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Taking the 2017 Honda VFR1200X On and Off-Road in Algoma Country

Article by: James “Wobblycat” Bai

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review classic adv look

The Honda VFR1200X will appeal to experienced riders who travel long distances and are not afraid to explore off-road. It is the largest of Honda’s Adventure lineup which includes the CB500X, NC700X and the Africa Twin. Outside Ontario and North America, it's known as the Crosstourer which hits the sweet spot: asphalt touring with occasional gravel and dirt capabilities. I say this after riding the VFR1200X some 2,000 kilometers through the home of the best on- and off-road motorcycling in Ontario, way up north to Algoma Country
Take a tour of Algoma Country here!
2017 Honda VFR1200X Review
The VFR1200X is a well-rounded bike that can take you lots of places, in comfort.

Powering the VFR1200X is a 1237cc V4 engine with 108 HP and 80 ft-lb of torque delivered by shaft drive. The base model includes ABS, 3 traction modes, and 4 engine modes (standard plus 3 sport modes) for the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). The DCT means there is no clutch lever, as the computer shifts gears for you, similar to an automatic car.

2017 Honda VFR1200X Dual Clutch Transmission
The Dual Clutch Transmission, or DCT automates clutch and shift operation for the rider.

The VFR1200X also comes with 3 torque modes under the Honda Selectable Torque Control System (HSTC). All combined, these provide for a highly customizable riding experience based on your preferences and environmental conditions. Or as I like to say, almost as many options as an F1 race car! Also standard are hand-guards and the center stand.

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review rear wheel
Power is delivered to the rear wheel by shaft drive

 

First Impressions

The VFR1200X doesn’t stray from the classic adventure look of a taller tank, front beak, tall handlebars and minimal fairings. However, the 3-pointed star headlight is very distinctive and attractive and a nod to the VFR1200F heritage. The handguards and spoked wheels give it a more rugged look while the single-sided swing arm gives it a touch of sophistication, and again, is a classic VFR feature.

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review available in candy red
The VFR1200X is available in Candy Red for 2017

Throwing a leg over and righting it off the side stand for the first time requires significant effort; at 5'7", I am on the tips of my tippy toes! With the large physical size, you get a good view of your surrounds.

Power and Handling

Unless you're pulling a boat up a mountain or trying to keep up with 1,000 cc superbikes (both undoubtedly not in the design specifications), you will never be short on power. On the DCT model, upshifts were smooth although the standard mode preferred to be a gear or two higher than I would’ve selected myself.

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review right handlebar controls
Right handlebar controls can adjust the DCT mode on the fly

However, the power delivery was what I would describe as “snatchy” in the lower RPMs, below about 3,500. When starting from a stop, the power engages abruptly which spells trouble (especially with such a tall seat) on loose ground with an incline—a not uncommon situation for an adventure bike. When gearing down manually using the paddle shifters, you can hear the engine blipping the throttle resulting in a slight “bump” as the transmission downshifts if you're just coasting to slow down. While on the topic of slowing down, the DCT doesn't shift down to provide engine braking even in full sport mode—I found myself manually downshifting when I was getting into it in the twisties. I suppose this is a good thing otherwise, the DCT would constantly be changing gears making for a jerky ride.

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review Left handlebar controls
Left handlebar controls has many features including paddle shifters and parking brake for the DCT model

There were no surprises in the handling—it felt like a big bike, requiring more effort for tight twisties. Tipping into the corners felt neutral: neither falling in nor requiring a lot of input to initiate a turn. With ABS and a linked braking system, coming to a stop was never an issue. The soft, plush suspension made for a very pleasant ride while improving off-road performance.

Off-Road

Initially I wasn’t comfortable riding off the tarmac because of the high seat height and large mass. I already felt on the verge of dropping the bike in a paved parking lot. If I put my feet down on dirt or gravel, they would surely slip and the bike and I would let gravity come to its inevitable conclusion. Plus I was 99.876 % sure I couldn't pick up almost 700 lbs by myself. However, there was a waterfall I wanted to see and the only way there was through a loose and uneven dirt road.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the VFR1200X performed well off-road. Despite being so tall and heavy, the centre of gravity felt quite low when standing on the pegs. As well, the tall and wide handlebars excel in this environment. Even the weight seemed to have some advantage as the bike stayed steady even over bumpy and irregular surfaces, helped by the soft suspension.

