By: Evans Brasfield
Sport-touring enthusiasts have been salivating ever since news was first leaked that Honda was revamping its famed VFR platform. While the V-4 engine has its roots in Honda’s lengthy racing history, for years the VFR has been considered by many to be the ultimate sport-touring package. So, the 2010 VFR1200F is, for better or worse, weighed down with some pretty high expectations.
Merely looking at the new VFR tells you how seriously Honda took the redesign. No visible fasteners are present to disrupt the flow of your eyes (or air) across the bodywork. The VFR’s slipperiness is a direct descendant of MotoGP technology. Dubbed a “layer-concept aero fairing” by the marketing folks, the fairing channels air through holes in the front end to increase stability at speeds that will get you arrested here in the States. It also cools the engine and directs hot air away from the rider’s legs. For those of us without engineering degrees, we’ll just appreciate how the fairing’s shape and lack of fasteners allow us to gaze at the top-notch paint that Honda’s robots have laid on the VFR.
Before we go any further, the controversy of the VFR1200F’s looks must be addressed. The best answer that can be culled from all of the unsolicited comments about the bike’s styling is simply this: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some have said that it is one of the ugliest bikes they’ve ever seen, while others have called the updated VFR their dream bike. However, if the comments I received at various motorcycle hangouts are any reflection, the majority of viewers give the design a thumbs up. Seeing the 1200F in three dimensions reveals the subtlety of the bodywork’s curves that simply can’t be appreciated in a photo.
Under that swoopy plastic, a four-piece, twin-spar, aluminum frame adds to the sporty credentials of the VFR. The Pro-Arm swingarm employs some high-tech trickery to deliver smooth, shaft-effect-free power to the road. First, the output shaft is below the transmission. This allows for a longer swinger without making the bike stretch out to cruiser dimensions. The drive shaft actually passes under the swingarm pivot (which is wider for more rigidity). To cope with the varying drive shaft lengths as the wheel moves through its arc of travel, the VFR utilizes a sliding constant velocity (CV) joint – all in pursuit of better handling and traction while cornering.
Riding the big VFR bears out its expectations. The suspension handles cornering at a variety of speeds, including some quite elevated ones under different loads. Although the stock settings felt a little springy (particularly in the front), a couple clicks toward rebound damping remedied that problem. The bike’s weight adds a planted feeling on the road, and its unflappability when encountering mid-corner bumps. Since the VFR1200F’s job description includes a wide variety of riding conditions and loads, Honda chose to make the rear preload adjustment as easy as turning a knob with fingers. (Adjusting the front on the 43mm inverted fork still requires a wrench.) The other front and rear suspension adjustments are rebound damping adjustment — which is really all you need for a sport-touring mount unless you’re hitting more track-oriented speeds. A VFR owner would, in short time, learn what settings are required for different riding conditions and be able make the requisite changes in a minute or so before leaving for a ride.
Honda chose to make its Combined ABS a standard feature on the VFR. Like the bike’s looks, these linked brakes are sure to stir some controversy. In a nutshell, when the rear brake is depressed a set of pistons on the left front disc is engaged along with the rear caliper. While this is heresy in some circles, it is, in practice, quite tractable. The net effect is for the bike to squat evenly front and rear. Those whose riding style is to drag the rear brake in corners are out of luck, though. If only the front brake is applied, all six pistons of the right caliper bite on the 320mm disc, and four handle the left disc. The clever folks with the pocket protectors addressed any asymmetry in the braking forces by making the right-side piston 25mm, while the two pairs of left-side pistons are 27 and 30mm. As good as the Nissin brakes are, one of the few times you feel the VFR’s roughly 600 pounds is when stopping. The bike is no slouch on the brakes, though.
A ton of brainpower went into the development of the 1237cc 76-degree V4. First, the two inner cylinders are placed on the rear of the engine to keep the bike narrower where the rider will be placing his legs at a stop. Honda claims this allows the rider to sit down in the bike instead of feeling plopped on top of it. The effect is to make the seat height feel lower than its 32.1". Next, for exceptional smoothness, Honda’s “special high-strength Symmetrically Coupled Phase shift Crankshaft” (as only Honda could call it) combines the V’s 76 degrees with a 28-degree crankpin offset to virtually eliminate the engine’s primary vibration. A Unicam valvetrain (read: SOHC) helps to keep the size and weight of the heads down and aids in the compactness of the engine.
