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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.