John Nut­ting on the best all-round bike of the 1990s…


fter the turn of the mil­len­nium, Honda’s VFR750F V4 had gained an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion as the one of the best sports tour­ers on the mar­ket. In 16 years of de­vel­op­ment it had been so honed and re­fined that Honda felt con­fi­dent to even start in­cor­po­rat­ing more sporty fea­tures from its rac­ers in the 782cc ver­sion in 1998. So, hav­ing rid­den the first ver­sions in 1986, I was well primed when Honda re­vealed that it would be re­plac­ing the VFR800FI ver­sion with a new model for 2002 fea­tur­ing spe­cial valve gear that would widen what was al­ready one of the broad­est power curves in the in­dus­try. So it came as a huge dis­ap­point­ment dur­ing an event hosted by Honda at Box Hill to find that the VFR800VTEC ac­tu­ally felt peakier, with a sharp jump in the power half way to the red line. What Honda’s en­gi­neers had done was to in­cor­po­rate a de­sign in which all four valves in each com­bus­tion cham­ber opened fully above about 6500rpm. Below this, just one in­let and one ex­haust valve was used, as a means, it was said, to im­prove bot­tom end torque. But that’s not what it felt like at all. Die-hard fans of the VFR750F mum­bled in dis­ap­proval, point­ing to the ver­sion made be­tween 1994 and 1997 as the pin­na­cle of the mar­que’s de­vel­op­ment. But the R to V ver­sion had been one that I’d missed, so when a mate re­cently bought a very tidily-pre­pared model I had to blag a ride and find out what the fuss was about. Now VFR fans, and cer­tainly those who read CMM, might sug­gest that this is turf that has been turned over of­ten enough. But as it tran­spires, there are some bikes that can’t be praised too much.

“By the time this model de­buted, the VFR was well-es­tab­lished as one of the best sport­s­tour­ers, but Honda wanted to sharpen the looks still fur­ther!”

So, at risk of re­peat­ing what the ed­i­tor last dis­cussed just over two years ago, here goes. In 1996, when Gerry Glidewell’s VFR750F-T was sold, it was the fourth it­er­a­tion of the V4. The first VFR750F, the G model, had been launched 10 years ear­lier (see the side story about this else­where), and was tweaked two years later in 1988 for the J and K mod­els with wheels to ac­cept bet­ter 17in tyres and the fair­ing de­sign was cleaned up. In 1990, this was re­placed with a com­pletely new model, the L, the only com­mon fea­ture be­ing the ba­sic struc­ture of the liq­uid-cooled 90º V4 en­gine and its over­square bore and stroke di­men­sions of 70 x 48.6mm, giv­ing 748cc. The cylin­der heads adopted rac­ing-style bucket-and-shim open­ing for the 16 valves, which in turn had a nar­rower an­gle, en­abling the heads to be smaller so the en­gine could be re­lo­cated closer to the front wheel. The most no­table fea­ture was the adop­tion of a sin­gle-sided rear swingarm, a de­sign that had been used on the com­pe­ti­tion-ori­en­tated VFR750R (fac­tory des­ig­nated RC30), mated to the alu­mini­u­mal­loy beam frame. Stripped of the body­work – us­ing styling that was typ­i­cal of Honda in the late Eight­ies and fea­tur­ing twin flush-fit­ting head­lamps, a low screen and a clean line from the bot­tom of the fair­ing to the rear faired-in turn sig­nals – the chas­sis looked mean and sporty. What ap­peared to be anachro­nis­tic was that the oth­er­wise func­tion­ally com­pe­tent alu­minium beams were welded to cast­ings sur­round­ing the sin­gle stock link­age were styled to match the body­work. If the mods to the en­gine had im­proved the power de­liv­ery, it was only mar­ginal. All the VFR750F se­ries are claimed to have a peak power of about 105bhp at 10,500rpm with max­i­mum torque ar­riv­ing at 9000rpm, which be­ing close to­gether sug­gests a lot of top-end, but the con­sen­sus is that there is more than enough re­sponse all the way through the rev range. One down­side with the F-L ver­sion was that it gained weight. While the orig­i­nal 1986 model tipped the scales at 199kg, four years of de­vel­op­ment had added 17kg or nearly 40lb, if Honda’s fig­ures are cor­rect. This was ad­dressed with an­other all-new and shorter chas­sis for the (R to V) mod­els that were first listed for 1994. Two years ear­lier Honda had launched its lightweight CBR900RR sports bike, so that cat­e­gory had been well catered for, and now Ducati had shocked the bike world with its beau­ti­fully-styled 916 V-twin. By then, the

