1998 Honda VFR800FI Interceptor

Back to the Future

Page 2

Another refinement the 800 inherited from the VTR is the pivotless frame that uses the engine as a stressed member. The aluminum, triple-box, dual-spar frame anchors the steering head directly to the engine and also provides a solid mount for the top of the rear shock. The single-sided aluminum swingarm pivots in specially designed castings in the back of the engine.

Overall, this set-up allows for a 7.7-pound weight savings from the 750's frame as well as more torsional stiffness. Riding the 800 Interceptor, the most noticeable improvement we felt was in the suspension department. Picture tightening the skin of a drum, then imagine the motorcycling equivalent of that picture and apply it to the 800's suspension.

The 750 has a marvelous suspension for riding around town, long-distance highway jaunts and moderate sporting rides, although the soft compression allows the bike to wallow in sweeping corners. In other words, the 750 was the perfect do-it-all bike for folks who don't worship speed above all other gods.

The 800 is a different motorcycle. The suspension is decidedly more taut. The guts of the 41mm conventional front forks have been reworked and the fork tubes are 12mm farther apart for increased torsional rigidity. The fully adjustable rear shock features 4.7 inches of travel, down from the 750's 5.1 inches. New aluminum wheels are lighter and the rear wheel is 5.5 inches wide and able to sport a larger, lower profile tire.

"Honda developed an LBS that offers more feedback for the aggressive, experienced sport rider while providing the less-skilled rider with a safe harbor during panic situations."

The suspension damping characteristics on this motorcycle are excellent. It provides much more feedback to the rider without significantly sacrificing the bikes famous forgiveness. Bumps on the road are felt, but just that, providing important feedback yet so much as to spoil a very comfortable ride. The corresponding increase in rider feedback means that handling in the twisties is significantly better.

The 750 is a more user-friendly machine, but you need to coax the machine before engaging in any serious sporting maneuvers. The 800, in contrast, screams to be flogged. This is an expert-friendly machine. Where the 750 will obediently and deliberately follow your instructions, the 800 will instantly obey your commands. Push this bike hard, dare to go where no VFR has previously gone before, and you will be rewarded.

At the 800 Interceptor's press intro, audible groans were heard when Honda announced that the new 800 came equipped with their infamous linked braking system (LBS). Journalists remembered the LBS of the late CBR1000F that, in their opinion, helped hasten the demise of that flawed motorcycle. Improvements were made for the CBR1100XX, but journalists and expert riders were still unimpressed. However, for the 800 Honda developed an LBS that offers more feedback for the aggressive, experienced sport rider while providing the less-skilled rider with a safe harbor during panic situations.

VFR 750 VFR 1000 VFR 800

At the top is the VFR750, with its traditional twin-spar frame, followed by the Super Hawk (middle) and its pivotless trellis frame, the best of both worlds appears to be pivotless twin-spar frame of the Interceptor (right).

Basically, the LBS works this way: The VFR800 is equipped with dual, 296mm floating discs with three-piston calipers up front and a 256mm rear disc with a three-piston caliper.When the front brake is squeezed, the two outer pistons of the front brake are activated and via a second master cylinder and a PCV valve the middle caliper of the rear brake engages. Apply the rear brake and the two outside rear caliper pistons the middle pistons of the front calipers engage.

The 750 has nice, medium-effort brakes, which are independently controlled on the front and rear. However, grabbing a handful of brake will lock the front tire more easily than you might expect. The sensation of stopping the 800 is quite different. Squeeze the front lever and rather than compressing the forks and transferring weight onto the front contact patch of the bike, you will find the bike scrubbing speed and squatting at the same time.

The sensation is like feeling the rear brake drag, which, in fact, it is. Stomp on the brake pedal and rather than locking up the rear wheel without slowing significantly, and the bike will sit back a little and slow a lot.

"The VFR is equipped with a centerstand, which make the bike easy to garage, maintain, and park on uneven surfaces."

Unless you really go for it, locking the rear tire is not easy. Using the pedal and lever in tandem will stop the bike quickly and without fuss. The bad news for independent control freaks is that disconnecting the system is pretty much a lost cause without major, intrusive surgery or replacing the whole braking system. Squids will be happy to note that, unlike previous versions of LBS, stoppies are difficult, but possible.

The jury is out on which system is better. What we will say about this generation LBS is that it is significantly better than the other versions. Initially, there were no complaints from many of MO's testers, that is, until they were told that this bike was equipped with LBS. After learning about this they tended to nit-pick, which goes to show that the LBS's reputation precedes it.

Sometimes we feel that racers feel the same way about ABS and LBS as many Harley riders feel about helmet laws. They resent the fact that someone, somewhere, is dictating the terms of their riding styles.Criticism often boils down to a question of one's manhood. Still, this version should help mute some of the detractors. Beyond that, Doug Chandler's ZX-7 superbike now has a racing version of Linked Braking on it. When you try it for yourself, report back in and we'll have a verdict.

The instrument panel cluster is lighter and thinner, although some us believe the 750's speedo and tachometer dials are more attractive. The LCD gas and water temperature gauges, odometer, dual tripmeters, outside air temperature gauge, and clock are a nice touch. Nylon passenger grab rails are less sensitive to temperature fluctuations than the steel units of the 750. Underneath the seat Honda has furnished a U-lock and a tool kit. Even though it adds weight, the VFR is equipped with a centerstand, which make the bike easy to garage, maintain, and park on uneven surfaces.

According to American Honda, U.S. sales of the VFR800 are very good, more than double the sales rate of the VFR750 at this time last year. This is heartening because it shows the the American market will support a quality "tweener" bike in what is generally a niche-specific market. Some have complained that the 800 is just too comfortable to be considered a real sportbike, with one British magazine dismissing the VFR outright for top sportbike awards because it feels like a "sofa." Obviously there are few Gold Wings in England.

On the left side of the Pond some American wags have complained that the VFR should have come with hardbags. Ick. Even though it doesn't produce 120 hp at the rear wheel and you don't have to make monthly visits to a chiropractor if you ride one regularly, this is still, first and foremost, a sportbike, and a carefully designed, well-balanced and attractive sportbike, at that.

Hardbags will add weight, and most likely upset the well-thought-out aerodynamics, handling and performance characteristics. And hardbags will look ugly. Besides, we don't find anything wrong with a tank bag and a good set of softbags. Sure, softbags aren't as "secure", but soft bags don't use keys that can be lost and they don't break.

We like this bike. We like it a lot. It's more than a sportbike for the "real world." Though it may not be competitive at local club races, it will blow any sport-tourer sold clear out of the water, it will keep up with any 600 bike and it will more than hold its own in any street riding environment under any conditions against all but the best-ridden open-class bikes. The biggest knock against the 750 was it's price. However with the new design and all the corresponding improvements, the new-generation VFR800FI Interceptor is well worth it's $9499.00 (USD) price tag.

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Honda
Model: 1998 VFR800FI Interceptor
Price: $9499.00
Engine: Liquid cooled 90 degree DOHC
four valve/cylinder V-4
Compression ratio: 11.6:1
Bore and Stroke: 72mm x 48mm
Displacement: 781cc
Carburetion: Electronic fuel injection
with 36mm bores
Transmission: Six speed
Tires/Front: 120/70 ZR17 radial
Tires/Rear: 180/55 ZR17 radial
Rake: 25.5 degrees
Trail: 3.94 in (100mm)
Wheelbase: 56.7 in (1440mm)
Seat Height: 31.7 in (805mm)
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gal (20.8L)
Claimed Dry Weight: 458.9 lbs (208.2kg)

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