- Smooth, strong drivetrain
- Comfortable over a long day
- Versatile kilometre monster
- Missing cruise control
- It’s a bit ugly
- Lots of wind noise
The nutcase on the Goldwing in front of me battles with physics and sanity – throwing his behemoth into corners with apparent disregard for the foot pegs, engine covers or limits of adhesion. A shower of sparks erupts from under my colleague, Bertrand Gahel’s, footboards and I wonder if the tailgunner for our trio and frequent autoTRADER.ca contributor Costa Mouzouris is seeing what I’m seeing.
Aboard my Honda VFR1200X I have the bonus of ground clearance, a relatively agile chassis, and enough grunt to keep up. Costa’s NC700X (US spec) is providing him with plenty of entertainment as he makes up in the corners what he loses on the straights.
Every photo stop reveals grins as wide as our helmets will allow, the warm sun and cool air combining for near-perfect riding conditions.
It’s all Honda’s fault. They bought us down to Long Beach for the launch of the new 2017 Honda Rebel 300 and 500 – and then left our trio of motorcycle journalists with a day to ourselves. “You wouldn’t happen to have some bikes lying around, would you?” we enquired demurely.
They did. And we just happened to be within shouting distance of the famous Angeles Crest highway. Enter: joy.
Once given the three options, the bike allocations were a deliberate choice. Angeles Crest is an iconic road with switchbacks, fast-flowing sections and plenty of traffic of both the four- and two-wheeled variety. It’s peppered with folks who range from believing they’re the fastest thing out there to actually being the fastest thing out there. Our trio are big believers in riding to a comfortable pace, but it’s fair to say that Bertrand and Costa’s comfort level is often higher than mine.
The Goldwing would lead, its maximum pace being (theoretically) slower than the other two. Costa, would be tail gunner on the smaller and – despite a dual-clutch transmission instead of a manual – harder-to-ride NC700X DCT. That would leave me on the tall-but-user-friendly VFR1200X. Its 129 hp and 93 lb-ft of torque would make it easy for me catch up on the straights should I decide that Bertand’s corner speed on the blind switchback is too daunting for me.
I needn’t have worried.
We settled into a comfortable but spirited pace, the VFR’s confident and compliant suspension helping me find a smooth, gentle rhythm. Despite being somewhat heavier than its direct competitors at 277 kg, the shaft-drive VFR turns in well and hold its line in the corners. Bumps on the straights are easily dealt with, but the cost for the unflustered road manners is a fair amount of pitch and dive under weight transfer.
The secret – as always – is smoothness. Honda typically rewards the rider who is gentle with their inputs and the VFR responds well to my gentle motions, and poorly when I got frantic. A panic-stop test gave me full confidence in the small-looking 310 mm front discs, but we never really needed full-on braking power on the roads.
The V4 engine is smooth and pulls sturdily from low down right through to the 8,500 rpm limit. The broad spread of usable oomph meant I didn’t have to fuss about with the gear lever much at all, even when in the tighter, twistier sections. There is a dual-clutch automated manual available on this bike if you really want the full worry-free riding experience, but honestly it’s not needed. Third and fourth were sufficient for 90 percent of our needs during the day, with fourth handling a large chunk of that time. There’s no vibration through the rubber-clad footpegs or high-mounted bars and the adjustable screen provided ample protection from wind buffeting – though not from noise.
At 5'6" I was surprised how easily I reached the ground from 850 mm high seat. Its narrowness meant I could use all of my meagre inseam to reach the ground, yet didn’t sacrifice anything in long-distance comfort. This isn’t the virtual La-Z-Boy I found the Yamaha FJR1300 to be – but after several hundred kilometres and a solid eight hours of riding I felt good enough to go again.
While the VFR is equipped with 19-inch spoked front and 17-inch wire spoked rear wheel the weight, short-travel suspension and stock street tires mean this is better suited to pavement. It will go on the gravel, but if you want to hit the proper offroad stuff you will be much better off on a CRF1000L Africa Twin.
Though not the best-looking unit out there, the gauge cluster of the VFR gives a solid amount of information and the traction control button is proudly displayed to the left of the airbox/fuel tank, making it easy to get to. The other controls are all easy to get too as well and I found the high, wide bars actually sat nicely for me despite being a hobbit. I would have liked cruise control for the highway sections and heated grips for the morning – both are available as accessories though.
At a rest stop at Newcomb’s Ranch we ran into several dozen of the Crest’s regulars. Everything from zombie-apocalypse-spec Suzuki SV650s to brand new Yamaha YZF-R1Ms shared a packed parking lot with a rat-rodded Mazda MX-5 and a raunchy one-off carbon-tubbed sports car on full slicks. Our trio of bikes gets little attention, but the Goldwing gets one haughty snort from a nearby sports bike rider.
I’d like to think it was the same rider, on a Triumph Daytona 675 in full leathers, with his knee out a mile and the bike nearly upright, who we encounter soon after. We’ve just left a photo stop when Boy Racer Extraordinaire blows by; igniting the red mist in Bertrand. I wave Costa by me, not wanting to prevent him joining the fun and the two of them chase after the Triumph rider. Surprisingly I find myself on the same pace as my mates as they catch up to the 675 and stick with him until he pulls off.
The sun is sinking in the hills and we’re still a long way from Honda HQ in Long Beach. The corners fade away and the gruelling LA traffic takes their place. We opt to lane split – it’s legal here, as it should be – and even in this traffic I’m finding the VFR easy to ride.
Bertrand is having more trouble here than on the Crest, the wide Goldwing making lane-splitting slightly more delicate for him, but we make it safely back.
Souls full, smiles wide and butts surprisingly unflustered – our helmets are packed away and our journey home begins.
|Engine Displacement||1,237 cc||Model Tested||2017 Honda VFR1200X|
|Engine Cylinders||V4||Base Price||$17,999|
|Peak Horsepower||129 hp @ 7,750 rpm||A/C Tax||N/A|
|Peak Torque||93 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm||Destination Fee||N/A|
|Fuel Economy||6.2 L/100 km||Price as Tested||$17,999|