‘A no-ex­pense-spared, mas­sively over-en­gi­neered won­der’

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Feature -

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.

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