I’d ridden just over 300 miles before it came to me; that sound. Honda’s 800 Crossrunner emits a distinctive noise when the throttle is pinned and the Vtec has kicked in, but it wasn’t until I approached Bethesda that I realised what it reminded me of. Granted, this may only mean something if you are of a certain vintage, but as I carved my way across Wales and the sound reverberated off the stone walls, I could hear, just for a minute, a BDA Escort. It’s a mechanical racket that blends with induction roar (and the muted exhaust) to create an emotive tune.
I may be stretching it a bit, but as legislation continues to reduce the aural pleasure of bikes, this one seems to have a slightly raucous side, even if you have to go looking for it.
This increasing noise from about 6,500rpm coincides with the higher valve lift afforded by the hydraulically operated cam followers, the engineering trick that is Honda’s VTEC system. It’s a terrific idea if improved efficient power is what you want from a smallish engine, but just a bit odd as a choice for an adventure bike. Except that is, when you consider that much of the popularity for overland style bikes is actually just because they are incredibly comfortable, with ergonomics that suit everyday riding.
I’ll get on to ergonomics later, but for now having 100hp available comfortably and reliably from a 782cc V-4 is quite an attractive proposition in a bike. It’s a compact water-cooled engine which is unbelievably smooth throughout its rev range, pulling strongly and cleanly, but it does have to be worked if you want to feel a kick in the pants, which illustrates its sporty road heritage. It doesn’t answer immediately at low revs the way big V-twins do, which is why they are so useful in difficult terrain, but this is an engine that you could enjoy all day on tarmac. Now that it’s been liberated from the more sporty VFR chassis, you really can.
Fuel efficiency isn’t a strong point, hovering around 48mpg if you gently roll off and on the throttle using the engine’s longer legs and ride fast and smooth where this engine excels. It’s all about midrange so you don’t need to play the gearbox unless you want to be frantic, (when mpg can plummet to the mid 30s) but either way this engine rewards. The fuelling is absolutely glitch-free which is something four cylinders excel at, but this is really exemplary, even trickling through a village in a high gear with 1,500rpm showing, there is no snatch, even from the chain drive.
The six gears are well spaced and the gear change is typically Honda; light and precise going up or down the ‘box. It’s hard to knock a Honda and it’s intellectually weak to blame the Crossrunner for being bland just because it’s very capable. That’s when you are in the saddle. If however you’re standing staring, it is perhaps a little harder to be complimentary.
Styling and bodywork
When I arrived at the HUBB Ireland event in County Fermanagh, one of the subtle enquiries I faced was ‘What da feck is dat?” and I understand entirely. No matter from what angle you look, the Crossrunner refuses to sit in a styling pigeonhole. It’s neither adventure, naked or street tourer, but somehow wants to sit at the table of all three. It takes visual cues from its larger brother the Crosstourer 1200 which is battling BMW for shaft-driven adventure supremacy, and from the smaller NC sibling, (which epitomises commuting perfection) but I don’t know why it wants to adhere to the family looks. Honda should have the styling confidence to transcend any desire for corporate identity, but somebody has taken the decision not to in this case.
I won’t say that the result is ugly because while Ducati are selling the Diavel it would be unfair to, but it is unconventional and it takes rather a lot of exposure before the shape begins to charm.
Actually designed in Europe, it has a fashionably ‘torso heavy’ profile, carrying very little visual weight at the rear and if you fit luggage on it this effect will be entirely lost anyway. The matt black paintwork actually compliments the heavy central shape and is perhaps the best of the limited colourways available.
The frontend beak is wind tunnel designed and said to aid stability when speed climbs on a bike with such an upright stance and the small screen is just terrific, generating no buffeting or excessive wind noise at any speed. In fact the screen enables your shoulders to take the weight of the wind reminding you that you are now travelling more rapidly than the Police would like you to, something that a bike like KTM’s 1190 doesn’t do. Some of the other body panels however, appear to be there to simply cover up the fact that this VFR engine usually sits behind a fairing and it’s plumbing isn’t very attractive.
There is a radiator either side, another element which enables this bike to appear short and butch, and if those weren’t vulnerable enough, the water pump and associated pipework is also in a precarious place just ahead of the gear change. The exhaust is also excessively low as a consequence of the V-4 configuration and the fact that this is an adapted road bike, not a design aimed primarily at overlanding, so ground clearance is only 140mm. But I must stop thinking about crossing the Gobi desert.
