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Reader test: Honda VFR

2009-10-01 07:34

Louwri van Heerden, Stellenbosch

Since schooldays I've always wanted a so-called "pocket rocket". The fantasy bikes of the mid nineties were the CBR duo of the 600 and the Fireblade and maybe an R1 or GSX thrown in the mix.

It was with this mindset that I set out to buy my dream bike three years ago. I owned a BMW F650 at that stage, but the lack of power and the missing thrill factor was not made up by the on-off road capabilities. The sport bikes all had a hard, uncomfortable and scarily speedy ride (with great handling of course!)
My VFR on the other hand, met most of my requirements - and still does three years down the line.
Let's start with the comfortable, semi-upright seating position. Being a sports-tourer, the Honda provides a softer, wider and longer seat than the comparable sports bikes.

I am sure the forward, wrist numbing style of the sports bike is fine for the guys going on their Sunday drive, but for me as a regular rider it was unacceptable. The VFR gives sufficient wind protection - although a bubble screen would be a good purchase for the regular cruiser - and there is no strain on any body part for the most part.

Heavy, but comfortable
The bike is a pleasure to ride and handles the twisties well. The weight is the only issue of concern to me here. At almost 200kg, it is significantly heavier than any full-blown sports bike. Although it helps with stability in straight line, it is a definite drawback through the passes.

Weight can be shaved by removing bits, but this does not bother me at all. The weight is also an issue with braking, although still sufficient. Honda's combined braking system prevents most lock-ups, but again provides a point of contention for the more advanced rider.
A big talking point on this bike is Honda's VTEC system. This basically means that the motor runs with eight valves up to 7 000 r/min, after which the other eight kicks in. The reasoning being better low down torque and better fuel consumption (as the average rider rarely runs at over 7 000 r/min, this makes sense). A marked "kick" is produced after this threshold and the exhaust roar turns into a scream.

This feels very similar to the power band on a two-stroke off-road and is not completely unpleasant. I can see why it would annoy the hard-core bikers out there, but for town riding it is good enough. The power is on tap and quite easy to get to in lower gears.


Where I would agree with the detractors is when it comes to cruising. This is when the bike hunts for the power band when driving around the 7 000 r/min mark. On the latest versions, Honda lowered the VTEC kick-in to 6 500 r/min for easier cruising and all-round better acceleration. I was told a smaller front sprocket would do something similar for me, with a resulting lower top-end.
The engine has sufficient grunt for most riders and really - who needs faster acceleration that 3.4sec to 100 or a higher top end than about 240km/h?? My bike came with the stainless steel "deep tone" Laser Exhaust and it is music to my ears. If you think a Ferrari sounds nice - come listen to my V4!
Being Honda's iconic bike, the build quality and design is exemplary. The fairing panels fit together perfectly and no rattles or squeaks can be heard after 40 000 km. I have never had any reliability issues bar the time the sparkplugs were due for replacement. My steed starts up first time every morning! Services are reasonably priced and insurance not as expensive as more extreme motorcycles.
The new VFR is expected any day now and is rumored to be a 1 200 cc beast. For value for money and quality biking, there is no other choice in my opinion. It fulfils all the requirements for someone who truly enjoys riding motorcycles, without being too flashy or too boring.

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