First Ride

First Ride: Honda Crossrunner

Lukewarm reception but a stonking road bike for the real world

Just got back from a pretty hard-core 120 mile ride on the new Honda Crossrunner and these are my findings. Are you sitting comfortably?

Last night at the unveiling and press conference there was a bit of a murmur going round the assembled hacks. It was a bit like the Emperor's New Robe except the throngs weren't quite so wiling to play the sycophants.

Most people in the room weren't looking at the Crossrunner as a  brave new concept or a new twist on an everyday machine as Honda were touting it. They saw it as a slightly tweaked VFR with a spot of lippy and some new knickers. Me too, to a certain extent, I mean, there's no denying that beneath the new skin lies a VFR800 that's been around for over a decade.

Now, as the throngs of VFR800 die-hards that inhabit this very site will testify, the VFR is one mighty fine machine that is probably (still) one of the best all rounders, er, around. It's downsides? That horrible stuttery transition of the VTEC system and a big lack of mid-range power compared to its bigger capacity opposition. You could also argue, that for everyday riding, the current VFR's low handlebars don't really suit its, ahem, more mature customer base. Honda's phrase for this age group? How about Nostalgia Sleepers? That 30-50 age group is me and I'm not sure I like that or 'Variety Seeker' - one of two euphemisms to describe grey haired old bastids like myself.

The blast this morning from the hotel starting point to the first photo shoot stop didn't really sway many of the gathered journos. Comment along the lines of 'it feels light, even though it isn't' and 'it's comfy' were about as positive as it got. 

The next stretch of road, though, changed all of our opinions. A succession of second and (mainly) third gear switchbacks along the cliff-strewn coastal route really played into the Crossrunner's hands. The mid range is massively better than the VFR800's thanks largely to reworked header pipes and inlet trumpets that are longer (20mm) and narrower (by 6.5mm) at their throats. The remapped VTEC is much, much better, too. Transformational. That feeling of fuel starvation at the transition point has gone completely. And the noise from the airbox? Beautiful - a sort of throaty rasp that gets better the more you open the throttle bodies and the more you cane it. 

In all, it seems to be the sort of bike that's perfect for attacking an unseen (hazardous) road. You're sat upright for a great view and the new-found elastic properties of this rejuvenated engine allow you to hang onto one gear for a long time whilst you concentrate on the corners and hazards ahead.

The ABS kicked in a few times, too. The tarmac over here (Majorca) is iffy, to say the least. The combination if a tightening downhill hairpin, loose sand on the road and, er, exuberant riding meant the ABS had its work cut out at times.

There's more trail and more wheelbase than the stock VFR800 which means more high speed stability. At low speeds the tiller-like handlebars means that you don't notice this supposed decrease in flickability. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's a cinch to hurl around needing very little input through the rear-set footrests.

I spent the the afternoon riding away from the group (I hate riding with other people as a rule) and I just ploughed my own furrow. Only then did I find the Crossrunner's natural rhythm.

I rode like I had my better half on the back. Fast enough but not so fast that her risk radar kicks in. You know what I mean. Fast 'n' smooth - no manic heavy braking, no wheelies - just letting everything flow and gel.

It's here that you discover the Crossrunner's real purple patch. This is what it was meant to do, this is where it's happiest and most settled. Brisk but relaxed, swift but safe. She'd probably like the fact that the fat, flat pillion seat isn't perched skywards and there are some really solid grab handles, too. If I was going to buy one of these I'd know how important these factors would be in gaining that vital vote. Wasn't it Honda that once used the phrase 'spousal approval'? A truly rubbish phrase, granted, but they're not wrong to identify the acceptance of the boss in a family decision that costs slightly skywards of £9,000 - £9,075 to be precise.

The ride along the cliff-side today, racing a load of other journos, proved that sensible doesn't have to be boring and the noise the V4 engine makes is just fantastic - exotic, harmonious, expensive. But there's an honesty to the Crossrunner's reason for being that is a very hard sell.

There isn't the sexy sell of race-track aspirations or race-bred styling and news headline grabbing performance but... honestly? For how most of us ride 99% of the time, this thing is finely tuned to deliver all you need.

Don't think VFR with new knickers - that would be shallow and unnecessarily harsh. The tweaks that Honda have made have created a new bike with a new purpose and new adaptability. Quite why they didn't do this to the VFR800 six, seven or eight years ago mystifies me, really.

If you're a realist rather than a fantasist, I suggest you go and pester your dealer for a test ride... I reckon you'll like it.

More to follow as soon as our crippled ISDN will allow...

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