Honda used the technology from AMA championship-winning VFR750 in the ’80s to create a living legend, a masterpiece of sports bike engneering: the famed VFR.
Honda successfully created the VFR as the bike that would gracefully satisfy each of the customer’s needs, a machine so remarkably well tuned that it feels just as comfortable and confident flying up and down mountain passes as it does cruising the motorways in style between different destinations.
The VFR series is derived from the earlier VF motorcycle, a street bike which practically introduced the V-type four cylinder engine design at Hondas. Having all the necessary qualities for a guaranteed success, great looks, excellent power with minimal vibration and relaxed riding position, Honda decided to start producing the VF, a very important root of the VFR. The earliest VF series engine was designed the V45 for its size (748 cc), was very narrow being only 16 inches (406 mm) wide, and had perfect primary balance making for a smooth, vibration-free engine. A smaller V30 (500 cc) engine and a larger V65 (1100 cc) engine were also available, the latter being known as the fastest production bike in its time which generated the birth of the V-max.
Being a new engine type, Honda’s engineers of the time had, in 1982 (the first year of the VF models), reliability problems due to new automated production equipment at Honda’s plant. In 1983 the engine was revised to correct the problems from the previous model year, and saw the introduction of the V65 and the Interceptor. The joy didn’t last long because in 1984 appeared the infamous cam problem surfaced, which led to eight cam revisions over the course of one year. As you expected, the problem was fixed later on but the cam chain was later dropped from the VFR in favor of gear driven cams, to help distance the VFR from the reputation of VF engines for premature cam wear. Honda was to revert to chain-driven cams for 2002 and later VFR engine designs, as the problem was forgotten.
After its debut in 1986 as the advanced, aluminum-framed VFR750F Super Sport, it derived in1989 into Honda VFR750R (RC30) which was the successful racing version, replaced later by the RC54.
1998 is the VFR year. The bike was completely redesigned and the new VFR debuted as a distinct new generation of the long-popular VFR750F. The all-new aerodynamic fairing featured reduced coefficient of drag and enhanced wind protection while the new 781 cc, fuel-injected V4 engine was based on the engine powering the race-oriented RVF/RC45, with swingarm pivots molded into rear of cases. Also characteristic for this year is the PGM-FI fuel injection system based on the RVF/RC45 Superbike and the side-mounted radiators which easily distinguishes a VFR from other motorcycles.
In 2002 Honda released the VTEC version, which dropped the gear driven cams. The V4-VTEC engine produces both stronger 2-valve low-to-mid range torque and the raging 4-valve top-end for a fuller, more user-friendly balance of performance. Above 6,800 rpm, the VTEC valves kick in, and four valves per cylinder start to operate instead of two valves per cylinder below 6,800 rpm which results in greater fuel economy and lower emissions. Initially, the transition created a jolt which could be very unsetting if it happened mid-corner but the problem was later solved and now the transition is smoother. 2002 is also the year when the first VFR ABS entered the scene.
Honda keeps improving this model until this day and it is now called simply Interceptor which reminds us how it all began.
I couldn’t talk about the models that compete with the VFR without saying that they are blown away. The Honda is simply better in all points of view by being produced and improved for more than 20 years: it handles like a dream, it is sharp looking and it delivers a great amount of power for its class. I do have to mention, though, that is has some stiff competition coming from Great Britain (Triumph Sprint ST), U.S. (Buell Trunderbolt S3), Italy (Ducati ST4) and last but not least Germany (BMW R1100 RS). All these motorcycles have bigger engines and the 800 cc V4 mounted on the VFR beats its competition with revs and ingenious construction, pretty much the same way that Magna blown away everything else on the market when it was launched although we are looking at a totally different category.
On a continuously growing and developing market, producers have to keep updating the motorcycle’s aerodynamics and appearance in order to stay competitive from this point of view. The stunning VFR’s supersonic styling remains essentially unchanged from its last major model change in 2002. Proudly exhibiting an unmistakably European orientation in its every curve, corner and undulation, the VFR’ sharply angular form fuses the most advanced aerodynamic design with an exhilarating sense of modern style and high quality to provide dynamic foretaste of the power, performance and excitement that highlights every ride. This is what it’s all about when it comes to great sport-touring design.
A great product can easily be identified by looking at its history, and seeing if it kept the original technical characteristics during the long years of production. If you’ve just done that and you’ve also come to the conclusion that the VFR is quite a piece of engineering, I won’t contradict you. Instead, I would add that the VFR’s famed V4 engine has garnered a proud history of the most exceptional power deliveries in its class. When the VFR was reborn in 2002 as a more dynamic and formidable sport tourer, the unique, high-performance V4 engine was a completely revised with a new V4 VTEC valve train configuration that achieves a remarkable combination of the stronger surging low-to-midrange power output of a 2-valve engine coupled with the high-revving, power-packed performance of 4-valve top-end. This new 2-stage valve actuation system also provides the added benefit of lowering noise and emissions, all while maintaining the VFR’s traditional Honda V4 power characteristics.
The exceptional engine wouldn’t count a bit if the bike handled terrible or couldn’t be ridden for a decent amount of time. Thankfully, the VFR’s Pivotless twin-spar aluminum frame together with the responsive suspension system provide the excellent handling, control and comfort much needed for such a motorcycle.
Later models, the VFR and VFR-ABS, which are still produced to this year feature Honda’s exclusive Dual Combined Brake System for confidently responsive braking control specially tuned for the more sporty balance of performance sports bike riders prefer. The ABS version is also equipped with Honda’s most advanced Antilock Brake System for greatly enhanced braking confidence and control over virtually all the road surfaces a rider may encounter.
Honda has achieved through this motorcycle a great technical achievement which stands for pure development and attention for details, all this leading to a powerful engine that can be exploited, together with the bike’s sharp handling, on any kinds of roads in conditions of good response and conduct at high revs.
The subject of my test drive was a 1998 Honda VFR800 as I preferred to ride an older bike instead of the latest appearance which takes everyone’s eyes. Also, the review includes all the VFR’s out there and I have to recognize that this model year attracts me the most.
Before I begin writing about my latest riding experience, I would like to confess that the VFR has a special feel which addresses to a certain kind of rider. This motorcycle can get you very fast from point A to point B and fast corners are no problem as you can lean more and more and feel the bike’s sportive touch but in the seat of the VFR you feel like a calm person who transports himself in comfort, with the ability to reach high speeds, while maintaining alive the passion for motorcycles.
The first thing that you notice when you ride a VFR is not the engine’s power but the ability to be revved and although it has plenty of midrange torque, the real fun begins once high rpm is reached. The broad, smooth power delivery has enough range to please everyone, be bike not being a peaky sport bike power curve but rather a friendly rush from one end of the range to the other.
The sit-up riding position offers all the comfort that VFR owners have long appreciated, while not distracting from the sporting potential of this machine. Compared with the latest sport bikes, it actually feels sportier because it is easy to tuck in behind the windscreen and hide from the wind.
Handling doesn’t seem to be very difficult even for beginners, although you have to get used to the bike’s friendly behavior and then the fun will begin. The 1998 VFR800 that I’ve ridden handles more like a sport bike should and I was very pleased. The suspension offers adjustability to allow the rider to stiffen it up for hard riding (exactly what I did) yet it is soft enough for lumbering around town over speed bumps all day. Reducing speed before the speed bumps involves some hard braking sometimes but the linked braking didn’t scare me like I had expected, especially since some of the old systems had. The use of the hand leaver doesn’t involve much rear braking, and the threat of the bike swapping ends when braking hard for tight turns eventually became nonexistent. When using only the foot lever, hard braking resulted in hard slowing with little thread of rear brake lock-up. This results into a strangely balanced motorcycle but again, you have to get used to it and it will become very enjoyable.
In 2007 the VFR800 is known under the name of Interceptor, a motorcycle offered for a MSRP of $10,599, but if you are willing to pay $1000 more you will receive the Interceptor ABS which obviously features Antilock Brake System.
I didn’t focused on the Interceptor so I went looking for a 1998-1999 Honda VFR800, a motorcycle which has pretty much the same technical features but a earlier, simple design and guess what? If you are low on the budget but still longing for a sports bike with service record, low miles and perfect appearance, finding it at the reasonable price of $5000 won’t be a problem.
The VFR became very popular by offering a seamless package of sport-touring qualities (comfort, great riding position) combined with a high revving motor which supplies all the power needed.
Type: 781 cc, liquid-cooled, 90-degree V4, 4-stroke
Bore x Stroke: 72 mm x 48 mm
Compression Ratio: 11.6:1
Valves: DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Fuel System: PGM-FI electronic fuel injection
Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorized with electronic advance
Power: 109.6 hp (81.7 KW) @ 10500 rpm
Torque: 80 Nm (59 ft. lbs) @ 8750 rpm
Gearbox: 6 speed
Final drive: chain
Chassis and Dimensions
Front Suspension: 43 mm H.M.A.S. cartridge-type telescopic fork with stepless preload adjustment, 109 mm travel
Rear Suspension: Pro-Link with gas-charged H.M.A.S. damper, 7-step preload and stepless rebound damping adjustment, 120 mm travel
Overall length: 2120 mm (83.5 inches)
Overall width: 735 mm (28.9 inches)
Overall height: 1195 mm (47 inches)
Seat height: 805 mm (31.7 inches)
Wheelbase: 1460 mm (57.5 inches)
Ground clearance: 130 mm (5.1 inches)
Fuel capacity-reserve: 22 l (5.8 gallon US) – 4 l (1.1 gallons US)
Dry weight: 213 kg (469.6 pounds)
Front tyre: 120/70-17
Back tyre: 180/55-17
Front brakes: dual 296 mm discs with 3-piston calipers
Rear brakes: single256 mm disc with 3-piston calipers