2016 Honda VRF1200X Review
I am really not surprised at how well the Honda VFR1200X works—it is a Honda after all, and user-friendly has always been a top priority for the factory. However, the 1200X—which first appeared in Europe in 2012 as the Crosstourer—is surprising simply because it works so well when the specifications say it probably shouldn’t.
On paper, a seasoned rider might expect the VFR to be a bit of a ponderous beast. With a claimed curb weight a little over 600 pounds, shaft drive, and a tall, upright posture, one would naturally assume that the VFR might not be the most agile of machines—likely a tad top-heavy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
As a street machine, the VFR1200X is fast, maneuverable, and highly intuitive to ride. It is a great-looking motorcycle available in any color you like, as long as it is (metallic) black, and its adventure styling and wire-spoked wheels (with a 19-inch front), give the X a purposeful look. It doesn’t have the identity crisis that its discontinued VFR1200F sibling always rather suffered from.
Now don’t get too carried away by the styling—the VFR1200X is not a dirt- oriented ADV bike. Yes, it comes shod with Pirelli Scorpion Trail adventure tires (which grip extremely well on the pavement), and the relatively long-travel suspension and high ground clearance allow for a certain amount of fire-road traversing.
However, the weight is a bit of a handicap off-road, so for most owners, the 1200X will be a superb long-distance tourer with somewhat avant-garde styling and exquisitely comfortable ergonomics. The VFR1200X is a luxury SUV, the Range Rover Sport of the motorcycle world, if you want to think of it that way.
The luxury starts with that super smooth and highly responsive motor that for a mere $400 extra, comes with Honda’s amazing Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). Far from being a liability, the cleverly engineered shaft drive eliminates squat at the rear, so aggressive corner exits don’t upset the handling no matter how hard you twist the throttle.
More luxury is offered by a somewhat plush seat, pleasantly upright ergonomics, and shoulder-width handlebars that prevent you from feeling like you are steering a wheelbarrow.
Softly sprung, the suspension is firmly damped so the VFR handles exceptionally well. The chassis settles quickly after bumps, making the VFR a nimble, yet stable, machine with a pleasantly neutral turn-in. Overall the handling is light and highly intuitive; this is an instantly confidence-inspiring machine to ride.
Assuming you want to do more than commute, the VFR1200X’s nearly six- gallon gas tank (that translates to a range of over 200 miles) and optional hard lug- gage, simply beg to be exploited to their maximum.
The only really glaring omission for such an incredibly capable touring mount is the lack of cruise control—neither fitted stock nor available as an option—and that is a little baffling. But when you’ve finished scratching your head on that one, there is really nothing else to gripe about with the X—heck, it even comes with self-canceling turn signals.
The VFR1200X is powered by Honda’s incredible 1237cc, 76-degree Unicam V4. The single camshaft design, which actuates the intake valves directly and the exhaust valves via rocker arms, migrated from Honda’s motocross bikes. The technology helps minimize the height of the engine, another element critical to mass-centralization and the VFR’s lovely handling.
The motor, previously used in the now discontinued VFR1200F, has been tweaked to produce even more low- and mid-range grunt; it is deceptively powerful. The relatively low-revving V4 and droning exhaust note will lull you into thinking you are going slower than you really are.
Several times I glanced down at the nice clear-to-read instrument pod and found myself amazed at the speed I was doing; it simply didn’t feel like it. In fact, the motor is so torquey around hairpin turns at little more than walking pace that I never needed first gear.
The motor redlines at just 9000 rpm, but revving to that point is unnecessary. Overtaking cars in a short space requires dropping down a gear or two, but those situations are exceptional. In normal circumstances, the VFR1200X motor produces an amazing amount of power.
The DCT option is an automatic six- speed transmission with manual shifting available using a push button (downshift), and pull switch (upshift) on the left handlebar, if you are so inclined. I was not.
Because DCT uses two clutches and pre-selects the next gear, the shifting is, in effect, seamless; gear changes are almost imperceptible to the rider. At times, I looked down and was surprised to see the gear I was in, as I had been unaware that the transmission had made one change, let alone several.
Having said that, shifting down from 3rd through 2nd to 1st can be a little less than elegant, but overall, the DCT gearbox is as smooth as a politician’s smile, and certainly not as greasy. Acceleration is instant and powerful, and—invaluably on corner exit—there is plenty of feel for what is happening at the rear tire.
In D mode (Drive), the gearbox upshifts through the ratios quickly and reaches top gear as soon as possible. This is an economical mode, and friendly for commuters, urban riders, and casual tourers. As a sportbike aficionado, I preferred the instant response of S mode (Sport), which has three levels that can be cycled through on-the-fly, provided the throttle is closed. S1 is the most conservative, through to S3 mode where the gears are held longer and the transmission stays in the lower gears for more aggressive riding. Downshifts are executed at just the right moment and this is especially critical when overtaking. I found S2 most to my liking on the varied roads.
Now in the 3rd generation of DCT, Honda has totally nailed it. On one occasion, there wasn’t a lot of room between corners, so I had to really goose the VFR to get past a couple of tourists towing trailers. Giving the throttle a large handful, the bike reacted perfectly—it immediately shifted from 6th down to 4th, and the astonishing VFR1200X V4 torque did the rest. I was very impressed.
I now believe I would buy the DCT. I liked the first-gen version in the VFR1200F a few years ago, but I was pleasantly surprised how much better it has become in this X model. I rode the manual transmission machine for a while and was interested to find that I missed the DCT—and that is nothing against the manual gearbox because it is smooth, precise, and a pleasure to operate.
I suspect some people will scoff at DCT and simply never try it, and that’s okay; Honda makes both versions and will carry on with that for the foreseeable future. If you have an open mind to something new, I would urge you to at least try DCT—but be prepared to be converted.
The throttle-by-wire system works in conjunction with an impressive suite of electronic aids that includes three levels of traction control (plus off), as well as working with top-notch linked ABS binders. A large square button on the top of the left-side fairing, allows the rider to cycle through the settings on the fly.
I didn’t bother changing the traction control from its default Level 3, as it was perfect for the adventure-style roads I was riding—bumpy, and most corners had some level of grit, gravel or dirt on them. Even in those conditions, the VFR1200X simply never misbehaved at all. I felt a couple of very minor twitches at the rear, but the VFR handled them with zero drama.
Accessories include a centerstand, light bar, tank pad, wind defector, heated handlebar grips, and an accessory power outlet for the passenger (one is included stock for the rider). For touring riders, there are attractive plastic panniers available (they look like brushed aluminum), and a top box that will take a full-face street helmet. For an ADV-style helmet, you will need to use the roomier left pannier.
Honda undoubtedly has a winner with the VFR1200X. A very special V4 motor smoothly powers this bike as fast as you want to go. It is deceptively quick, so if your license isn’t in the best of shape, please be warned—this machine won’t help.
If you are a rider who appreciates performance and good handling, likes the ADV look, amenities, and comfort, and wants the option of exploring the odd unpaved road or two, then the new 2016 Honda VFR1200X is for you. It exudes that legendary Honda quality and is simply a joy to ride, whether you are popping down to the shops, or exploring all four corners of this amazing country of ours.
- Helmet: sak_art design Arai Corsair-V
- Communications: Sena 20S
- Jacket & Pants: Dainese Carve Master
- Gloves: Racer Feeling
- Boots: Dainese TR-Course Out
Photography by Ray Gauger and Kevin Wing
2016 Honda VFR1200X Review – Photo Gallery