Living With the VFR -

Francis Clark
by Francis Clark

OK, let's start with the obvious. This article is about a VFR. That means it's a pretty good bike by anyone's definition (except maybe the Highwayman and other selected retards). It also means that you've probably seen one or two (or seven) road tests on it. The particulars are well known, about 100 hp at the crank, 55 or so ft/lbs of torque, fuel injected V-Four, linked brakes, etc.

By the consensus vote of the motorcycle editors on the planet, it's the best all around street bike made, even if it doesn't sell all that well in the US. So if you think I'm going to tell you it sucks, well, you're wrong. But this isn't a road test. Nor is it a long term wrap up by the gilded motorcycling press.

You know, the guys who call Honda and whine because they need a new tire and then have the oil changed every 300 miles by their ill-paid pit slaves.

This article is about living with the VFR in the real world, by a guy who changes his own oil, checks his own fluid levels and tire pressure, and has a real wife who sits on the back. It's about the good and the bad. And yes, even the mighty VFR has a few zits and nits.

I bought my VFR, a 1998, new in 2000. I have bought one and sold two other bikes in the meantime. But the VFR remains, for good reason. I bought the VFR after reading every review I could find on the machine, since my local Honda dealer wasn't about to give me a test ride (which I thought kinda sucked). I wanted a single bike that could do it all.

"It is a finished, refined piece of work."

I wanted it to be sporty enough to enjoy solo jaunts along the spectacular mountain roads of Georgia, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina. (Bet you didn't know that SC has some cool mountain roads.) I wanted it to be able to tote myself and my frau with a week or more of clothes to any destination I wanted.

I wanted reliability, since I like to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway underneath a full moon. (If you haven't done this, you really should try it.)

I wanted it to be comfortable. I don't like riding 500 miles only to get off and find that your butt feels like a two by four has been nailed to it. And if you think that your wife is going to smile after 500 miles on an uncomfortable seat, you must be a newlywed.

First Impressions at the Dealership

We have all heard about the excellent fit and finish of Hondas, regardless of the recent problems with some of their units.

Well, this bike exceeds even those standards. Honda has lavished tremendous resources on this bike over fifteen years. It is, more than any other bike I have ever been on, a finished, refined piece of work. When you first get on it, you see the results--controls that fall easily to hand, an easy-to-read instrument layout, and each piece of the fairing and frame tightly fitted together. Regardless of its slight porkiness (436 lbs dead dry), the balance is superb.

The riding position is made for the long haul, especially with a tankbag set up to lean against and take some weight off of your arms. I have tried cruisers, and they make my back and tush hurt after about 50 miles. Standards are too upright for me. Focused sport bikes are too extreme. The VFR seating position is between a sport and a standard. It's so comfortable, some disparage the bike as being a "sofa."

Well, I was almost sold. So I asked the sales manager, "Why should I buy this bike?"
"It's easy to ride."
"What does that mean?"
"It means you can get on it and ride it for hours and get off not being tired."
"Hmmm," I sez. And I thought about that. Then we started to dicker about the price. I had cheated and pulled the invoice price off of the net and found that the dealers were also getting an extra $350 to sell older VFRs. That helped. We closed the deal. A few days later I picked her up. (If it sounds like I was already bonding, I was.)

The Engine

The VFR engine revs effortlesslyUndoubtedly the heart of this bike is that strange and wonderful engine. Mine doesn't have the VTEC system, and it still has that lovely bevel drive camshaft. Fire it up, use a little enrichener if it's cold. Very soon the engine will settle down to its signature lumpy idle. Vibration is almost non-existent, as you'd expect from a 90 degree V-Four.

If I had to compare the characteristics of this engine to another, I'd pick the Ducati 916 engine. I know that sounds like heresy to the ducatisti, but I have spent more than a few miles on Bologna iron. The Honda V-Four almost has the torque of a twin, mated with nearly as strong a horsepower rush as an in-line four. (I wonder if that's why the Ducati GP bike is a 90 degree V-Four?)

However, the engine tends to run hot. If you live in a climate that rarely breaks 90 degrees, you're unlikely to notice. If you live in Georgia, the heat can be a problem in the summer. Stop at a light and watch the temperature gauge soar past 212 degrees quickly. Fortunately, the engine is designed to take the heat. But knowing the engine is happy does little for the poor schmuck that's sitting on the bike. And the temperature won't really start to come down until you break 60 MPH and hold it. Stop and go traffic in a Georgia summer can become an exercise in endurance. At the Honda Hoot in 2000, I asked a Honda tech if there was something wrong with my bike.

"No," he said. "They just run hot."

"Well," I said, "I've started running Mobil One 20-50 V-Twin, and it seems to cool it off a few degrees. Is it OK to run that?"

"That's the right oil," he said.

(I'm not really trying to make this a Mobil One commercial, but that's all I've ever put in the VFR. And I have never needed to add oil, even when I go 4,000 miles between changes. In fact, I'm going for 6,000 before I change this time.)

The VFR engine revs effortlessly. I don't need to look at the tach, since just a slight roll-on of the throttle gets the engine spinning well enough for a sprightly take off. The engine has good "grunt," again similar to the 916. The VFR builds power linearly. There are no jumps and jerks in the power curve. The fuel injection is spot on. As you pass 7,000 rpm, the previously mild mannered engine starts to growl like a Formula One racer. And things get interesting.

Francis Clark
Francis Clark

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