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review Braking System
Honda’s Combined Braking System with ABS is standard


What I Liked

• Shaft Drive - goodbye chain maintenance!
• Good Wind and Rain Protection - at highway speeds with the windshield in the highest position, the helmet noise was very quiet
• Smooth Power Delivery - only after the power has been engaged
• Power and Torque - the mid-range torque was substantial, and I always felt there was more power available.
• DCT - shifting is one less thing to worry about in stop-and-go traffic
• Comfortable seat - one could go for long distances without needing an iron butt
• Sidecases - functional and easy to use, plus they add to the adventure style look
• Cigarette Lighter Adapter - I used this to power my GPS
• ABS and Traction Control - give peace of mind and added safety
• Mirrors - provide sharp images and a good view of behind
• Heated Grips – adjustable heat settings mean no more frosty fingers
• Suspension - soft enough for a comfortable ride and adjustable
• Metal Tank - if you're like me, you already have lots of magnetic tank bags

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review spoked wheel
Spoked wheels give the VFR1200X a more rugged look while the single-sided swing arm gives it a touch of sophistication and is a classic VFR feature


What Could Be improved

• Weight - Maybe I'm a weakling with stubby legs (28” inseam) but this was a huge problem for me. I wasn't comfortable parking on anything other than asphalt. I also couldn't lift the bike onto the center stand by myself.
• Fit and Finish - I expected more from Honda on this. The windshield was pliable and vibrated while riding. The side cases had an aluminum look, but were plastic. The handguards are thin plastic only with no metal reinforcement to protect against tree branches. The wheels while spoked, run with tubeless tires. I get the feeling this was meant to appeal to the adventure “look” instead of being a hardcore bike one would use for a round the world (RTW) trip.
• Abrupt power at low revs - I'm not sure if this is an issue with the DCT, fuel injection, or shaft drive but the "snatchy" feel when power is engaged, especially from a stop was less than confidence inspiring. Unfortunately there is no clutch to smooth it out. Power delivery when the power was already engaged though, was very smooth.

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review sidecases with room
Optional side cases can fit a full face helmet.


Comparables

If you're considering the VFR1200X, you should also be looking at the BMW R1200GS, Yamaha Super Tenere, and the Triumph Tiger Explorer.

Final Thoughts

This is probably the most comfortable bike I've ridden and I've come to call it the Mile Muncher. The weight is only an issue at low speeds and once you're moving, it's not noticeable. It's a nice looking bike that turned a lot of heads and got a lot of compliments.

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review main dashboard
Main dashboard

As a daily commuter, the DCT would give your clutch hand a break. Gravel or dirt roads are no longer an issue but just be careful when you stop if you have a shorter inseam. On a road trip, it will make your butt happy and with the optional sidecases, there’s lots of space for your stuff. The VFR1200X is a well-rounded bike that can take you lots of places, in comfort.

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review sidecases
Sidecases are easy to open/close and remove/attach with an ignition matched key


Specifications

Engine Displacement: 1,237 cc 4-stroke Unicam V4
Transmission: 6 speed, or Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) Optional
Bore/stroke: 81 mm x 60.0 mm
Torque: 108 N m (80 ft lb)
Horsepower: 108 HP
Rake/Trail: 28 ° / 107 mm (4.2 in)
Forks: 43 mm inverted with adjustable preload, and rebound damping. 145 mm (5.7”) travel
Rear Suspension: Preload and step-less rebound damping adjustment; 146 mm (5.7”) travel
Front Brakes: 310 mm dual discs with three-piston calipers
Rear Brakes: single 276 mm disc with twin-piston caliper (Combined Braking System with ABS)
Tires: Pirelli Scorpion Trail (95% Road / 5% Off Road)
Front Wheel: 110/80-R19
Rear Wheel: 150/70-R17
Drive: Shaft
Fuel capacity: 21.5 L (4.7 Gal)
Curb Weight (Wet): Standard: 277 kg (611 lbs.) DCT: 287 kg (633 lbs.)
Windscreen: Manually adjustable height by 76 mm (3 in) with one hand
Seat Height: 850 mm
MSRP (Taxes extra): Standard: $18,399, DCT: $19,399, As Tested: $29,486

2017 Honda VFR1200X Review technolgically advanced
The VFR1200X is very technologically advanced with ABS, 3 traction modes, and 4 engine modes (standard plus 3 sport modes) for the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) and 3 torque modes for a highly customized riding experience.
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