I had already ordered a Powerbronze touring screen and handguards. That’s how close I came to buying a Honda VFR800X Crossrunner recently. But in the final moments – no doubt to the supreme annoyance of Thunder Road Cwmbran – I decided to walk away. Motorcycles are emotional things and in this case the emotion wasn’t right.
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Rewind to earlier this year, when my wife and I decided we wanted to move back to our old stomping grounds of Penarth and, in particular, the little one-bedroom we flat own, which we had been renting out whilst renting a larger home several miles away. That’s not a terribly clever way to live, we had decided. Whatever money we’ve gained in renting our property has been lost in paying to live in someone else’s property.
The drawback to this financially intelligent plan, however, is that our flat does not have a garage. It has a shed, but access to it is limited – via an opening in a brick wall* that is simply too narrow for my 2017 Triumph Tiger Explorer XRX. Always one to turn lemons into lemonade, I decided the best course of action was to buy a new bike.
The ensuing article I wrote asking for advice on exactly which bike to choose turned out to be one of most popular in TMO history, with a lot of people offering a lot of really good suggestions. I took a number of them to heart and three in particular have driven the story of the VFR800X That Almost Was.
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The first such comment was came from Keith Ayris, who said simply: “Chris, have you tried a Honda VFR800X Crossrunner? Yes, I know it’s not laden with all the latest electronics but it has what you need.”
I had to admit I had not tried it. I had not even considered it. Its dimensions were more or less in line with the sort of thing I was looking for, though, and, you know, it’s a Honda; I’m a quiet fan of the brand. I decided I owed it to myself to set up a test ride, if not simply to be able to say for certain I had no interest in it.
The folks at Thunder Road in Cwmbran, north of Newport (a city whose Welsh name, Casnewydd, literally translates to “new hate”), were happy to oblige my request to spend time with the bike.
And I was eager to do so. If you happen to live inside my head you will know I’ve long held a lukewarm attitude toward the Thunder Road chain, having been unimpressed by the way I was treated at the Bridgend location several years ago (Thunder Road has three locations: Bridgend, Cwmbran, and Gloucester). They weren’t overly negative experiences (I gave them more than one chance to impress) but they were notably disappointing in light of treatment I’ve received at other dealerships. Ultimately, I decided that because there were more friendly places to go I simply wouldn’t deal with them anymore, and up until the second week of January I had not set foot in a Thunder Road location for more than five years – even going so far as to travel 50 miles to get my Honda CBF600SA and subsequent Suzuki V-Strom 1000 serviced at Fowlers of Bristol.
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I hold grudges for a long time, y’all – no matter how silly and ill-founded they may be. And I probably would have held this one for life had Thunder Road not recently become an official Indian Motorcycle dealership.
“Wait, Chris,” you may be saying. “I thought this was a story about almost buying the VFR800X. If you’re going to a dealership that sells the FTR 1200 that you love so much, why isn’t this a story about your buying an FTR 1200? Oooooh, wait… Is it a story about your buying the FTR 1200?! Awesome! Tell me all about it!”
No. It is not that story. We’ll talk about the FTR 1200 later. For now, let’s focus on the VFR800X, which I wanted to ride because it’s a bike I had not ridden before, with an engine configuration – V4 – I had not experienced before, and because it was potentially a way to start changing my attitude toward a dealership that I will probably want to be dealing with at some point because they sell my favorite brand.
Anyway, I rode the VFR800X and it is swell. I didn’t jizz my pants or anything but it is a solid machine. Considering everything I’ve heard about the Ducati V4 Panigale and Aprilia Tuono V4, I had been expecting the VFR800X would be a little bit batshit crazy. It isn’t. To me, the engine feels like the 900cc parallel twin that powers Triumph’s Street Twin. Thoroughly enjoyable, but definitely not batshit crazy. Or, really, any kind of shit crazy.
It weighs markedly more than others in its class but that weight is low and centered. With 100 horsepower, three-level traction control, reasonable weather protection, and heated grips as standard, it would definitely be a good choice when trying to meet my two primary demands of being good at commuting and long-distance touring.
Note my lack of superlatives, however. It’s a good bike. I would not be unhappy with it. But it did not make me swoon; in two hours of test riding the thing I did not giggle once.
The trade price that Thunder Road offered for my Tiger Explorer, however, felt near impossible to resist. Less than two years into a three-year PCP deal on that bike, I am still a little upside down in the loan. Things will level out with time but at present most dealerships have made offers that would leave me forking out several hundred pounds to get out of the hole (The worst was Destination Triumph in Fareham, who tried to lowball me by £1,000). Not so with Thunder Road.
I did a calculation of yearly running and maintenance costs; the VFR800X definitely came out ahead against the Triumph. It was a bike that would fit in my garden and would cost less in the long run. A good bike. A reliable bike. A durable bike. A bike that would almost certainly be performing as well 25 years from now as it does today. I decided to take the plunge and buy one.
SOMEWHAT RELEVANT: Why I May Not Be a Moto-Journalist
But, now, let’s go back to those other bits of advice you guys gave me.
“I’m not completely sure how I’d peg your ‘flavor’ of motorcycle,” wrote MotoADVR. “I suspect the bike that you’ll find the most fulfilling is the one with the powerplant you like the most… the bike that touches your soul is the one you need to buy.”