VFR750F’S po­si­tion in the bike world was wellestab­lished as one of the best sports tour­ers, but even so Honda wanted to sharpen its looks and per­for­mance. So the whole bike was re­assessed, and weight trimmed from key com­po­nents such as the main frame, the rear swingarm, and even the drive chain. The rear wheel’s width was re­duced from 5.5in to 5in, sav­ing a few more grams, and even the O-ring drive chain was slimmed, so that the to­tal weight re­duc­tion was a use­ful 18kg, cut­ting the dry weight to 209kg. Styling was more sub­dued, the only nov­elty be­ing the NACA in­take ducts on ei­ther side of the fair­ing, rather like those on the ex­otic 32-valve oval-pi­s­toned NR750 of the same year. I was pon­der­ing this while rid­ing Gerry’s VFR750F-T south to­wards Rye on the East Sus­sex coast. The roads are sin­u­ous and chal­leng­ing with only oc­ca­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties for quick squirts to the le­gal limit as cars are despatched with a flick of the right wrist. Below, the en­gine hums along ef­fort­lessly, the note from the after­mar­ket ex­haust lost in the wind. I’d ex­pected more grunt from below 3000 in top, or 40mph, be­cause the smaller 34mm semi-flat slide carbs don’t re­spond im­me­di­ately, but there was still enough for a re­laxed ride. Be­yond Rye and out in the Rom­ney Marshes, the roads are a de­light, with fast straights and open con­stant-ra­dius 90º bends. Drop a cou­ple of gears in the crisp six-speed box, and with 6000 on the rev-me­ter the VFR takes off more re­spon­sively with that dis­tinc­tive high rev war­ble than only a V4 of­fers. Let it re­ally sing and there’s power enough to quickly take you very eas­ily into highly il­le­gal ter­ri­tory. That’s be­cause while the VFR doesn’t en­cour­age ag­gres­sive rid­ing as such, it’s just so dis­arm­ing. One sec­ond you can be cruis­ing along, the sus­pen­sion skip­ping over the road sur­face, with barely a vibe to ruf­fle your con­cen­tra­tion, and the next you can find your­self en­ticed into a se­ries of quick bends that start to test the chas­sis. That’s where the car­tridge forks and the Pro-arm rear shock are at their best in the mid­dle of their travel and the VFR starts to come alive. Some say the VFR750F-R model of­fered a slightly higher peak power of 107bhp, which matches the es­ti­mated top speed of 150mph. Where it’s le­gal, cruis­ing speeds of up to 120mph are said to be

pos­si­ble be­cause the aero­dy­nam­ics en­sure that the wind skims over the rider smoothly. At lower licks I found that the screen gen­er­ated tur­bu­lence around my hel­met that was a lit­tle bit too noisy for com­fort. This was only re­lieved by tuck­ing awk­wardly in­side the fair­ing, or sit­ting much higher. Per­haps a bub­ble screen would help. Brak­ing is a sub­jec­tive is­sue, be­cause it de­pends on your rid­ing style. Those late brak­ers look­ing for pin sharp re­sponse go­ing into bends will be unim­pressed by the dual-pis­ton float­ing calipers (which are less state-of-the-art than my 1988 Jap-im­port 650 Bros), and it’s said a set of stain­less-steel braided hoses will pro­vide some im­prove­ment. Per­haps it’s a re­flec­tion of the way I ride, but I found the VFR’S stop­pers just fine. The changes to the VFR750F-R model’s ge­om­e­try – with a steer­ing head an­gle of 26º – make it very much tra­di­tional in feel. It’s not sharp but neu­tral, re­quir­ing barely a touch at the bars to guide the bike through cor­ners. But as I started to push more ag­gres­sively as we ap­proached our lunch stop at the Pilot Inn near Dun­geness, the steer­ing felt more leaden in cor­ners. In­deed the ef­fort was a chore, and a look at the front Dunlop pro­vided a clue. The tread was heav­ily worn on the shoul­ders. Mod­i­fy­ing my at­tack in cor­ners on the re­turn jour­ney, by keep­ing the power on to the apex so the front end was light­ened, helped but it was enough to fray my nerves. A word with lo­cal ace Gra­ham Marchant, who also runs a VFR750F of the same year, of­fered a so­lu­tion. “Try a pair of Miche­lin Pilot 3 tyres,” he said. It did the trick and a later ride on Gerry’s bike showed just how great the VFR can be. Singing through fast sweep­ers I imag­ined I was Joey Dunlop on his works RVF in the Isle of Man. For a bike that’s from two-decades ago, the VFR750F is re­mark­ably com­pe­tent, re­fined and with an un­par­al­leled build qual­ity, so long as you main­tain the ex­haust sys­tem. In­deed, you have to won­der why there’s a need to buy the lat­est VFR800FI ver­sion with a five-fig­ure price tag. Or any of the 800 mod­els, least of all the un­nec­es­sar­ily com­pli­cated VTEC, come to that. For com­fort­able high-speed cruis­ing a 1996 VFR750F hits the spot pre­cisely. Why go else­where? Source: John Perkins, The VFR750 home­page Other con­tacts: www.david­sil­vers­­to­evo­lu­ www.vfr.bik­er­so­r­a­

in ex­ploits for his famed VFR750F was so the like. Dunlop Honda been Joey V4s Just as on have of Man it must the best the Isle what a hint of per­haps rides tour­ers. pro­vides Nut­ting sports John of the V4

Take a dash of Honda NR750, a dol­lop of Fer­rari Tes­tarossa and a big chunk of RC30. This is the re­sult.

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