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Honda VFR800FI: Motorcycle of the Year 2002?

By ennui in Op-Ed
Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 10:44:37 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Everything seems to be on track for me to become the proud owner of a 2002 Honda Interceptor this month or next. I can say with confidence this will almost certainly be Motorcyclist's (and many other bike magazine's) Motorcycle of the Year. In true motorcycle magazine editor-wannabe style, below are some specs and thoughts on Honda's 2002VFR800FI.

My current mount is a 1996 Kawasaki GPZ1100. I like the bike, and it has plenty of miles left in it. We've covered thousands of problem-free miles of New England. It has done everything I've asked of it with aplomb, and I've learned to appreciate how competent a big-bore sport-touring bike is on the highway, cruising at low RPM and making traffic negotiation effortless with powerful top-gear roll-ons that make passing at any speed a simple twist of the throttle. I've been happy enough with it that the bike is crate-stock except for the tires. Several burn-outs and first-gear sprints lead to the untimely demise of the stock Bridgestone rubber, leading to a pair of Metzler Z-4's that fit the bike's sport-touring role perfectly. However, the "new bike" bug has bitten me, and bitten hard.

So why not the GPZ1100's heir apparent, Kawasaki's ZZ-R1200? Just as I've learned to appreciate the qualities of a big bike with a large powerplant, I've also learned to appreciate the advantages of a smaller, lighter bike, especially "around town" and in situations where the weight and torque become a liability rather than an advantage (parking lots come to mind.) When tearing up twisty back roads, a large, heavy bike also has liabilities, especially if a quick stop or evasive maneuvering is called for. I've decided a compromise between a small, agile sportbike and a big-bore sport-tourer better suits what I need a motorcycle to do: everything.

In 1997, when I purchased the GPZ, Honda's VFR800 was a strong second-place contender for me. Honda made only evolutionary changes in the VFR800 up to 2001. For 2002, Honda has kept everything I like about the VFR, and added features and technology that make it a perfect choice for literally everything I want to do on a bike.

The 2002 VFR's 781cc V-four mill is the first bike deployed with Honda's VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) technology. This system engages all 4 valves per cylinder at 7000 RPM, and only uses 2 valves per cylinder below that point. This system increases engine output across the board, combining the low-end advantages of a 2-valve engine and the high-end performance of a 4-valve engine. The pre-VTEC VFR was capable of quarter-mile runs in the low 11 second range, I expect when the various bike mags get around to putting the 2002 version on the dragstrip it will have no trouble clocking runs in the 10's. While Superbike-class liter bikes are slowly inching their way deeper into the 9's, the VFR's performance is more than acceptable in the quarter mile, especially for road purposes where a fast quarter mile is of limited value.

The other big change for 2002 is the styling. The fairing is aggressively aerodynamic, the markers are flush-mounted, and the VFR's beautiful single-sided swingarm is now accented by well-integrated underseat exhaust. The styling may be a little too aggressive for some in comparison to last year's, but Honda is positioning this as a sportbike, and it gets the "sport" look. The underseat exhaust provides ample room for optional hard luggage, a wise purchase if you're planning on long trips on this bike.

Nothing is perfect, however, and the VFR does have some minor flaws. First and foremost is Honda's linked braking system, which applies some of the force of the rear brake lever to the front brake (it also puts some of the front brake lever's force onto the rear disc, but given the weight transfer that occurs almost immediately after applying front brake pressure this "feature" is nearly irrelevant.) This is a boon for riders with bad back-brake habits, or for relatively new riders who might stomp the back brake in a panic situation. More seasoned riders, who rely on the front brake for the majority of stopping tasks may not appreciate the front brake kicking in when only the back is called for (I fall into that class, having become used to trail braking and rear-brake lugging my 1100 in parking lots and in traffic.) Of even more dubious value is Honda's optional ABS system. Any benefit ABS offers is quickly negated by the additional line item it puts on the sticker and the additional weight the system imposes.

