Jim Lind­say rides Honda’s ma­ligned V4.

What is it about the much­ma­ligned early eight­ies V4 Hon­das that seems to en­dure? Jim Lind­say finds the an­swers.

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS - WORDS: JIM LIND­SAY PHO­TOS: GARY D CHAP­MAN, JIM LIND­SAY, MOR­TONS AR­CHIVE

y reg­u­lar trans­port for the past two months has been the 1985 Honda VF750F tested here. It was not meant to be that way, but the cos­mic foot stamped heav­ily on my choc ice. With just 17,500 miles on the clock my daily trans­port, a 2013 KTM RC8 R, snapped an in­let valve. I’d just got the VF through its first MOT in heaven knows how many years, so I thought I may as well put it to work as a stand-in for the self-dis­em­bow­elling V-twin from Aus­tria. Al­though I’d rather not be shelling out small for­tunes on the parts to fix my mod­ern scoot, I have been amazed (and de­lighted) at what an ex­cel­lent day-to-day bike the 32-year-old Honda V4 makes. It starts first time ev­ery time, re­turns about 45mpg un­til you start to cane it, and draws at­ten­tion wher­ever you go. One of my most en­joy­able jour­neys was a 200 mile au­tum­nal round trip to the Clas­sic Mo­tor­cy­cle Me­chan­ics show at the Stafford show­ground. The day started out grey and wet, but not too cold. The brakes were okay in the wet, the Bridge­stone BT45 tyres gripped well on the slip­pery Tar­mac while the frame mounted cock­pit fair­ing kept most of the rain away from my body. I was spot­ted by one of the or­gan­is­ers as I pulled into the bike park and be­fore I had time to dig the side-stand puck out of my lug­gage, I had been in­vited to ride the bike in the pa­rade later that day. “What, this old thing?” I asked, half se­ri­ously but in­side, I felt a small glow. I did my duty in the Stafford pa­rade ring. In front of the au­di­ence, ed­i­tor Ber­tie Sim­monds asked why I was dressed like a school­teacher (I’ll get you for that Sim­monds). I caught up with some old mates, bought a mas­sive lock and chain, and had a fas­ci­nat­ing chat with ex­cep­tion­ally ta­lented CMM con­trib­u­tor Allen Mill­yard. A great day out rounded off with a trip home in the re­cently ar­rived sun­shine, and a chance to whizz along a col­lec­tion of sparsely pop­u­lated A-roads, deal­ing con­fi­dently with the traf­fic to keep my rate of progress re­spectable. It’s com­fort­able too. I reached home with that buzz of adrenalin that you get from a brisk ride, but none of my body parts were protest­ing. It’s fun and prac­ti­cal then. So let’s take a closer look. The VF750F ar­rived in the UK in 1983. Un­til then, the 750cc class was dom­i­nated by in­line four-cylin­der air-cooled four-strokes. Some still sported twin rear sus­pen­sion units.

