If I had a real life and a real job and was going to buy just one brand
new bike to be my one and only bike, it would be the new Honda VFR750. It
has gobs of torque for commuting, refined handling for weekend warrior duty
in the canyons, and it is comfortable enough for 600 mile days. It is beautifully
proportioned, and the simple black and red paint job is just gorgeous. This
is a bike for adults who know the difference between a damn good streetbike
and a bike that could be made into a really cool racebike but isn't.
The 1994 VFR is all new. The new lighter twin spar aluminum chassis mated to a stiffer single sided Pro-Arm swingarm. The motor sports new 34mm flat-slide carbs, just like it's 600F2 and 900RRR cousins. Reshaped ports and new camshafts work with the newfound breathing capacity to offer precise, linear power. A new 4 into 2 into 1 exhaust loses the old collection chamber, while allowing the bike to retain its centerstand (a much loved feature missing from most modern sportbikes). The new design sheds 22 pounds, but more importantly it has become even more refined. The fuel tank grew to 5.5 gallons, and it is the first production bike to offer a compartment for holding a U type lock. (Yo Honda - what happened to the signature tankside petcock that you can turn with your gloves on?) The bodywork pays homage to the exotic NR750, complete with a stunningly subtle red pearl paint job unmarred by silly watercraft style stickers.
Honda makes the RC45 for racing, and the VFR for the real world of the streets. They're sisters, and as much I lust after the RC 45, I'd marry the VFR. Of course, I should be honest and admit that I like VFRs in general, and the heart of this smoldering passion starts with the Honda V-45 engine. Think of it as two 90 degree v-twins molded together. Sure, it screams once you get the revs up like any other Japanese sportbike, but the difference is that it pulls hard at the bottom of the midrange. Putting along at 4000 rpm, you can open up the throttle, and it starts yanking. Most in-line four cylinder motors will dog you right there, and the ones that don't have generally sacrificed some top end power for this driveability. The reason, of course, lies in the inherent advantages of a v design. The VFR walks all over any other 750 class motorcycle (and even Ducatis) in top gear roll-ons. For the street, there's nothing like a V-four.
Put that generous power curve in front of a silky smooth six speed gearbox, and you have real world driveability. First gear is low, allowing you to chug along through traffic at fifteen miles and hour without touching the clutch. At twenty five miles an hour in first, the motor is turning 5000 rpm, right on the edge of the heart of the power band. In sixth gear that same 5000 rpm puts you at close to 70 mph. Consider that the engine provides seamless power from 5500 all the way up to its 11,500 redline, and you have a drivetrain that's easy to work with. You don't need to shift when you're busy dealing with corners, and don't have to do a tap-dance on the shifter when you want to pass.
As an experiment, I tried to run the windy section of Mulholland between The Rock store and the overlook a mile or two uphill in one gear. I figured it would be sweet to just work the fat power curve. All was well until I found the one fly in the ointment of this otherwise lovable bike. You see, it has a rev limiter at 11,500 (I think) that doesn't just bounce the revs like most rev limiters. It apparently cuts the power to two cylinders, which amounts to a partial throttle shutoff. I bogged in a corner, went into the opposite lane for a heart stopping moment, and was on my way. Keep in mind that this happened during an experiment which, in retrospect, seems kinda stupid. It does, however, point out the amazingly linear pull of the engine. I know this rev limiter means that the engine will last a lot longer, and I did get used to it immediately, but knowing that it's there is a bummer.
Of course, most normal people don't go on single gear experiments like that, and there's no need, since the bike slapshifts just fine, and has easy clutch action. In fact, it offers nice controls all around. The brakes offer firm modulation, and with dual twin piston Nissin calipers squeezing a pair of full floating 238 mm discs up front, you stop when you want to stop. The VFR stops just as well as the CBR600f2. The instrument panel has been revised, and it features a central white faced tach, which is all I usually ever look at. (Maybe that's why Paul gets so many speeding tickets - Ed.) There's a digital clock mounted high in the panel, which is something you generally have to add onto bikes yourself. The mirrors are some of the best I've ever used on any motorcycle. It also has a temperature gauge, which isn't offered on every water cooled bike, and a fuel gauge. The fuel gauge is critical on this one, because it doesn't have a reserve tank. Instead, it has a warning light which goes on when the tank is down to it's final gallon.
That final gallon, I figure, is good for forty miles, since I got between 160 and 190 miles out of each full tank before the light went on. Unfortunately, the endless editorial demands at the office prevented me from taking the bike out on a long tour, which would have doubtless yielded significantly higher mileage. This one, unfortunately, mostly got ridden around town during the week, and into the mountains on the weekends, with nary a long tour into the hinterlands. This, by the way, is the CA Bike difference when it comes to bike testing. If you need dyno runs, clutch killing quarter mile times, and lap times, we know you'll pick up not just one, but all of the big national bike magazines. That's why we conduct surveys. That's also why we try to make our bike reviews let you know what it's like to actually live with the bikes we test.
So I'm tooling down Lincoln in Venice, one of the worst pieces of pavement in California. It's greasy down the middle of each lane, and the blistered and patched concrete is pocked with missing bits. The road is raw, and the VFR's cartridge forks are giving me a smooth ride. An hour later they're giving me explicit feedback a I take that big loop on Topanga way too fast. The bike handles lightly when I'm trying to park, and is rock steady at speed.
The riding position is just a couple of degrees more forward than last year's, and it is very comfortable for either cruising or hard riding. I know Corbin already makes a new seat for the VFR, but it doesn't really need it. It doesn't need much of anything, in fact. It's not the kind of bike that needs pipes and jetting, because it's not a repli-racer. It works so well that at first some of our testers didn't really know anything specific to say about the bike other than "It's great," and "I think it got faster." The VFR is the kind of bike that you can almost forget about when you're riding it, because it just offers clean, but not overly sensitive responses to what you want to do. And that's the beauty of it.
But I'd be remiss in describing this bike if I didn't mention that it looks even better in person than it does in pictures. The aforementioned candied pearlized paint looks like it is glowing and wet, even at night under a single light bulb in the garage. The black rims look mean, and aren't as hard to keep clean as white ones. Take off the grab rails, fit the seat cowling, squint a little, and it looks like the NR750. The headlights look all cat-eyed, which looks sharp, but is just the result of new plastic over the old lenses. Honda really should have given this new bike new plastic lightweight lenses like on the 95 CBR900RR.
The intakes all do something, although the tubes over the indicators don't ram air into the airbox. The back NACA ducts keep the rear bank of cylinders cool, although they do look like they came off a Camaro. The radiator exhaust strakes look a lot more purposeful than those of the RFs, and one thing I can say for sure is that the bike doesn't cook your feet the way older VFRs like to do.
The bike went up $800, to $8199, which puts it squarely in the midst of 750 class bike prices. Unfortunately, most dealers aren't discounting them, because they know they will all sell. The new VFR's biggest competition is really used VFRs, because once you get hooked on the V-four, there's no going back. But if you read the classifieds regularly, you'll figure out pretty quickly that they are rarely offered for sale. A VFR holds it's price well, like a Ducati or a Bimmer. It's a keeper. In fact, I wanted to keep this one - just ask the rest of the CA Bike staffers. But I couldn't, so it's back to my beat up, recovered theft old one. If you're looking for an outstanding all around bike, buy one of these and think of me. You lucky dog, you. - by Paul Peczon
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mildly updated Dec 09.