I was riding with a group of acquaintances from work, and we were on a long straight stretch. Up in front was a car, then one of our group, then me, and then the rest behind; all sitting on about 110. Suddenly a blue streak appeared in my mirrors. One of our group, on a Honda VFR800, had pulled out and came flying past the whole lot, including the car up front. It was like we were standing still! Later, over coffee, he explained that he’d decided to overtake and open it up a bit. “When I looked down at the speedo I was doing 180, so I thought I might as well keep going. I was doing 200 when I pulled in.” It was the newest of the bikes in the group, and we’d all been admiring it earlier. (Now we were all wondering what the penalty would be for exceeding the speed-limit by 100kph!). Anyway it certainly impressed with it’s performance! I asked if I could have a sit on it, and found it surprisingly comfortable. Hmmm, a bike that looks good, goes well, and is comfortable! I’ve got to check these out!
I'd read some magazine road-tests, and they all delivered high praise; but there’s nothing like riding one for yourself. So a few months later I took one for a test-ride.
Actually, I was on a bit of a mission. Having ridden the Suzuki Bandit and been very impressed, and having admired (but not ridden) bikes like the Triumph Sprint ST and Ducati ST3, I embarked on a mission to find my choice of sports-tourers. This was the first one I rode after the Bandit, but you can read my impressions on the others under the “Bikes” section.
As I said, the VFR is a comfortable bike to sit on. It does tend towards the “sports” end of the sports-touring brief, and as such the riding-position is fairly lean-forward, but not uncomfortably so. And there’s an optional handlebar-riser which lifts the bars about 2” (50mm). If I bought one I think I’d go for this, just to get the riding position that little bit more relaxed and upright.
There’s no doubting that this is a good-looking bike. Even my wife commented that it was “a pretty bike” when she saw my photos of it!
Weight is 213kg, which is about what you expect in this type of bike; and it’s very manageable.
The cockpit is dominated by a large analogue tacho, red-lined at 11,800rpm. On the left is a digital speedo and temperature gauge, while on the right is a panel containing a fuel-gauge, odometer and clock. There’s more info at the press of buttons, but I didn’t get to explore that.
The engine is, of course, a V-4, producing 80kw and 80Nm of torque. Firing it up produces a unique sound. It’s quiet (as all new bikes have to be these days!), but it’s also different. It’s got that kind of “throb” that characterises V-type engines.
Okay, so time to ride! The route I chose included a narrow winding mountain road, followed by an even narrower back-road that twists through the bush, and then some expressway. Before all that though was the usual city traffic to negotiate before we got to the fun part. So a good chance to see what the bike was like in the real-world!
The VFR is a serious sports-tourer, and it doesn’t tolerate fools. Ride it properly and it’s great to ride; but drop your game a bit and it can protest. Nowhere is this more evident than in gear-changes; especially down-shifts. Very early on the ride I changed down under brakes with a closed throttle and it locked the back wheel. (“Slipper-clutch” anyone?). But keep a bit of throttle on (as, of course, you should!) and it’s fine. In fact if you ride it properly the changes are silky smooth, both up and down. (The gearbox is a 6-speed unit, by the way).
It’s a similar story with the engine. You need a few revs to take-off; and I managed to stall it a couple of times, trying to take off from near-idle-speed in traffic. It’s also a little snatchy at very low revs. But once underway it’s great! It’ll pull away pretty cleanly from around 3,000rpm, although it’s happiest in the 5,000 – 8,000rpm range.
One of the engine’s features is the variable valve-timing, which kicks in at around 7,000rpm. Apparently this used to be a bit sudden in earlier models, but Honda smoothed this out and I had no problem with it at all. There is a surge of power as you get up into that rev-range, but the transition is smooth.
The bike has excellent acceleration! Twist the throttle around and the bike rises up on it’s front forks as the front-end goes light, and it takes off like the proverbial scalded cat! Give it a decent squirt and you’re at illegal speeds almost before you’ve had time to look down at the speedo - regardless of what the limit is! It’s smooth too, with no obvious harsh areas in the rev-range - at least not up to the 9,000rpm or so that I got it to. I doubt it would be anything less at higher revs either.