My other issue with this bike is the engine size. I am spoiled by the torque of a large engine, and I wonder why in the course of updating the VFR they didn't get the bore x stroke closer to 800cc's (or above!) as the model number implies. There is no replacement for displacement. In the real world, a fair amount of torque is called for in low-RPM situations, especially when you're adding nearly 200lbs to the wet weight of a 500lb+ bike. VTEC and fuel injection help overcome the constraints of a mid-size powerplant, but 50cc or so more could push the torque curve up for the benefit of riders of average or greater weight.

It's still early enough in the season that dealers should be willing to make some concessions to get a sale. The only question remaining for me is whether to trade in my GPZ1100 or keep it for occasional mad sprints from a stoplight to 70mph in 1st gear, hanging onto the bars for dear life, feet braced on the passenger pegs trying to keep the front end down, that 1100cc engine screaming like a jet at 11,000 RPM, rolling off a bit when the rev limiter causes the engine to stutter, then straightening up and shifting into second, stealing a glance backwards to see how much of the back tire I left on the pavement behind me.

I think I'll keep it.


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Related Links
o Kawasaki GPZ1100
o Kawasaki's ZZ-R1200
o VFR800 up to 2001
o 2002
o Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control
o fairing is aggressively aerodynamic
o underseat exhaust
o Also by ennui

Display: Sort:
Honda VFR800FI: Motorcycle of the Year 2002? | 30 comments (24 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Not a diary (3.66 / 9) (#5)
by jabber on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 11:08:44 AM EST

This is a technology review. It's well written and as useful as a review of a Perl book or a new AMD CPU. K5 is about technology and culture from the trenches. Motorcycling is as much a subculture as is geeking out in front of a computer. I appreciate the bredth that this article ads to K5, and I think it deserves posting.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

It's always been more sport and tourer. (3.66 / 3) (#7)
by FattMattP on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 01:39:50 PM EST

The styling may be a little too aggressive for some in comparison to last year's, but Honda is positioning this as a sportbike, and it gets the "sport" look.
I have a '97 VFR and a '91 Suzuki Bandit 400. I think the VFR has always been a sport bike, regardless of Honda's attempts to classify it as a sport-tourer in the past. I've certainly never had much trouble hanging with friends on their CBRs and R6's. Granted they can leave me behind if they want. But my point is that the VFR has always had way more sport than tourer in its design.

Honda hass tweaked the VFR into the perfect bike over the years. I'm surprised that they keep finding ways to improve it. Anyway, I think you hit the nail on the head in your third paragraph. The VFR may not really be _great_ at anything, but it's certainly _good_ at everything. That's the way I've always felt.

One of the major problems with the VFR is price (4.00 / 2) (#10)
by ennui on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 03:13:17 PM EST

$10k is pretty steep for what it is. For my money, they could give me a traditional swingarm and strip off the LBS and get the bike down to a $9k sticker. I'd have one in my garage already. Many Honda shops still have 2001 VFR's kicking around, and if they're going to move if 2002's show up on the floor they're going to have to mark them down to about $7.5k, I imagine most buyers (like myself) are going to be psyched about hard luggage and VTEC and not give the 2001's a second glance. This sort of thing annoys dealers (rightfully) as the majority of people who come in want a cruiser, and the second-most common seem to be the racerboys who want a CBR they can rack into a million pieces before they're out of the break-in period.

I'm glad they chose to invest some R&D into the VFR, the trend seems to be toward "naked sportbikes" recently (Kawasaki's ZR-7S, Honda's "Hornet" based bikes, Suzuki's DL1000, Bandits and SV650S, and Yamaha's FZ1 are pretty good examples). Hopefully the new VFR will go over well, but I'm sure many people will notice (as I did) a $7000 750 Katana in with the Suzukis and wonder how much more bike they're getting for that extra $3000. Factory luggage is nice, but there's not much made in Japan with two wheels and an engine that Givi and/or Nonfango doesn't have a kit for.

