The VFR line has carried Honda's flag since the early '80s, when Honda realized that the motor from the old Sabre could, with appropriate tweaks, power the Interceptor. By the time bikes like Suzuki's GSX-R750 and Honda's own Fireblade had come along, Honda's race-rep V-Fours – the RC30, then RC45 – seemed exotic but somewhat beside the point.
The Interceptor, though, held on to devotees; riders who demanded performance but were unwilling to give up comfort to get it. The Interceptor line, in the last 25 or so years, has been Honda's premiere showcase; sometimes for desirable technology like the single-sided Pro Arm swingarm, sometimes for less-than-desirable tricks like V-TEC variable valve timing.
In talking about the new VFR1200F, Honda's been careful to position it as a new thing, “its own thing.” They've been careful to say that it's not a one-for-one replacement for the Interceptor.
But it is. That was obvious when the new VFR1200F was revealed in a conference room at Honda's Torrance, California HQ. After an appropriate amount of ooh-ing and ahh-ing by the assembled journalists, the curtains were opened and the new bike was wheeled out into a courtyard where it was placed at the head of a line-up of... all the old Interceptors (plus a few other notable V-bikes, including an NR750!)
Such was the anticipation of this bike that when it was first wheeled out, the journos – who normally descend on new metal like vultures on a fresh carcass – formed a circle about 20 feet in diameter around it. It was as if none dared be the first to approach it.
Yet at the same time, the first look was also tinged with a little disappointment, if only because this new platform will “soon” be available with optional dual-clutch technology. That was the bike I thought I was coming to see; it will give riders the option of servo-assisted paddle shifters or even a fully automatic six-speed tranny.
Conceptually, dual-clutch tech is simple: a pair of clutches split the power transmission between odd- and even-numbered gears. If you're, say, accelerating in second gear, third gear is already engaged but the 'odd' clutch is disengaged. When you want to upshift, you touch a paddle on the left 'bar, and in an instant the 'even' clutch disengages and the 'odd' one engages. There's no detectable interruption in power to the rear wheel. Such systems have been around for quite a while in racing cars and are about to become fairly common in some run-of-the-mill production cars, like the Ford Focus. However until now, no one but Honda has managed to make one small enough for motorcycle use.
When it's available as an option, the dual clutch may prove to be a real revelation. Given motorcycles' relatively high power-to-weight ratios – and high centers-of-mass – it seems reasonable to assume that a dual clutch will work even better on two wheels than it does on four.
But if the VFR1200F we saw was “just” the base model, equipped with a familiar foot-shift six-speed tranny, was it unworthy of all that attention? I say no. Once I got over the disappointment of not seeing the dual-clutch version, I realized that there's a lot to appreciate in the new machine.
One thing everyone was saying on the way in (albeit sotto voce; we were after all on Honda's turf) was, “I hope it doesn't have variable valve timing.” I'm happy to report that it doesn't. Honda's V-TEC works brilliantly in car engines, but the simpler variation used on the previous generation of VFR800 was cumbersome, noisy and unsettling.
If anything this new 1237cc V-Four has ditched that unnecessarily complex valvetrain and adopted a conspicuously simple one: the “Unicam” design as seen on Honda single-cylinder dirt bikes. Unicam motors have, as the name implies, a single overhead cam. The intake valves are actuated directly by the lobes, while the exhaust valves are operated via rockers.
One of the advantages of this system is that the cylinder heads are compact, allowing the V-angle to be reduced to 76 degrees. Unlike the VFR800 crankshaft, with two crankpins that are 180-degrees apart, the VFR1200F crank looks like the "360-degree" crank on the RC45, which was sometimes also called a "big bang" crank. But on closer examination, you'll find that each crankpin is offset 28 degrees. This out-of-phase arrangement, combined with the 76 degree V-angle, results in a motor with near-perfect primary balance; there are no counterbalancers required to quell vibration.
As for a question all fans of Honda V-Fours will ask: But does it have that characteristic “fwoar” sound? I can't tell you. We did not hear the bike run. (And no, Honda wasn't foolish enough to leave the key in it!)
The 'conventional transmission' version I saw was equipped with a slipper clutch, which will be standard on that version. The optional dual-clutch version will not be a dual slipper arrangement. (Slipper clutches weigh more than conventional ones, and the dual-clutch option weighs 22 pounds more than the conventional bike as it is.)
