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2010 Honda VFR1200F: MD Ride Review

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If Honda has been uncharacteristically slow to introduce new motorcycle models over the past few years, it seemed to make up for it all at once with the announcement last year of the VFR1200F, available with both a traditional manual transmission as well as a dual clutch automatic (which the press is just now beginning to test). This bike is clearly a gem that Honda has polished very carefully. When the big VFR was first introduced to the press corps in the U.S., we covered it with our story on October 8, 2009, and described all the technology found in this flagship motorcycle. We won’t bore you with those details, again, because the focus here is the riding experience. Nevertheless, for purposes of context, the VFR1200F, aside from its transmission choices, features a 1237cc, 76 degree, v-four engine feeding power to the rear wheel through a shaft drive encased in the single-sided swingarm. Throttle-by-wire, slipper clutch and Honda’s sophisticated combined braking system with ABS are all standard equipment. Honda even went so far as to design the engine with a unique firing order, and place the rear cylinders closer together in order to improve rider ergonomics. They swung for the fences, and damn the MSRP. The end result is the VFR1200F- retailing here in the United States for a suggested $15,999 base price.

With a curb weight approaching 600lbs (for the manual transmission version we tested) and a wheelbase of nearly 61 inches, this is a very big motorcycle. For comparison purposes, although lighter, the VFR1200F has a wheelbase one inch longer than that of a Kawasaki Concourse 14, and nearly 2.5 inches longer than the BMW R1200RT. It is also roughly 30 pounds heavier than the R1200RT. Despite this comparison with more dedicated tourers, Honda lists the VFR1200F in the “sport” category (with its CBRs) on its website. if the VFR1200F has an identity crisis, of sorts, it relates to its size and weight combined with ergonomics tilted heavily towards the sport end of the sport touring spectrum.

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Identity crisis or not, the 2010 VFR1200F functions flawlessly. We do not state this cavalierly. In our experience, everything on this motorcycle works smoothly and with a precision and feel approaching that of a fine Swiss timepiece. Engine vibration is low, but pleasant, throttle response (for a fuel injected motorcycle) is nearly seamless with very little off/on transition abruptness, and the rider controls, including clutch, brakes and throttle, all have that smooth, damped feeling one gets when interfacing with an expensive automobile.

Given the huge engine displacement, power comes on smoothly but somewhat less urgently than one would expect in the mid-range. While the mid-range is still more than adequate for normal street riding, this bike likes to rev and pull harder as the tach moves beyond the mid-range. Unfortunately, while the engine still feels smooth and unstressed and power still seems to be holding steady, redline and a related ignition cut abruptly put a halt to things at just 10,500RPM.

The combined braking system works about as well as any we have experienced. Even for an experienced rider that likes to control the front and rear brake independently, there is virtually no artificial feeling and no perceived significant reduction in fine control over the braking forces. To the contrary, Honda seems to have figured out how to allocate braking forces optimally for both beginners and experienced riders. Not and easy task given our experience with other manufacturers efforts in this regard. The brakes are powerful and provide good feedback, as well.

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Instrumentation is clear and legible even in bright sunlight. The large, centrally placed analog tachometer is appreciated, and the stark contrast on the LED screens is the best we have seen. Virtually all of the information you would want from your motorcycle is available, including a fuel gauge, trip meters, clock and even an ambient air temperature readout, among many others.  The usual warning lights reside just over the tachometer, and are strongly backlit and also easy to see during the daytime.

The “fit and finish” on our test unit was hard to fault. From the routing of hydraulic lines to the quality of the paint and the fit of the fairing panels, the bike appears very well put together. Seamless, even… sort of like the way it works.

We never missed a shift, and the six transmission ratios are well spaced with top gear providing relaxed freeway speeds. The low vibration combines with good mirrors that are certainly a step up in usability from those found on the typical sport machine.

