Review: 2014 Honda VFR800
Fan favourite VFR800 is back after 5-year hiatus with the 2007 price tag
The VFR800 is what used to be called a “gentleman’s express.” A motorcycle that goes like stink with above-average handling, retaining all the creature comforts a man of means would demand while flying under the gendarme’s radar. Look at it — no one riding this motorcycle can possibly be guilty of hooliganism. It’s as unimaginable as Prince Charles table dancing with a couple of well-endowed waitresses.
Honda put the VFR800 on hiatus in 2009 when it introduced the VFR1200, a motorcycle that answered a whole bunch of questions nobody ever asked. Oh sure, it had lots more power than the 800, but it was also 30 kg heavier, more expensive, had a 2.5-litre smaller gas tank with worse fuel economy (meaning shorter cruising range), an optional dual-clutch transmission and a more sporty riding position. Attributes most VFR owners didn’t want.
For 2014, Big Red has reinstated the VFR800 and, at a list price of $14,499, it’s only $100 more than the 2007 VFR, which didn’t have heated grips, traction control, LED lighting or self-cancelling turn signals, all of which are standard on the 2014 unit.
Most of the good stuff that made the VFR a fan favourite is back including the 782cc, V-4 engine, the aluminum frame and sub-frame, along with a new aluminum single-sided swingarm, which makes for easy rear wheel removal without disturbing chain adjustment or wheel alignment. A new low-slung muffler replaces the somewhat stylish, triangular twin under-seat units of the previous version, undoubtedly saving some weight up high.
VTEC is a Jekyll and Hyde device that defines the VFR. You can putt around all day below 6,500 RPM and never waken the beast as only two valves per cylinder are operating. Spin it to the magic number and you’ve given the mousy librarian a couple of shots of tequila. The other two valves kick in, the exhaust snarls, the glasses come off, the hair clips come out and plain Jane turns into a supermodel.
Honda smoothed the VTEC transition, making it less intrusive, although you still get a satisfactory kick in the pants when the other valves open.
Traction control is standard, as are new self-cancelling turn signals that don’t just work on a timer, a computer figures out difference in wheel speeds, lean angles and elapsed time. When simply changing lanes, you get four flashes. When stopped at a light, they keep indicating until you complete the turn. Pretty cool, really.
New radial calipers squeeze dual 310 mm front discs, while a single 256 mm rear disc brings up the rear and for 2014, Honda dropped the linked brakes from the VFR. ABS is standard.
The cockpit is a wonderful place to spend a day. A new instrument panel houses a large, digital speedometer, tach plus a handy gear position indicator, fuel consumption info, a clock and ambient temperature gauge but sadly, the info can’t be toggled through from the handlebars and there’s no “distance to empty” function. Turn on the standard, five-position heated grips and a dash icon shows you how toasty your mitts will be.
The riding position is comfy and an excellent compromise between touring and sporty. The screen and fairing combine to provide good wind and weather protection while the saddle is wide and well-padded. For some reason, after an hour or so, my wrists started bothering me on the VFR so I’d need to fine tune the seat height and the clip-ons for me.
The 43 mm front forks look like male-slider units but are really cleverly styled conventional type with excellent spring and damping rates. The ride is comfy and well-damped on choppy pavement but when the asphalt gets twisty, turn up the Sport-O-Meter and the VFR happily complies.
A gentleman always returns home before dark, but in case His Lordship is detained at his broker’s or Sothebys, the VFR now has LED headlights to ensure the nighttime ride back to the estate is adequately, and safely, illuminated.
No boy-racer graphics or flashy designs here. Just simple red or white paint with a Honda badge on the tank and “VFR” on the fairing.
At 239 kg gassed up and ready to ride, the VFR is no lightweight but carries it’s weight well. It never feels “flickable,” but initial turn in is intuitive and the bike holds it’s line no matter how chewed up or patchy the pavement. Suspension rates are a good compromise — firm enough for good handling but compliant enough to not rattle the Royal bottom over the pebbly stuff.
I didn’t get a chance to check fuel consumption but previous VFRs returned 5.6-6L/100km during normal riding so the 21.5-litre tank should give a cruising range of around 350 km between fills. Mounts for hard bags are integrated into the rear subframe so there’s no several-hundred-dollar surprise (like on the VFR1200) should the owner want to add the optional luggage.
The 2014 VFR800 may not be Honda’s current technological showcase but it still holds down a position of a modern-day gentleman’s express — appropriate transport for the experienced, mature rider who recognizes that true sophistication still requires some degree of substance.
The vehicle tested by freelance writer Steve Bond was provided by the manufacturer.