s bigger. Its seat height is a lofty 850 mm. Strangely, the seat isn’t adjustable and Honda don’t offer a low option. And the Crosstourer’s kerb weight of 275 kg (10 kg more with DTC) means it’s significantly heavier than rivals, including BMW’s GS and Triumph’s Explorer. That figure is without the accessory centre-stand, too. It was easier to climb aboard the bike when it was on that rather than the side-stand, but pushing it off required a mighty shove.

Thankfully, that was the morning’s most demanding task on the launch in Catalunya, because once under way, the Crosstourer could hardly have been easier to ride. That big, softly tuned V4 engine was wonderfully flexible, pulling effortlessly almost from idle and throbbing forward with an appealing V4 smoothness from below 3,000 RPM. The standard six-speed box shifted very smoothly and the motor’s broad spread of torque meant it was rarely needed.

Along with the wide one-piece bar and light controls, that made the bike easy to manoeuvre at low speed. It chugged through villages near Tarragona with enough ease to suggest it would make a useful bike in city traffic, where its high seat’s visibility will be an asset. There’s a generous amount of steering lock, too, allowing easy U-turns. But you have to take care when you stop, because if it leans too far, you won’t save it. At least two riders on the launch would find the Crosstourer crunching onto its side.

Weight wasn’t an issue once we reached the A7 motorway heading south-west along the coast, where the Crosstourer showed that is had plenty of the attributes required for a top tourer. That big soft motor was equally at home on the open road, feeling wonderfully relaxed and long-legged as the bike thrummed along at a lazy 130 km/h . Despite the de-tuning there was plenty of power, too, enough to put 225 km/h on the speedo on a clear section and to give an instant burst of acceleration when needed.

This bike’s riding position is notably more upright and relaxed than the VFR’s, thanks to the one-piece handlebar that is higher and nearer the rider and foot-rests that are lower and further forward. The tank and frame are narrow enough to let you get knees tucked well in. Along with a broad seat that seemed comfortable (though we didn’t ride far enough without a stop to be sure) that suggested distance-eating ability.

The view from the rider’s seat is generally good, notably the one in the wide and clear mirrors and the sparkling paint finish (in red, white, black or silver). But I was disappointed to find the screen too low even on the higher of its two settings and generating a fair bit of wind roar. A taller screen is available as an accessory, but why Honda didn’t fit one as standard (and make it quickly adjustable by hand while they were at it) is a mystery.

There are a few other gripes: the LED indicators don’t self-cancel, the instrument panel’s tacho bar is slightly hard to read and the display can’t be toggled from the handlebar. Information includes both average and real-time fuel consumption. Unfortunately for Honda, this showed the Crosstourer gulping petrol at between 8.2 and 8.6 litres/100km, which is thirsty, although we were riding faster than most owners will. At least the fuel tank holds a respectable 21.5 litres, which should give a range of about 250 km. That will be enough for some owners, but others will consider it a drawback.

Before long we turned off and headed inland on the twisty and narrower C-242, where I thought this big, heavy and softly suspended bike might struggle. In fact, it was good fun and handled much better than I’d expected. The frame is designed to cope with 170 BHP, so it wasn’t strained by the less powerful Crosstourer, which disguised its shaft-drive system as well as the VFR does. Honda’s attempts at mass centralisation have worked, too, because with the help of those wide bars it was reasonably easy to throw around, despite having more laid-back steering geometry than the VFR.

Even the long-travel suspension, which was welcome on a few bumpy stretches, didn’t cramp the Crosstourer’s style too much in the twisty sections. Perhaps, that was partly because the engine’s soft power delivery didn’t encourage a particularly aggressive riding style. But at times we weren’t hanging about and the Honda cornered at peg-scraping angles without drama. And it was absolutely fine at the more gentle, sit-back-and-enjoy-the-scenery pace at which most owners are likely to spend much of their time.

One thing I didn’t do was crack open the throttle in mid-turn to test the traction control, as it’s a relatively simple system. (There’s a button on the fairing to turn it off.) On the subject of electronics, it’s a shame Honda don’t offer the option of push-button suspension adjustment like BMW’s GS and Ducati’s Multistrada, which would have allowed the damping to be quickly firmed up for hard cornering. At least, it has a remote pre-load adjuster for the shock, along with what looks like plenty of room for a pillion.

The engine disappointed me slightly when we upped the pace, because it was reluctant to join the party. The VFR revs to 10,500 RPM, but the Crosstourer red-lines at a lowly 8,750 RPM, which meant I occasionally hit the limiter on the way out of bends. The answer was, of course, to use a higher gear and at a more gentle pace it’s not an issue, but a few more revs wouldn’t do any harm. And although Honda have tuned the exhaust to enhance the V4’s character, this bike can’t match the soulful tune that the Crossrunner’s smaller, 782-cc belts out when given some encouragement.

Still, the Honda boogied pretty well for a big girl. It slowed hard and very safely too, thanks to Honda’s efficient C-ABS system, which has Nissin callipers and 310-mm discs up front and combines them with the single rear disc. And I had no complaint about the Bridgestone Battlewing tyres, which didn’t let me down even on some dusty roads approaching the lunch stop near Montblanc.

The bike even showed some promise as a gentle off-roader, although Honda aren’t making any great claims for it in that direction. My rough ride was limited to a short burst up and down a gravel-covered track, where its grunt and balance impressed me and even its suspension coped better than I’d expected. I don’t doubt that in the right hands, especially with knobblier tyres fitted, it could cover difficult terrain at a handy rate. Or that in the wrong hands, like other bikes of this type, it could be a rapid short-cut to the casualty department.

Anyone attempting off-road riding or serious adventure would be advised to fit tougher, metal luggage instead of Honda’s plastic panniers and top-box, which give plenty of storage space, but don’t look very tough. The top-box unzips to allow room for a full-face helmet and there’s room for a second one in a pannier. Other accessories include hot grips, which were invaluable in Catalunya’s early morning chill, plus a power socket and fog lamps. The hand-guards and luggage rack come as standard.

Given that Honda have had so long to put together a rival for the all-conquering GS, I can’t help concluding that the Crossrunner has some disappointing flaws for an expensive flagship model. Even if its weight and thirst were inherent in Honda’s V4 design, it could have been given better wind protection, a lower seat option, more adjustability and greater fuel range — all key areas in which it loses out to established class rivals.

But having said that, I really enjoyed riding the Crosstourer. It manages to combine rugged looks with a sophisticated feel and an appealing V4 character. It’s roomy and easy to ride, feels good at a relaxed pace and handles better than such a heavy bike has any right to. Some of its failings will doubtless soon be addressed by accessories from Honda and elsewhere. Honda’s belated arrival certainly adds a distinctive and promising new option to motorcycling’s most vibrant category.

Photography: Zep Gori, Francesc Montero, Felix Romero & Ula Sera



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