|Gotta love a long, dry track in the warm January Texas sun! Oh, but wait a minute. That VFR looks like it’s been dumped on one side! Oh, and the yellow gloves are sure to piss off our art-boy, Mr. Seck.|
January is traditionally the month of the Honda Canada Press Launch, and this year it took a welcome break from its Georgia location (it’s just so flat … and I hate to eat Grits). So. off we were to Fort Worth, Texas, to their base for this year’s four day event.
Unfortunately, last minute problems at Honda meant that only one VFR800A was available for testing (with a request from Honda officials to PLEASE not damage it – at least until the last day). This meant that our time on the bike was severely limited, but with some road and track time it would be sufficient to allow us to form a good first impression – although we hope to get it again during the summer for some decent touring.
Although this was not an ideal situation for such an important model introduction, hats off to Honda for making the effort annually to do a solely Canadian launch (the only company to do so), AND for inviting CMG along (only BMW and Kawasaki give us the same recognition).
While in Texas we also took a ride on the new CBR954RR and CB900F, which we will be covering in detail in a couple of weeks. So without further ado, let’s take a gander at the new VFR …
VFR800 – ADDING PERSONALITY
|The final design sketches.|
I have to admit that I’ve always been fond of the VFR but it never really inspired me enough to think that I actually might one day like to buy one, mainly thanks to a shortage in its character department. Enter stage left, Honda’s V-TEC system. Confusingly, it’s not the same system as can be found on some of their cars (see sidebar link below), but it does add a much needed injection of engine character, especially when it cuts from an 8 valve to a 16 valve motor at 7,000rpm!
Apparently, the VFR is a bigger seller in Europe than most anywhere else. With that in mind, Honda decided to give the job of the styling redesign to their Frankfurt (that’s in Germany) studio, ensuring a European bent. What they did with it is give the whole thing a “V” theme, thanks to the VFR’s trademark v-four motor. We also suspect that at least one of the team rode an Aprilia Futura and BMW, although Honda are quick to deny the link.
Whether you like the new styling or not, it’s definitely moved the VFR away from any accusation of blandness in that regard, with a more aggressive forward stance and sharper lines. And that’s exactly what Honda wanted to establish – a more pissed-off VFR.
By sweeping the mufflers high up and under the seat at the back, they’ve also not only exposed the pure sexiness of the single sided swingarm, but allowed for the fitment of a pair of hard bags (made by Givi and available as an option) – something that the VFR has been begging for for a long while.
Thankfully, they’ve also managed to retain the friendly sports-touring ergonomics in the process. The saddle is still relatively tall (809mm), well padded, with a goodly amount of space for yer legs, arse and near perfect slight lean forward to the bars. It’s the kind of stance that allows you to tour all day, or tuck in and get fruity through the next set of curves.
Unfortunately, I had so little time with the beast, I was a little undecided about the bar’s angle, and how they would feel after a day’s ride. However, they appear to hold position by just being clamped to the fork tops, so a loosening of a couple of bolts should allow for some repositioning.
Personally, I still find it one of the best fits in motorcycling.
EQUINE BY NATURE
|The road went nowhere, but it was all curves ..|
The first time up on the VFR I took it down a remote Texas side road to nowhere, but with a mass of curves and elevation changes for its ten miles of fun. The VFR is instantly agreeable. Okay, so was the last model, but now she’s got a much deeper personality. Frankly, if this bike were a woman, I’d marry her (of course, knowing my luck, she’d probably morph into a Buell within the year).
Honda claim to have taken a step back in their ethos of smooth and seamless engineering, and instead make their trickery more noticeable – something which they hope will restore an edge of personality to their bikes. In the VFR’s case, this takes the form of adding V-TEC to their motor.
To ride the bike is akin to the analogy of riding a horse – albeit oft overused. Although there’s not much going on below the 3,000rpm mark, holding it between there and 4,000 and you’re definitely in trotting mode. As a result, it’ll only pull from 3,000 in top gear, where the motor will drum along in an almost civilised manner. Take it above 4,000 and up to 7,000 and you’re entering a canter, ideal for a lazy roll through some twisties, or eating up the miles on the highway.
Things change dramatically once you hit 7,000 when the V-TEC engages all sixteen valves. There’s a noticeable jolt in the power delivery and change in tone (from pant to growl) via the pipes and motor. It’s reminiscent of a power band spike in an old two stroke, only not as wild. It’s as if you just kicked your heels in and the thing’s suddenly starting to gallop. It’s time to have fun – time to tuck in, time to ‘get down and boogie’.
