Honda’s VFR750/800 series is a bargain hunter’s dream; bulletproof engines in a chassis that’s built to last, no matter how many miles you rack up.
It’s also a comfortable bike, even two-up and offers every chance of an excellent trade-in value when you are ready for a change.
Motorcycling’s Mr Perfect began life as a sports machine back in 1986, when Ron Haslam took third place at Donington in a rain lashed Transatlantic Challenge race. But although the first VFR750 was respectably quick, it was no match for the GSXR750 Suzuki, or Kawasaki GPz750 when it came to UK sales, despite having gear driven cams to soothe punters worries after Honda’s chocolate camchain fiascos of the early `80s.
So the VFR750 evolved into an all rounder instead, gaining weight, as wellas a single sided swingarm with its first makeover in `89, then a nice set of fairing louvres from 1994 onwards. Along the development road, the engine became quieter, more economical, smoother running and torquier in its midrange.
The chassis also possessed that elusive quality; stability at all speeds. Better tyres, bigger brakes, comfier saddles and higher fairing screens all add up to make the late model 1994-98 VFR750 the ultimate sports-tourer. It’s as well made as a Swiss Rolex too.
In the beginning, there was the Honda VF750 cruiser, a gaudy, lardbucket ‘streetrod’ designed for Americans who thought digital instrument pods were cool back in 1982. It was joined by the VF750S in Europe a year later and despite rave reviews in the biking press, both bikes soon displayed the same tendency to chew up and spit out most of their camchains and camshafts. All this put customers off Honda’s entire range of V-Twin and V-Four models, so by 1986, it was make or break time for the whole concept…maybe even the company. The VFR750 simply had to be totally, utterly, reliable.
That’s why Honda created a motorcycling masterpiece.
The early FG to FK models cover three years where the bike masqueraded as a full blooded sportsbike, with the illusion bolstered initially in the UK by Ron Haslam grabbing a third place in a wet 1986 Transatlantic round at Donington Park. There were three colour options, with navy blue, black and a sort of XR3 diamond white, all failing to grab 80s biker’s attention. Mysteriously, the VFR750 languished in the UK sales charts in the mid 80s, trounced by the Firecracker red GPz750 Kwackers and the balls-out GSXR750 Suzuki’s. Even then, the VFR750 was too smooth, too composed at speed, to convince the true sportsbike hooligan that this was the wild and crazy bike of their dreams.
The early VFR models however are light, compact and easy to ride, especially in town, where the punchy motor, quick 16 inch front wheel steering and low seat height make it a commuter’s friend. It isn’t so stable at speed as later models, where the sheer age of the bike is as likely to get you into trouble as any inherent design faults. The spindly 37mm front forks for example on FG-FK VFR750s, are very scary when you hit the brakes. Which are also pretty feeble items by modern standards.
Things to watch out for are worn linkages on the Pro-Link shock at the back, which is bound to suffer on a 12-14 year old bike, worn brake discs (grip the disc between thumb and forefinger then pull along to the edge – if you feel a kind of fat lip on the disc, it’s had it) and gummed up carbs on VFRs that have been stored, or just not serviced properly. Because of the engine’s layout, the hard-to-reach carbs get neglected easily.
In used bike adverts, the word `stored’ is often a euphemism for ‘abandoned in a shed for two years after the nipper was born,’ so take care if you’re shopping at the bargain basement end of market – any VFR750 at under two grand is likely to need some expensive fettling to restore its true ability.
The FG-FK range can also sound noisy at the top end, but this is a common trait on the early VFRs, and later bikes had re-designed cam gear trains to make things a bit quieter. Basically a regular rhythm of whirring and clicking noises from the top of the engine isn’t something to worry about on 1986-89 bikes. But any sort of knocking noise is, so listen close, with the engine starting from cold.
Another point to look out for is the exhaust, which is a convoluted thing winding its way around the four pots and not readily available as an aftermarket replacement from many suppliers. Honda will charge you around £100 per downpipe, plus £147.85 per silencer, making a total of £695.70 if the whole system has rotted.
Ouch. Dave Silver spares – a Honda specialist, do pattern silencers and VFR750 downpipes start at just £25 plus VAT, so maybe they’re worth a call.
For the start of the 1990s, the VFR got a much needed makeover, with the main difference being the addition of the Pro-Arm, or single sided swinging arm at the back. This was supposedly another spin-off from the V4 powered RC30 racing bikes, but the VFR750 had gained another 30lbs of dry weight and got a more rounded, almost touring look to it. The Honda V4 now had a quieter, more refined engine, with an alleged extra 15bhp and breathing through bigger, 36mm carbs, but it wasn’t any faster thanks to extra weight and a wider, higher bodyshape pushing through the air at 100mph+. All that tinkering made it a much more comfortable bike however and anyone over 5ft 10in will definitely prefer later VFR models.
