The new machine
"You know, you only ever crash Hondas," pointed out my mother, regarding my brand-new pride and joy with suspicion. One one level, this is not true... I also threw a Ducati ST3 down the runway at Bruntingthorpe in 2004 and lobbed an innocent BMW F650GS down a hill at the Off-Road Skills centre in Wales in 2011. But as those weren't on the public highway, they don't count as crashes... they were merely "incidents".
Still, the ones that did count were all courtesy of the Big H: 1990, Honda CB250RS, London, broken scaphoid (one pin); 2006, Honda CBF1000, Lincolnshire, tibia and fibia (14 pins, plates and rods), radius (12 pins and plates), two ribs, one finger; 2019, Honda CRF1000 Africa Twin, South Africa, three toes, shoulder blade, 16 ribs (including a flail chest) and a punctured lung.
But I'm not superstitious. That's why I've just stopped at my parents' on the way home from picking up my new Honda CrossTourer from Lings in Harleston. Though I had hoped for a slightly more enthusiastic reception for the new steed, to be honest.
So why this bike? Well, I'd been considering a new one for a while – mostly since Bruce Smart had me appear on his BruTime podcast. If I'm honest, that got me thinking about BMW R1200GS Adventures – and I was looking at a used one on the Lings website when I saw the CrossTourer. Brand-new. Fully loaded. Less money than a second-hand GS-A that didn't have luggage. And basically £100 a month on PCP.
Now, I love my Kawasaki Z1000SX. It's taken me all across America and Australia. It's a brilliant, involving machine and loaded with memories. It also has more than 40,000 miles on the clock (not to shabby for a three-year-old sports tourer) but as it's has just had its second major service and second chain, it's sweet as a nut. The run to Scotland with my girlfriend Ali on the back confirmed that. But it also confirmed that, for two people, it leaves a lot to be desired on the comfort front...
When we were in Scotland, I borrowed my friend Dave's BMW R1200GS Adventure and took Ali up the beeftub (it's a local landmark...) to see what she thought of it. To my surprise and Dave's horror, she wasn't all that impressed. "Not as exciting as the Zed," she said. So that's why, when I was browsing, the CrossTourer caught my eye. No, wait, I can explain...
I know this bike pretty well. I did the original launch in 2012. I had the full Honda technical briefing and even quizzed project leader Yosuke Hasegawa about it over lunch. I've done a couple of road tests with it over the years and – yes, alright, GS owners – I know it's not as great a bike as the BMW. But I'll always I remember riding it with super-experienced road tester JP and he made it his bike of the test – ahead of the twin-cam, air-cooled 2012 GS and the then-new Triumph Explorer: "For sitting on fast A-roads, it's the pick of the bunch," he said (or something like that). Which realistically is 90% or my riding.
Even riding it home from Lings did confirm that my three initial criticism of it still hold true: it's too heavy; the rear shock is too soft and underdamped; and the styling isn't sufficiently differentiated from the rest of the family for what's supposed to be the premium model... When a friend honestly posted "Is that the 500?" under my pic on Facebook, it stung me – damn I hate being right, eight years down the line.
But the things I've always liked about the bike remain as true as ever. Mostly, that V4 engine is a smooth and civilised brute, like Tyson Fury in a dinner jacket. It's an absolute joy to use and I love the sound of it: a flat, muted drone like a polite Lancaster bomber. The riding position is superb, the steering nimble and precise – especially with an extra turn of preload on each fork and half a click of compression (why couldn't the rear suspension be of the same quality as the forks?).
Still, having picked it up on a Friday gave me the weekend to get to grips with it properly again – while running-in. Though the Honda running-in guidance is the second-best in the world: "avoid full-throttle starts and hard acceleration; avoid hard braking and rapid downshifts; ride conservatively" for 300 miles. That's me anyway, most of the time. What? Oh, the best running-in guidance was for that Ducati ST3: "ride in a mountainous area..."
Anyway, running-in was all the excuse I needed for a spin with my pal Ian on Saturday, basically riding a section of the East Coast Tour I've just added to the Daytrips page. Great twisting B-roads through the heart of Breckland and out to the North Norfolk coast. I filled up in Sheringham with 170 miles on the clock, then worked my along the coast through Stiffkey and Blakeney on the A149 – which can, it's true, be busy with holidaymakers in some places, but is pretty enough to make it worthwhile. The route peeled off through Burnham (apparently holding bad-parking competition for Range Rover Evoques) and then I cut inland towards Ali's house.
Next day, the real test: would Ali enjoy it? We set off on a run through Suffolk and into Essex, with everything from bumpy single-track roads (not the Honda's best area) to wide, swooping and fast A-roads (definitely its happy place). There's not quite so much space as on a GS-A, so the pillion feels more connected to the rider, but there is an equally comfy seat and just as much leg room. The verdict: "I could sit on that all the way to the Alps – it's so comfy." Yes, but is it enjoyable? "It's not as involving as the SX... but it's much better than the GS."
So that's a result. Now to get it serviced and hope that the quarantine rules change to allow that trip to the Alps in September.