In the presentation, Honda emphasized the attention spent on rider ergonomics and design details – all those elements of art and science that combine to give a bike its feel. That extends to basic engineering. For example, the crankpins of both rear-facing cylinders are in the middle of the crank, while the front cylinders are outboard. That allowed Honda to make the area between the rider's legs as narrow as possible. I'm 5-foot-7 with a 30-inch inseam, and I can easily flat-foot this bike despite the 32.1-inch claimed seat height. The riding position felt (admittedly only at a standstill, and only for a few moments) far more neutral than most current sportbikes.
Although the new machine shares nearly identical rake and trail figures (25.3 degrees; 101mm) with the VFR800, its wheelbase is nearly 3 inches longer (60.8 inches) and 50 pounds heavier than its older sibling. Curb weight, full of all fluids and fuel, is said to be 591 pounds. Honda didn't release any claimed power figures, but it's easy to imagine that the bigger motor can push an extra 50 pounds around. How it will handle remains to be seen.
Everything about this bike suggests that Honda's positioned it for serious high-mileage riders. This is the first time Honda's put a shaft drive on a machine with sporting pretenses. They say that it feels “like a chain,” but lubing and adjusting a chain are chores high-mileage riders won't miss. A 4.9-gallon fuel tank should offer reasonable if not impressive range.
It's equipped with mounting points for hard luggage, and if you add baggage or a passenger, it's easy to adjust the shock preload thanks to a remote adjuster. The fork's adjustable for preload too, of course. The only other adjustment available is rear rebound.
You can look at the photos and draw your own conclusions about the way it is styled, but the bodywork looks as if it offers good weather protection. If it seems as though there's a body outside the body, that's because there are in fact two layers. Honda claims that the slick outer layer – there aren't any rivets or fasteners visible on it at all – channels cool air onto the rider's legs. The inner layer channels air through the cooling system and out vents at the bottom of the fairing.
That's hot weather taken care of, but what about wet weather? It's equipped with a revised linked ABS. This is not the same ABS that works so well on the CBR1000RR ABS version. It is linked in one direction only, which is to say that if you activate the rear brake, the front will also work. But if you are using the front brake only, it won't override you and link the rear. On the subject of direct and indirect rider controls, this is the first Honda production bike with a fly-by-wire throttle.
Honda did not release pricing for this version of the VFR1200F at the press reveal. They assure us it will be available early in the New Year in any color you want as long as it's red. The dual-clutch version will be available “some time in 2010.”
We'll be able to tell you much more about the conventional-shift VFR after we get a chance to ride it in December. Stay tuned.
|Engine Type||1237cc liquid-cooled 76° V-4|
|Bore and Stroke:||81mm x 60mm|
|Valve Train:||SOHC; four valves per cylinder|
|Induction:||PGM-FI with automatic enrichment circuit, 44mm throttle bodies and 12-hole injectors|
|Ignition:||Digital transistorized with electronic advance|
|Transmission:||Six-speed (VFR1200F) / Six-speed automatic with two modes and manual mode (VFR1200F with Dual Clutch Automatic Transmission)|
|Front Suspension:||43mm cartridge fork with spring preload adjustability; 4.7 inches travel|
|Rear Suspension:||Pro Arm single-side swingarm with Pro-Link single gas-charged shock with remote spring preload adjustability and rebound damping adjustability; 5.1 inches travel|
|Front Brakes:||Dual full-floating 320mm discs with CBS six-piston calipers with ABS|
|Rear Brake:||Single 276mm disc with CBS two-piston caliper with ABS|
|Tires:||120/70 ZR17 radial (Front) / 190/55 ZR17 radial (Rear)|
|Wheelbase:||60.8 in. (1545mm)|
|Rake (Caster angle):||25°30’|
|Trail:||4.0 in. (101.0mm)|
|Seight Height:||32.1 in. (815mm)|
|Fuel Capacity:||4.9 gal.|
|Curb Weight:||591 pounds (VFR1200F) / 613 pounds (VFR1200F with Dual Clutch Automatic Transmission)|
Living with the VFR
2008 Middleweight Sport-Touring Shootout: BMW F800ST vs. Honda VFR800 Interceptor
First Ride: 2002 Honda VFR Interceptor
1998 Honda VFR800FI Interceptor
Honda's V4 History
2010 Honda V4 Teaser