Part 2 of RiDE's 2011 celebration of the VFR: Honda’s VFR has come in many shapes and sizes since its launch 25 years ago. We spoke to owners of five of the most important models to find out what it’s like to live with a piece of motorcycling history
The bike: 1987 Honda VFR750 F-H
The owner: Alun Salisbury is 72 years old and a self-confessed born-again biker living in South Wales. His ongoing retirement project is the restoration of his beloved VFR 750 F-H.
“I only bought the bike in 2005. It had two previous owners but the first only had it for a matter of weeks. The second owner kept it for 17 years and cherished the machine and lavished everything on it. But it hadn’t been ridden for at least three years by the time I bought it so it needed some work. The owner really didn’t want to sell the bike but he had knee problems and couldn’t ride it so he finally had to sell but there were certain conditions. He didn’t want to see it being ridden round his village for one thing. A mutual friend asked if I wanted a bike and I said no because I already had a Pan European. But I did want to get into the classic scene so I went and had a look at it.
“I started riding in 1954 and gave up in 1958 because of National Service. I then bought a BSA C15 in 1960 and kept it for a year before buying a car and that was the end of my biking until 2003, so I had absolutely no idea what the devil a VFR was. But when I saw it it was such a pretty little machine that I fell in love with it and bought it without even so much as a test ride. The first time I rode it was on the way home that day and it was terrible. I didn’t realise the head bearings had gone, the front discs were all grooved, the fork seals needed replacing – it needed quite a bit of work.
“But even after I’d had that work done, the bike still felt very harsh to ride: the suspension was very hard and uncomfortable, so much so that it felt like there was no suspension at all. I finally traced it down to the tyres. I checked the age of them by reading the codes on the sidewalls and discovered they were more than 20 years old. I’ve no idea how that happened because the bike was only 17 years old at the time. So I bought some new Avons and that made a massive difference. It was brilliant. I looked to see what else was 20 years old on the bike and realised the shock rubbers in the rear hub needed replacing so I fitted new ones and that transformed the bike again.
“I’m still not completely there though – I think there’s something wrong with one, or possibly two, of the carburretors because on the transition from tickover to full throttle – on the pick-up – it’s hesitant and gives a bit of snatching round town. The carbs have been balanced and the bike ticks over beautifully so I know it’s not balancing, but I’ve yet to resolve that one.
“The bike had done 28,300 miles when I bought it and it’s now done 38,000 miles. I use the Pan to go on longer runs when my wife wants to come with me but I always take the VFR when it’s just me. It’s just lovely to ride; it’s so stable that you can trickle through traffic without having to put your feet down, and it feels like real raw power once you get moving.
“A friend suggested I enter the VFR in the Pont Hir Classic Bike Show in 2005 and it won the best ’80s Japanese bike category, even though I rode it there while others were taken in vans or trailers. I refuse to do that because I believe in riding the bike. ”
The bike: 1990 Honda VFR 750 F-L
The owner: Peter Casling, 50, is a telecoms technician from south Gloucestershire. He’s been riding since 1978 but got the VFR bug in 1991 and has never looked back.
“I discovered the VFR by accident really. I went to go for a test ride on a Honda NTV600 but my local dealer had just sold the bike. He asked me if I’d like to try a VFR750 but I wasn’t that interested in a bike with a fairing. I owned a CX500 and wanted something a bit more modern but not something with a fairing. But I went for a spin on the VFR and that was it – the bike was just terrific. It was so easy to ride, it had a really torquey motor, and I was just smitten by it straight away and I haven’t owned another bike since.
“Even if money was no object I’d probably stick with the bike that I’ve got. The newer VFRs have become a bit over-complicated – the VTECs and the new 1200 model. At one point I did consider changing for the F-R or F-V series (1994 and 1997 models) but in the end I decided to stick with what I’ve got. I’ve not even made any modifications to the bike. If you looked at it you wouldn’t see anything different from standard – it simply doesn’t need anything.
“One of the best trips I went on was a 2500-mile tour around France with the local branch of the Honda Owners’ Club last summer. The bike never missed a beat the whole trip. Some of the fuel-injected upstarts did get a bit hot and bothered but none were VFRs.
“The only problems I’ve had with my bike are age related. I’ve had to change the steering head bearings but that’s pretty common in a bike of this age. I know a lot of people have trouble with the rear hub adjuster. I’ve not had a problem with it but my wheel bearings were showing signs of play so I decided to sort that out and the only trouble I had was in getting the rear axle out of the hub because it was rusted in. I also had a little trouble when I tried to remove the swinging arm to lubricate the bearings. I’ve also had the usual problems with the voltage regulator/rectifier which is pretty common with VFRs.
“I’ve racked up 53,000 miles on the VFR but I tend to do just dry miles these days. I’ve been caught out in the wet and it’s not a problem but I simply wouldn’t choose to go out in the rain. I use it mostly for Sunday runs and HOC meets these days and that’s enough for me.”
The bike: 1994 VFR750 F-R
The owner: Stephen Priest, 52, is a technical manager from Halesowen who has ridden his VFR as far afield as Norway and Corsica.
