By: Mark Hoyer
It was an odd thing to have cross my mind the first time I thumbed the
starter button on this 2010 VFR1200F, the long-awaited follow-up to the previous
Interceptor. But as the lightly syncopated combustion rhythm of the 76-degree V-Four with 28-degree-offset crankpins made its flat, almost-360-degree-crank sound—a droning, distant echo of MotoGP—I thought, “Honda made a chopper…”
I know Big Red has an obligation to enter market segments where sales can be found, and I cannot fault the company or the Fury. But it almost seemed like a cry for help in a world gone mad.
Honda has so long been a performance company, a technology company, a maker of machines “because it can.” Like the ovalpiston NR750. The original CB750. The CBX inline-Six. And many, many others.
Which is what makes this VFR1200F so…settling. Bikes like the VFR—especially in its variations from 1986 to now—are Honda’s spiritual core. When you ride a Fury, it is impressively “operational” but you can tell they don’t really mean it.
When you ride the new VFR, you know Honda means it. Everything about this bike exemplifies the hard-won reputation of striving for advancement, quality and precision. The VFR’s performance is broad and impressive. Even the finish is beautiful. Take the black strip of paint on the fuel tank that shows between the red plastic bodywork pieces: It really is like liquid and of very high quality. In fact, the finish on the whole bike, from the rich ruby red (with subtle metalflake) to the texture and material of the seat, feels rich and smooth.
The press materials make much of the new engine, from its CRF450R-inspired sohc heads (for compactness) to pairing the rear cylinders, and therefore their rod journals, between those of the front on the crankshaft, making the engine more narrow between the rider’s legs and eliminating the vibration-producing right/left rocking couple of a conventional V-Four crank layout.
But while the 1237cc engine is claimed by Honda to be more compact than the previous 781cc version, it fits into a spacious, full-size sporting motorcycle that is a definite step up in scale from the Interceptor 800 but still a bit more compact feeling than its bag-equipped sporting competition.
The unusual crankpin and Vee arrange ment are said to “essentially” negate primary engine vibration. There is plenty going on at most rpm in terms of the engine communicating its existence to you. Mostly, it’s just a minor and interesting reminder through the handgrips that this is not last year’s V-Four. At cruise speeds, it’s all-day smooth, and about the only time engine vibration truly gets noticeable is on closed-throttle deceleration, when the fuel tank transmits an excited, coarse buzz.
As mentioned, the engine sound is flat and MotoGP-like, at least in spirit if not in decibels. The valve-equipped rightside muffler breathes through the lower of its two openings and keeps things quite muted when the bike is not moving (rev as high as you like in neutral and the secondary will not open). On the road, the valve opens at 6000 rpm in first and second and 4000 rpm in the remaining gears, with a definite boost in exhaust note as it exhales through both outlets.
While we are certainly interested to get some serious miles on the Dual-Clutch Transmission version that has no clutch lever or foot shifter and perfectly rev-matches downshifts for you, this standard six-speed gearbox is extremely refined. Shift quality is excellent, and when clicking down for corners it is very easy to match revs the old-fashioned way with a quick blip of the throttle. There is surprisingly little driveline lash for a shaft-drive setup, especially considering that there are four dampers between primary and final drive. Add to this mix the superb slipper clutch, and aggressive corner entries with multiple downshifts are utterly drama-free.
As is turn-in response and midcorner stability. This is a precise handling and very stable motorcycle. The 60.8-inch wheelbase and 25.5-degree rake/4.0-inch trail reflect the GT intentions. Standard suspension settings for the Showa fork and shock are taut and controlled. Spring preload and rebound damping are adjustable at both ends, and changes to the settings are effective at altering the feel and attitude of the motorcycle. Two to four clicks out from the standard rebound at the front, for example, smoothed freeway cruise and improved comfort, if somewhat at the expense of composure at deep-lean cornering angles. Same at the rear, where a small change on the rebound adjuster made a notable difference in ride quality. Spring-preload changes at the rear are conveniently accomplished by hand, with a plastic knob/hydraulic adjuster located under the tailsection and in front of the left-side passenger footpeg.
After a 15-hour day in the saddle, I am relieved to report that the seat is excellent. It is supportive, firm and spacious. In fact, from the outset, I clicked right into the ergonomic triangle. The footpegs are highish without being too high, and the bar placement is right for my 6-foot-2 frame. A huge aid to comfort is the degree of wind protection and well-managed airflow. At normal highway cruise speed there is zero buffeting— just smooth wind at helmet level. I also ran the bike up to 105 mph and held it there. Same situation: smooth air and a neutral riding posture, giving me the feeling that I could cruise that fast all day, if there weren’t such unfortunate potential legal complications. I also rode in windy, gusty conditions and the VFR remained rock-steady on the road.
Corner-to-corner thrust is strong and response from Honda’s first throttle-by-wire system is intuitive and predictable, although there are situations where apparent powersmoothing seems to mitigate engine output. If the revs drop below 6000 rpm in a second-gear corner, for instance, there is enough power to settle the bike at the apex, but revs have to build before real thrust is delivered. In taller gears, engine response feels stronger at lower rpm. On the dyno, there is nearly 70 foot-pounds of torque at 3800 rpm, and the curve is beautifully linear as it climbs to a maximum of just above 80 ft.-lb. at 9100 revs. The 145-horsepower peak comes just after 10,000 rpm and surprisingly near the 10,600-rpm electronic rev-limit.
Outright straight-line performance? Road Test Editor Don Canet returned from our test site with some pretty impressive numbers: The VFR1200 lasted off a 10.33-second, 134.85-mph quarter-mile run. The clutch is excellent around town and in normal use, and Canet reported the same from the launch zone: “Good clutch feel allowed for precise feedin of that strong midrange power.”
For comparison, the last Kawasaki Concours 14 we tested (August, 2009) made 133.6 hp at 8900 rpm and 88.7-ft.-lb. at 7500 revs, with a quarter-mile time of 10.78 seconds at 125.44 mph. The dragstrip performance deficit here is largely attributable to a difference in dry weights: The C-14 comes in at 647 pounds without fuel but with bags, while the no-bag dry weight of the manual-shift VFR is 561. The Honda’s top speed is limited to 157 mph in both fifth and sixth gears; the Kawasaki went 154. A comparison test between these two
motorcycles will be as much a comparison of design intent as it will be of actual, measured performance.
Six-piston calipers at the front and a two-piston caliper at the rear are part of the Combined-ABS braking system. These are effective and strong but feel and feedback stop short (ahem) of the best supersport setups. This is conventional ABS with cycling at the lever, etc., not the seamless supersport system applied to the CBR-RR line.
Nice touches and demonstration of attention to detail? Consider the digital speedometer: easy to read and perfectly accurate (measured by us) all the way up to top speed. Nice! Also, it is heartening and superbly convenient to remove the saddle and find the battery and its terminals right there. The base price of $15,999 makes the VFR more expensive than its main competition, especially if you add the optional hard bags (price not available at press time).
Heated grips are also optional, as are a top trunk, secondary laminar-type add-on windscreen, a centerstand and more. It is odd, however, not to have a power-port option for your electric vest, GPS, etc. And it is a drag that Japan and Europe get a navigation-system option while the U.S. does not.
This manual-shift VFR1200F is an exceptionally good performing, highly refined sporting motorcycle. It offers a depth of competence, ease of operation and technical execution that lets you know Honda definitely means it.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Cycle World