The word “smooth” is often used when describing Honda’s and the new VFR is no exception.
Honda’s VFR1200 has a lot to live up to. The original VFR750 of the mid 80s was acclaimed as the bike which saved Honda’s reputation, with its gear-driven cam engine, 140mph performance and sharp styling. The successive VFR750/800 machines have become the benchmark standard for sports-touring motorcycles since then.
But will the new VFR1200 put Honda back at the top of the tree? Alastair Walker took the new VFR1200F for a spin.
Insidebikes also asked three riders their opinions on the new VFR after a demo ride, at the Lancaster Honda VFR1200 launch weekend 2010.
First, let me declare an interest. I have owned two VFR Hondas, so I love the concept and the sheer grunt of the V4 motor. I also liked the quality of the older VFRs – after the 2000-02 series 800s, I personally think things went downhill, but the new 1200 looks beautifully put together. The paint shimmers, the switchgear feels as solid as the controls on a classic Porsche or Mercedes and that narrow seat, is actually very comfortable. OK, I only had an couple of hours on the bike but in that time, I felt like taking the VFR1200 to Scotland and spending a weekend just swinging its supple chassis through every empty road I could find. It is a brilliant, totally coherent motorcycle.
The word “smooth” is often used when describing Hondas and the new VFR is no exception. Power just builds gradually, there’s no step, no coughing fuel injection as on older Hondas like the ruined SP-1 for example. The VFR has a modern throttle, there’s no cable, just electrical impulses to the ECU (a bit like a Toyota), so it gathers speed without effort. You really don’t have to think about it and this is one bike which easily live without a rev counter. It just isn’t that sporty. Now for some, that might be a downside, and this bike is nothing like the old VFR750s, which tried to cover those two bases – sport biking and touring – and largely succeeded. This is a tourer, with a locomotive type of powertrain hustling it along.
That’s not to say the VFR1200 feels a bit unwieldy, like say the Pan-European, or perhaps the Yamaha FJR1300, which always felt kinda top heavy to me. A quick loop around Carnforth and I was onto the A65, heading to Devil’s Bridge and then down the Morecambe road. Plenty of corners, gravel, potholes, professional mothers in their 4X4 Sainsbury’s battlewagons…the VFR dealt with all those hazards with agility, responsive suspension and really sensitive brakes. I have a theory that many a “born again” biker comes to grief because they panic during a corner entry, or overtake, then grab the brakes that bit harder – they lose traction and that’s it, off. The VFR1200 has a linked braking system, so eight of the twelve pistons in the front caliper are used when you squeeze the lever – the rest join in if you tramp on the rear brake pedal as well. I had the chance to test the brakes as I came around a corner to discover someone doing a U-turn and I think I was more unsettled than the bike. Even on cold February roads, there was no drama.
That’s what people expect from a big Honda I guess. Composure, reliability. Boring features to some, but today’s motorcycle market is largely made up of fussy 50-something riders who value those qualities. Equally so, the level of rider comfort, which is excellent, on the VFR1200 and details like the rock steady mirrors, will all matter to those with nearly 12 grand to spend. Yes, the new bike is £11,600 on the road. Expensive.
Value for riders?
Here then is the central problem with the new VFR1200. It doesn’t offer a great deal of gadgets, luggage or knick-knacks for the serious touring rider. Every damn thing is extra and frightening expensive; £750 for panniers, another £500 for a top case. Crikey.
No heated grips as standard, no on-board computer that works out your fuel consumption, checks the temperature, warns you if its frosty/icy, tells you the service is due etc. You now get these types of electronic dashboards as standard on a seven grand Korean hatchback, it’s the sort of thing that the VFR should have. The model I tried did have the optional extra heated grips on, and they were superb. Compact control set on the left handlebar and really warmed rapidly.
I think Honda might argue that the fundamentals of the machine are well engineered and the bike is a major step forwards for the sports-touring class. In some ways it is. The shaft drive for example is the best I have ever experienced. Faultlessly smooth and you look at it closely and see an example of precision manufacturing – it extends as the suspension works harder, how cool is that?