I had decided that I wanted a black VFR800X, rather than the red one that was at Thunder Road, so they had to get it ordered in. And that resulted in my having two weeks to ruminate on my decision. Two weeks to think about the advice of MotoADVR and Michael Conchscooter. Two weeks to think about the very similar advice I would give someone in a similar position. Two weeks to think about the unknowns of the FTR 1200. Two weeks to consider all the things I like about my Tiger Explorer. Two weeks to search for a garage to rent in Penarth. Two weeks to consider the upfront financial challenges that getting the VFR800X would bring.
The bike that touches your soul is the one you need to buy.–MotoADVR
On the night before I was set to go pick up the VFR800X, handing over the keys and signing all the paperwork, I woke up at 2:48 am and found myself shaking with nerves.
“THIS IS A BAD CALL,” said the voice of my soul. “DO NOT DO THIS.”
At 5 am I wrote an email to Thunder Road, letting them know I was pulling out of the deal. I suspect that when they saw that email they wanted to throw me around the room, but that was certainly not the impression given when they called to follow up. Courteous, professional and understanding, they came back with some amazing voodoo math that brought down the upfront cost considerably. I mean, considerably. I mean, if you are thinking of buying a bike, go to Thunder Road and watch them work their magic according to what you want to pay.
However, this particular magic would have effectively locked me into ownership for four years (unless I wanted another upside down loan situation). Considering my proclivity for switching bikes every two years it seemed foolish. Besides, my mind was made up; I needed to listen more to my heart.
So, for the time being, I will be sticking with my Tiger Explorer, paying an exorbitant monthly fee to park it in an unheated garage a quarter-mile from my flat. It’s not a perfect solution, but I’ll admit that as soon as I decided upon it I felt a weight had been lifted.
So, What About Those Other Bikes?
Having opened my mind to the idea of getting a new bike, I feel it’s likely that I will still do so at some point this year. Maybe.
Most of the bikes I was considering before remain on my wish list, save one. You may remember those bikes were: BMW R nineT Pure, Honda CBR650F, Indian FTR 1200 S, Kawasaki Z1000SX, Triumph Tiger Sport, and Yamaha Tracer 900 GT.
The Tracer 900 GT is off my list. There’s a lot of bike for your money but I’ve never been hot on the look of the thing and I’ve completely gone off it after reading that Bike Magazine saw issues with fit and finish on its long-term Tracer 900 (Dec. 2018 issue) despite riding it primarily during the driest British summer in several decades. Nope.
The Honda CBR650F is probably off the list, too. Fantastic bike, but just a bit too small for a fella who’s 6 feet 1 inch tall.
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The idea of building the R nineT of my dreams remains strong, though I have realized its massive engine is in itself too large (or too close to ‘too large’ to be comfortable) to fit through my garden gate. If I followed this route I’d have to keep hold of the rented garage. I’d also have to travel to Bristol to get the bike serviced, as Cardiff’s BMW dealership went poof at the end of last year. Still, the thought of that stupid/wonderful boxer twin makes me willing to suffer compromises.
The thought of what I am hoping/expecting to be the stupid/wonderful experience of the Indian FTR 1200’s V-twin keeps that one very much in play, too. It’s not in dealerships yet and I’m not exactly sure when it will be. I’d also be a teency bit skittish about being one of the very first owners. I can’t think of any manufacturer that gets bikes exactly right on the first try. It’s usually a good idea to wait a year or so to let other people discover that, hey, the mirrors aren’t great or the engine mapping is wrong or the fancy TFT screen is shite. But, oh, how I love that bike. We’ll see how I feel about it after I’ve had a chance to actually ride it.
The Triumph Tiger Sport is perfect but for the fact it has 2000-and-late styling and costs £1,000 too much for a bike that is middle-of-the-pack in terms of tech and performance, and is so obviously going to be scrapped from Triumph’s line-up soon. If the price drops or an interest-free finance deal comes up, however, I’ll probably bite.
That’s assuming I don’t fall in love with the Kawasaki Z1000SX. I can’t explain why, but I really love the look of it. I have yet to do a solid test ride on the thing, though, so it’s very much an unknown. Looks amazing on paper, but may be terrible (for me) in application (I have a cynical suspicion that it is).
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With the idea of a garage as part of my daydream, my mind wanders to thoughts of other, bigger bikes. The KTM 1090 Adventure, for example, or waiting to see what the Harley-Davidson Pan America is like (I’m guessing we’ll see the thing in the flesh for the first time at EICMA in November). I haven’t forgotten how much I loved the Ducati Multistrada 950. And there’s always the thought that I should finally give in and get the bike that my heart and mind often seem to be circling around: the BMW R 1250 GS.
As mentioned recently, there are weird moments when I pine for my old V-Strom 1000. I have to admit that such thoughts are pretty conditional – depending very much on Suzuki making the bike appealing via incentives – and still unlikely to come to fruition. As RideApart head honcho Jason Marker said on TMO’s Facebook page: “DON’T DO IT! You’re still young and have so much to live for!”
An alternative daydream is trying to turn something I love into a pack mule. Similar to the idea of blinging a BMW R nineT with accessories I have this Mad Max-like vision of a Harley-Davidson Fat Bob with aluminum panniers and handguards. That would be all kinds of stupid/wonderful, which may, in fact, really be what I need.
*I always feel it’s important to point out that we are dealing with an 8-feet-high brick wall here, since a lot of people suggest that I simply widen the access space. That could theoretically be done but it would be difficult and very expensive.