Needless to say, it cruises effortlessly. At 120kph the engine is doing a very comfortable 5,000rpm. And it’s extremely stable at cruising speed, (even up to 200kph, according to our friend!).
The handling is excellent! Okay, I know it wouldn’t be as good as a full-on sports-bike, but for a sports-tourer I thought it was brilliant! It inspires confidence very easily. Just point it where you want it to go and it goes there like it’s on rails. It was great fun on the winding mountain road! Just twist the throttle and rush up to the next corner, back off and tip it in, then blast away to the next one. And it drove through the corners feeling safe and secure and always on-line. I wasn’t getting anywhere near the limit of it’s capabilities, of course, but it was still very impressive, and fun!
The narrow back-road is a road that I both like and dislike. I’ve been riding along it from way back when it was not much more than a dirt track. (Now it’s not much more than a bitumen track!). I like it because it’s a pleasant ride through the bush with no traffic. But it’s so narrow it’s almost one-lane; and there are quite a few rough patches and pot-holes. What gets me feeling most tentative though is a couple of tight, rough-surfaced, off-camber corners. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt so confident on that road as I did on the Honda! Not only did it handle well, but it felt firmly planted on the road, and very safe.
Now I suppose some of this handling is a mental thing. You know that it’s a bike that handles well, so you trust it as you tip it into corners. But the point is your trust is rewarded with precise and stable handling.
Brakes too, are excellent! I’d forgotten when I rode it that they're actually linked brakes, so I just rode it as I normally would. Anyway, they really bite and pull the bike up super-quick.
I was also impressed with the ride. The suspension is reasonably soft, by sporting standards anyway, and it gives a comfortable ride. Even along the choppy road through the bush it remained comfortable. Sports-bike riders would probably say that the soft-ish suspension ultimately limits it’s handling; but to an old bloke especially, the comfortable ride is appreciated, and the handling is more than you’ll ever need!
I came back very impressed with the Honda VFR! Around town it probably isn’t ideal. There’s that slight snatchy nature at low revs, and it can also be fairly hot. It was a hot day when I rode it, and in slow traffic you realise just how much heat is trapped by the full fairing. The exhaust is mostly enclosed within the bodywork too, which would add to the heat. I rode the Yamaha TDM900 later the same day, and it’s much more open engine and exhaust made it a lot cooler. (Although to be fair, it didn’t encounter as much slow-moving traffic as the Honda). But get clear of the traffic and it’s a superb sports-tourer! “VFR” might stand for “V” “Four” (and whatever the “R” is?), but I reckon it could justifiably stand for Very Fine Ride; because that’s just what this bike is!
The whole “sports-touring” concept is really one of compromise; but this performs both roles exceptionally well! And as I left the dealer, my final impression was that if this isn’t the ideal sports-tourer, then it would be very, very close!
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As mentioned in my up-date of the Sportstourer comparison,there haven't really been any significant changes to the VFR. Colour changes seem to be about the main one. I also read that the exhaust has been re-routed to enable the foot-pegs to be lowered a bit.
And it is still being sold - despite the introduction of the new VFR1200. Some reports seemed to suggest that the VFR800 was being replaced by the newie. But that didn't make sense. Replacing a bike that costs about $16,000 with one that costs nearly $10,000 more than that was never going to work. So the 800 continues - as indeed it should!
The Honda just keeps on keeping on. No changes are listed, in fact one section of the web-page for the VFR seems to have been last re-written in 2008.
There have been a few up-dates to the latest model. The basic frame remains the same, most everything else has changed – to some extent anyway.
Perhaps the most significant is that the twin side-mounted radiators have gone, in favour of a front-mounted one. That has enabled a re-style of the fairing. And the exhaust has left that once-trendy under-seat position for the more popular side mount.
The engine itself has been refined to produce more power in the low – mid range. Maximum power and torque figures are actually down, very slightly, on the previous model.
There’s a new instrument panel, with digital read-outs for speed, engine revs, gear position, ambient temperature, even fuel consumption. Oh, and there’s a digital clock as well.
Technology presents itself with ABS and traction-control. There’s also heated grips.
So a lot has changed, but according to one test I read – written by a bloke who’s experience with the Veefers goes back to the original 750 model – the bike retains the same feel and character it always had. And that’s a good thing!