HONDA VFR400

Fast Bikes - - HONDA VFR400 -

This lit­tle bike is my mate’s pride and joy – it be­longed to a lad that I used to race school­boy MX with, Aaron, but his old man, Ado, owns it now. And although I was look­ing for­ward to rid­ing it, I think they were more ex­cited for me to ride it than I was – they knew I’d love it. It looks great in its cheap Chi­nese RVF replica body­work, but then again

any­thing in Cas­trol Honda colours is go­ing to look pretty cool, isn’t it? The sin­gle sided swinger looks plenty trick too but I wasn’t overly keen on the rub­ber-topped foot rests

– so last cen­tury.

Turn­ing it on (with the flimsy look­ing key whose keyring has bounced around so much it has worn away the fin­ish off the top yolk) and fir­ing it up re­sulted in

a deep in­duc­tion noise the likes of which I don’t re­mem­ber ever hear­ing be­fore, de­spite think­ing I was rea­son­ably fa­mil­iar with the model. On tick over the VFR’s throaty tone sounded im­pres­sive but it’s strange V4 ex­haust nose seemed a bit muted through the big, bog-stan­dard ex­haust pipe.

Like the other bikes on test the Honda sported a hard seat, but was ac­tu­ally quite com­fort­able. It’s a small bike, yes, but I didn’t feel as cramped up as I thought I might have done. It was the sporti­est feel­ing bike on test to sit on and the empty look­ing nose-cone made it feel like a bit of a race-bike too. I didn’t like the stiff feel­ing clutch and the stick­ing throt­tle grip put the willies right up me even be­fore I’d got rolling on Honda, but I wasn’t go­ing to let any­thing spoil my ride. In fact I soon dis­cov­ered that the stick­ing throt­tle grip was due to the fact that the rub­ber grip had slid down the tube and was rub­bing on the bar end – with a bit of ma­nip­u­la­tion the stick­ing throt­tle was cured, even if only tem­po­rar­ily.

The en­gine felt in­stantly tractable but, as can be imag­ined, it needed to be abused some­what to get the best from it. When you are not rid­ing it like you stole it, the VFR has very rea­son­able road man­ners. It fu­els cleanly and has a us­able amount of low down and mid-range power – noth­ing that is go­ing to start a fire in your soul, but cer­tainly enough to have a steady ride through town without too much frus­tra­tion. The real power started to ap­pear, in earnest, at around 7,000rpm at which point the VRF, thanks to its V4 en­gine con­fig­u­ra­tion, could only be matched by the EXUP Valved Yamaha. At 9k the poke got pok­ier and kept get­ting pok­ier un­til 15,000rpm. Revving the VFR to such dizzy­ing heights took some get­ting used to – I found my­self chang­ing way

be­fore the power had pe­tered out for the first few dozen miles as I felt like I was talk­ing lib­er­ties with a 25-year-old en­gine. Once I’d grown a pair of balls and got used to revving the nuts off the V4 I had a right laugh scream­ing around on the thing, tak­ing it to its red­line in ev­ery gear (not all of them, your hon­our). The howl that poured from the VFR’s pipe was mu­sic to my ears and the more the thing revved the big­ger my grin grew. I was start­ing to see why Aaron and his old man were so keen for me to take the VFR out for a spin.

The gear­box worked with stun­ning flu­ency and pro­vided in­stant se­lec­tion of the next gear with min­i­mal foot­work; there was very lit­tle, if any, play in the sys­tem to speak of. If I hadn’t known bet­ter, I could have eas­ily as­sumed that

I was op­er­at­ing a gear­box from a five-year-old bike rather

than a 25-year-old bike. I was very im­pressed.

Ac­cel­er­at­ing was great fun but brak­ing less so. The Honda didn’t sport the worst an­chors in the world but they over­heated very quickly and gave way to chronic brake fade. The fluid in the reser­voir was as black as the ace of spades though so some fresh fluid and a quick bleed through would’ve al­most cer­tainly helped.

And while we are on the sub­ject of nig­gles, the lit­tle Honda’s mir­rors, which had

ob­vi­ously been po­si­tioned some years ago, had seized solid. This would have been fine if they were in the right place, which they no doubt would have been for who­ever ad­justed them many moons ago, but for me they were all wrong – and well and truly jammed in the wrong place. I did have a good go at try­ing to al­ter them so I could see what was go­ing on be­hind me, but I didn’t fancy snap­ping some­thing in half that I couldn’t af­ford to re­place. So I just left it.

Like the FZR, cor­ner­ing was where the VFR shone. The back of the tank felt a bit nar­row and would dig in to your in­ner thighs a bit when hang­ing off, but in the same turns and con­di­tions where the RGV felt as though it was on ten­ter­hooks and the ZXR didn’t want to hold a line, the Honda sailed through grace­fully and with pace.

The VFR dropped into the turns quickly, as could per­haps be ex­pected from such a light bike, but what re­ally im­pressed me was how planted the thing felt on the side of its tyres, at knee-down lean an­gle. It was great and it had me rid­ing it faster and faster and faster.

In fact I was en­joy­ing the VFR so much that I didn’t think to check the fuel level. Had I ac­tu­ally been lis­ten­ing, rather than away with the fairies, when Ado told me the fuel tap was set to ‘re­serve’ I could have also saved my­self a long walk. But that’s my prob­lem you see, I never lis­ten.

The VFR was great and didn’t half make me smile, in fact I’m gut­ted I have to re­turn it. Maybe they will let me take it for an­other spin some time. Rest as­sured I’ll be check­ing the fuel tap next time.

Boothy’s of­ten get­ting his mod­els mixed-up.

Sin­gle sided swinger, for the full-fac­tory look.

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