Our original first ride report fell foul of a retro-active embargo, but that ended today, so (once again) here’s Costa Mouzouris’ first ride impression of Honda’s VFR1200F.
PREFACE – sport bike or sport tourer?
Well, response to our riding impression of the new VFR1200F, originally posted last week (and included below), has been overwhelming.
Probably the biggest controversy about what I had written was that I compared the new Honda to sport touring bikes currently available in Canada.
Journalists, as well as motorcycle enthusiasts, were quick to challenge my comparison, claiming the new VFR is closer to bikes like the K1300S, ZX-14, Hayabusa and the CBR1100XX.
Well, I didn’t make my assumption based on hot air; I actually looked at the spec sheets of all those bikes, as well as actually riding the bike (albeit briefly) before making my assessment. Let me state my case:
The new VFR claims a wet weight of 267 kg. Lightest to heaviest of the sport-touring bikes, weights are as follows: K1300GT: 288 kg; FJR1300: 291 kg; Concours 14: 304 kg. The sportier bikes in the mix follow at: K1300S: 254 kg; ZX-14: 257 kg; Hayabusa: 260 kg.
At 267 kg, the VFR falls right in between the sport bikes and the sport touring bikes. Add about 9 kg for the saddlebags, and the auto-shift transmission reportedly adds another 9 kg, which would put the VFR at 285 kg, right in the midst of the sport tourers.
Wheelbase was also a factor in my decision — usually, the longer it is the less sporty the machine. The VFR’s 1,545 mm wheelbase compares favourably to the 1,520 mm of the Concours 14 and is the same as the 1,545 mm of the FJR1300. Compare that to the 1,460 and 1,480 mm of the ZX-14 and Hayabusa, respectively. It’s actually closer to the K1300GT’s 1,572 mm than it is to the S-model’s 1,585 mm.
Steering geometry is also closer to the sport-touring bikes than the sport bikes, and I also took into account the fact that the VFR has integrated saddlebag mounts and available styled-to-match luggage, not generically styled items like those available from the aftermarket for sport bikes.
And its new auto-shift gearbox is closer in function, at least in semi-auto-shift mode, to the Yamaha FJR’s gearbox than to any other motorcycle currently available.
As responsible journalists we try to assess a machine as accurately and truthfully as possible — heck, we can compare the new VFR1200F to a camel — but in the end it’s the consumer, the one who sees the bike in person and is either awed by it or completely turned off by it, who makes the ultimate critique by either leaving the showroom floor riding it, or moving on to something else.
Okay, I rest my case, for those who missed it the first time around, here’s my initial ride impression of the VFR1200F.
THE ORIGINAL RIDE REPORT
The new VFR1200F has barely finished making the rounds on the internet, and we’ve already had a chance to ride it, courtesy of Honda Canada.
Alright, the ride was brief, about 20 minutes, so my riding impression is limited, but enough came through on this new machine that I thought CMG readers would find of interest.
The bike will undoubtedly be compared to other big-bore sport touring machines, namely the BMW K1300GT, the Yamaha FJR1300 and the Kawasaki Concours 14.
Physically, the bike feels slimmer and lighter than those bikes, and it is lighter according to its spec sheet, which puts its wet weight 21 kg lighter than the next lightest bike in that group, the K1300GT.
It seems that most enthusiasts, be they current VFR fans or not, are not sure what to make of the bike’s styling. I say wait until you see the bike in person before making a snap judgment.
Fit and finish are impeccable, and the bike certainly looks quite sleek. The riding position is not as relaxed and upright as on the Honda ST1300; the bike was, after all, designed by an Italian for the European market. That said, the riding position is much closer to a grand-touring machine than that of a supersport.
The seat is wide and supportive, but more time in the saddle will reveal if the ergonomics can sustain long-distance travel.
Honda has gone to lengths to make the engine narrow at the rear so that the frame can also be narrow at the rider’s inseam, and if memory serves me right the bike is indeed narrower than at least the FJR and the Concours 14, and reach to the ground will be easy for average sized riders.
The fairing is unique in that it is a layered design claimed to manage airflow for improved engine heat control, aerodynamics, high-speed stability and rider comfort. That’s a tall order, and unfortunately, my ride wasn’t long enough to reap these benefits.
The engine, which is really the focal point of this machine, is remarkably torquey and very powerful. Throttle response is instantaneous but easily manageable. I rolled on the throttle full from about 2,000 rpm in second gear, expecting to have my arms stretched straight, but was surprised to discover that the engine pulled in a subdued manner.
I asked Honda Canada’s Warren Milner if there was some kind of electronic intervention in the lower gears, like Kawasaki does with the ZX-14, and he said he wasn’t aware of such engine tuning but would look into it. Regardless, the engine is very manageable at low speeds.
Honda has done a remarkable job of controlling driveline lash, and rolling on and off the throttle is exceptionally smooth. As well, the gearbox on the manual-shift model we rode (the auto-shift will be coming to Canada, but later in the year) was light-shifting, precise and quiet.
Also, the new drive shaft system, which locates the transmission output shaft below the swingarm pivot to reduce driveshaft jacking, works as claimed, with no noticeable hopping or squatting.
The engine’s 76-degree V angle, the first time Honda has deviated from using a 90-degree V-four design, uses offset crankpins to reduce vibration without the use of a counterbalancer. Honda claims engineers deliberately let some vibration get through to enhance the riding experience, and the engine is quite smooth, with only some unobtrusive, throbbing vibration letting you know what the engine is doing.
One thing Honda has been working up in its marketing hype is the new bike’s unique sound, which Honda claims produces a “fantastically stirring note”. The bike does have a unique sound, partially due to its unusual firing order, but also due to the exhaust system.
The muffler uses a servo-operated valve to quell noise at low rpm that opens at higher rpm to unleash “a truly inspiring, hard-edged V4 howl to stir the emotions”.
Admittedly, I found the sound at idle about as inspiring as a toddler banging on a bongo that has a loose-fitting drumhead. The sound was offbeat and flat. However, once the engine revved, that rich, distinctive V-four drone, which has become a Honda hallmark of sorts, tickled the eardrums.
Oddly, the machine emitted a low-pitched mechanical whirr on take-off and acceleration from low speeds, but it was not intrusive and quite agreeable.
Honda has yet to set Canadian pricing, though Milner hinted it would be in the high teens to low 20s. That puts it on par with its three main competitors, though those machines include saddlebags, items that will be offered as accessories on the VFR.
We’ll have pricing info as soon as it’s released, and we’ll keep hounding Honda to let us have it for a somewhat more complete ride before the snow falls!