“I got the bike in February 1996 with 5000 miles on the clock but I’ve racked up another 50,000 miles on it, mostly touring abroad. I’ve been riding since I left school about 30 years ago so I’ve had lots of bikes but I was on a Kawasaki GPz550 before I bought my VFR. I was tempted by the VFR’s reputation for reliability because I knew whatever bike I bought I would be keeping it for a long time. I had a test ride on a new VFR first and I was impressed. Once I got it up to about 60mph it was brilliant but the only thing that put me off a little bit initially was the low-speed handling – just the weight of it through town. I still think that’s a slight issue but I’ve got used to it a lot more now.
“At the time, the ’94 model was getting all the rave reviews and it seemed ideal for my needs because I knew I would be doing a lot of touring. I’ve since taken the bike to northern Norway, some 200 miles up into the Arctic Circle. The furthest south I’ve been is Corsica but I’ve also done Spain, Germany, France, Italy and Portugal among other places. For a motorcycling experience I think the best places to go are Germany and Austria because the roads and scenery are so good.
“The only real problem I’ve had with the VFR is with the regulator/rectifier, which I think most owners have experienced. But one thing I like about the bike is that I don’t have to take any spares with me when I’m touring because it’s so reliable. It doesn’t even use any oil.
“I think Honda got the VFR right in the first place but they’ve cheapened them a bit now to make more money. If you look closely at them now you can see where they’re made a lot of cost savings – going away from the gear-driven cams and such like. But apparently the VFR was a loss-leader for years as Honda over-engineered it to prove their V4 concept could work. They were determined to make a bulletproof V4 and that’s one of the reasons I was tempted to buy one.”
The bike: 2000 VFR800 Fi-W
The owner: Jim Gill, 41, is an HGV driver from Chelmsford in Essex who believes his VFR is the perfect all-round motorcycle.
“I always fancied one of the Honda 50th anniversary models since they came out in 1998 but the reason it took me so long to get one was because I had a CBR1000 which I really liked so I kept hanging on and hanging on. I never fancied the Super Blackbird which was the CBR’s replacement – I just found it a bit of a bland looking bike. The VFR seemed a lighter, more nimble bike and I loved the anniversary paintjob with the old Honda racing colours.
“I’ve been riding since 1986 and had the CBR for 10 years before changing to the VFR in 2005. It only had 8000 miles on the clock then but it’s up to 24,000 miles now. You have to make a lot more gearchanges on it compared to the bigger CBR because it’s got less torque but it’s more fun that way anyway – the CBR just rode itself. Don’t get me wrong, it was great for doing long distances but it was overkill as a local ridearound bike – it was just too big, the same as the Blackbird. The VFR is much more agile for fast rides but you can also tour with it so it’s the perfect all-rounder.
“I’ve just been to France for the weekend with the North London Honda Owners’ Club and did around 750 miles around the Champagne region. The VFR is perfect for that sort of trip and it was as reliable as ever. I can’t remember having had any trouble with it in the six years that I’ve owned it. It’s unbelievably reliable – almost to the point of being boring!
“I’ve not made any modifications to the bike at all – I can have enough fun on it just the way it is. I’ve just looked after it and kept it serviced and try not to use it in the rain if I can help it.
“I’ve tried the new VFR1200 but again I find them just a bit too bulky and a bit too heavy. If I was to go into that range of bikes I would go for a Pan European – a bike that you really can tour with because it has all the practical touches. I run a KTM 990 Supermoto as well so that’s what I use when I need some speed and want to do some real racing around.”
The bike: 2004 VFR800 VTEC
The owner: Andy Reynolds, 50, is a health and safety officer from Wall Heath in the West Midlands who is currently on his fifth VFR.
“All my VFRs have been 800s – I’ve never owned a 750. I had 1998 Fi-X then I had an Fi-Y 2000 model but that destroyed itself on the way to Le Mans. The coils had gone on it. I’d bought it from a dealer and it only had one previous owner and 5000 miles on the clock, but it was from a Kawasaki dealer rather than a Honda dealer. I had taken it back twice and they couldn’t find a problem but it started playing up again on the way to Le Mans and was only running on two cylinders. A recovery guy came out and he was from Chiswick Honda. He knew immediately what the problem was because the exhaust wasn’t even getting hot. He took me back to the Kawasaki dealer and explained to them what the problem was but they still wouldn’t listen so I demanded my money back.
“So then I got another 1998 model but a woman ran right into the back of me on a roundabout. It was completely her fault and she took full responsibility for it.
“The bike was a write-off so I bought a 1999 Fi-Y and I had that until I got the VTEC. But there’s no comparison – it’s like chalk and cheese, I love the VTEC model. The reason I went for it was I had a VTEC loan bike after my ’98 model was written off. I’d read all the bad press about the VTEC (owners complained that the bike ‘hunted’ between VTEC modes at certain speeds/revs) so I wasn’t looking forward to riding it but I had no issues with it whatsoever.
“On my bike, the VTEC kicks in at 7000rpm and if the bike’s warmed up to the standard VFR’s operating temperature of 70-75 degrees then the VTEC is seamless. The only things you notice are a step in power, though I wouldn’t say it’s vicious, it doesn’t kick you in the backside, and a slight change in the exhaust note. I actually love the feeling of it kicking in – it’s a buzz to get a boost of power like that.”