Riding any bike in the California mountains will make that bike feel like a million bucks. It seems that it doesn’t much matter which bike it is, those roads make up for any short comings in the vehicle by engulfing you in the majestical beauty that is the Sierra Mountains. Enough with the waxing poetic…
On Tuesday I had the opportunity to rent and ride a 2002 Honda VFR800 motorcycle in those ever amazing Northern Californian Sierras, and I was severely impressed. The RC46 782cc V4 engine is a wonderful piece of machinery for the street. It added some much needed character to Honda engines, which have been described as bland, while maintaining a smoothness and sophistication required in modern sport bikes. The V4 lump pushed enough power to not leave me wanting but did so in a very usable manner. I am continually puzzled why there aren’t more V4 motorcycles in production today. They provide equal, if not more usable, power to an inline-4 liter bike yet add much needed character to the super smooth revving inline-4 power plants. The nearly 800cc engine is also a wonderful size for the street but since testosterone oozing machismos want more and more power and the sacrifice of all else this “mid-size” engine won’t see a comeback anytime soon. Yes, smaller engines are having a resurgence in this post-recession economy. But finding significant market share in middle ground will continue to prove difficult. Suzuki is the only manufacturer who continue to push out sportbikes with an engine in the middle of 600cc and 1000cc engines we know and love.
The VFR800 has several other technologies that are finding difficult footing in today’s market, most notably the V-TEC variable valve management and Combined Braking. I grew to like the combined braking after being very surprised by the stopping power of applying only the rear lever. I could live without the V-TEC as it seems to add unnecessary complication for the sake of efficiency to an already efficient machine. At around 6800rpm the remaining 8 valves would engage and create a somewhat displeasing rattling.
The suspension of the VFR was well setup despite it’s minimal adjustability. I had plenty of confidence to scrub the chicken strips off it’s narrower rear tire. Speaking of the rear tire, it too is out of fashion these days despite the increased agility it provides.
Most everything. The engine is great, the suspension is very good, the ergonomics great (mine had an aftermarket Sargent seat).
Mostly one thing and one thing only … its weight. It weighs in at 481 lbs. DRY. Add another 60 pounds of fluids, including the gas in its wonderfully large sized tank, and you have one small whale in the canyons. The styling, I suppose, is also a bit dated but that’s to be expected.
What should be:
Hind sight is 20/20 or very near it. With that said, perhaps Honda should have released a 800cc V4 sportbike instead of the ill-fated VFR1200 sport tourer all those years ago. I for one would love a VFR800R sportbike with a non-V-TEC V4 engine that weighs in at least 60 lbs lighter than the latest VFR800. Honda can save money by keeping a similar suspension but give me a very sporty mid-sized bike that will provide serious competition to the lone Suzuki GSX-R750, which weighs in at over 110 lbs lighter than the VFR. Let me repeat that: 110 POUNDS LIGHTER. Having ridden the Gixxer, a great bike on most accounts, it is obvious that a new entrant could do it better and provide competitive improvements in the best-sized category for the street sport bike market.
The VFR800 is a great bike but what would sell a lot better, in my opinion, is a VFR800R or even a VFR800RR. I have very low hopes of these machines being built and therefore I won’t hold my breath. But it would be an awesome machine.
A little video from my riding partner and step-father:
Thanks for reading and happy riding.