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.