And the VFR adopts the sporty character very nicely. The chassis is taut and the suspension absorbs the ruts and cattle grids without getting upset. There’s even a BMW style large knob by the rhs passenger footpeg, for easy adjustment of rear preload. The spacious seating makes it easy to slide a cheek off, poke a knee out and scratch it through the corners, swinging over from side to side as you navigate a series of s-bends. The trick I found, was to keep it around the 6,500 mark mid corner, so that you can get the V-TEC growl shooting out of the exit.
|Braking’s so civilised you only need one hand.|
PULLING BACK THE REINS
For 2002, the VFR comes in standard or ABS (antilock brakes) formats. The ABS one is signified by the letter “A” after the title, and the one that we had in Texas. However, there’s also Honda’s linked braking system so you end up with a lot of sophistication when it comes to trying to slow you down.
In practice, the stoppers work pretty well. They’re not as fierce as the 954RRs, requiring a harder and sooner squeeze if you need to scrub off a lot of speed in a short time. However, what they do have over the sportier brakes is an air of civilisation. There’s a wider range of braking, combined with the linked brakes, resulting in a much reduced tendency to dive under hard stopping.
The ABS system is seamless, without the grab-and-release effect of other types. However, one journalist who took the time to try the brakes on a very wet track, did find that he could momentarily lock the front under hard braking before it would release-and-roll once more.
|Hitting redline on the straight|
Although a couple of days on the road probably tells you more real world stuff about the bike than a day on the track, a day on the track is just a shit load of fun. It also highlighted the VFR’s competence when it comes to testing out its sportier side.
Unfortunately, our first day of two at the track started with rain. The first riders out reported some extremely slippery sections, which just so happened to be the twistiest too, and all eyes were on the VFR.
I think it was the third session that saw the VFR limp back into the pits after a low side on one such corner. Mr. Bruce Reeve himself of Cycle Canada fame had managed to do the honours, the VFR surviving with only cosmetic damage down the lhs, whereas Bruce had some aching ribs and the look of a man that knows he’s about to get an onslaught of the verbal ribbing to boot.
I got the best of both worlds, with my session on the VFR starting after lunch – sunshine, a dry and grippy track, and the sacred virginal VFR already rogered by someone else. Life can be good.
Not surprisingly, most of the time on the track was spent in the above 7,000rpm range, where it screams around with a respectable sport bike like temperament. I also tended to hit the redline quite often, resulting in an intermittent misfire as the rev limiter cut in – normally just as I was sliding back on the seat, exiting a sweeping corner. I think this is more a problem of the rider riding it like it’s a revvy inline four, rather than a V-four. Again, more time would have been ideal.
Ultimately, on the track, the VFR has more of a feel of a good friend, working with you as a team, as opposed to something like the 954RR which, although extremely capable, always feels as though it could turn on you at the slightest rider error.
THE ULTIMATE VFR?
|Either way you slice it, you get a lot for relatively little $$$.|
Honda have done a lot with the new VFR and it’s all for the better. Small tweaks like the smoother shifting box with new gear ratios for greater acceleration. Faultless 12 hole fuel injectors, a cat in the exhaust (meow), combine with the V-TEC system to not only increase midrange torque, upper end power and add a good dose of character, but also increase fuel economy to boot.
Then there’s a revamped linked braking system with a lessened overall effect to placate the purist, yet maintain effect. A higher screen for improved wind protection (with an even larger optional one), six (yes six) bulbs in the headlight (two for low, four for high and two running lights), and a (claimed) much improved passenger seat. Wider and 15mm thicker, with large (removable) grips, plastic covers over the high pipes (to protect passenger legs) and lower pegs, Honda seem quite confident that the new VFR is certifiable passenger friendly. Oh, and let’s not forget the optional hard bags!
You’d think that all this technology demands proportionally more $$$. Surprisingly, the stock version is up only $200, but the ABS version does add a $1000 over the old model ($800 over the stock). Not too much when you consider that a Ducati ST4 is almost a whopping $10,000 more, and BMW’s R1100S comes in at almost $5000 extra!
Overall, the VFR may not be as sharp or as powerful as a 954RR, nor as luxurious as the 1800 Wing, but it’s a superb compromise that makes it possibly the best sports-tourer on the market today. I can’t remember the last time I seriously considered buying a new bike, nor had so much fun on one.
Keep ’em coming Mr. Honda.
Some additional detailed shots …
|VFR800A (ABS Version)||VFR800 (differences from A model shown)|
|V-4, DOHC, liquid cooled|
|PGM Fuel injection|
|Six speed, chain drive|
|Dual 296 mm discs with three-piston calipers and LBS-ABS||Not ABS|
|Single 256mm disc with three-piston caliper and LBS-ABS||Not ABS|
|809 mm (31.8″)|
|1456 mm (57.3″)|
|219 Kg (483 lbs) (claimed)||213 Kg (470 lbs) (claimed)|
|Red, Silver||Red, Black|