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An Overlander for the day on a Honda VFR1200X Crosstourer with Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)

June 23rd, 2013 @ 16:54 BST by Richard Stowey

HUBB UK VFR1200X Crosstourer

I got the chance to take Honda’s new VFR1200X Crosstourer out for a couple of days, and decided to head on up to the HUBB UK 2013 event at Donnington Park on the 1st June, to step into the world of Overlanding for a day. I love my Honda CB600F Hornet, but given the chance to take an adventure, why not have something fit for purpose?

The VFR1200X Crosstourer

With a seat height of 850mm, this bike isn’t for short people. It’s dry weight of 275kg isn’t light either. But there’s a reason, and that’s the 1237cc, 127bhp,  Liquid-cooled, 6v double overhead cam, V4. It’s a beast. Plenty of torque, quick acceleration and trustingly planted firmly on the ground.

It’s Honda’s competitor to the Triumph Tiger or BMW GS1200. On the outside it looks simple, sophisticated and understated. On the underside is a monster of an engine. If for any moment you were under the impression that these bikes are big and SLOW… think again. With 0-60mph in under 3.5 seconds, it’s as fast as a supercar.

New in 2012, the bike comes with the option of Dual Clutch Transmission:

Dual Clutch Transmission

The Honda VFR1200X Crosstourer uses the second generation of Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). There is no clutch lever, and there is no gear pedal.

In automatic mode , it’s as easy as pie to use. Simply switch from Neutral to one of the automatic modes (D for normal, and S for slightly higher revs through the gears) and pull away. The simple flick of a switch and the Dual Clutch Transmission is engaged and ready to use.

Manual mode can be engaged with a toggle switch, and then the up and down buttons on the left can be used by your index finger and thumb to go up and down through the gears. It’s dead simple on the surface.

Underneath, it’s a little more complicated, with a sophisticated computer which doesn’t let you screw up. When you change gear manually, it takes a split second to think about what you’re asking and assess whether it’s sensible. Change down to quickly and it won’t let you.  Forget to change down into first when stopping and it will change gear for you, ready for the off.

The Ride

The VFR1200X takes a little bit of getting used to. Some things you’re taught how to do just don’t make sense any more. It’s almost like the laws of mechanics have changed!

Rolling up to the traffic lights gently, sliding down the gears into first and slipping the clutch to keep the bike upright, ready for green is a thing of the past. Keeping the revs high and using the centrifugal motion of the engine now requires letting the bike do the gear changing and then hovering on the back brake to keep the revs high.

The dance at the traffic lights which usually involves changing which foot is planted firmly on the ground, and which is operating the various foot pedal and lever combination to get ready for the off is no longer needed. Roll up, plant your left foot on the ground, and the bike does the rest. Easy. Peasy.

Understanding how the bike thinks is the first step in taking advantage of this new technology. You have to adjust your riding slightly based on the bike, but it makes for an easier journey.

The ride up to the HUBB event was pretty direct from London as I was trying to make good time to get to the event. The bike it a little bigger than what I am used to, with a little bit more fairing, so the motorway run was much easier and so comfortable. It handles well on the open road. The DCT makes a subtle change between 5th and 6th on the motorway without me realising.

The HUBB UK Event

The Horizons Unlimited HUBB UK event was set near the legendary Donnington Park race track in the beautiful Leicestershire countryside. Mostly consisting of BMW GS owners, there were a few Triumph Tigers and some rather cool oddities too. Africa Twins, C90s, old Honda’s, scooters and a Royal Enfield. There are plenty of these events every year where overlanders come together to share stories, drink lots of beer and plan their next adventures around the world.

HUBB UK VFR1200X Crosstourer

HUBB UK VFR1200X Crosstourer

The Talks

The actual hardcore adventuring is done only by a few people who have created the opportunity to travel overland for a significant amount of time. From six months to seven years, their adventures and the time span varied greatly.

I missed Ed March‘s talk on the Friday night, but have seen him talk about his adventures before. Very entertaining and amusing, especially his C90 music videos.

Russell Anthony & Adrian Jonson talked Pikipiki Safari on their adventure from London to South Africa. WAWA was an amusing phrase from their adventure to describe West Africa Wins Again.

Daniel Rintz travelled the globe for 2.5 years, sharing some of his adventures and realisations about the world he discovered, and himself along the way. His movie about his adventure should be out this summer.

After she turned 50, Jacqui Furneaux set off to travel the world on her Royal Enfield, heading off for around 7 years before returning. Her journey covered so many miles and unexpected things, but she seemed to trust that everything would be just fine.

The last talk I stayed for was from Nathan Milward who rode a Honda Postie bike back to London from New Zealand. Pretty amazing distance. I’m 75% of the way through his book about the trip, The Long Ride ‘Home’, so it was really nice to put some visuals with the adventure.

The Twisties

I was going to try and stay for Austin Vince’s talk, which I have heard is very amusing and he is very interesting. He’s done lots of travel and now assists other adventure riders in how to make the most of their journey. But as I was only there for one day, I had to take advantage of the twisty roads, and beautiful English sunshine on the way back.

I took off on the roads, now quite familar with how the new fangled clutch technology worked. I found some beautiful long bends, tight corners and an open playground. I followed another motorcyclist for a while before I started heading North again, and quickly decided I needed to at least make some progress. The upright position on the bike doesn’t make it any less exciting, in fact it’s slightly easier to turn around and see what’s going on. It’s also more comfortable.

Maneuvering the VFR1200X around corners and through tight bends is a breeze. The wide handlebars make it easy to swing it around. Once you’re comfortable with the centre of gravity (slightly higher than the Hornet), and the weight of the machine, it’s not a problem. Most of the time I left it in S mode, giving it a sporty feel and leaving enough revs for a quick acceleration here and there.

The fuel light quickly came on from all of the accelerating from give ways and out of the bends, and not being too familar with the tank, I thought it best to find a top up pretty soon.

The VFR1200X Crosstourer with Dual Clutch Transmission

There are clearly two things here which I’ve had the fortune to play with. The first, and probably the easiest to evaluate is the Crosstourer. It’s punchy, powerful, comfortable and probably one of the best ways to have fun on two wheels. It also looks good, understated. But it is big, towering over most other bikes. It’s harder to filter through traffic, even though the wing mirrors are higher than most cars’. It could also offer a little bit more wind protection, especially if I’m on the road for a few hundred miles at a time.

The Dual Clutch Transmission is the second. It’s the next big thing in motorcycling, definitely. Gears on a motorcycle probably haven’t changed this much since they were first used. It’s easy, it’s really easy. For new riders who either don’t want to learn how to use gears, or just want something easy, it’s the way to go. Probably also for the aging rider who just wants to not have to worry about that type of thing.

But here’s the thing. Do you need it? It’s extra cost, complexity and weight. It’s something more which could and, even though it’s a Honda, eventually may go wrong (if you keep the bike long enough). Not being able to slip the clutch, jump start it in second, and use it like the geared machine you’re used to with complete control, is a niggling thought. As with any man and machine scenario, a motorcyclist has a trusting bond with his steed, and not understanding this dark magic fully is probably the only thing holding him back.

I’m sold on the bike. It’s the perfect machine to spend mile after mile living from. The Dual Clutch Transmission is incredible and works faultlessly, but it will take a huge leap of faith for me to include it as a must-have on my next bike.