They had one thing in com­mon. When the VF ar­rived, it made them all look years out of date (and they were). It was a rad­i­cal de­par­ture, just the sort of thing you would ex­pect from Honda. We had al­ready seen the en­gine in the shaft-driven VF750S launched in 1982 but while we liked the power, it de­served a bet­ter frame and a more ap­peal­ing set of clothes. The bike on test here is a 1985 USA mar­ket model, the VF700F, which was im­ported into the UK in 1995 and which has had a late model 750 en­gine fit­ted. The 700cc bikes were made to get around the im­port tar­iffs on bike bikes im­posed by the US gov­ern­ment (see sep­a­rate story) Al­though The VF’S V4 en­gine suf­fered from camshaft prob­lems which even­tu­ally caused its early ax­ing from pro­duc­tion, a well sorted one is a joy to use. It’s flex­i­ble as you like. It will bur­ble along in top (fifth) gear at 30mph and pull away cleanly from there with­out need­ing a down­shift. At the other end of the scale, if you thrash it to the 10,500rpm red line it can whizz up to ex­cep­tion­ally wrong speeds ac­com­pa­nied by de­li­cious V-shaped howls from the in­duc­tion roar and the ex­hausts and no dis­cernible power band. In top gear, 70mph comes up at a mod­est 5250rpm. There is a steady, low fre­quency vi­bra­tion at this speed. It is not se­vere enough to be a prob­lem. The en­gine is at its sweet­est be­tween 7000 and 8000rpm. By then you are sig­nif­i­cantly above the UK’S high­est limit in top gear, so it’s just as well the mir­rors give a blur-free view of pur­su­ing en­force­ment ve­hi­cles. When the bike first came out, Honda claimed 90bhp at the crankshaft. In the real world, on a dy­namome­ter, it made 70bhp at 10,000rpm, mea­sured at the rear wheel. It made a bit more power than other 750s of the day. This ad­van­tage was partly can­celled out by the ad­di­tional weight of the en­gine, aris­ing both from its con­fig­u­ra­tion and the use of liq­uid cool­ing. At 220kg (484lb) it was a bit heav­ier than the air-cooled, in­line four cylin­der com­pe­ti­tion. Well sorted aero­dy­nam­ics helped it to a higher top speed than any­one ex­pected at the time. While the air-cooled op­po­si­tion strug­gled to break into the 120s, all the road testers of the time man­aged to drive the Honda com­fort­ably into the 130s. I recorded 137.94mph at MIRA on the one I tested (see sep­a­rate story). It ran the stand­ing start quar­ter mile in 11.67 se­conds with a ter­mi­nal speed of 113.69mph. It was quick al­right. In the Daytona Su­per­bike race that year, Fred­die Spencer took the win on his VF with the V4s of Mike Bald­win and Dave Al­dana claim­ing sec­ond and third re­spec­tively. Back then, it laughed at mod­ern traf­fic, leav­ing lines of cars in its wake. Nowa­days, with more and faster traf­fic, you can still make de­cent progress but you need to buzz it to­wards the red-line to make safe over­takes on two-lane roads. The gear­box on our test bike was okay on up­shifts but a bit sticky on the down­shifts. I sus­pect a weak re­turn spring in the se­lec­tor mech­a­nism. To be fair, the shift was not that great when the bike was brand new. It has a slip­per clutch, a first for a pro­duc­tion mo­tor­cy­cle in 1983. It works okay too, avoid­ing rear-end lock ups when you start to get en­thu­si­as­tic on the tight back roads. How­ever, this was per­haps a mod­i­fi­ca­tion aimed at the rac­ing world of the time. To get it to work on the road, which I man­aged a few times, you have to down­shift with the me­chan­i­cal sym­pa­thy of a po­lar bear – ‘a bit cruel on an old bike,’ I thought, be­fore de­cid­ing not to try it again. The front forks split re­bound con­trol and air preload into sep­a­rate legs, re­bound on the right, air on the left. The air is bal­anced across the legs by a pipe con­nect­ing the two and hooked up to air seals which se­cure the joint be­tween the stan­chions and the top yoke. The VF was pro­duced be­fore the days of car­tridge forks and tun­able com­pres­sion damp­ing. What we had then were var­i­ous forms of anti-dive con­trol which at­tempted, with dif­fer­ing lev­els of suc­cess, to slow down com­pres­sion un­der brak­ing. Honda’s take on this was TRAC, which stands for Torque Re­ac­tive Anti-dive Con­trol. It works like this: the left-hand front brake caliper is at­tached by a piv­ot­ing mount at the top while the bot­tom caliper mount­ing fas­tens to a bracket con­nected to a plunger in the anti-dive con­trol. When you ap­ply the front brake, the caliper ro­tates in the di­rec­tion of the wheel travel, pulling the plunger out and ac­ti­vat­ing

“The VF’S V4 en­gine suf­fered from camshaft prob­lems, but a well-sorted one is a joy to use. It’s flex­i­ble and will bur­ble along in top at 30mph!”

