Long-distance tourers such as the BMW R 1200 GS and the Honda VFR 1200 X Crosstourer need to be powerful, comfortable on-road and off, economical and have provision for luggage. Both fulfil these criteria with aplomb. But, how do they compare?
Although the Honda has more power, it is also heavier than the GS, but otherwise the feel and ability to soak up long and winding roads are very similar. One thing the VFR doesn’t have is the sideways torque reaction from the inline boxer engine of the BMW.
We can also compare some details with another Honda, the recently tested NC700. This bike is more biased towards commuting than touring. The parallel-twin NC has a mass of 214 kg and a low centre of gravity, while the VFR makes do with a conventional high-mounted fuel tank, a V4 engine, high-ish seat height of 850 mm and a mass of 275 kg. Of course, the elevated stance does provide long-travel, compliant suspension even if the bike feels more top-heavy than it should.
The instrumentation is digital, but unfortunately the ribbon-style rev counter cannot be read unless the sun is behind you – a common problem with LCD systems. You also have to stretch to reach the instrument cluster to toggle through trip-computer information. A button on the handlebars would have been appreciated. The computer provides a fuel-consumption and ambient temperature read-out. If it’s cold, remember your gloves as heated grips are conspicuous in their absence.
On the go, you don’t really need to know the engine speed; although the red line is at 8 400 r/min, it is unnecessary to go anywhere near there because 5 000 to 6 000 r/min is sufficient for most purposes with all that torque on tap. The engine pulls well from just above 2 000 r/min and the gruff beat of the V4 is pleasant. Top gear can be snicked from as low as 70 km/h and a flick of the wrist will see satisfying acceleration.
At low engine speed, the rush of wind is accompanied by a gruff engine tremor that’s more of a fun vibe than an irritation. Now and then, a touch of high-frequency vibes typical of four-cylinder bikes can be felt but not enough to upset the sense of sophistication.
Traction control, which detects and corrects wheel spin, is standard; along with ABS braking, it provides a package of safety so appreciated when playing with lots of power and only two small contact patches of rubber. Steel wire-spoked wheels are said to provide toughness as well as more give on harsh bumps than less elastic alloy-spoked rims. There is no centre stand, which saves mass, but this does mean that, when working on or servicing the Honda, you would probably need to make up some portable support for the rear wheel to keep the bike upright.
Note that a similar model is available with an Adventure package that includes a top box, panniers, main stand, cowl kit and windscreen, a 12 V power outlet and heated grips.
The VFR matches the R 1200 GS blow-for-blow. However, at R13 000 more than the German bike, the Honda is overpriced.
Nicol Louw: Honda is very brave in taking on the mighty R 1200 GS
Engine: 1 237 cm3, V4, liquid-cooled, four-stroke
Power: 95 kW at 7 750 r/min
Torque: 126 N.m at 6 500 r/min
Transmission: six-speed, shaft drive
Fuel capacity: 18,5 litres
Dry weight: 275 kg
Price: R149 900
Service: every 12 000 km
Warranty: two years/unlimited km
More riding impressions: