With a V-four pedigree dating back to 1983, the new 2010 Honda VFR1200 is arguably Honda’s best effort yet in the sport touring category.
The V-four engine concept has loomed large in Honda’s legend since the introduction of the 500 Interceptor in 1983. Honda still wants that engine configuration to be their “signature” in the motorcycle world so….enter the most technologically advanced motorcycle on the entire third planet from the sun—the 2010 Honda VFR1200.
The new VFR was designed in Europe for Euro riding styles and conditions. A typical customer would be a well-off, more mature gentleman who used to ride sportbikes. With the VFR, he can go kneedragging on his favourite alpine roads during the day, and pull into a five-Star restaurant in the evening without feeling out of place among the Ferraris and Porsches of The Upper Crust.
This V-four is bristling with new technology. Instead of traditional double overhead cams, the VFR goes with uni-cams developed on Honda’s four-stroke motocrossers. The cam lobes sit directly over the larger and heavier intake valves while the lighter exhaust valves are activated by a rocker system. This reduces reciprocating mass as well as removing some fairly heavy components from the far reaches of the engine.
The 1237cc mill is not only lighter than the VFR800 motor, it’s also more compact allowing for optimal engine placement within the frame.
Pictures of the new bike were all over the Internet like fleas on a hound dog within hours of the official release but please reserve judgment until you see the VFR in the flesh. It is MUCH better looking in person, except for the muffler. The red paint with black accents harkens back to the first year CBX and the fit and finish are probably the finest I’ve ever seen on a motorcycle.
The rear cylinders of the “V” are narrower than the front, so sitting astride the motorcycle it’s remarkably wasp-waisted. The motor pumps out a claimed 172 horsepower—not class leading, but certainly nothing to sneeze at. It’s quality horsepower too, not living way up in the powerband’s stratosphere. The 92 ft/lbs. torque make for a surprisingly strong midrange once you’re over 3,000 rpm.
Production VFR1200s will have an automatic transmission option (actually an electronically-shifted, dual-clutch six speed) but the unit I rode had a standard six-speed manual box. I thought the hydraulic clutch felt a bit on the stiff side—not the light, silky-smooth unit I’ve come to expect on the VFR750 and 800 models.
With only 20 minutes available astride the big VFR during a recent Honda Canada press function in southern Ontario, I still got a pretty good idea of what it’s about. The overwhelming impression is that the motorcycle is amazingly solid—as if it were carved from a single block of billet. The pegs and bar placement seem pretty close to the VFR800, which is on the sporty side but not overly so.
Once underway, the fly-by-wire throttle exhibits excellent feel and feedback, and the throttle response is linear and consistent. The 76-degree V of the new engine, combined with offset crankpins allow the engine to function without the weight and complexity of any sort of counterbalancers. The engineers allowed just enough “character” to seep through so the rider knows he’s not aboard a refrigerator.
Wind protection from the double-skinned fairing is good, although more time at freeway speeds would be required to fully evaluate the “fatigue factor.” A blast up through the gears was a real eye opener. It’s reasonably strong right off idle but once the tach hits 3,000 rpm, it’s “Katie bar the door.” This thing accelerates like the starship Enterprise on full warp but when doing so, it’s almost as if it’s loafing—not feeling frantic or strained.
The steering is neutral and even the turning radius is quite reasonable as pulling feet-up U-turns on two lane roads is no problem. Curb weight with a full tank and all fluids is a reasonable 268 kg (591 lbs.) only 18 kg (40 lbs.) more than the VFR800. Once underway, it feels like a 600, proving that mass centralization really works.
The entire shaft drive system lives below the swingarm pivot which virtually eliminates the rear “shaft” effect without the extra linkage typical of the BMW Paralever unit.
I tried a few “on and off the throttle” blips with no negative reactions and I noted there was virtually zero drive line lash.
An Ontario legal cruising speed of 100 kmh comes up at 3,500 rpm in sixth so the VFR1200 will be an effective touring bike, although the 18.5-litre tank will mean a fairly limited cruising range.
I don’t know if it was because this was a pre-production model but the horn and turn signal switches were reversed with the horn sitting above. Every time I went to change lanes or signal a turn, I inadvertently beeped the horn. This is somewhat odd for Honda, normally a fortress of standardization.
Pricing had not been set at press time but it’s expected to be in the ST1300 range—around 19 large (the current VFR800 is just over 15K). Availability in the first year will be limited: “less than one per dealer,” says Honda Canada although three days after the bike broke cover, dealers were already taking deposits.
Riding the VFR1200 back-to-back with the VFR800 was a real eye opener. Compared to the 1200, the 800 comes off as being coarse, rattly and somewhat raucous (especially when the V-Tec boost hits). But in reality, it is none of the above. The VFR1200 is simply much more refined.
The new VFR is a true Gentleman’s Express. It’s performance with sophistication and is more along the lines of Honda’s discontinued Double-X Blackbird than the more touring-oriented ST1300.
by Bertrand Gahel, Canadian Biker #357