a mech­a­nism which re­stricts the flow of damp­ing oil in­side the fork leg to slow down the rate of com­pres­sion. A hefty cast alu­minium al­loy brace bolted to the slid­ers en­sure that the re­bound damp­ing forces, avail­able only on the right leg, and the anti-dive forces, avail­able only on the left-hand leg, are dis­trib­uted evenly across the front sus­pen­sion. Jolly clever eh? Well, not en­tirely. Now as then it’s hard to tell any real dif­fer­ence be­tween the three re­bound set­tings; the air pres­sure, vari­able be­tween 0 and 6psi does not no­tice­ably al­ter the be­hav­iour of the front-end. On the plus side though, the anti-dive mech­a­nism does work quite well, and helps when brak­ing late and hard for cor­ners. The rear sus­pen­sion unit is ad­justable for re­bound and preload and – like the front – is con­trolled by air pres­sure. Chang­ing the re­bound set­tings seemed to make lit­tle dif­fer­ence so I left it on num­ber three of the four po­si­tions. Air pres­sure is topped up via a Schrader valve on the end of a tube which lurks be­hind the left-hand side panel. Rec­om­mended pres­sure is 7-43psi. Even at max­i­mum, it was too softly sprung at the rear, but that’s how they were back then, which is prob­a­bly prefer­able to the Ital­ian ‘the harder the bet­ter’ ap­proach of the time, of­ten trick­ing you into think­ing that some­one had bolted the base of your spine di­rectly to the chas­sis. If you want to get se­ri­ous about im­prov­ing the han­dling, a mod­ern rear unit would help a lot, as would some se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to the front forks. De­spite these short­com­ings, the Honda han­dles well enough to keep more up-to-date bikes hon­est on twisty roads. It turns in quickly. The fash­ion­able at the time 16in front wheel helps here. The front-end is sta­ble enough to let you trail brake into cor­ners if you feel the urge. It holds the line well driv­ing hard out of bends. It does wal­low a bit in long, fast curves. Dialling in more power does not help in this sit­u­a­tion but the weav­ing stops a long way short of be­ing scary. Tyre pres­sures proved crit­i­cal. They need to be at the orig­i­nally spec­i­fied 32psi front and rear. Even a few pounds more and the han­dling starts to feel vague in slow cor­ners and the ten­dency to weave is mag­ni­fied in fast cor­ners. In a straight line it is sta­ble all the way through to the top speed. I was pleased with the Bridge­stone BT45S. They gave ex­cel­lent grip, wet or dry, and on two oc­ca­sions when I was be­ing stupid, their be­hav­iour while slid­ing saved my sorry car­cass. The brakes also work well. They have enough power and feed­back to keep you con­fi­dent and safe. Both front and rear are twin-pis­ton, slid­ing caliper units. They do not have the out­right power of op­posed pis­ton calipers, but pro­vided you keep the pins on which they slide clean and prop­erly lu­bri­cated, they are fine. The chas­sis is fash­ioned from square tub­ing, more cor­rectly known as RHS (rec­tan­gu­lar hol­low sec­tion). RHS tub­ing, in both steel and alu­minium al­loy, was be­com­ing pop­u­lar for rac­ing frames in the 1980s. It had the ad­van­tage of main­tain­ing its strength when bent in mul­ti­ple planes with­out the need for the ad­di­tional brac­ing that would be re­quired with round tube. Fash­ion and func­tion were hand-in-hand with the VF chas­sis, and it was the start of a trend that would be widely adopted for road bikes over the next few years. Honda used steel RHS tube as did Yamaha for its 1985 FZ750. Suzuki went one bet­ter, us­ing alu­minium al­loy RHS on its mould-

break­ing GSX-R750. In com­mon with many Hon­das of the pe­riod, the VF runs Com­star wheels. The Com­star con­sists of an alu­minium al­loy rim at­tached to the hub by ei­ther alu­minium al­loy or steel spokes, de­pend­ing on the model. The VF uses alu­minium al­loy spokes. The think­ing be­hind the Com­star was that it gave the flex and feel of a spoked wheel while of­fer­ing the strength of a cast wheel. It was not a de­sign that sur­vived: it be­came a vic­tim of ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy, fash­ion and the need to keep man­u­fac­tur­ing costs un­der con­trol. In their an­odised gold fin­ish, the wheels on the VF look great, the only draw­back be­ing that they are ut­ter sods to clean. The Honda is an easy bike to live with. Main­te­nance is straight­for­ward. Most stuff is easy to get at but you do have to re­move the ra­di­a­tors to get at the front pair of cylin­ders for valve clear­ance ad­just­ment. Get­ting the cam-cover off the rear bank is also quite a fid­dle. And fi­nally, 35 years on from its first ap­pear­ance, it looks ab­so­lutely ace. The lines flow sweetly. It is a time­less de­sign. Find­ing one is not so easy. With a short pro­duc­tion life (1983 to 1985) and a spoilt rep­u­ta­tion due to the early prob­lems with the camshafts, not many VFS sur­vived and even fewer have been well cared for. They are about as hard to find as a GSX-R slabby or an orig­i­nal FZ. Prices vary widely. Top ask­ing price is around the £4000 mark, al­though I do not know if those prices are be­ing achieved. You get the oc­ca­sional de­cent one for a cou­ple of thou­sand. I picked this one up com­plete but need­ing work with an­other in bits for un­der a grand: lucky me! I nei­ther know nor care if it will be­come a valu­able clas­sic. What I can say is that it’s a de­light­ful, us­able bike which com­bines clas­sic ap­peal with ev­ery­day prac­ti­cal­ity and that will do for me. cmm

Once ma­ligned and now mighty: the VF750, not our Jim!

Ini­tially trou­bled but later tri­umphant mo­tor and lay­out.

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