We do like a good V4 here at Classic-Motorbikes.net – especially a cheap one that was once an expensive one… yup, we’re talking about Honda’s brilliant VFR family…
Bikers have called various members of the VFR family that they’ve owned ‘the perfect motorcycle’.
Yes, like Baby’ Bear’s porridge, many of us find a VFR ‘just right’ for our motorcycling needs. You wanna tour? A VFR will do it. Commute? Of course! Go on the odd track day or even race? Yes, the VFR can accommodate.
Some of this stems from Honda’s engineering brilliance, some from adversity when Honda got the previous VF750 so wrong and some from basic engineering principles as some would argue that the V4 is the perfect layout for a motorcycle powerplant.
Why? Well, it’s more compact and narrower than an inline four, it benefits from a shorter, stiffer camshaft and being 90 degrees it also has perfect mechanical balance and therefore doesn’t need any balancer shafts. OK, it does have some down-sides: it’s hard (for example) to get all the bits and pieces, carbs and pipes in the small amount of space that is left. And cost doubles when it comes to making more cylinder heads, barrels etc…
We mentioned Honda’s false start for the V4 family, with the VF750, complete with ‘chocolate camshafts’ in the early 1980s, but this led to Honda trying doubly as hard with the VFR series and giving us the CBR series as a ‘safety net’ in case the V4s went badly wrong for a second time…
When the VFR750F-G finally broke cover in 1986, few could have realised what a gear-driven cam masterpiece it would become. Some may have felt the bike could (and should) have been sportier, like a GSX-R, but the thing still pumped out 105bhp at 10,500rpm and had a frame similar to that of a Honda factory racer.
If you want a good idea of the Honda V4 family from VF through to VFR, do get Julian Ryder’s excellent ‘Honda’s V-Force’ book from 1999, in which he describes being at the Jerez launch of the original VFR. He recalled: “How did they do it for the money?’ we asked. Mainly because they had to. Honda’s V4 concept’s cred was gone, the next one had to be good. We knew at once that it was good, although we were perplexed by the plain looks, why wasn’t it a race-rep like the GSX-R or FZ? After the first road tests we knew it was very good. A year later we knew it was a classic. The later 1988 ‘first updated’ VFR with 17in front wheel and faired-in indicators is still one of the greatest all-round motorcycles ever made. It had no weaknesses on the road.”
So the bike was soon tweaked a little for 1988, before being thoroughly updated for 1990. With the 1990 F-L machine, the VFR was still a fairly sporty tool, despite being heavier. A lot of extra weight was due to the adoption of the single-sided Pro-Arm. This came from Honda’s Elf racing days and while it hinted at a sportier performance, the VFR750F-L was most definitely a road-going machine.
For 1994 the bike changed once more and became the VFR750F-R, with a new, sleeker and sportier look. As capable as the bike was, by now the bike was most definitely a sports-tourer, with other 750s such as the GSX-R750W and ZXR750L series being out-right sports bikes.
Out in World Superbike, the Honda that was racing in 1990-1995-on was the RC30 and then the RC45. These were both low-rate production homologation specials. By the time the RC45 came good, taking the 1997 WSB title with John Kocinski, the guts of the bike were being lent to the following year’s VFR800 Fi-W. A 2mm longer stroke gave the new V4 sports-tourer 781cc, while the fuel injection system was also derived from the RC45. The bike also featured Honda’s then fashion for semi-pivotless frames and side-mounted radiators. It was a little more squat than the 750 it replaced, but it was still a winner. The bike was designed by Satoru Horiike, who also designed oval-pistoned NR500 race machine, various NSR250/500 race bikes, the NR750, RC45 and several CBR600F models.
While the race V4s died out, to be replaced by the VTR twins, on the road the VFR800 was winning more fans. For 2002 came in big changes: aesthetically it was all new, more angular than before, with ‘centre-up’ exhausts which exited under the seat, improved brakes, stiffer frame and alterations to the VFR’s motor. It now came with Honda’s VTEC system, which saw two valves per cylinder operate below 6800rpm and the full complement of four come in above that figure, giving the rider more of the ‘feel’ of a powerband.
Some felt this was good, some not so good. Which is why for 2006, subtle and yet important changes were made to that VTEC system. Instead the extra valves came in at 6400rpm and VTEC would disengage a pair of valves at 6100rpm when the revs dropped. In 2014 in came the ‘new’ VFR800F… and – well – it isn’t the same beast, but at least that wonderful motor is still very much alive in a sports touring motorcycle. Today you can buy a new one for £9999, but we reckon old is best.
Why? Because not much goes wrong with them and you can buy cheap parts a-plenty. The finish on the bikes was great from the start but they did have some typically Honda issues like the reg-rectifiers (Wemoto sell replacements for around £80.) Exhausts can rot but you can get replacement systems for £400 from down-pipes to end can. Even those flexible mirrors can be replaced for £30 a go…
Today VFRs start at around £1500 for a half-decent bike of any model. That’s a lot of bike for the money…
HONDA VFR TIMELINE
1986-1987 VFR750 F-G, F-H (RC24): Twin spar ally frame, V4, liquid-cooled, gear-driven cam four-valve per cylinder motor producing around 105 bhp at 10,500rpm, black end-cans. Clock in the dash for the F-H model.
1988-1989 VFR750 F-J, F-K (RC24): 17-inch wheels front and rear, two-position adjustable screen, clock, fuel gauge, faired-in indicators and mild improvements to motor (ignition), chassis and brakes including 41mm from 37mm forks new pillion footrest mounds and fairing panels. New exhausts: silver end-cans, not black.
1990-1993 VFR750 F-L, F-M, F-N: Recognised by the inclusion of the single-sided Pro-Arm at the rear, this model had sharper steering, shorter wheelbase, updated cylinder heads but with the same power and 216 kilo dry weight. Bodywork was similarly updated.
1994-1997 VFR750 F-R, F-S, F-T, F-V (RC36). Updated cylinder heads, carbs, mild mods to the frame and swingarm 7 kilos less than previous model, with power around 108bhp claimed weight was around 209 kilos dry. Looks are Ferrari/NR750 inspired, rear wheel down to 5-inch rim, from 5.5.
1998- 2001 VFR800Fi (RC46): New look and used the de-tuned, longer-stroked version of the RC45’s engine. Cam gear drive was moved from the centre of the motor to one side. The frame was similar to the VTR FireStorm with side-mounted radiators. Honda’s Dual Combined Braking System was also fitted.
2002-2013 VFR800 VTEC (RC46) Complete revamp sees new clothes and underseat exhausts. Big motor changes include chain-driven cams, VTEC valve actuation which brought in the second pair of each four-valves per cylinder as you hit 6800rpm. This was much-criticised as it made for jerky progress on the road and was changed to 6400rpm on 2006-on models. VTEC disengages a pair of valves at 6100rpm when the revs drop.
2014 –on VFR800F (RC79). Still has a 782cc motor pumping out 105bhp and weighing 242 kilos wet. Just over £10,000 on the road: a quarter of that would get you a mint early 750 through to late model 800/VTEC…