"You can get a lot more done with a kind word and a gun, than with a kind word alone." -- Al Capone
[ Parent ]

VFR has always been the tech showcase (none / 0) (#22)
by nakaduct on Tue Feb 12, 2002 at 12:20:02 AM EST

The LBS that Honda's putting into new models appeared first on the VFR, 4 or 5 years ago. Single-sided swingarm, gear-driven valvetrain, fuel injection, fancy coating on the cylinder walls, a V4, and now VTEC -- the market is young(ish) buyers who want all the doodads and aren't too worried about price.

The $7500 naked sportbikes are a good value (and wicked fun by all accounts), but not at all its competition -- that role is filled by half of BMW's line and a few new models like Yamaha's FJR1300.


[ Parent ]
Nice article (3.33 / 3) (#8)
by Altus on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 01:50:52 PM EST

I have always been more of a cruiser rider myself (saving right now to buy a new big cruiser for the spring! I hope I can scrape together enough money for that Low Rider I realy want) Still, after a taking a CBR1100 up the side of a mountain in japan I have a new appreciation for the sport bike.

Perhaps someday, if I can afford a second bike, I will look into a sport touring model.

Best of luck with your new bike! enjoy and remember, shiny side up, rubber side down :)

"In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women..." -H. Simpson
Two things (2.50 / 4) (#9)
by trhurler on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 03:08:27 PM EST

First, (should be editorial, I know, but I'm too lazy to post two comments,) I voted this down because I seriously doubt the vast majority care at all about motorcycles and because I've always hated the auto/motorcycle mag editor's column chatty style it emulates.

Second, horsepower does not make quarter mile times. Torque does. Horsepower makes top end, and motorcycles already have more than enough top end for any possible road use. VTEC adds horsepower. It adds little or no torque. Unless you're building bikes for closed course lap racing of some form, this is an almost useless "feature." It certainly isn't going to lop a full second off a quarter mile, unless other changes are also made(bigger engine, forced induction, etc.) If you doubt this, look at the performance differences between VTEC and non-VTEC versions of car engines. The horsepower goes through the roof, and yet the car isn't much faster. (It'd have higher top end, but they usually either limit that electronically or with different gearing. They claim the gearing is to "handle the power." Guess what? Torque kills transmissions. Horsepower doesn't. They're lying.)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

VTEC doesn't make a huge difference (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by ennui on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 05:06:06 PM EST

But I'll take the VTEC curve over the normal EFI any day: http://www.syke.freeserve.co.uk/Photos/VFR_torque_and_power.jpg

Also, don't -1 stuff 'cause you think other people won't like it, -1 it because you don't like it.

"You can get a lot more done with a kind word and a gun, than with a kind word alone." -- Al Capone
[ Parent ]

Heh (2.00 / 1) (#14)
by trhurler on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 05:26:02 PM EST

Considering the price they make you pay for the VTEC, you aren't getting much. I myself like VTEC, but I don't think it is yet cheap enough to really be worthwhile. If I wanted to buy a vehicle that had it, I'd buy it anyway, and if I wanted one that didn't, I wouldn't care about that omission, but I would never choose a vehicle for VTEC.

As for my voting, I always do what I think I should do. I don't ask other peoples' permission. I don't particularly have any interest in motorcycles, I doubt most other people do, and I also don't care for the style the piece was written in. No one of those things is fatal; at most, any one of them might have gotten a 0 vote from me. Combine them, though, and that is a different thing entirely. I'm not asking you to agree, and trying to change my mind on this matter is a waste of time:)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Is VTEC in motorcycles expensive? (none / 0) (#20)
by Delirium on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 10:47:36 PM EST

I'm asking because I'm unfamiliar entirely with motorcycles, but on their cars, Honda includes VTEC engines with some fairly low-end models (Civic, for example), and it's not particularly expensive.

[ Parent ]
VTEC (none / 0) (#26)
by trhurler on Tue Feb 12, 2002 at 12:56:50 PM EST

It isn't available on most motorcycles, and on the ones where it is, the prices are rather high(by motorcycle standards.) In the $10,000 range. You can bikes both faster and more practical for significantly less money, if you aren't hung up on having a VTEC sticker.

