By: Kent Kunitsugu
HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES
At 595 pounds wet with a full tank of fuel ready to ride, the base version VFR obviously isn’t among the lightest sportbikes in the market, and you can definitely feel its heft pushing it around. There’s little impression of bulk when you climb aboard, however; the front portion of the Honda’s nicely sculpted saddle is narrow enough to make the 32.1-inch seat height seem lower than it is, and the V-four engine’s inboard positioning of the rear cylinders’ crankpins permits the bike’s midsection to be thinner than would normally be possible. The end result is a bike that feels more like an oversize 600 between the knees than a big 1237cc V-four.
Hit the starter button and the VFR springs to life with the easily recognizable growl of a V-four. Snicking the bike into first gear doesn’t reveal much driveline lash, yet a distinct clunk can be heard as the gearbox and driveshaft play gets taken up. Getting underway is ridiculously easy, as the Honda’s engine has gobs of torque that makeclutch finesse practically unnecessary. You do have to open the throttle a bit more than usual to begin accessing that power, probably a by-product of the ride-by-wire throttle system’s method of reducing any abrupt off-idle response.
The spacing between first and second gear is a bit wide on the VFR, resulting in a noticeably clunky shift that can only be avoided by shifting quickly at near-full throttle/high rpm (which is outside this bike’s intended riding scenario)— here’s hoping that the DCT model’s transmission shifting is a bit smoother in this regard. We also noticed while slowly winding our way through traffic below 3000 rpm at light throttle settings that the engine would surge enough to cause the driveline lash to lightly slap against itself; granted, it only occurred in this specific situation, and the driveline damping system seems to take care of most of it, but it was noticeable nonetheless.
Long stints in the nice and supportive saddle aren’t much of a problem, with the VFR’s unorthodox fairing doing a good job of wind protection; the mid-level windscreen deflects most of the windblast away from the rider’s chest and there’s little turbulence buffeting the helmet. Ergos are sport-touring comfy with a little bit of supersport aggression mixed in; the rider’s torso is canted forward and the pegs set back just enough to provide the right positioning for carving canyons at a spirited pace without unduly punishing the rider during long superslab stints. With a 4.9-gallon fuel tank and an average fuel economy of 34 mpg though, you won’t be traveling too far between fill-ups; the fuel reserve warning on the dash usually comes on at about the 135-mile mark, and at 160 miles, you’d better find a gas station quick.
The V-four powerplant is smooth as silk, with what little vibration there is only being of the low frequency variety that is hardly bothersome. Mirrors are spaced wide enough to be effective, and the dash with its centerpiece analog tachometer is easy to read at a glance. The handlebar controls and switches are well laid out and easy to reach, although the turn signal actuator is curiously positioned below the horn button, leading to a few unintentional honks until the rider acclimates.
As you’d expect, the big V-four has an impressively wide spread of power, with ample torque virtually right off idle that builds in a mostly linear fashion as the engine sails along to a 142-horsepower at 10,000-rpm power peak, right before the redline 250-rpm later. The torque curve is an impressive plateau that starts around 4000 rpm and literally rides an 80 ft-lb train all the way to almost 9500 rpm. This gives the rider plenty of options for gear selection with the VFR, and shifting in many cases while slicing through a canyon is optional.
And yet the Honda’s not all about torque, either. The VFR is just as much a revver as it is a torquer, and it has plenty of steam in the upper half of its rev range, exemplified by the Honda’s 10.23-second, 136.82-mph quarter-mile numbers. While acceleration certainly isn’t in CBR1000RR territory, there’s more than enough thrust to support any situation within the VFR’s intended scope.
The only flaw in an otherwise nearly-perfect powerband is an annoying flat spot from 4250-5500 rpm that stands out all the more due to the V-four’s otherwise impressively linear power curve. On tighter canyon roads where you’re doing a lot of cornering in the lower gears, this issue becomes more pronounced; let the rpm drop into that zone, and there’s a surprising lack of steam when you make the call to the engine room. It also negatively affected top gear roll-ons, and highway passes usually required a downshift for best results.
