We’ve come to the Lake District, home of wet weather and stunning roads to put the newest Honda VFR through its paces against two of its stiffest competitors. Aprilia’s V-twin RSV Mille-powered Futura and the more powerful Triumph Sprint ST 955i triple.
The consummate sports tourer must be fast and handle well to earn the " sports " component of their description. But it must also be happy to pootle around back roads, sit on motorways happily protecting you from the wind and seat a pillion comfortably while you work out what you’re going to be today. Whether you’re head-down, leathered-up Mr. Sports or you want to kick back and go for a more mellow day as Mr. Tour.
These three bikes are all at the service of Mr. Sports and Mr. Tour. But there’s one that treats both like a lord. It only takes a few miles to realise it, and as the miles pound on it seems to get better and better. The new VFR is the daddy in this group.
Honda’s benchmark sports tourer has undergone a thorough revision this year, the most notable change is the inclusion of the V-TEC engine. This varies the timing of the engine valves to maximise fuel economy, improve the throttle response and power according to the revs and throttle position.
And it’s a gem, reasonably strong at the bottom with a sports bike-style bark at the top end. It’s sharper than the old one in the bends, is great for a pillion and luggage and feels like it has been put together by a group of NASA scientists, everything works so beautifully.
The styling doesn’t work for everyone, though. Some like the fact that it has aggressive, sharpened lines, but is still obviously a VFR, while others reckon it follows the Futura’s style a little too closely.
On the M6 on the way up to the Lakes, the VFR proves it can sit happily at speed. It’s cruising comfortably at 70mph and can carry on doing so well over the speed limit without any hardship.
The riding position is a bit more crouched than the Aprilia and sportier than the spacious, big Triumph, but not so extreme that you feel like a Tour de France cyclist pedaling down an Alp with your backside higher than your shoulders. The little windblast is directed at your shoulders and supports you at speed.
The Aprilia is also an amazing motorway bike – though that fantastic, taut chassis is somewhat wasted if you’re just going in a straight line. The large screen provides better wind protection than the Honda, and the only real problem is that the V-twin vibes makes your fingers tingle a bit when you’re racking up the miles.
The Triumph is physically the biggest bike here. Like the others, it will sit happily at 100mph with just a slight bit of buffeting from the screen if you’re tall. The pegs are higher than the others, which can cause cramp after a while, but dropping them would reduce the amount of ground clearance when you finish the motorway section of your journey and start getting sporty.
Like the Honda and Aprilia, the ST has a single-sided swingarm, but the big silencer hides the cute silver three-spoke rear wheel. The other two have high-mounted exhausts.
The back roads of the Lake District beckon and it’s time to have a proper look around. The VFR has already impressed me on the motorway and I can’t wait to see what it’s like on more tempting Tarmac.
The tiny roads twisting away downhill make it easy to see what’s coming. They’re way too narrow to get a real head of steam up, but they do give you the chance to get a real feel for the bike. Unfortunately, the black stuff is damp in places, but the Bridgestone BT020s feel like they’re doing exactly what they should. A good job, too, because this thing has some guts.
Though the engine is gorgeous, it’s not the only thing that makes the VFR a great bike. Everything is an almost perfect compromise that makes it extremely easy to ride.
The Aprilia has the drive out of slower bends and it’s close on power, but the VFR just has the edge, with quicker steering and more punch once it gets to that magical 7000rpm.
The suspension is firmer than on the previous model, which lets you get away with a lot more on fast bends where the old version seemed to get a bit light at the front.
The ST looks the biggest and is the bulkiest to muscle around, but it’s comfortable and the new engine is a lovely, liquid-smooth lump, with new internals, a slicker gearshift and, most importantly, more power and torque.
If the VFR’s not in the powerb, the Sprint will smoke it out of bends, and it feels much more free-revving than older STs. If you edge towards touring, it’s a brilliant choice, while if you like it a bit sportier and fancy a Triumph, there’s always the Sprint RS.
Generally, it’s a bit clumsier than the VFR, but no worse for it.
Though the VFR makes that great noise and now handles just as well, with better steering, the Futura has much better brakes and is in some ways just as much of a personality. It just doesn’t shout it out so much.
The VFR is the acceptable face of sports bikes – until you unleash the V-TEC and it shows that its preferred sport is extreme abseiling rather than meandering around country lanes with a walking stick.
To watch a video of the test, and hear Marc Potter giving his summary of the bikes, follow the link on the right. The full report from the test will follow shortly.