Acceleration is deceptive. The bike is so smooth that you might not know how quickly you are being catapulted forward… until that car that was several hundred yards up ahead requires rather urgent use of the brakes. Despite the soft mid-range, the VFR1200F moves out with authority, and will not disappoint the adrenaline junkies.

The only problems I had with Honda’s new flagship related to its purpose, or its mission, if you will. The ergonomics are much too aggressive for a baby boomer looking for a comfortable, sport touring experience. Certainly not as radical as a pure sport bike, but the bars are lower and the footpegs higher than just about everything we have tested in the Sport Tourer category, of late.

At the same time, although the VFR1200F handles smoothly, and the suspension is refined and well damped, its defining characteristic is straight line stability. Freight train stability. This is great on the freeway, or when your mind wanders, but that extra long wheelbase and high curb weight work against direction changes. You can certainly hustle the VFR1200F through the twisties, but you won’t “flick” this bike in the process. You pull it up from one side and push it down on the other when you aggressively change directions. The tighter the road, and the higher the pace, the more pronounced this effort becomes. This is not a “sport” machine, far from it. Those big sport tourers mentioned earlier, with their shorter wheelbases and wider handle bars (providing greater leverage), might change direction more readily than the VFR1200F.

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We don’t usually care about “categories”. If a bike works well, and we think it’s a fun ride, to hell with the category it fits in. As we said, the VFR1200F functions exceptionally well, and probably just as Honda intended it to function. Leaving the trick new dual-clutch transmission aside, we are just having trouble deciding when we would prefer to throw a leg over the VFR1200F versus the alternatives. It is not a Sunday carve-the-twisties choice, nor is it the first machine we think of when a 500 mile freeway trip calls. Smooth and refined to the Nth degree, girth and a distinct lack of nimbleness limit its appeal on the sport end, while ergonomics limit its appeal on the touring side. And where is that “in between”? For additional details regarding Honda’s VFR1200F, visit Honda’s website.

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87 Comments

  1. Randy says:

    I ride a lot of bikes… a lot of DIFFERENT types of bikes. I took a test ride on the new Honda VFR 1200F. I have to say that I really liked it. Smooth, fast, and lots of torque coming out of that narrow V-4. The styling, although not traditional, is functional and a bit futuristic. I rode the standard manual shift model. I am still waiting to ride the dual-clutch model. I am not a Honda zealot or an advocate of any one particular brand, but must say that I admire Honda for their pioneering and risk-taking engineering. How are we to move motorcycling forward if we don’t try new things. Some people may look at the new dual-clutch and call it automatic – far from it! As much as I like standard manual motorcycle shifts, I’m sure there were some riders back in the day that never wanted to move off the old-fashioned suicide clutch and tank shifter. My only knock on the new Honda VFR 1200F is the lofty price. For thousands less I can get about as much performance with a Bandit, a Concours 14, or an FJ1200. But I wouldn’t get all the new whiz-bank technology. I like new technology. I invite change. Change is what moves us all forward. My advice is to get on a new VFR and ride it before you pass judgement.

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  2. Ron says:

    The industry has lost one the essence of a motorcycle. The simplicity of design and function.

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  3. Sands says:

    My wife and I went and took a look at the new VFR the other day and I have to say there is nothing appealing to me about the VFR and I really don’t see the point…Sure you’re not as far forward as a CBR but you’re still leaned over pretty far on it, plus the small tank…I see folks blowing right past the VFR and getting a ZX14 or Busa…Those bikes are just a handlebar away from being as or more comfortable…The V4 offers nothing more than the intrigue of having something “different”…

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  4. Aunus Tappi says:

    This is not VFR. VFR is beautiful, futuristic bike. This is spunky, heavy, ugly, uninspiring, expensive, boring bike. Definitely not worth the name VFR.

    Honda kept hypeing this bike at least, say 5 years..and this is the result. This is lightyears behind CBR XX, which people admired and wanted to have. This ugly bike is just as interesting as a dead stone.

    Kawasaki is the new Honda. Good riddance Honda. The last one in your factory shut off the lights!

