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.
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.
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.
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.