As for Honda cars, the only Civic in the US that has VTEC in any but the most primitive(and nearly useless) form is the Si, which, if there is any justice, will fail to sell. (I say that because Honda overpriced it just to play off the famous name. It can't compete with its modern competition AT ALL, and yet it is priced equally or even higher. Morons.) There are Civics in Europe that are carrying around the 200hp engines found in the US Acura RSX, and those would be fun cars, but we don't have those(yet.) Personally, I wish they'd just admit the S2000 is an overpriced piece of shit that can't run with its intended competition to save its life and stick its engine into Civics, Accords, and RSX's as a top trim line. They could go and put a nice 300hp rotary bought from the Renesis folks into the S2000, keep its price the same, and it'd perform better. But, that would make sense - so there's no way it'll happen.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Enduros/Rally Bikes (3.66 / 3) (#11)
by n8f8 on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 03:46:31 PM EST

My last bike was a KLR-650. I can't stand the riding position of most crotch-rockets. For some reason having to spread my hips and bending over causes a lot of pain. So I wind up looking at Enduros/Rally Hybrid Bikes. Unfortunatly the engines is these bikes tend to be unrefined and the gas tanks too small.

The KLR-650 was great at first, but the mount was a little high, the engine excessivly noisy and it weighs too much for how high its center of balance is. The Next model down is a KLR-250 that is too small (displacement) and doesn't have the fuel capacity.

KTM has some nice models but the dealers are few and far between. The prices a little high and the quality reputation A little checkered.

BMW just plain kicks ass, but the prices are so high I'd have to give up driving a car altogether just to afford one.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)

Perhaps (3.50 / 2) (#12)
by Altus on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 03:52:44 PM EST

you should look at the night hawk 750 by honda. its very different from the bikes you are talking about but I think it would work well. good power, regular tank and an upright riding position.

also has nice stying and I dont think they are too expensive... also, used nighthawks are highly available.

I dont have one myself but I have a friend who does, and he loves it.

"In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women..." -H. Simpson
[ Parent ]
-1 for causing excessive jealousy. (3.00 / 3) (#15)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 06:51:43 PM EST

I can't see why I should have to read about your new toy when I'm driving an antique minivan and all.

I'm joking.

When ruling an evil empire, keep in mind that no matter how attractive that captured rebel is, you can probably find someone else who doesn't act

mmmm, I really want a motorcyle (3.66 / 3) (#16)
by Xenophon on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 07:37:08 PM EST

I took a motorcycle safety/riding course my senior year in high school. I still have the motorcycle endorsement on my license. I was completely ready to buy a bike, but I couldn't justify the expense. Insurance + gear + bike was too much considering I would be in college for 4+ years and would need the extra cash. Two years later, I am dead-set on getting a bike as soon as I can justify the purchase. Thanks for the review and reminding me that I *need* a motorcycle. :-)

Editorial: I think it's great that ennui is posting outside the general sphere of conversation on K5. Just because the majority may not be interested in motorcycles, what wrong with expanding horizons? Judging by the score, most people seem to like the story.

On brakes (3.50 / 2) (#18)
by iwnbap on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 09:21:35 PM EST

I really like the idea of linked brakes and ABS; the reason is that I know I do 99.9% of my riding in "normal" circumstances, where I'm well inside the failure envelope of the system (locking being the "failure" mode). Anything that helps me negotiate this unfamiliar terrain is very welcome.

I've also read several time that a large percentage of accidents on bikes are caused by poor braking, typically involving locking the back brake. I've locked the rear wheel a few times, (once by standing on the brake rather than the peg!) and really not been happy about it.

I suppose that I think my skill level on a bike would be below that of the average rider; I'm realistic that it will always probably be below average, and I think that this kind of system is exactly what weaker riders need.