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  5. Carlos Pinto says:

    Ok Fangit I think the 1250 is completely hideously ugly and VERY old thing……

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  6. MGNorge says:

    Perhaps the VFR isn’t meant for “most riders”? Again, looks aside, if you don’t ride one you have little to say about how it operates. Since bikes are, especially in the states, toys, they are often used as eye candy to anyone who will notice. I don’t consider the VFR ugly at all but obviously very polerizing. I think that’s good. It gives people something to talk about and to not look like the guy’s bike next to you. I consider that b-o-r-i-n-g. One of my bikes is an Italian brand known for “rolling their own”. Not everybody likes them visually. For their displacement they are underpowered and expensive. But you know, they provide one of the most relaxing amd pleasant rides I have ever experienced and I’ve experienced many. Yes, the VFR is expensive, looks..not everyone’s cup o’ tea, but the proof is in the ride.

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  7. nick says:

    didn’t honda have a website up for this bike for a few years and people could input what they wanted to see from honda, so after a few years, and all kind of teaser ads and hype, this is what honda came up with, it is too heavy and bike to be a sport bike, with a 4. something gal gas tank and zero storage space, with out buying the veryexpensive honda bags that are still not available, it is not a touring bike. So what is it? with a 15999 price tag, the only thing I can think of is a joke. honda should stop spending all of this marketing and media advertizing, and let there motorcycles sell them selves and take some money off the msrp. I am sure it is a good motorcycle, but if honda is going to ask that much for it, it is not. honda has been really turning there backs on people, and looks like people are starting to turn from them too. I will wait 2 years when honda still has them in their warehouse with some rebates.

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  8. Stinky says:

    The VFR was always a little too techy for me save for the first version. The gear drive sounded so sweet that I had to love it, but never bought it, no hard bags, high price. The features kept coming, weight kept climbing, still no hardbags. The later versions have had features noone ever asked for and really didn’t wanna pay for. It was such a nice bike folks still bought them and the features were invisible except for the price and weight, hard bags finally arrived, optional of course. Honda just seems to look for ways to take the hard way of doing things and the VFRs were always the recipient. Sorry, they did it again.

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  9. Dan Esau says:

    Hmmm, shaft drive and weight mean it’s not a pure sport bike. Small tank and aggresive riding position means it’s not a touring bike. I think I had one of these in 1984. It had shaft drive, hydraulic valve adjusters, TRAC anti-dive and a small tank and you could tour on it and yet it was somewhat sporty. It wasn’t really a touring bike nor was it a sport bike. I believe what we have here is the new Nighthawk S. I’ll take one in blue.

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  10. Jay Mack says:

    I’d have to disagree with James. Suzuki does not offer the 1250S. At least not in the U.S.

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  11. Alain says:

    I’ve had many sport bikes & sport tourers (over 35) and among those, I had a 1985 Interceptor750, a 1990 VFR750, a 2003 CBR1100XX and a 2003 VFR800. I was hoping for a mix of CBR1100XX & a VFR800 with a larger displacement engine. When I first saw it (photos) I liked it! Not flashy… Then I saw it in person, sat on it and I must say, I like it even better!. My next step is to try it.
    The VFR1200 is the kind of bike I’ve been waiting for, nice looking without being too flashy, sounds like a good engine/good tranny/excellent brakes according to the testers.
    My only complaint, just a bit pricy $$$… In Canada, almost the same price as the ST1300 (I have a 2009).

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  12. oldtwinsracer says:

    Sorry, I don’t care if it’s the most functional machine Honda has ever built. It’s hideous, reminds me more of a Helix than any motorcycle and certainly isn’t as handsome as any of the Interceptors I have owned in the past. Then again all of those chain driven machines have been replaced by The 1200 RT which is boring but works. No Honda, I’ll be keeping my cash in my account again this year. Still waiting for something new that makes me want to actually come off the cash and buy it.