Chassis, handling and ride
The flip side of these road-biased roots, is that this bike is an absolute hoot to ride on twisty black top. Pushed to extremes the not-at-all easily adjustable suspension can get a bit wallowy and force the bike to run wide if the road undulates badly. Otherwise it’s as steady as a rock even when you are letting the footpegs drag along the road surface. This not a rehashed VFR though, the twinspar alloy chassis is different, the wheelbase a little longer and more stable making the whole thing more ‘realistic’ to use, rather like the reworked engine.
The lack of simple remote adjustment on the monoshock is an oversight and means that there is a marked difference to the ride angle when carrying a pillion, even though the ride itself isn’t affected as dramatically.
The front forks are pretty conventional and do an admirable job even when put under a lot of strain by the excellent brakes which are progressive and strong. It’s a combined system with twin 296mm discs and 3 piston Nissin calipers at the front and a single one at the rear, both ends with non-adjustable ABS.
The single-sided swinging arm is another overtly road-race feature and it curves beautifully round the massive 180/55×17 rear tyre which sits on a 6 spoke light ally rim. A much narrower 120/70×17 sits on the front and the styling confusion continues with the choice of Pirelli Scorpion tyres. They track perfectly, ignore over-banding and are a good road tyre but a dreadful dirt one even if they have adventure pretentions. I only rode on gravel tracks and didn’t get the opportunity or have the inclination to venture into anything more challenging, but the excessive width of the rear wheel meant that any tyre would float around disconcertingly on gravel.
The riding position is joyous and I don’t say that lightly. Managing 200 miles between fill-ups I didn’t have the slightest twinge in any part of my anatomy and was rather disappointed I had to stop. The handlebar width and positioning is not only comfortable, but also helps no end with the perception that this bike is lighter than its declared 240kgs. It is just so easy to ride slowly and to manoeuvre through heavy urban traffic. The seating position isn’t lofty like a big GS or Ténéré but it’s excellent for a street bike. There I am again, trying to place this bike in a category when it really doesn’t have one. It’s just a very good, comfortable bike. There is no noticeable vibration transmitted to the rider and absolutely none that reaches the mirrors. They are small but provide a perfect rear view.
The footrests are a little higher and further back than is the norm in the adventure world, but their relationship to the 816mm seat height is much more generous than most road-going machines, adding to what I found was terrific long distant comfort and ideal positioning for a bit of a sporty scratch.
Electrics and lighting
Like the mirrors, the clock pod is also small and neat, but I hesitate to call it perfect. It has a convex curve which means that no matter where the sun is, it reflects and when the sun isn’t out the sky and the trees reflect on the screen making it difficult to read except at night. The strip-bar rev counter which runs across the top of the binnacle remains difficult to read at any time because it really is small, but the digital speedo is clear.
The main switchgear is visually pleasing and nice to touch except that the idea of placing the horn above the indicators has been carried over from the NC range and meant that try as I might, even as a greeting, I never managed to press the horn in the 1,100 or so miles I had the bike.
I can’t fault the headlight at all when riding solo, but when I briefly had a pillion, the angle was so upset I could almost blind passing pilots.
Real world use
The fuel tank is a sensible size at 21.5 litres permitting an easy 200 miles and the seating position is brilliant for all day riding. What’s more, is that because the tank filler is broad and no splashback protector is fitted, it’s possible to easily fill up, utilise the whole tank capacity and to see just what you’re doing. The only sad thing is that that flexible engine just drinks a bit too much.
The 240kgs may seem excessive on paper, but it just isn’t something you notice in use, especially round town when the riding requires good visibility and excellent manoeuvrability.
The onboard computer provides two trip meters, information on fuel economy and all the simple stuff that’s actually needed. It doesn’t tell me what the weather is or if I have a puncture and it doesn’t need a whole section of the cockpit to itself. I didn’t have to scroll through ABS settings and thankfully there’s no traction control to complicate things either. The engine may be high tech and regardless of how long it’s been in production (in one guise or another), it is tractable and tough. This bike provides two riding experiences in one and that practicality extends to the possibility of fitting a centre stand – hooray!
The Crossrunner VFR800X is perhaps almost the perfect machine if you do want to ride everyday but won’t be leaving Europe any time soon. It’s a shame that only about 600 British riders have given one a home so far, as it’s exceptionally well put together and is a realist’s bike; capable of executing pretty much everything very well and refusing to fit in any particular category. It’s the middle sibling – slightly confused but probably the most stable in the long run, capable of emitting just enough emotion with that wonderful BDA howl. But it is not a dirt bike.
UK price new is £9,499 but the colours available for 2014 are particularly dull silvers greys and blacks.