Another advanced feature is the VFR’s sealed crankcase, which runs at a mildly negative pressure. By decreasing the density of the atmosphere within the crankcase, the air resistance against the internal reciprocating parts is reduced for more efficient power delivery, which pays off in snappier throttle response and more horsepower. Luddites will be terrified by the revelation that the VFR is Honda’s first production motorcycle featuring an electronic throttle, called throttle by wire (TBW). Rather than wresting control from riders, TBW’s ultimate goal is to give the rider better control of the power delivery. With the ECU taking into account variables ranging from engine speed, vehicle speed, coolant and air temperatures, throttle position, and the all important rider input from the right grip, the EFI optimizes the fuel mixture, thus giving the rider more “feel” via the throttle.
While all this information makes for interesting reading, the VFR1200F needs to be experienced in the real world to be truly appreciated. Lifting the bike off its side stand reminds you that the VFR is a big bike. A race replica it ain’t — nor was it designed to be one. The riding position is comfortable, with a longish reach to the grips and a sporty but not cramped peg placement. The seat offers all-day comfort. Once moving, the 1200F’s impeccable balance comes into play, making it possible that to forget that you’re sitting on 600 pounds of machinery. The exhaust note provides a pleasant background for around-town cruising, but pull the bike’s tail, and the note changes to a snarl around 5000 rpm as the valve in the exhaust canister opens to let out the demons. Acceleration is fast, but not mind alteringly so (as with a hyper-sportsbike)At most engine speeds, turning the throttle results in seamless acceleration. The one notable exception is the 3000 to 4000 rpm range at lower road speeds, (you know, commuter speeds) where an uncharacteristic abruptness interrupts the ride. While it isn’t enough to upset the chassis, the rider will feel it.
Ramp up to road speed and Honda’s aerodynamic work becomes apparent. First, and most importantly, the windscreen with its lower vent directs clean air to just below the rider’s shoulders with nary a bit of turbulence. Quite simply, regardless of speed, the rider gets the uninterrupted joy of the wind without a hint of jostling. One interesting side effect of the windshield design that points to the role the lower vent plays in the laminar air flow is that bug guts end up on the inside of the windscreen. Honda’s airflow management is also illustrated by how little of the engine’s heat actually reaches the rider.
If one were to describe the VFR1200F in one word, it would be stability. The bike tracks over bumps with aplomb. Road undulations are soaked up mid-corner. All of this can be attributed to the bike’s heft and 25.3-degree steering head angle. Of course, the flip side of stability is that the VFR requires some muscle to turn quickly. An extended series of S’s may make you break a sweat, but this is not to say that the bike is resistant to changing lines mid-corner. The rider simply needs to give a firm input.
Braking is one area where the VFR1200F loses just a shade of its polish. On initial application, the front brake can be a bit abrupt, causing some frontend dive. Since this is a machine for an experienced rider, though, accommodating this quirk will be accomplished almost unconsciously, but it does bear noting. Aside from this quibble, the brakes do a terrific job of hauling the big bike down from speed, delivering plenty of both power and feel.
Another odd limitation that can’t be ignored is the limited range of the 4.9- gallon tank. With an average mpg of 37.1 and a best highway mpg of 47.2 (Honda’s own estimate is 31 mpg), the tank will run dry in 180-230 miles (or 150 miles by Honda’s estimate). While 230 miles sounds respectable, it was straight up and down on the interstate for an entire tank. Increasing the fun factor with turns and lower gears causes the mileage to drop immediately.
Despite this fly in the ointment, the popular feeling among the RoadBike crew was that we couldn’t wait to slap on the factory hard luggage and hit the road. In fact, we literally begged Honda to allow us access to a set. Unfortunately, the bags won’t be ready until the release of the dual-clutch transmission version. Read on for Steve Lita’s impression about this super-sexy option for what is already a motorcycle bristling with advanced technology.
Regardless of which model you choose, you’ll probably want to budget the hard bags into your purchase price. The VFR1200F was made to be ridden a long way on any kind of road you throw at it — and you’ll want to carry some clean clothes in case you can’t seem to turn the bike around towards home.
Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Roadbike®