The shaft drive, the cast wheels, the sheer sculpture of the VFR, is impressive because it shows an attention to detail. Like the little VFR styling indents set in the fairing, or the tiny running lights next to the indicators. The whole bike is obviously a flagship project for Honda. That’s good news, as I am sick of seeing bikes that have cheap bits and pieces sourced from China/Thailand/Taiwan slapped on them without shame. Does it matter that polished alloy, nuts and bolts and candy paint stays shiny over 5 years of ownership to you? It does to me, I want my motorcycle to look decent and have a chance of being taken in PX several years down the road – manufacturers like BMW have sold lots of bikes on the strength of their residual values in the last decade. It matters. Look at the way BMW owners are complaining now the German maker is using cheaper components.
Sorry to drone on, but I have to quickly mention the VFR’s exhaust. Yes, it is huge due to the catalyser inside, but it is also a work of art. Look at the way it curves and wraps itself close to the engine. Beautiful. The header pipes also have butterfly valves inside them to alter the pressure so that you get an optimum throttle response at high rpm. Someone did once explain to me how complicated it is to accurately manage gas flow in an engine which has a power band some 10,000rpm wide….but I fell asleep. All you need to know is that the technology inside new narrow angle Vee shaped motor makes it silky smooth (there’s that word again) in every aspect of its delivery. And there’s no V-TEC variable valve malarkey to go wonky – hurray.
You want flexibility, the VFR1200 has got it baby. I trickled the bike down to 15mph in 4th gear, then opened it up and let the torque do the work. Within five or six seconds I was glancing nervously at the speedo to see how many points I might get if a Police robot drone was filming me from the air. Don’t laugh by the way, that’s what the Police are planning to spy us all with by 2015 – and they’re going to flog the data to anyone who wants it, nice eh?
Yes, the new VFR1200 goes fast. How fast? I don’t know and frankly don’t care. It is easily rapid enough to keep up with your mates on their sportbikes if that type of thing bothers you and I guess you could scare a few people at a track day on it. The VFR1200 handles with an adroit, Olympic fencer’s touch, which is amazing for something that weighs 267Kgs dry – or 587lbs in imperial measurements. That is nearly as heavy as my old CBX1000 six cylinder monster. And that handled like John Prescott on a dessert trolley…
The fact is, the new VFR1200 can overcome the laws of physics and so anyone who does buy this bike thinking they can dice with accomplished riders on sportbikes will run of luck, sooner or later. It can hustle along much quicker than the average car driver, which is all you need in a big capacity motorcycle. I was content with the breathtaking acceleration of the new VFR1200 and surprised at how nimble it is, but I wouldn’t push it too hard. It isn’t that type of motorcycle.
Relax in an armchair
The riding position felt perfect. The tank is shaped just right, the saddle is narrow enough so that a short bloke like me can get his feet down firmly at junctions too. The only fault is the clutch which has a heavy action – in town my wrist muscles began to protest within minutes. The cooling fan came on whilst negotiating Lancaster’s busy February traffic too, despite Honda’s hi-tech fairing which apparently vents air especially towards the radiator to keep the motor cool.
It has a fairing which looks odd, but deflects the breeze away from the rider. You feel less strain, you enjoy the ride more and keep your concentration. It isn’t handsome, but it works in that respect.
Another minor glitch when riding in town is the new position for the indicators, which is low on the left-hand `bar cluster. There’s a big grey horn button where the indicators should be – I mean why change the biking habits of a lifetime? That switch should stay where it always is.
More serious a problem for touring riders is the fuel consumption – the V4 Honda engines like petrol, always have done, so I was surprised Honda didn’t make this VFR a genuine 50mpg average machine. On a 65 mile trip, at speeds between 30mph and 80mph-ish, I used half a tank of gas. Not good. Let’s be honest, motorcycle engines should be more fuel efficient. I am not the only one who thinks that 35-40mpg from a touring bike at a steady 75mph is rubbish frankly. My GS1000 could do that in 1980.
Here’s another thought; the EU will use that fuel greed to destroy motorcycling one day, purely on environmental grounds. Touring bikes should return over 50mpg by 2015 – anything less is unacceptable.