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  13. ryan says:

    This bike rocks!I rode it amd the Kawasaki is a toad..Some people put a price on a toy i dont..Looks are a matter of opinion just like peple didnt like the GTS 1000 but it sure was a cool bike..Sorry Concours when i see u ur gettin spanked..

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  14. Lynchenstein says:

    I really want to ride this bike. I own and love my 98 VFR but would very much like to try this new one out. The people complaining that Honda have lost the plot to the ongoing VFR story should perhaps choose to ride this new bike before passing judgement. If photos and the written word can convince you to love or hate a motorcycle, consider what you love about riding: is it the idea of riding or is it the emotion and experience that fulfils you?

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  15. Gregg Cetnar says:

    I dont like it and I have owned two, it looks like a BMW. And no traction control, and the price!! you got to be kidding look for a clean older one save the cash, and get a real VFR. for that kind of money look for a RC 30!

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  16. Artem says:

    The bike strangely reminds about GPZ 900 in “Top Gun”.

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  17. Zach S says:

    I have seen the bike up close, photographed it for an ad, and I have ridden it. As a designer and lifelong motorcyclist I think the bike is stunning. In person it looks even better. It also seemed much smaller in person than in photos. While photographing it I noticed that Honda really paid attention to the details and the fit and finish was really well thought out. Then I was able to ride the bike and was just as impressed. At $15,999 it might be more expensive than some are used to but face it the price of everything is going up and those who say that they would buy a BMW for that price, try it. You’ll spend 20k+ before you leave the BMW dealer and the maintenance and repairs will be about ten times that of the Honda.

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  18. MDB says:

    Another current Blackbird owner here.

    Let’s see… 600 lbs, ugly as sin, and $16,000 (and doesn’t even come with bags)…

    That settles it. My next Honda is going to be a Kawasaki.

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  19. richard grumbine says:

    I saw this bike for the first time about a year ago at the Fukuoka Motor Show. From a distance it looked strange but not unpleasant. But the closer I got the less I liked it. And once on board it felt decidedly plasticy. The ergos weren’t bad, and the price seems consistent with the tech… but in the end I would proably spend a bit more and buy a BMW just because I like the styling better. Nice try but no cigar Honda… sorry… I think they should have kept the bike closer to its bloodline…

    Now if we could get Triumph back into the sport touring game with a new 1200 Daytona or some such… we might really have something…

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  20. LBF says:

    Rather expensive, especially once you add a few accessories. Still looks like a valid choice for a traditional rider.

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  21. Wendy says:

    99 VFR owner/lover checking in here. For years we ranted on for a newer, larger displacement VFR. Unfortunately, this isn’t one to answer our pleas. Bigger, heavier, and longer, I realize that Honda has always seen the VFR as a “halo” bike. BUt with all of the “Gee-whiz” tech ladled on this biek, Honda forgot the first rule of engineering. first, add lightness.

    I still wanna Multistrada 1200ST

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  22. kpaul says:

    Before I condemn this bike I want to see how it does in shootouts with other bikes in this category. When you add the hard bags, it may be a great bike to tour the country with. Not via the interstates but on secondary highways which feature sweeping curves as opposed to tight twisties. Visually it looks well put together like an expensive Rolex. Nice review. thanks

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  23. SouthSoundRider says:

    I have a 2004 VFR and was bummed to see Honda market this bike. I do not like the looks, the price, the ergonomics and the complexity. Honda had a hardcore following with the VFR and one heck of a lot of history of a mid-range, sporty, affordable and award winning bike. With this particular rendition, they seemed to have lost the essence of VFR and the mindshare of those who rode VFRs. This thing takes a huge jump in price and weight, not to mention the appearance instills no passion whatsoever. Their previous versions were always evolutionary and focused on refining the previous version, while still maintaining affordability and the best VFR qualities. Now with this revolutionary step it feels like “game over” as the bike is so different it could have simply been marketed under a different name. Did Honda expect their loyal VFR fans to follow, especially in this economy? I do not understand their thinking. This bike is no VFR.

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