There was also a major re-design of the chassis. Starting with the wheels, which were now both six spoke cast 17 inches, rather than the three spoke 16 in front/18 in rear combination on the first models. They also carried fatter tyres.
The forks got 2mm thicker and the steering head angle steeper, but still at a stable 26 degrees. The frame was also an all new concoction of aluminium alloy, as fixing that huge Pro-Arm on the back of it obviously altered the sort of stresses and loadings it would have to cope with.
There were also much improved brakes on the front, with disc sizes jumping up from 276mm to 296mm, with better ceramic backed pads grabbing them in the four pot Nissin calipers. The whole thing handled differently, although some riders actually prefer the quicker steering characteristics of the early VFRs. But the FL to FP models are undeniably easy bikes to ride, a real lazy man’s sports-tourer.
The third generation of VFR750 models saw even more evolutionary improvements, with a host of detail changes each year spanning 1994-97.
By the early 1990s, the VFR was firmly established as the top selling 750 bike in the UK and Honda wanted to keep it that way. Older bikers were snapping up the model as it offered a subtle balance of speed, comfort and reliability, yet Honda sought to `jazz up’ the overall image of the bike, to get younger customers interested.
The ’louvre door’ slats in the fairing may seem naff now, but they were cool back in 1994 and the pillion seat cowl allowed you to look like a bit of a boy racer. The VFR still had the handy grab handles at the back however, for sensible touring.
Improvements on the FR-FV models included new, multi adjustable front forks, yet another new frame, plus tweaked monoshock, a bigger fuel tank and lighter wheels to shave off some excess pounds in dry weight. By this time, the VFR had dropped back to a claimed 460lbs dry, which was still some 20lbs heavier than the original model, but that Pro-Arm rear is a hefty bit of metal.
The Mk 3 VFR750 was perhaps the most neutral steering, pleasant handling bike of the mid 1990s, and as such, inspired many other manufacturers to design motorcycles that matched, or tried to beat it. It also has dynamite brakes and a reputation for durability in its overall finish that makes the model a top price PX machine in the UK bike trade.
A beautifully balanced motorcycle that makes you feel good wherever you ride it. Everyone should own a VFR750 at least once in their biking lifetime.
Another major change came in 1998, with the introduction of the VFR800i – the little letter i standing for fuel injection. This totally transformed the characteristics of the bike, making it a revvier, smoother bike altogether. Yes, I know that sounds hard to believe if you’ve ridden older VFR750s, but it’s true.
A completely new fairing not only gave the bike a sharp, angular sort of profile, but also sliced through the wind better, raising the top speed by about ten miles an hour and increasing rider comfort. The saddle got softer, while the brakes gained the CBS linking system beloved by Honda. This brings on the back brake when the front is operated, and vice versa. Not my favourite idea in the wet, but it works unobtrusively once you make a mental note of it.
Yet again, a new chassis and engine had been blended into near perfection. Honda claimed that a basic version of the RC45 racer now graced the VFR800, although at 781cc surely that would have made it ineligible to actually race?
Whatever. In any case the new engine breathed deeper and responded much sharper to throttle movements via the new digitally controlled, fuel injection system, giving a much punchier feel to the bike when you gave it a handful. It was also more economical, easily returning 50mpg on boring motorway jaunts.
The revised frame still had the engine hanging from twin alloy spars, but also featured the single sided swingarm attached directly to the back of the engine, rather than the frame itself. Novel stuff, which shortens wheelbases and gives quicker steering characteristics, but the essential stability and predictability that VFR750 buyers loved in the bike’s handling remained pretty much unchanged. Again, just damn easy to ride.
The price cut in response to parallel imports brought used VFR750 and early 800i models down a few hundred quid, but there’s still so much demand (over 3,000 new VFR800s were sold in 1998) that used injection models will fetch close to new prices without too much effort. Hard to buy a wrong `un privately, unless it’s been nicked, but always check paperwork thoroughly before parting with a large wad.
Although the injected 800 is the best, there’s little wrong with the older 1994-98 VFR750s as used buys. They are generally owned by older, wealthier types, who cherish every mile on their machines. That’s always the sort of bloke you want to buy a used bike from, but as ever, shop around.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda vfr 750 800.
Engine……….Vee format, 90 degrees, DOHC, four cylinder, 4 stroke, liquid cooled, cc 781
Claimed power (bhp)……….108bhp @ 10,500rpm
Front wheel……….3.50 x 17in; cast aluminium
Rear wheel……….5.50 x 17in; cast aluminium
Front suspension……….41mm telescopic fork, 120mm travel, adjustments for preload
Rear suspension……….One damper, 120mm wheel travel, adjustments for preload and rebound damping
Front brake……….2, three-piston Nissin calipers, 296mm discs with Dual CBS linked system
Rear brake……….Three-piston Nissin caliper, 256mm disc with Dual CBS
Fuel capacity……….21 litres