The Honda VFR1200F sports a shaft drive and like the other two rides in this comparison, makes use of a slipper clutch.
Honda’s Dual-Clutch automatic transmission, which we enjoyed during our first ride experience, was not yet available for our test (Honda expects them to arrive in American showrooms by the end of May). So our test bike features the standard six-speed, with slipper clutch. There’s not a whole lot to say that delineates the three comparison bikes in this regard. All sport smooth gearboxes with slick shifts and slipper clutches, which make downshifts totally drama free.
If there is an area where the VFR’s sportbike credentials waver most toward the touring ledger, at least on the spec sheet, it is in the use of a shaft final drive. Yet the VFR’s exhibits no noticeable lash and power delivery to the rear wheel continues the seamless reaction from the throttle – we didn’t miss a chain drive at all. Kawasaki
’s Tetra-lever shaftdrive remains excellent in this regard as well. The chain drive on the Haybabusa reveals its pure sportbike performance – there’s no questioning where it stands on the touring/sportbike performance grid!
The Kawasaki weighs in near 700 lbs full of fuel. Fortunately, the K-ACT ABS and KTRC traction control keep the big beast under control on decel and on less than optimal surfaces.
This carries over to the braking performance where, again, the Hayabusa isn’t bedecked with any electronic aids for the rider. No linked brakes or ABS for the Busa, just effective stopping power, with fantastic unfettered feel at the lever.
Up front dual 310mm discs with four-piston calipers carry out the braking for both the Hayabusa and Concours, with a single disc/two-piston arrangement out back (Tokico calipers for the Suzuki and Nissin for Kawasaki). The Honda utilizes six-piston Nissin calipers and dual 320mm rotors up front, with a similar single disc/two-piston rear. Both the Honda and Kawasaki feature linked braking systems and ABS.
The Kawasaki system, dubbed K-ACT ABS (Kawasaki Advanced Coactive-Braking Technology), links the front to rear, with a two-position setting on rear to front linkage – Mode 1 a lighter effect for sportier riding and trailbraking, with Mode 2 a harsher back-to-front sensation. The Kawi’s brakes do an impressive job bringing the giant to a halt – they certainly have to work the hardest with a measured curb weight of 690 lbs, a full 98 lbs heavier than the VFR (111 lbs heavier than the Hayabusa).
|Kawasaki Concours 14
Honda’s braking system leaves the front to operate independently, with the front lever actuating all six pistons on the right front disc and four on the left. The remaining two pistons on the left front represent the linked system, which is actuated by the rear pedal. Interestingly, the Honda’s front piston sizes are asymmetrical to even out the braking force, with the right side calipers measuring 25mm in diameter and the left side 27 and 30mm. In practice, the Honda’s brakes deliver premium stopping power and refined feel unexpected from a linked system. The ABS kicks in only at extreme applications, where it does jump at the lever. However, even the linked-braking/ABS-averse Adam felt the Honda’s brakes delivered the goods.
Fantastic braking feel and performance on the Honda complement a refined and nimble chassis.
“Braking performance is off the charts. The VFR feels like it has premium racetrack grade brakes. Although I am absolutely opposed to any kind of linked brake system, the VFR’s set-up actually works really well. The ABS system also performs perfectly and doesn’t activate too early like systems on other touring-style bikes like the Concours 14. The biggest gripe, however, is that it doesn’t have an off switch.”
The Honda leans hardest into pure sportbike territory in the handling department. The physical size difference of the Honda can’t be overstated, with the VFR so narrow it seems as if two of them could be fitted between the width of the Busa or Concours. This sensation is exaggerated by the aforementioned cylinder arrangement, which narrows the seating position of the VFR. It feels like a Twin. The Honda’s slim profile accompanies a lower-feeling center of gravity. The aluminum frame and single-sided swingarm, teamed with the Showa fork and shock (preload adjustable, with the shock also offering rebound adjustability) make for an unshakable, refined rolling chassis.
|Kawasaki Concours 14
All combine for a bike that’s easy to ride fast immediately. The slender girth and light feel make for easy transitions and quick turn ins, where it excels. While it doesn’t turn any faster (or slower) than the Haybusa, the VFR chassis transmits so much feel and feedback that initiating turns feels less strenuous. The ease of turning belies its longest wheelbase of the comparison, at 60.8 inches, as well as its less aggressive rake and trail figures (compared to the Busa). Once committed to the corner, the VFR’s stability matches the rider’s unwavering confidence. At higher speeds the Honda chassis holds its unflappable character.
The Hayabusa and VFR1200F both carve up ribbons of asphalt, with the Honda's narrow profile and communicative chassis making turn-in and transitions effortless.
“Without question the shining point of this bike is its chassis,” raves Adam. “It’s simply astounding how incredibly dialed it is from just cruising down the freeway to carving up the gangliest mountain road you can find. It’s everything you want it to be. It’s 100% stable and composed whether you’re blasting around a 140 mph sweeper or when cranked over on the side of the tire through a tighter second gear bend. No matter how hard you ride the Honda - how aggressive you get with the brakes or the throttle - the chassis just takes it. It never gets out of shape or flexes too much. It also provides a ridiculous amount of feel that allows the rider to extort its performance right away. With the VFR, there is no learning curve. You just hop on it, go fast, and feel good. It’s by far one of the easiest sport motorcycles I’ve ever ridden.”
The Hayabusa lives up to its sporting credentials, but doesn’t feel as light on its feet as the fleet-footed Honda. That’s a nod to the Honda, not a dig on the Busa.
Overshadowed by its nimbler competition, the Kawasaki Concours 14 still gets around the bends with aplomb.
“Compared to the VFR, the Busa is much more difficult to get on and ride fast immediately,” says Adam. “I’m not saying that the VFR is faster in the twisties, it’s just that you can hop on it and within 30-seconds be totally acclimated to the way it handles, the tires, brakes—everything. The Busa on the other hand takes a little bit of time to get the right feel out of the bike. Plus the VFR feels smaller and more compact and is just a bit easier to manhandle. Even though the Busa is a huge motorcycle, it's surprising how nimble it is both at parking lot speeds and while riding.”
The feel and feedback from the Suzuki may not reach the VFR’s stratified heights, but it’s still amazing. The Hayabusa stirs up images, at least for us, of the drag strip or hooligans pulling wheelies on some darkened freeway. But twisting backroad highways are the true métier of the Busa, just hope the authorities are somewhere else because it’s impossible to obey the law with the Suzuki. Of that there is no question…
The Kawasaki feels its bulk when the road kinks up, but is still surprisingly svelte. Only Supermoto-tight technical terrain gets the Kawasaki chassis overwhelmed, and even still, the lean and handling performance achieved by the Concours far exceeds the expectations of a near 700-lb bike. The smooth stability of the Kawasaki delivers a ton of comfort and doesn’t diminish when speeds kick up into triple-digits.