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Generally speaking, I can return lower fuel-consumption figures when I have a bike on test than at a model launch, mostly because I know where I'm going, I'm more relaxed and my riding is smoother.
So it came as a surprise when the Honda VFR800X Crossrunner recorded an average of 6.9 litres per 100km over 10 days of mixed commuting and hooning around the countryside, after most of the bikes at the SA launch of this model in September 2011 were averaging about 6.5 over two days of backroads lunacy.
However, that still gives you a guaranteed 300km on a tankful, more than many sports-tourers can deliver, and it's a feather in the Crossrunner's cap that the yellow light always came on before old bones called a halt to proceedings.
The term “all-day comfort” is all too often bandied about, but a couple of three-hour stints in the saddle of the VFR800X left me keen for more, although the unusual seating position, with upright 'bars and raised, slightly rear-set footpegs may not suit riders significantly taller than my 1.78 metres.
COMMUTER OR CANYON CARVER?
The latest iteration of Honda's Great All-Rounder leans more towards the road less travelled than previous models (bearing in mind that it is derived from the RC45 World Superbike racer) and, as today's touring bikes must, even handles hard-packed gravel roads with aplomb.
But what we wanted to know was how it would cope with the other two facets of the all-rounder portfolio: weekday commuting and Sunday morning canyon carving.
A week's commuting showed us that Crossruner is even better in traffic than the 'standard' VFR800. The slightly detuned engine (longer, narrower inlet tracks and remapped ignition and fuel-injection curves) has noticeably more midrange grunt and the previously jerky V-Tec transition has almost been ironed out.
There's still a slight hesitation - very much like a momentary misfire - as the extra valves kick in at around 6500rpm (that's about 155km/h in top) but, even in first or second as you grab a gap in the traffic, it's not enough to upset the chassis' composure.
The rest of the drivetrain is, in a word, superb.
It shares with the earlier models a crisp, positive six-speed gearbox and virtually lash-free final drive, due in part to the most thoroughly sorted version of the Elf Racing single-sided swing-arm on the road.
The upright eating position gives you a better view over the surrounding cars and the wider handlebars provide leverage for quick changes of direction in the daily cut-and-thrust.
It's a big bike, at 238kg ready to go, but never clumsy, thanks to Honda's emphasis on mass centralisation, and has appreciable presence on the road, making the 5pm gridlock far less nerve-wracking than on my little red sports bike which, I am told, tends to disappear between the cars.
SLIGHTLY NERVOUS FEEL
But when we threw it at our ride and handling test route, we found that quick changes of direction and supple suspension translated into a slightly nervous feel through fast corners; the bike didn't easily achieve that 'locked on line' feeling that makes the earlier version such a confidence builder and we found that mid-corner speed was decided by rider bottle (or lack thereof) rather than by corner clearance.
So I was a little nervous about the top speed runs, even taking the precaution of removing the colour-coded, quick-detachable 31-litre top box you see in the pictures to smooth the airflow around the bike.
But I needn't have worried, the bike zoomed up to a true 196km/h, exactly on the power peak at 9000rpm, running straight and true without a hint of headshake, showing 206 on the digital speedometer - and stopped accelerating so abruptly it felt almost as if the bike was electronically governed.
BIG HANDFULS OF THROTTLE
Nevertheless, if you give it big handfuls of throttle and keep it the revs on the naughty side of the V-Tec transition, the engine note picks up a hard edge, a little vibration comes through the 'bars and pegs, and this previously mild-mannered bike becomes something of a hooligan, reacting sharply to throttle input, squatting slightly on its rear suspension and doing its best to shorten the distance to the next corner.
Come to think of it, that may be part of the reason for my poor fuel consumption.
The 31-litre top box (a R5343 extra) is beautifully finished inside and, out once you've mastered the slightly finicky mechanism, can be fitted or detached in seconds. It also swallows a full-face helmet with room to spare which, let's face it, is the reason we have top boxes.
My earlier quibbles from the launch ride still stand: the compact instrument panel (borrowed from the CBR600F, I've since realised) is difficult to read in direct sunlight, especially the narrow bar-graph rev counter, and the (extra-cost) taller screen isn't an accessory, it's a necessity.
But the Crossrunner will take you to work all week with a grin on your face, and to places you never dreamed you'd go on weekends, in more comfort than you'd expect and with enough of a hooligan streak that you're unlikely ever to get bored.
Price: R109 999 (31-litre top box R5343 extra).
Bike from: Honda SA.
Engine: 782cc liquid-cooled four.
Bore x stroke: 72 x 48mm.
Compression ratio: 11.6:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder and VTEC variable valve timing.
Power: 74.9kW at 10 000rpm.
Torque: 72.8Nm at 9500rpm.
Induction: PGM-FI electronic fuel-injection with four 36mm throttle bodies.
Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorised with electronic advance.
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 43mm conventional cartridge forks adjustable for preload.
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link with gas-charged monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound damping.
Front brakes: Dual 296mm discs with Nissin three-piston floating callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 256mm disc with twin-piston floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 180/55 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 816mm.
Kerb weight: 238kg.
Fuel tank: 21.5 litres.
Top speed (measured): 198km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 6.9 litres per 100km.
Price: R109 999 (31-litre top box R5343 extra).