Virtually nothing has been carried over unchanged from the current VFR800 to the new 2002 machine. The chassis, styling and engine are all new – with an unprecedented level of flexibility to allow the bike to fulfil its multi-purpose brief.
While the sharp new look is sure to grab attention, the most significant innovation is hidden away under the skin, given away only by a tiny sticker on the fairing that reads " V-TEC " . Until now, you’re unlikely to have seen those letters on a bike, but they’ll be familiar as Honda has pioneered the system on cars for more than a decade.
V-TEC is Honda’s name for its variable valve timing system, originally introduced in 1990 on its CRX sports car. Now virtually every car manufacturer in the world has latched on to the idea and Honda has decided to extend the technology to bikes, too.
In fact, the VFR isn’t the first Honda motorcycle to get V-TEC, though it is the most significant. Two years ago, the firm introduced a V-TEC version of its Japan-only CB400 as a toe-in-the-water exercise – but the VFR is the first machine to bring it to a worldwide audience.
In fact, despite sharing the V-TEC name, the system used on the VFR has little in common with the car version. It’s actually called Hyper V-TEC, and is far simpler and more compact than its four-wheeled counterpart.
Where the car system actually opens and closes the valves at different times depending on the engine revs, the bike one simply changes the number of valves that are opened.
Like the current VFR800, the new bike has four valves per cylinder, but at low revs it uses just two of them – leaving one inlet and one exhaust valve closed. The result is that the gas flow through the remaining pair of valves has to be twice as fast – and high-speed gas-flow is the key to increasing torque.
At higher revs, the second pair of valves come into operation – allowing more fuel and air into the combustion chamber and releasing the exhaust more quickly to give maximum top-end power. The result should be an engine that combines the best possible bottom-end grunt with plenty of high-revving power. Suddenly, that sports touring compromise doesn’t seem as tough, does it?
The new bike’s torque curve clearly shows how the system alters the engine’s behaviour. While the peak torque remains the same as the current bike’s 59ftlb at 8750rpm, farther down the rev range, between 3000rpm and 5000rpm, the new bike’s torque is significantly higher.
Since the current bike already uses four valves per cylinder all the time, the power output of the new machine remains the same as the current bike’s at 105bhp.
So will it make a real difference? MCN features editor Marc Potter, who has ridden every sports tourer over the years, reckons it will. He said: " The V-TEC system should improve torque. It was never a real problem on the VFR until rivals with bigger engines came along, like Aprilia’s Futura. The Honda suffered in comparison. "
The engine’s changes aren’t limited to the addition ofV-TEC, though. Honda has introduced a patented new camchain tensioning system which is intended to reduce mechanical noise from the motor – allowing you to enjoy the V4’s distinctive throbbing exhaust note even more.
The fuel injectors are new, too. Now, rather than injecting a single spray of fuel, they split it into 12 separate sprays, angled a few degrees apart. This should help the fuel to atomise more efficiently and mix more thoroughly with the air before it is ignited – improving both performance and economy.
The emissions are also reduced, thanks to the better combustion offered by the new injectors – Honda’s figures show the new bike emits less than half the carbon monoxide of the current model, while hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide levels are also down. That might sound dull, but as a result the motor burns 20 per cent more efficiently – squeezing as much power as possible out of the minimum amount of fuel. To make fuel stops even less frequent, the tank is a litre (0.2 gall) bigger.
Honda might have fiddled with the fuel injection, but so far few of the firm’s injected bikes have managed to shake off a slightly snatchy throttle response at low revs. Given the new VFR’s extra bottom-end torque, this could feel even more pronounced. However, a new clutch puts the power through to the gearbox in a controlled way – so getaways and gearchanges should be smooth.
The gearbox itself has new cogs – with a lower first gear and wider ratios – to make the most of the extra bottom-end torque and provide optimum acceleration.
There’s far more to the VFR than a heavily revised motor. The beam frame is new and, thanks to thicker alloy on the spars, should make the bike stiffer to improve handling when you’re in " sports " mode. However, there is a 3kg (6.6lb) weight gain, taking the bike to 213kg (469lb).
There’s also a FireBlade-style brace running under the swingarm pivot to increase chassis stiffness.
The brakes are sportier, too. Honda has developed a new version of its Combined Braking System which gives the rider more control by reducing the amount the back brake comes on when you operate the front lever.
The VFR’s single-sided swingarm is carried over – helping to give the bike a sporty, exclusive look – but Honda has maximised both the looks and convenience of the design by coupling it with a pair of underseat exhausts. As well as looking great, with four exhaust exits set in a V pattern to mimic the V4 engine, the pipes help the bike achieve both its sporting and its touring goals.
The new design means there’s no way you’ll suffer any ground clearance problems when you’re cornering hard – if a pipe touches the ground you’ve already crashed.
However, the system also helps if you’re touring because there’s nothing to get in the way of the panniers – which themselves are an optional extra.
Honda has clearly tried to emphasise the bike’s sporting character – but without harming its practicality. At a glance, it seems to have succeeded, too. The shark-nosed styling, with its central nose intake to reflect the VTR1000 SP-1, wouldn’t look out of place on a full-on sports bike, and those exhausts make the tail look equally sporty – particularly when the pillion seat is disguised by its clip-on cover.
But look more closely and you’ll see there are practical features that will make a FireBlade rider green with envy. Centrestands may not be sexy, but they do come in handy when you’re lubing the chain – and on the new VFR it looks like Honda has even managed to tuck it away, out of reach of the Tarmac.
The instrument panel also offers creature comforts most superbike riders wouldn’t even imagine. As well as the usual rev counter and digital speedo, there’s a digital fuel gauge, two trip meters, a clock and even an air temperature gauge – so you can tell if it’s cold enough for icy roads.
If you do hit something slippery, the Dual Combined Braking System should help you keep control, while a bit of extra cash will get you ABS as well, as Honda will be selling two versions. If you’re sharp-eyed, look out for gold calipers rather than black to pick out the ABS-equipped VFR.
The bike will come in silver, blue, black or red when it goes on sale early next year. The price is expected to be around £8000.