A near-600-pound motorcycle usually can’t be mentioned in the same breath with the word “sportbike”, but the VFR manages to accomplish that feat—and actually do it quite well. Overall handling is surprisingly nimble for a bike with that heft and a 60.8-inch wheelbase, and the Honda can be hustled through a twisty road much quicker and with greater ease than you’d expect. Turn inputs require little effort, and steering is fairly precise, with the OEM-spec Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart rubber offering nice, neutral handling characteristics at everything from a leisurely stroll to a pace that would be far outside its intended environment (the world press launch was held at a racing circuit with little complaints, as further proof). Overall grip and stability were excellent, although feedback was a tad numb, probably a by-product of their nice ride quality and bump absorption (it should be noted that these are OEM-spec Dunlops, which differ from the off-the-shelf versions). The pace must be ratcheted up quite a bit for the pegs to touch down, yet there’s a decent amount of legroom.
Keeping almost 600 pounds of motorcycle from coming unwound during a spirited run down a canyon road is no small feat, yet the Honda’s suspension is well up to the task. Despite its outwardly simplistic build—only spring preload and rebound damping are adjustable—the 43mm inverted cartridge fork and single rear shock do an excellent job of keeping everything under control, providing a good balance of compliance over small bumps and stability during aggressive cornering. And there was literally no perceptible “jacking” effect from throttle inputs on the VFR’s shaft drive system.
Braking performance from the radialmount/six-piston calipers and 320mm discs equipped with the latest-generation linked ABS was likewise surprisingly good. The linked braking is much more subtle than previous versions, and overall power and feedback were excellent up to the fairly high point of ABS intervention.
BRING ON THE DCT VERSION
While the standard base model VFR1200F will surely be overshadowed by its semiautomatic brother when the DCT model finally hits the streets, there’s a lot to be said for the human-shift version. Those who have been waiting on Honda for an upgrade from their older VFR800 or similar machine—but don’t want the weight, complexity, and additional cost of the upcoming semi-automatic transmission edition—would do well to take a close look at the standard VFR1200F. That said, we have to admit that we can’t wait to try out the DCT…
The VFR lives up to all the pre release super clandestine hype. It's now apparent why Honda was particularly reluctant to release any information and/ or photos. While doing our evaluation we happened to have a couple of thoroughbreds in the mix; it was clear why the world press intro for this groundbreaking motorcycle was on a racetrack rather than on the street. This V-4 is not typical by any stretch of the imagination and is by far the best shaft-driven motorcycle I've had the pleasure to flog, hands down! When put through the paces at a brisk roll the 1200 never blinked; I was left in shock and awe by the comfort level provided. Considering I was riding a motorcycle that in most circles is recognized as a porker at nearly 600 pounds, the VFR was beyond composed. I realize that the price for any high tech, cutting edge piece of machinery isn't for the weak of wallet, but at the end of the day I had to say, “show me the papers and I'll show you the money. The VFR is really that good.
Say what you will about the Honda's styling, I personally don’t think it looks that bad. I’m especially willing to forgive a bike for its looks if it performs as well as the VFR1200F does. Finally we have a machine that calls itself a sport touring rig that I would want to ride to and at Miller Motorsports Park. It's just that much fun to ride. The V4 growl at full song is unlike anything else, and the way it handles belies its 600 plus pound curb weight. I would have wished that our test bike was the DCT model instead of the standard six speed, as the double clutch technology really is that impressive. My only gripe with the VFR is that side bags and a top case are optional. You would think that a sport touring machine would have some kind of storage accommodations. At any rate, it's a shame that the VFR1200F is getting such a slamming in the European press and on the message boards. Maybe transplanting the VFR s engine into a more sport oriented chassis would help. Wink wink, Honda.
Make no mistake, I was definitely impressed by the VFRs performance. For a bike with its substantial heft, the Honda can sustain a surprisingly rapid pace without becoming ruffled in the least. The seat is comfy, the dash is easy to read, good wind protection there s a lot to like with the VFR. But for over $15K (and even more with the dCt version), there s some rough edges and missing pieces that I feel should’ve been smoothed over/included. The flat spot in the powerband is bother some in tighter canyons, and in slow traffic trolling there's some clunkiness in the drivetrain that is annoying. Having to fill up every 150 or so miles is a little too short for a sporttourer, and it would’ve been nice to have hard bags included. All that said
though, I'm still looking forward to testing the DCT version. If it performs as well as troy and all who have ridden it say, those afore mentioned issues could be forgiven.
Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Sport Rider ®