Having taken the world by storm with the CB750 during the latter part of the 60’s, the Honda Corporation left the sports bike scene alone for the next ten years. They had a brief period where they did improve upon the inline-four concept but, apart from the odd bit of inspired thinking, those in the know could see their heart wasn’t truly in it. During the early part of the 80’s Honda had decided the world was going to own and ride V- four engine motorcycles. To that end they set about developing a whole range of such power plants, across a wide capacity range, to tempt us all away from the more conventional inline fours and twins. The idea behind the V arrangement made perfect sense, at least it did to the designers, perfect primary balance is achieved resulting in a smooth ride and power delivery, while the short stroke allows for a compact size especially with a large capacity unit. With such a design, once the necessary suspension and chassis parts are bolted in place, you can get an awful lot of engine into the shape left over within a motorcycle frame. The engine is crammed in tightly while keeping the width down to lithe proportions, making, on paper at least, for an ideal sporting motorcycle.
In reality however, the resultant complexity, and strange feeling from the way the engine lazily develops its power, leaves many feeling more at home on other manufactures machines. The first of the big Honda Vs, the V750S, arrived in 1982 and was based heavily upon lessons learned from the ill-fated NR500 race project during the previous three years. The bike was not well received in Europe, after all, the NR500’s disastrous races had been witnessed by all in Europe, with the result that many were suspicious of this new technology. The NR500 only ever won one race and that was in the states so the Americans, with their scant regard for GP racing, had a different outlook on the project. The UK public were vindicated in their wariness as the roadster engines suffered many recalls and failures. The most widely publicised being the “chocolate cam” affair that saw early failures of the camshafts and follower due to oil starvation and overheating within the compact design.
In 1983 Honda quickly followed on with a more sporting version of the V-Four, the VF750F. This was as a direct a response to the latest US Superbike racing regulations that had seen a reduction from the 1000cc capacity to 750cc. Although similar looking the engine was a complete redesign and very little other than the outside profile was shared with the S version. Effectively the VF750F was a race bike with lights, featuring a box section steel chassis and an early form of sprag clutch allowing for race style down shifts. In keeping with the current race thinking a 16-inch front wheel was also used, a first for any such road machine. This model was a success, particularly in the States, where racetrack dominance over the next two years did sales no harm whatsoever.
The type still hadn’t been a big hit on this side of the pond however and Honda enlarged the 750cc power plant, keeping the original 53.6mm short stroke, but taking the barrels out to 77mm to create the 1000cc required. Overall the styling remained the same although the VF1000F was larger all round than the 750. Like the 750, the frame was made into a styling feature, painted silver to mimic the aluminium frames found on the latest race tackle, it wrapped around the complex engine in the most intimate of ways. Hardly a space is to be found within the engine bay, it is packed that tight with power plant and carburettors. The beautifully styled VF1000F was, and still is, a fine machine but it arrived among a sea of even finer tackle from other manufacturers. The Kawasaki GPZ900 and the Yamaha FJ series all arrived at the same time and stole the limelight from this most complex and sweet handling Superbike, without doubt the best thus far built by the mighty H. Riders simply loved the push that the inline four give rather than the droning, but no less effective, delivery of the V engine.
Often thought to be the cheaper version of the VF1000R model in fact there are few similarities between the two machines. The later R model being the first of the gear driven cam models that went on to become the staggeringly successful VFR series of motorcycles. The F version retained the more conventional chain driven camshafts but was no less a pleasing machine to be on.
In 1985 the F2 Bol d’Or version of the F model was released. This featured a full fairing and was aimed squarely at the touring market rather than the sports one. This was the heaviest of the VF’s too tipping the scales at 245kgs, strangely it was the only version of the marque to win a major race when Geoff Johnson bounced his way around the challenging circuit to win the 1985 production TT race.
From the moment you get on the VF it feels snug and well fitting, certainly for Mr Average size like myself. Much work has gone into the ergonomics of rider happiness and the riding position just fits snugly. The deeply scalloped tank and side panels melt smoothly into the seat area to create a tailor made motorcycle. The bars just fall exactly where you arms end and the resultant ride is relaxed and trouble free. With a small nose fairing and dinky belly pan the bike looks like an overgrown Yamaha LC and doesn’t feel that much bigger either.
