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2001 Honda VFR800FI Interceptor: MD Ride Review

Here at MD, we try to remain practical. We try to remember what most motorcycles are used for most of the time, and review bikes from that perspective.

Do-it-all bikes are important. They provide what many riders need in the real world . . . riders who commute and use their motorcycles for more than weekend fun (but want to use their same bike for weekend fun, as well). For this reason, even though largely unchanged for the past few years, we wanted to ride Honda’s flagship sport tourer, the VFR800FI Interceptor.

Honda’s series of VFR models have quite a history. At or near the top of the sport tourer category in the eyes of journalists for more than a decade, the current VFR and its predecessors (primarily, 750cc class machines) have a large and loyal following here in the United States and abroad. The intended purpose of these bikes is to provide a good balance of practicality and fun.

Honda’s recipe for its VFR is to combine strong engine performance and handling with reasonably comfortable ergonomics (significantly more comfortable than most current sportbikes). Honda has been refining the VFR package for many years, and the current iteration is a fuel injected 781cc, 90-degree, V-4 whose design is inspired by Honda’s RC45 superbike racer (recently retired in favor of the new, V-twin RC51).

This V-4 engine, which has been a VFR tradition, provides excellent torque and peak horsepower while being extremely smooth. It emits a unique exhaust note and has a character that VFR owners have raved about for years.

With a six-speed transmission transferring the power via chain drive to the rear wheel mounted on a single-sided swingarm (another VFR tradition), the VFR has very long legs — able to soak up freeway miles at a rapid pace without breathing hard. At the same time, the lower gears are very well spaced for riding around town.

The chassis was carefully engineered by Honda with the ideal combination of handling and comfort in mind. The tuned flex, and pivotless design, which isolates the engine-mounted swingarm from the frame, contributes to reduced weight and the handling/comfort combination desired by Honda.

The Interceptor’s suspension is adjustable for preload front and rear, and also for rebound damping in the rear. The 17-inch wheels carry a 180 section tire in the back and a 120 section tire in the front, allowing owners to select from the latest sportbike rubber if they so desire.

The brakes feature Honda’s third-generation linked braking system, which ties the front and rear brakes together by activating the outer two pistons of the two front brake calipers and the center piston of the rear caliper while applying the front brake, and the outer pistons of the rear brake caliper and the two center pistons of the front brake calipers while applying the rear brake pedal. Brake discs are 296mm in the front and 256mm in the rear. Honda’s claimed dry weight is 463 pounds, and fuel capacity is 5.5 gallons (including 0.8 gallon reserve).

Nice details include a central air vent under the front windshield that provides cool air to the rider at low speeds and reduces wind turbulence felt at higher speeds (it actually works), adjustable brake and clutch levers, and multi-reflector, dual headlights that provide lots of candle power at night.

Riding the VFR gives the impression of smoothness and competence. The bike seems to have no rough edges, whatsoever.

The engine pulls hard from low revs and revs out with satisfying power and addictive exhaust note (courtesy of the unique, V-4 engine design). A slight flat spot around 5,000 rpm is the only noticeable glitch in the power delivery. The Interceptor will pull you through traffic as quickly as you desire, and is capable of low 11 second quarter mile times.

The seating position is significantly more comfortable than some of the severe sportbikes around, and slightly more comfortable than the most comfortable sportbikes from the 600 class. Popular bar-riser kits are available and are employed by many riders who want an even more upright seating position.

Fairing protection, once again, is much better than the more severe sportbikes, and even better than the most street-oriented 600s. Wind protection is quite good on the freeway, and the air scoop in the windshield does help reduce chest and helmet level turbulence at higher speeds.

The VFR will cruise effortlessly at any sane speed you select, and is a popular bike in Europe for high speed travel. The bike feels extremely planted and stable at higher speeds, which, combined with the excellent wind protection, makes the VFR an outstanding freeway mount.

Handling around town and through city traffic is another VFR strong point. The bike changes direction quickly, and the torquey motor puts you through gaps in traffic easily.

In the twisties, the VFR has an extremely fluid feel. At a brisk pace, the handling is almost perfect, but pushing the bike as hard as you might a modern sportbike will reveal some of the chassis flex Honda designed into the Interceptor. This chassis flex does not make the VFR an ideal track bike, but it must contribute to the fluid, comfortable feel, and handling limits that most street riders will never exceed.

The linked braking system on the VFR works very well, but is not necessarily favored by advanced street riders. I prefer to choose which brake to apply, rather than have it chosen for me. Nevertheless, I was absolutely blown away by the linked braking system on Honda’s new Gold Wing — which was outstanding. On a Gold Wing, I think I would actually prefer the linked braking system. On the sportier VFR, I would still prefer the traditional braking design.

Nevertheless, the linked braking system has some benefits which are very difficult for most riders to emulate on their own. By linking the brakes, the bike tends to stay flatter (less dive) and more neutral. In a panic stop, many riders who feel they are good at modulating both front and rear brakes would nevertheless benefit from a linked braking system.

The suspension action on the Interceptor is very supple and a good compromise between touring and sport riding. Again, if you push the Interceptor as hard as you might a modern sportbike, the handling will deteriorate somewhat. The suspension is softer than that found on most modern sportbikes, and it lacks compression damping adjustments (front and rear) and rebound damping in the front. Nevertheless, for its intended purpose, and its use by the vast majority of riders, the VFR suspension is extremely good.

Despite a loud clunk frequently heard while engaging first gear, the transmission worked flawlessly. We experienced no missed shifts, and neutral is relatively easy to find.

Overall, the Interceptor makes you feel confident and in control. This is a bike that is smooth, smooth, smooth, but not too soft. A very good balance, indeed.

A combination of freeway and around-town riding returned 39 miles per gallon. The 5.5 gallon fuel tank would have a theoretical range of 215 miles given our mileage figure.

If you are going to ride the Interceptor on long trips, you might consider a bar riser kit and soft luggage. Honda really should offer integrated, hard saddle bags with the VFR, because the bike is a great long distance companion. Nevertheless, aftermarket hard bags and mounting bracketry are readily available.

Overall, it’s hard to fault Honda’s Interceptor. It is a well engineered, and refined machine that does almost exactly what Honda intended it to do. That is, satisfy riders looking for a practical, comfortable bike that strikes a balance between long distance touring and sport riding. There is plenty of new competition in this category for Honda, but the VFR is still an excellent choice and the only machine in its class with a race inspired V-4 engine (and the accompanying exhaust note). MSRP for the VFR800FI Interceptor is $9,499.00. Follow this link to Honda’s web site for detailed specifications on the Interceptor.