Couldn't agree more. (none / 0) (#30)
by xxxlucasxxx on Wed Feb 13, 2002 at 10:34:56 AM EST

The braking 'system' needs an overhall. BMW has ABS plus an even suspension system that reduces nose diving in hard breaking situations. That is a good start. The cost of BMW bikes is more then I can afford mind you.

Locking the rear isn't so bad as locking the front which put me on the ground once. I got into the bad habit of keeping my foot tucked in away from my rear brake. I ended up needing the rear to supliment my front, but didn't have the reaction to get my foot back into place. I would have prefered to have had my back end slide left and right a bit to having the front slide to the left and out. Just a bit of caution, use your rear. It's better then over using your front.

(BTW this is a great topic)

[ Parent ]
Motorcycle naming scheme (3.33 / 3) (#19)
by xriso on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 10:33:01 PM EST

Here are my innovative names for future models:
  • HGK3452
  • 34 ADK 457
  • 8485 CTR
  • XRX 223
Now, why don't they have names like these? Or do they?
  • #426 Revision 37
  • Xtreme Xtrmee Xtreem BiXe
  • WeenyBike
  • zoom ZOOM zoom

*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
Well, it _is_ also called an "Interceptor&quo (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by nakaduct on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 11:45:54 PM EST

... but only on the website and hardcopy equivalents, not on the bike itself.

My guess is that motorcycles, being a low-volume business, don't justify locale-specific badging.


[ Parent ]
actualy (none / 0) (#28)
by Altus on Tue Feb 12, 2002 at 01:36:43 PM EST

I belive there are bikes that have been named differntly in difernet markets althouh it seems (especialy on sport bikes) that people perfer the model numbers (for one, it generaly tells you the engine size)

harleys on the otherhand have a complicated naming system (FXDL,FXST, FXD, FL... and so on) but most people perfer to call them by their names ( Lowrider, fatboy, heritage softail)

humm... it could be because the engine sizes are standard across the lines and its easy to know what size engine your dealing with... or maby its just that people like the names :)

"In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women..." -H. Simpson
[ Parent ]
Too bad... (1.33 / 3) (#23)
by hvangalen on Tue Feb 12, 2002 at 09:40:11 AM EST

No ethernet or wireless LAN interface on this baby?


Displacement and LBS in the real world. (2.00 / 1) (#24)
by Witness on Tue Feb 12, 2002 at 12:17:05 PM EST

Last March I bought a second hand 1999 VFR800FI. I saved a couple of thousand off what dealers were asking for a new 2000 or 2001 model and got a well maintained, broken in bike with a Corbin seat thrown in.

Downsizing from a 1984 Honda Magna V65 (1098cc V4) I too had misgivings about the displacement or lack of it. In practice however I believe all such misgivings are in one's head. The power of a VFR800FI is very comparable to Honda's old V65, which I assume is about in the same league as GPZ1100. I never missed the extra cc or weight of my old bike. I know a few people who've downsized from a V65 to a VFR800FI and none of them ever complain about lack of power. The only people with doubts are those who've never ridden a modern fuel injected VFR.

As for LBS, that never got in my way and I haven't run into any owners of a VFR800FI who complained about the LBS getting in their way. There's three pistons per caliper. Two discs/calipers in the front and one in the rear. The front brake lever applies the outer pistons on the two front calipers and the inner piston on the rear. The rear brake pedal applies the outer pistons on the rear caliper and the inner pistons on the front calipers.

When I took the Experienced Rider Course from MSF this past summer I was able to lock my rear wheel despite having an option to bow out of that excersize due to LBS on my bike. I was also able to get the rear wheel off the ground durring the emergency stopping excersize. So in my experience the LBS makes braking a little more responsive, but does not get in your way if you know how to properly use the brakes in the first place.

A common mod which was performed by my VFR's previous owner is to drop a tooth on the front sprocket. This increases low end power at the expense of reducing top speed. Even with this mod the gearing is such that there's rarely an opportunity to ride the bike in 6th gear.

