By: Dave Abrahams
Six-Kay Straight, somewhere north of Cape Town - Gear selector to Drive, engine mode to Sport, gearbox mode to Manual, traction control to Off - whatever happened to kicking it into first and dumping the clutch?
Nevertheless, a few minutes later, after two perfect runs in either direction, we’d established that Honda’s VFR1200XD Crosstourer with dual-clutch transmission was good for a true 210km/h, with an indicated 227 on the digital speedometer, revving right on the 1237cc V-four’s power peak at a little more than 7500rpm.
These were almost exactly the same figures as we obtained with its manual-gearbox sibling in July 2012, albeit at slightly higher revs - and at the cost of a lot more attention to detail form the rider.
For complexity, we have discovered, breeds complexity.
The clutch and gear levers of the manual Crosstourer have been replaced by no less than five buttons and switches - but because the transmission automatically defaults to neutral when you switch the engine off, it’s not possible to park the bike in gear to prevent it rolling off its sidestand.
That makes it necessary to include a cable-operated parking brake and its release button, bringing the total to seven, and adding a two-metre cable and a second rear brake calliper to the bike’s unsprung weight. There’s no centre-stand which, on a machine with a hernia-inducing 281kg kerb weight, is probably a good thing.
Nevertheless, the dual-clutch transmission suits the laid-back persona of the Crosstourer very well - better than the sports-tourer VFR1200FD which, all too often, seemed to be at odds with its rider.
The detuned engine of the adventure tourer has a significantly less emphatic power delivery than the sportster’s (95kW versus 127kW) and a wider spread of torque – most of time it doesn’t matter which gear you’re in, and you can just leave the bike to make its own decisions.
RIDE IT LIKE A SCOOTER
When She Who Must Be Obeyed rode the Crosstourer for the first time I tried to talk her through all the switchgear but her eyes soon glazed over, so I just said, “Hold the ‘D’ switch in until you hear a loud ‘clonk’, and then ride it like a big scooter.”
Which she did, enjoying the bike’s relaxed power delivery, comfortable ergonomics and commanding seat height without worrying about what the transmission bike was doing - or why.
I must confess I was doing the same, especially on the daily commute - at 5 o’clock in the morning it’s just so much easier than debating the existentialism of power-sharing with a machine that, by definition, has more patience than you do.
The Crosstourer’s double-clutch transmission was also appreciably quieter and smoother in operation than that of the VFR1200FD - partly because it has a third less power to deal with and partly because the test bike was well run in, with more than 15 000km under its wheels.
Taking all that into account, it’s perhaps not such a surprise that this machine returned distinctly better fuel-consumption figures than either of its VFR1200 siblings, averaging a remarkable 6.58 litres per 100km over 10 days of mixed riding, and rising to 7.55 during performance testing, which is forgivable.
The big surprise was that the Crosstourer auto handled and steered appreciably better than the manual version, a difference we can only ascribe to the Michelin Anakee III multipurpose tyres it was wearing.
For a bike with relatively soft, long-travel suspension, it was remarkably surefooted on tar, steering lightly and with commendable accuracy through the ride and handling section of our standard test route at an average of 122km/h where 120 is good for a sports bike, without the slightest sign of squirm or wallowing - and ground clearance, too all intents and purposes is unlimited.
The Anakees also kept the bike neatly and undramatically on line on a well-maintained gravel road, although I would be nervous about taking anything this size into thick sand or mud, no matter how it was shod.
The recent advent of motard racing, where 70 percent of the circuit is tarred and 30 percent off-road, has created a need for lightly-treaded road racing tyres that will also work well in the dirt, and this technology is beginning to benefit streetbikes such as the Crosstourer.
In Japan big scooters are not regarded as commuters, but as comfortable, hassle-free getaway machines for riders who wouldn’t know a gear ratio from a grommet. The VFR1200FD is just such a motyorcycle, for riders who are more interested in where the road less travelled is taking them than in how they are going to get there.
Price: R174 990.
Bike from: Honda Southern Africa.
Engine: 1237cc liquid-cooled 76-degree V-four.
Bore x stroke: 77 x 56mm.
Compression ratio: 11.8:1.
Valvegear: SOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 95kW at 7750rpm.
Torque: 126Nm at 6500rpm.
Induction: PGM-DSFI electronic fuel-injection with “fly-by-wire” and four 44mm Keihin throttle bodies.
Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorised with electronic advance.
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with manual override and final drive by shaft.
Front Suspension: 43mm inverted cartridge forks with stepless preload adjustment.
Rear Suspension: Pro-link with gas-charged monoshock with 25-step remote-controlled hydraulic preload and stepless rebound damping adjustment.
Front brakes: Dual 310mm floating disks with Nissin three-piston floating callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 276mm disc with dual-piston floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 110/80 - 19 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 150/70 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 850mm.
Kerb weight (measured): 281kg.
Fuel tank: 21.5 litres.
Top speed (measured): 210km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 6.58 litres per 100km.
Warranty: Two years - unlimited distance.
Service intervals: 12 000km