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Coffee with a side-order of adventure, BMW’s R1200GS takes on Honda’s VFR1200X Crosstourer.


The coldest Saturday morning of 2018 saw Gottagged’s newest recruits excitedly heading out of Joburg on their first motorbike test ride. Thanks to our friends at Fire It Up!, we pitted the heavyweight adventure-tourer segment’s undisputed titleholder, the BMW R1200GS, against the power of the Honda VFR1200X Crosstourer.

Although there is only 67cc variance between these two machines, differences in engine configuration, tuning and electronics make them both unique. This latest, more rev-happy generation of BMW’s torquey air/liquid-cooled, 1,170cc flat opposed twin, produces 125Nm @ 6500rpm and 92kW @ 7,750rpm – although being shaft driven (as is the case with both bikes), not all that power find its way to the rear wheel. The Honda derives its power from a 1,237cc V4 engine, which produces 95kW @ 7,750rpm and 126Nm @ 6,500rpm. It is also the heavier of the two, weighing in at 275kg wet, vs BMW’s 238kg. With both bikes topping 200kg, neither of these bikes can be considered nimble, nevertheless they most certainly sit comfortably at high speeds, both able to top out in the mid 200kmph range.

The numbers only really matter on paper though. What matters in real life is how these machines feel when you open the throttle; the VFR has a smooth feel, unlike the familiar sideways torque reaction from the GS’s inline boxer engine. This particular Crosstourer had been fitted with an aftermarket Stealth exhaust, much to the appeal of Dave’s childishness, who found this modification very entertaining as the bike popped and burbled on every overrun. Cornel, who was (almost always) left far behind by Dave, watched the Honda disappear into the middle distance with endless bouts of hard acceleration, followed by a long coast back to sensible speeds, so that all of Fourways could enjoy the wonderful racket the VFR/Stealth exhaust combo makes. That popping sound is seriously addictive. The exhaust did look a little undersized compared to the bulkiness of the bike. It looks like it has been borrowed from a much smaller bike, an important consideration for those pleased by aesthetics who might contemplate this option.

The BMW on the other hand, was very much the sensible older brother. Its staid demeanour is the reason it is the king of the adventure bikes. Its perfect balance and prestigious build-quality is everything one has come to expect from a BMW. Although very practical, it might be considered by some to be like Tupperware, widely used, but ultimately a little bland.

Taking these bikes north of the Northern suburbs, hitting the open road, our testers was able to get personal with these bikes, and really got to know them. The comfortable upright riding position allows for maximum visibility, while their limber manoeuvrability provides an easy and smooth ride. The 5,000 to 6,000rpm range is sufficient for most purposes on these machines with all that torque on tap, top gear is easily reached from low speeds, and a twist of the wrist results in grin-inducing acceleration. Through the twisties around Muldersdrift both bikes felt responsive, leaning in easily to each bend, with confidence-inducing grip to encourage them (mostly Dave) to open the throttle just a little more. Overtaking the odd car was easy, as both bikes had oodles of power to get them moving (although Cornel never tested it).

The duo turned off the tarmac for a casual saunter down a dirt road. The VFR is more suited as a street machine, however it does have some off-road capability for exploring routes like these with comfort, though neither bike was setup for any sort of overlanding, with standard (mostly road-biased) knobbly tyres. The suspension travel on the GS is slightly better, owing to the fact that it’s a taller bike, whereas the VFR is on the firmer side and yet somewhat softly sprung, as it was more than capable of soaking up all the bumps and dips it came across. The short stretch of dirt road our reviewers ventured down was uneventful. They didn’t push the limits here, seeing as these bikes had been loaned to them for the purpose of this review.

At the halfway point, after several cups of warming coffee and some friendly banter about their riding styles, Cornel and Dave switched bikes for the return trip. Dave quickly proved that the BMW was in fact no slower than the Honda, with a few traffic-light-to-traffic-light drags. Of the two, the VFR has a greater sense of urgency, compelling one to quickly shift through the gears and get up to speed. The BMW is no slouch though, easily reaching exuberant speeds, while only needing slightly more tarmac to get there.

As the morning had been so bitterly cold, our correspondents were both happy with the wind protection that these bikes offered. The BMW made the ride even more bearable thanks to the heated grips that come standard on this GS. The BMW also has bigger fairings, while the Honda could be considered semi-naked, which means much less wind blast at higher speeds when riding the German offering. Their elevated stance allows for enhanced road presence, while the GS’s LED daytime running lights deliver even more prominence. The manufacturers for both of these motorcycles also offer an Adventure package that includes additional accessories like crash bars, luggage options and more.

Both bikes come standard with traction control and ABS, although the BMW is the smarter bike, much smarter than initially thought. At one point, a warning light flashed, and upon closer inspection, Cornel saw that the tyre pressure was being displayed. While the tyre was not flat in the slightest, the bike had sensed that the pressure had dropped, and was warning the rider of a possible puncture. The Honda Crosstourer’s dash was simple, and easy to read. Big bold numbers, a rev counter, and even a proper fuel gauge, takes all the guesswork out of riding, but nothing extra.

The VFR Gottagged tested was fitted with a manual gearbox. The Crosstourer also comes with a DCT gearbox,, which we’ve heard is great, for its seamless shifting, thanks to the dual-clutch setup. The six-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually using a push button (downshift), and pull switch (upshift), on the left handlebar.

Brand new, the Crosstourer with a manual gearbox will cost about R200 000, the DCT option will cost more. BMW’s R1200GS comes in a little higher at R189 888.00 Both prices are for standard bikes with no extras included.

This pales in comparison to the amazing price tags that Fire It Up have on these bad boys. If you are happy to hop on a previously loved one, at the time of writing you can pick up the VFR for a tick under R100 000, while the GS is going for a song at R189 888. Both bikes have been meticulously checked over and serviced by Fire It Up’s expert mechanics, and come standard with their Integrity Pack which includes:
• 4 year service plan
• 2 year/lifetime warranty
• 7 day exchange
• Up to 80% guaranteed buy back
• accident free guarantee
• Full tank of fuel
• No mandatory cost!

If you’re in the market for either of these bikes, it’s a no-brainer in our opinion. When considering the price, as well as the extras included by Fire It Up, we’d take either of them any day of the week.

In essence, these bikes go toe-to-toe in the ring. They are both exceptional machines, equally reliable and suited for long-distance, countrywide touring. While the Honda might be better suited to Dave’s exuberance, the BMW will always retain its devotees like Cornel amongst the masses who are drawn to its practicality.

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