Motorcycle USA has struggled to find a place for the Honda VFR1200F ever since it debuted as a 2010 model. Our first VFR comparison test
pitted it against the Kawasaki Concours 14 and Suzuki Hayabusa, just to figure things out. Is it a sport-touring platform, a sportbike that can tour, or something else entirely? We still aren’t quite sure, but at least the nomadic VFR seems at home in this Road Sport class.
A 1237cc V-Four powers the VFR, and helps distinguish itself amongst its Inline Four foes. The single overhead cam, 16-valve design turned our dyno up to 144 peak horsepower, trailing only the BMW. Its 81.26 lb-ft of torque is second to the Beemer as well. The Bavarian also keeps the VFR from the top spot in the quarter-mile, a little more than three-tenths quicker than the Honda’s 10.6 @ 131.6 mph.
The pulsing Honda
Four delivers ample power. The composed engine is deceptively fast, pulling hard with a strong top end. Once the tach hits 6000 rpm, high noon on the analog tach, the VFR gets a move on.
“The VFR hauls ass,” states Robin. “The torquey V-Four configuration creates a fun and invigorating ride. Things start out with plenty of power down low and then revs up quickly, perhaps a little too quick though. I occasionally found myself running out of revs sooner than expected and having to shift in less than ideal situations. That said, you could easily ride the VFR all day in any gear between second and fourth.”
More than one tester notes the rev limiter comes on quickest on the Honda. And we’re still mystified by the bottom-end power dip in first and second gear. Power is intentionally muted by a power valve in the exhaust, with the ride-by-wire throttle feeling dead down low. Once the power nanny disengages at around 5500 rpm, it’s a coarse change of pace to full power. In the third gear the bottom end feels far better.
Our testing crew credits the V-Four for beating a different drum than the Inline Four conformity, giving it the edge for personality and sound. The clattering V-Four gives the Honda a rhythm unlike anything else in this testing company.
“The Honda has soul,” exclaims Hutch, who’s dinged more than one Big Red powerplant in his day for being less than thrilling. “I bet that is nice to hear after so many years of being lambasted for making motorcycles that are bland. I dig the V-Four engine so much that it is hard not to pick it as the best one in this group based simply on mechanical melody alone.”
Our test unit isn’t equipped with the option dual clutch transmission, but the standard six-speed transmission is bulletproof. The input from the shaft final drive is almost unnoticeable out back. Downshifts in particular are drama free on the VFR courtesy of its slipper clutch. Only the precise Yamaha gearbox rates higher.
The arrangement of the Honda’s 76-degree Vee pattern positions the rearward cylinders inside the forward pair. This gives the VFR a quite narrow cockpit. The compact feel belies its 587-pound curb weight, the heaviest in our test. The Honda certainly doesn’t feel the heaviest on the road, as it excels in the handling department.
The neutral handling VFR initiates turns and transitions so intuitively, it borders on telepathic. The Showa suspension components, a preload-adjustable 43mm fork and preload/rebound-adjustable rear shock, may lack the adjustability of some rivals, but the VFR’s chassis delivers the most intimate feedback of all the bikes in this test.
Robin deems the VFR one of the best handling bikes he’s ever ridden: “Extremely flickable yet extremely stable and confident in the corners, the Honda inspires confidence like nothing I have ridden outside a Superbike class motorcycle.”
The Honda doesn’t feel like it needs to be coaxed into anything. Its 60.8-inch wheelbase, though one of the longest in this class, doesn’t inhibit quick turning or feel stretched out. That the Honda weighs almost 20 pounds more than the other bikes shocks our test riders, as it doesn’t begin to feel its weight except in low-speed maneuvering, and even then is much lighter on its toes than the BMW.
The Honda chassis is best suited to sporty terrain, the neutral-handling VFR transmitting ample feedback and stability.
Complementing the Honda’s handling are class-leading brakes. The linked system provides immediate one-finger stopping power, but the precise feel and modulation at the lever are what make it excel. The six-piston Nissin calipers clamp down on a pair of 320mm discs up front, but not all of them at the same time, as two-pistons on the right side caliper and disc are reserved for the rear-to-front linking system. A nod to Honda refinement, the piston sizes up front are asymmetrical to even out the braking force. The system more than earns its top ranking in this comparison. The ABS showcases equal refinement, and while the lever does move when it kicks in, it only does so on extreme application.
A slight forward pitch and low handlebar placement characterize the VFR riding position. While not overly aggressive, it is more tiring than the relaxed positions found on Yamaha and Suzuki. The seat is comfortable, but not overly soft, and while the VFR bodywork and windscreen may not physically block as much air, the aerodynamics ensure buffet-free airflow, which lessens fatigue for touring duty. But the top ranking in overall comfort gets a serious boost from its handling abilities.
“The VFR felt like it was sculpted specifically for me,” says Robin. “Riding the Honda was more like an extension of my body rather than a separate machine that I was riding. This combined with a reasonably neutral riding position made Honda’s VFR the most comfortable bike for me to ride.”
Another proponent of the VFR for rider comfort was our pillion mount. “The seat is flat, firm and comfortable,” says Laura. “Definitely the best for long rides but in the corners it feels slippery so it’s a little concerning. It is the riding position that makes it the best since my legs weren’t cramped up and I wasn’t perched too high above the rider. I also had an easy reach to the tank or the grab rails on the back.”
The Honda’s instrumentation is clean and easy to read. The well sculpted switchgear is another favorite, though one minor quirk on the switches is the juxtaposition of the horn and turn signal, which makes for inadvertent honks from the new VFR pilot. The build quality of the VFR bests the competition. It feels the most solid and functional. A good example is the mirrors and integrated turn signals. They look the best, and also provided the best blur-free views.
“Honda just knows how to build great motorcycles and the VFR is another example of the company’s forte,” argues Ken. “It’s a bike no one needs but a bike that Honda figured we would like. And they were right. It’s comfortable, fast, fun to ride has a great dash and provides decent wind protection from a fixed wind screen. The mirrors are best of the lot too. We have been wondering what class this bike belongs in and I think we just found it.”
The Honda impressed our testing crew with its build quality, the glossy paint particularly fetching seen in the flesh.
Contrary to some popular opinion, our test crew finds the VFR’s lines fetching. It’s a bike that looks better in person, with the immaculate paint job particularly notable.
“To me the VFR is one beautiful motorcycle. I know some folks hate the front end, but I always did think it looked cool,” notes Ken. “Add into the mix that bitchin’ single-sided swingarm, sexy wheels and really nice paint and what you have is a good looking motorcycle that turns heads.”
For all our praise, the Honda isn’t perfect. There are some serious flaws, like the range from the 4.9-gallon tank, which feels way more sportbike than tourer. We managed 35.3 mpg, which equates to approximately 173 miles. The practical range feels much lower, however, as the manic fuel gauge reads half empty at 100 miles, then flashes bone dry at 140 miles. Unless riders enjoy pressing their luck, plan on looking for gas stations around 120 miles.
That’s a minor complaint compared to Honda’s biggest shortcoming, its $15,999 base MSRP! Honda will argue it’s worth the money, but 16K is a bitter pill when contrasted to the sweet performance offered by its more affordable Japanese rivals.
Despite those blemishes, the VFR once again impresses our testing crew with its sporty chassis and V-Four power. Provided riders can cough up the cash, the Honda delivers the best performance package in the Road Sport class.