One prod of the starter motor soon has the complex engine purring away beneath you and this is where the experience starts to venture away from the norm. A single blip of the throttle does not return the usual rapid spinning up of the engine, rather it just rises slowly and is still doing so after the twist grip is closed. This is similar to the way the bike responds mid corner, the carburetion is accurate and effective but the engine has no feel of urgency about its operation and there is no tangible kick in the pants as the fires below get lit. That is until you glance down at the speedo and see for yourself the bike is really shifting, it just doesn’t feel like it from where you are sat.
Not adding to the riding excitement one bit is the chassis. Based heavily upon lessons learned with the two-stroke triple race machine, the square section steel tubing goes about its work without shouting about it. The same too can be said of the suspension hanging off either end. The Honda Pro Link set up at the rear, is progressive and compliant. Keeping the wheel in contact with the road surface without fuss or commotion. It is air assisted, with a four-way adjustment for rebound damping and has a control over the proceedings that is very advanced for the period. Up front, and common to a few Hondas of the day, is the TRAC (Torque Reactive Anti dive Control), this works on one fork leg only and is actuated via the action of a swinging brake caliper. As the brakes are applied then one caliper pushes on a valve within the fork leg, which in turn, progressively closes off an oil way to make the damping of the forks stiffer. Unlike many such devices from the period it really works and like the rest of the bike, passes by unnoticed.
Where the bike does excel is mid corner. When others on larger heavier and more powerful machines are still debating whether or not it is safe to add a touch of throttle, the VF rider can be hard on the gas. Opening the taps for all they are worth and laying a constant, unyielding pattern of power strokes down onto the tarmac. This is the V-fours party piece and one of the reasons the race versions had so much success. The engine works in total harmony with the demands of the tyre and the riders feel, enabling the throttle to be applied hard many yards before a much less composed machine. Even when the Honda is doing this the ride, quite incredibly, is still on the bland side. Not a murmur, or even a bit of tyre slide, comes back up through the saddle to add to the excitement.
Everything works as it should, indeed when compared to many other machines from the early 80’s, better than it should. It was bad timing on the part Honda that the machine was released among a sea of potentially more thrilling, but certainly no better performing bikes. The GPz900 was wheeled out to much acclaim, as was the Yamaha FJ, leaving the VF a little lost when it came to the numbers game of top speeds and horsepower outputs, but there is so much more to the V-four configuration than all of that.
History will recall the camshaft maladies of the earlier machines and the bad press that this created; few will actually remember the ride that this superb machine really did return. You do have to take a back seat at times and actually think about what the bike is doing to really appreciate the work that Honda put in. The future, in part, really was V shaped, the engine developed into the giant killing VFR and RC series of tourers and race machinery. As the latter it won many World Superbike races and championships while the former is still around and going from strength to strength in its role as leading sports tourer.
Honda VF1000F timeline
Honda’s first V four, the VF750S is seen. Quirky styling saw poor sales.
The VF750F is released aimed at US superbike racing it virtually dominated the proceedings for the next three seasons.
The launch of the VF1000F saw a renewed interest for Honda in the ultimate sportsbikes stakes. The R model was supposed to be a V-four version of the all-conquering CB1100R but on track it rarely made it across the stripe in first place. Sales suffered as a direct result
The F2 Bol d’Or model was introduced and became the start of the next chapter of Hondas affair with the V-four engine.
The first of the VFR series was launched; the design with a few tweaks here and there remains current today
Honda VF1000F Specifications
- Engine – liquid-cooled , 4-stroke , DOHC 90° V4
- Capacity – 998cc
- Bore & stroke – 77 x 53.6mm
- Compression Ratio – 10.5:1
- Carburetion – 4 x 36mm Keihin VD72A – 2
- Max Power – 113 bhp @ 10,000 rpm
- Torque – 63.7 ft-lb @ 8000 rpm
- Ignition – Solid state CDI
- Transmission – 6 speed chain final drive
- Frame – rectangular-section steel tubing double-cradle
- Suspension – 41 mm air-adjustable forks 3-way adjustable rebound damping and TRAC anti dive
- Wheels – 120/80-V16, 140/80-V17
- Brakes – 275 mm Dual disc twin-piston floating calipers, 275 mm Disc twin-piston floating caliper
- Wheelbase – 1498 mm
- Weight – 233 kg
- Fuel capacity – 23 litres
- Top speed – 140mph
Honda VF1000F Gallery