I love my VFR and any of the 1998-2001 generation are great mounts. I wish I had the clean exhoust layout of the 2002 model, but considering the price premium there's little incentive for me to trade up. VTEC and all that matters little to me since in the real world there's little oppertunity (and most riders lack the ability) to push bikes to their limits where such technical advantages come into play.

Don't sweat the paper details, ennui. Once you start riding a VFR any misgivings you may have now will vanish. Great choice as you already well know.

Not enough low-end grunt (none / 0) (#25)
by sobiloff on Tue Feb 12, 2002 at 12:41:30 PM EST

I agree with ennui that the new VFR looks stunning -- it's probably the best-looking sport touring motorcycle currently in production, IMHO. And now that Honda has finally, finally made matching hard luggage available for it, the VFR can now be considered a true sport tourer.

However, as another poster has pointed out, horsepower != torque and the VFR still lacks serious torque. I find that, for a versatile bike, I really prefer more torque than peak horsepower because torque makes it easy to get away from a stoplight, and it makes it easy to pass another vehicle.

Before you spend your hard-earned money, make sure you ride what you're interested in. (What -- the dealer won't let you test ride? Find another dealer! There's no reason you shouldn't be able to test drive something before you spend $10K on it.) I'd suggest you ride the Aprilia Futura and the Triumph ST to see what real torque and flexibility are about.

horsepower != torque (none / 0) (#27)
by Witness on Tue Feb 12, 2002 at 01:28:26 PM EST

Perhaps I didn't make it clear enough in my other post. While it's very true that horsepower != torque. I downsized from a V65 which had incredible torque. Starting at about 2500 rpm and up. It was sometimes a strugle to keep that 600lb animal from lifting it's front tire taking off from a stop light.

90-degree V engines are inherently more torquey than inline four's with the same displacement. VFR's are no exception. There's plenty of torque there. I really don't miss any of that tree stump pulling torque I gave up with the V65. So long as you keep the RPMs above 5K there's never a need to downshift for passing. This was not the case with the non fuel injected VFR750's made before 1997. Those were far weaker and required a lot more dancing on the gear shifter to make them respond.

Every time Honda tried to make a bigger / more torquey V4 too many things would get compromised and the model would be short lived. The V65s were great but had way to much power/torque for the tranny or the frame to handle properly. The V65 models were only made for four years. The VF1000 too was way too heavy and the engine too powerful and fragile for what it was.

The closest thing in size and handling in Honda's lineup to the VFR800FI is the Super Hawk. Yeah, it's a 996cc 90 degree V-twin that shits torque everywhere it goes. They share a very similar frame and the same forks. Perhaps it would be nice if Honda made a sport-touring Intercepter based on the Super Hawk engine. Somthing tells me it's not worth the effort. The VFR800FI is just too good at all things it does.

[ Parent ]

Honda 919 (none / 0) (#29)
by BROHAM on Tue Feb 12, 2002 at 02:26:02 PM EST

I personally will be checking out Honda's new 919 this year. That, for me, would be the perfect city bike while still allowing you to take those weekend cruises if needed. It's not the VFR, but I don't think that's what they're going for with this bike. It's all about simplicity and underlying-form.

Even though there's probably not too much mechanically different, I just feel better on a machine that was designed with underlying-form in mind and not so much it's style. This is probably why I don't like Harley's very much, is because it seems as if the leather and bad-ass image is more important than just riding. (ps. harley and jap-bike flame wars have been around before you knew what mySQL or postgres even was. same useless arguing - it's just preference.)

If you've got the money to spend, and you like dual-sport, all-purpose bikes (like the BMW's) - DO check out the new Ducati Multistrada. Very different to say the least, and most probably won't like it. I think it's beautiful, but probably wouldn't consider a european bike becasue of their high maintenence costs (and parts availability) here in the US.

ps. this is my first post on this site, it's good to have found this community.


Honda VFR800FI: Motorcycle of the Year 2002? | 30 comments (24 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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