Entering our 2010 comparison, the versatile Honda VFR1200F brings a heavy sport quotient to the sport-touring equation. This isn’t our first go ‘round with the new VFR, but this time Honda
ponied up optional touring upgrades like a centerstand, heated grips and hard luggage.
Honda’s VFR is defined by its 1237cc V-Four engine. Although the long-serving ST1300 remains Big Red’s proper sport-touring bike, it seems destined to be replaced by the VFR. Both bikes make use of a V-Four configuration, but the 1200F is nothing like its cousin. For starters the VFR engine is transverse mounted and the ST engine is longitudinally mounted. While the ST’s mill makes power with sedate sewing-machine politeness, the VFR powerhouse is snappy and produces sharp, sporty acceleration.
The 76-degree V arrangement delivers enough primary balance that the Honda doesn’t make use of any balance shaft but it is not devoid of character. The resulting clamor as the four cylinders pound up and down their 60mm stroke makes just enough vibes to keep things interesting and visceral. The V-Four’s exhaust tones were deemed the best of our test too, though capable of more auditory bliss than they are in stock trim.
The 2010 Honda VFR1200F pulses out class-leading horsepower from its 1237cc V-Four engine - topping out at 144 poines with the tach at 10,000 rpm.
“I didn’t think any of these bikes really sounded that good with their stock pipes,” admits Tom, “but clearly the Honda seemed to have the most potential if it had the right pipe. This engine sounds mean.”
The Honda cylinder arrangement puts the outer pistons forward, with the inner pair rear facing. The result is a Four that feels slender, with this latest V-Four more compact than the smaller-displacement engine in the VFR800 Interceptor. Considering the bulk of the touring platforms are Inline Fours, the VFR arrangement stands out as an altogether different beast.
On the road the engine delivers ample performance and character. Twist the grip and Honda’s first-ever throttle-by-wire system delivers more than plenty of get-up-and-go. The Four rattles and hums with pull down low, but the higher revs churn out pure sportbike performance – as well as the highest peak horsepower power of our test, with 144 ponies at the rear wheel.
One caveat to Honda power delivery is a notable flat spot before its mid-range hit and generous top-end. Honda intentionally restricted the power production below 6000 rpm in an effort to keep the bike sedate and managable to the general public with the ride-by-wire and exhaust power valve systems teaming to mute power delivery down low. That gives the VFR a split personality. The lower end churns out more than enough for touring and casual riding but twist the revs up to 6K, high noon on the tach, and riders better have a firm hold cause it’s really go time.
“What a sweet engine, hugely powerful!” exclaims Livingood. “My god, this is racetrack performance. I can’t imagine anyone wanting more. I loved the feel of the engine too. I had an ST (ST1300) a while back and one of the reasons I got rid of it was I thought it was boring. It had the V-Four also, with pretty good power, but the VFR feels and sounds so much better. Definitely not boring!”
The VFR's high-performance engine is complemented by the highest rated brakes and transmission.
We pressed Honda for a test unit bearing the optional dual-clutch automatic transmission, but none were available. Instead we got the standard six-gear manual version. The velvety gearbox is well sorted, slick shifting and lacking any vagueness. The VFR’s clutch pull is light, with seamless engagement. Even boneheaded downshifts are drama free thanks to the slipper clutch. The same slick descriptions could be used to describe the shaft final drive, one of the biggest concessions to the touring ledger with the VFR design. It is all but unnoticeable on the road.
Another area where the Honda got across the board praise was in the braking department. Riders enjoy a precise feel and fantastic bite from the dual disc six-piston caliper front brakes. An unobtrusive rear-to-front linkage and subtle ABS round out the top-rated braking package. Effective and immediate, the Honda brakes rated highest on every scorecard.
The engine deserves a lot of the ink and the brakes impressed but handling is where the Honda excels. Its compliant chassis begs to be taken to tight, technical terrain. The VFR’s narrow body feels lighter than its 612 pounds, with effortless transitions. Leaned over the Honda is steady and confident, unshakable and bold.
Showa suspension up front and back features preload adjustment for the fork and preload and rebound for the shock. Less adjustable than the Concours, the Honda suspension just flat out works with this chassis. The combination of agressive steering geometry that features a 25.5-degree rake coupled with 101mm of trail make for quick handling while the longest wheelbase of our test bikes at 60.8 inches provides stability. However the handling alchemy works, it puts the Honda on a different level than S-T rides we’ve sampled in the past.
The VFR's handling ability was unmatched, with its chassis delivering quick turn-in and assuring stability at any speed.
“The handling was firm and sporty,” says Donald. “It made this ‘old duffer’ feel like he could ride. On my ST1300 it always felt like I had to pay attention and ride it right to guide it through the corners. I never felt really comfortable. Hell, on this thing I just went where I wanted without really thinking about it. It was like an extension of myself – the best feeling and cornering bike I have ever ridden.”
Ergonomics skew toward the small side, with the bike dimensions much different feeling than the others. Riding position teeters toward sporty, but retains an overall upright feel that is well suited to touring duty. When pressing the Honda at an rapid pace, it’s easy to hunch over the tank and emote a full-on sport stance.
Biggest knocks on the touring credibility is the hard seat. By itself, this reviewer found it the least comfortable, but tolerable. Other testers were less kind in their complaints.
The Honda's saddlebags are simple to use, though not particularly spacious.
The VFR windscreen may be non-adjustable, but delivers steady airflow without turbulent buffeting.
“Hey Honda, try manufacturing a seat next time,” derides Lavine. “Sometimes I wonder what market Honda was trying to attract. I think the VFR was designed for a young man who just doesn’t want to give up his sportbike, but wants to do a little more travelling… so just take a sportbike and add some bags.”
Granted the VFR’s touring abilities are easy to question because of its stiff seat and ergos that are on the sporty side, long distance rides are far from tortuous. The windscreen may be non-adjustable but is effective and directs a steady, turbulence-free stream of air around the rider. The aerodynamics, MotoGP derived by Honda’s claim, cut through the air with minimal resistance.
One gripe that’s particularly damning for a true touring mount is the VFR’s low range. Math says 200 miles can be had thanks to the 40.8 mpg efficiency and 4.9 gallon tank. But there’s the theoretic range, and there’s the distance you can travel until the tank reads empty. On all our rides the latter came much earlier than the former, but the Honda was the most pronounced. The VFR’s fickle fuel tank seems to read the levels of the funnel-shaped fuel cell, not the actual volume. Riders will wonder how they’ve gone 60 miles without dropping one bar, have a little over a half tank at more than 100 miles and then be frantically searching for fuel with the empty tank warning flashing at 140 miles. We pushed it to 155.5 miles on one tank, with the warning flashing on E for the last 15.
Kitted out with its touring accessories, the Honda is a pricey bike, but delivers the goods in pure road performance.
The optional touring extras, however, did make long days in the saddle manageable. The heated grips were quick to temperature, though not adjustable. The saddlebags look great and are idiot simple, though far from the largest. The extras make the VFR an adequate tourer, but jack up the MSRP from 16 thousand to 18K. The $1400 for the saddlebags alone seem particularly odious.
The VFR exhibits the finest fit and finish – the paint job in particularl, is fetching. As far as looks go, the Honda has taken its lumps in the press ever since it broke cover two years ago. It’s in the eye of the beholder, right? Well, all the beholders in our testing entourage found it a looker.
The most expensive bike in our test, the Honda’s premium performance commands the high pricetag. The VFR could handle a trackday just as easily as a 500-mile tour. It’s a potent combination, the sportiest of the sport-touring ranks.