3. Honda VFR800FI (1998-2001)

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Here’s a bike that was just too good and efficient for its own good, or born at the wrong time or cursed by its predecessor or who knows? But it’s always been a fantastic bike to ride and to listen to, thanks to its RC30/45-derived V-Four complete with gear-drive cams. “Inside every one of these there’s an RC30 screaming to get out,” Honda’s ad used to read for the 750 version. At the time, hard-edged sportbikes were all the rage, the VFR sort of got lost in the racetrack-shootout shuffle – and never mind that the VFR was always Freddie Spencer’s chosen mount at his riding school.

All the VFRs are great bikes, and the earliest ones are collectible – but the first fuel-injected 800s – produced from 1998 to 2001 – are the best looking, best sounding and easiest to live with. In 2002, Honda put VTEC variable valve timing on the bike, which most riders didn’t like and which made servicing more expensive. It also replaced the gear-driven cams with chains to save money and reduce noise. Sacrilege.

While the old VFR appears to be a little thick in the ankles by current standards, it’s still a great sportbike and a much better sports tourer than any GSX-R ever. You can pick up clean, low-mileage units anywhere in the country for around $3K and just ride till the cows come home. Or, bin a bunch of that plastic to expose that V-Four and bundle-of-snakes exhaust, Mr. Baba’s pivotless frame and single-sided swingarm. It’s a great mystery why there aren’t more VFR nakeds/ratbikes/customs.