‘A no-expense-spared, massively over-engineered wonder’
When the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer goes all out to get one of its bikes right you can bet the result is going to be good – and that’s most definitely the case with Honda’s VFR.
In fact the V4 sports-tourer quickly became so revered, with such a strong reputation for all-round excellence that, by the time of its third incarnation in 1995, it was not only widely regarded among bike journos as the best road bike ever built (many of whom actually spent their own money on one), but Honda’s own UK PR man of the time, Graham Sanderson, infamously quipped: “I don’t care how much it costs, it’s worth three times more.”
No wonder, then, that the V4 has had such a big impact on so many riders.
Reader David Smith, who proudly owns the Mark II L/M version, is one of them. “It’s one of the best earlier models,” he told MCN. “Mine has nearly 48k miles on her and she still pulls like a train. It handles very well and my wife loves being pillion.”
The story of how the original came into being tells you pretty much all you need to know about the VFR. Unveiled following the 1986 Bol d’or at Paul Ricard (where Honda’s racing V4s had just won back-to-back events and would go on to win the next four) the VFR was conceived to wipe the memory of the earlier, ‘chocolate cam’ 1983/4 VF750 V4s. As such it was a final throw of the V4 dice on which Honda had staked so much. The V4 was central to Honda’s future; it just had to work. And, as a consequence, the VFR was a no-expense-spared, massively over-engineered wonder: the 105bhp V4 was all-new and now sported sophisticated gear-driven cams; the frame was a slick, gleaming aluminium twin spar, the styling was striking and the equipment and build quality second to none. A new benchmark was born.
Best of all, the VFR just kept getting better. After two years, detail improvements included a 17in wheel (replacing the original’s 16 front) plus uprated suspension, clocks and screen. In 1990, an all-new VFR introduced the Elf-developed, Proarm, single-sided swingarm. Then, in 1994, came the F-R, the last and best of the 750s with styling cues taken from Honda’s exotic NR750, and the ability to inspire those best motorcycle ever built ratings.
Nor did it end there. In 1998 came the first 800, the VFR800FI, and although this version saw the VFR’S fortunes begin to dip for the first time when it failed to match the F-R’S impact due to a combination of blocky looks and linked brakes, there’s also no doubt that the VFR was still on a wholly different level to most rivals.
That theme continued with its succeeding VFR800 VTEC in 2002 which, though again impressively able, gained slightly mixed reviews for its innovative but initially flawed variable valve timing system, slightly gimmicky underseat exhausts and somewhat controversial styling.
That model quietly died in 2009. Honda’s much-lauded, all-new VFR, the VFR1200F, arrived in 2010 and brought with it Honda’s radical, optional, semi-auto DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) system. Then the old 800 was revitalised, re-styled and reintroduced in 2014.
In truth, none of these later versions, though decent enough bikes, have had the same impact, or delivered anything like the almost regal superiority of the original 750s. That’s a shame. Yet it almost doesn’t matter. Those original VFRS remain so good, their appeal – still – is so great and their distinctiveness and accomplishments are so strong that the VFR’S reputation and significance can most likely never be diminished.