Alright then, enough nitpicking. But I only harp on a bit about gas-guzzling because otherwise it is hard to find fault with the new VFR1200 as a long distance machine. It is a touring masterpiece, just unfinished.
Yes, you guessed it; you need all the luggage and kit to go for three weeks travel to Austria and back, which will add another £1500-£1800 to the already steep asking price. But look at this way, Harley are asking nearly twenty grand for their Electra Glide these days and that rides like a BSA 650 twin compared to this Honda.
Everything in this life that is good, and truly well made, costs serious money. The VFR1200 makes you feel like you’re riding something special and other 12K motorcycles sometimes don’t have that aura about them.
For me, the rivals to the new VFR are machines like the BMW K1300S, the 1200 Multistrada and, dare I mention it, Honda’s own CBF1000 all-rounder. That basic CBF1000 comes with full luggage for under eight grand and apart from the mither of having chain drive, will tour as well as this VFR1200.
The new Ducati Multistrada by contrast is a hi-tech rival to the Honda VFR, which has more sporty performance but retails at £14,200. Ouch. The BMW is arguably the best value rival to the Honda; incredibly potent motor, decent handling, good residuals and an RRP of £10,600. But you need another £3000 to fit luggage, ABS and electronic suspension on it.
You can rule out bikes like the Morini Gran Passo, Guzzi Stelvio or Suzuki V-Strom. They aren’t in the same league in terms of quality, performance or residual value as the Honda VFR1200F, and never will be. They are competent touring machines though and the V-Strom is undeniably cheap. Does 47mpg too.
A wise BMW or Ducati buyer would perhaps wait for the inevitable collapse of the Euro at some point in the next year. This will happen because the debt problems of Greece, Spain and Portugal will not go away, in fact they will worsen with an EU-backed bail-out. So, when one of those bankrupt countries finally leaves the Euro, the currency itself will weaken dramatically. At that point European manufacturers will start offering discounts to sterling buyers, or reduce prices. (This is just my opinion, you shouldn’t start international currency dealing on my say so.)
The only question is, can you wait for that political crisis to unfold, or do you want a new sports-touring bike right now, for this Spring? If you do, the Honda is ready to roll. And you know what, it’s a damn good motorcycle.
Not perfect, but close.
Get Honda motorbike insurance for the honda vfr1200f 2010.
|Engine||Liquid-cooled 4-stroke SOHC 76° V-4|
|Bore and Stroke||81mmX60mm|
|Max Power||127kw @ 10,000 RPM|
|Max Torque||127nm @ 8,750|
|Fuel System||PGM-FI electronic fuel injection|
|Transmission||Constant mesh 6-speed, slipper clutch|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||18.5 litres|
|Chassis||Aluminium twin-spar frame|
|Suspension||Front: 43 mm cartridge-type telescopic fork with stepless preload adjustment, 120 mm axle travel. Rear: Pro-Link with gas-charged damper, 7-step (stepless remote-controlled hydraulic) preload and stepless rebound damping adjustment, 130 mm axle travel|
|Wheels||17in. Front: 5-spoke die cast aluminium. Rear: 7-spoke gravity die cast aluminium rear|
|Tyres||Front: 120/70 ZR17. Rear: 190/55 ZR17M/C|
|Brakes||Front: Twin 320 mm dual floating hydraulic disc, with two 6-piston calipers, ABS and sintered metal pads. Rear: 276 mm hydraulic disc with 6-piston caliper, ABS and sintered metal pads,|
|Servicing||8,000 or 12 months (whichever sooner)|
|Included extras||3 year AA roadside.|
|Optional extras||35-litre pannier kit, 31-litre top box, Nylon inner bags for the top box and panniers, 13-litre tank bag with a pre-set for easy installation, luxurious alcantara seat,
sporty 3-position adjustable add-on screen, Replacement lower seat, slim heated grips with an integrated controller, Sat-Nav with handlebar controls
|Test bike supplied by:||Lancaster Honda, White Lund Industrial Estate, Morecambe. www.lancaster-honda.co.uk|