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Thursday 16th June 2011


PH2 TESTED: HONDA CROSSRUNNER

It's no ground-breaking innovator, but that doesn't stop the Crossrunner from being a grand bike, says Colin Goodwin



It's stretching it a bit to call the Honda Crossrunner a radical new concept. After all there's the Yamaha TDM 900, a bike that's been around for decades and that has a similar ground clearance and field-crossing off-road capability.


But what's really clever about the Crossrunner is the fact that it really isn't that new at all, because underneath it shares its major components with the VFR800. The chassis is virtually identical, with only a slightly repositioned shock mount to make the swingarm angle steeper, and front forks that have been slid through their yokes to increase ground clearance half an inch and slightly increase the wheelbase. The suspension components themselves are straight off the VFR, as are the wheels and brakes.

The engine is also VFR, but with a few changes to better suit the Crossrunner. Both the intake and exhaust systems are different to bolster mid-range torque. The inlet tracts are 20mm longer and 6mm narrower and the exhausts have different pipe lengths and link different cylinders. The electronics have been adjusted to take into account the changes to induction and exhaust systems, but now are also informed about throttle position and which gear the bike is in so that the power delivery can be adjusted to suit.

Almost 10 years ago I took the then-new VFR800 VTEC to the 'Ring for Two Wheels Only, along with the Ducati ST3, Triumph Sprint ST and a BMW so ugly I've managed to completely remove it from my memory. An R1150 ST I think. Road test editor Niall McKenzie and the rest of us were very disappointed by the Honda.


The step between the mellow low-revs performance and screaming VTEC power was like Jekyll and Hyde and, while it should have given a two-stroke like thrill, it was just annoying. We all preferred the outgoing non-VTEC VFR800 engine.

Honda still sells the VFR800, though I'm not sure in what numbers. They probably go to serial VFR buyers. If its engine is anything like the one fitted to the Crossrunner then the bike will have been transformed. You wouldn't believe fiddling with intake and exhaust pipes and tweaking the electronics could make such a difference. The changes have robbed a few horsepower from the top end, but it's been a worthwhile sacrifice. I took the Crossrunner down to Goodwood for a car launch along a virtually deserted A285. A road as exciting as the A285 on a warm day cloaked in sunshine and with little traffic is fun on pretty well anything with two wheels, so one has to not get carried away, but that said the Crossrunner was fantastic fun.

The engine now behaves and delivers in the fashion that Honda told us the original VTEC VFR's would. The engine purrs at low speed and then, as you wind it up, the purr turns to a snarl. Then as you pass 6500rpm and it starts to scream with a hard-edged howl. Yes, you feel a kick as the VTEC system brings changes the engine from 8- to 16-valve operation, but there's no irritating 'step'. Even with the stock exhaust the engine sounds incredible; with an aftermarket can it would have a positively narcotic effect.


The VFR wheels are wrapped in Pirelli Scorpion dual-purpose tyres, the same rubber that's fitted to the Ducati Multistrada, albeit with a slightly different profile. Still, I can't see many Crossrunner owners ever taking their bikes off road. The tyres will make traversing Brands Hatch's grass car parks easier but I doubt many Crossrunners will do anything much more challenging than that.

At 240kg the Crossrunner is quite a heavy bike, but it's extremely manageable at low speeds. It's also brilliant for filtering, as the raised handlebars (by six inches over the VFR) clear car mirrors and the bike feels stable down to walking speed and below.

The Crossrunner rides bumps well without being wallowy. There are a few really entertaining corners on the A285; one that is a virtual hairpin at the bottom of a hill (at a place called Duncton - I once saw an XR3i upside down in the field beyond it, surrounded by broken windsurfing boards and a couple of dazed and confused lads). For best results with the Crossrunner you have to not attack bends as if you're on a supermoto bike. Its handling is more traditional with quick steering being sacrificed for stability. It's a confidence-inspiring package.


Because the Crossrunner uses not just the VFR's frame but its footrests also, you end up with a rather hybrid riding position. The bottom half feels sports tourer, with feet near to the seat, while the top half is pure adventure bike with your body straight. There's a little screen to direct the wind blast off your torso, which makes speeds up to 100mph perfectly comfortable. There's a higher screen available for taller riders.

Honda is asking £9075 for the Crossrunner, which makes the Yamaha TDM900 look rather poor value at only £600 less. But it also makes the Triumph Tiger 800 and BMW F650 GS look like bargains.

You can add to the Crossrunner's price by speccing it with the optional luggage that's the same kit as fitted to the VFR1200 and turning it in the process into a fully fledged tourer. And this brings us to the Crossrunner's biggest failing and one that is likely to put off plenty of potential customers: It's thirsty.


On the dash display (borrowed from the CBR600F) I struggled to see mpg figures with anything other than a three in front of them. The fuel tank is a generous 4.74 gallons (21.5 litres) so the range is good, but these days a middleweight bike that can't do close to 50mpg when ridden gently is shockingly out of kilter with fuel prices.

The Crossrunner is a neat example of good business sense. With clever styling and a few simple layout changes, Honda has managed to create a new bike out of an existing package. It doesn't break the mould in the way that Honda thinks it does, but it's a very competent and easy-to-ride bike. And thanks to the improved vee-four engine, exhilarating when you want it to be.

Author: Yonah