Whether the Honda makes the most sense or the least depends on how you look at it. ST1300 devotees think it’s not enough: not enough range, not enough wind protection and not nearly enough room in those little saddlebags. More sporting sport-tourists figure it’s too much. There’s too much gratuitous complexity, which adds up to too much mass for serious chicanery. And optioned up with a centerstand ($249.95), heated hand grips ($349.95) and those color-matched saddlebags ($1399) to approximate the equipage of our other combatants pushes the price of admission to $17,999pricier than anything but the BMW.
General Catterson (dead center, as usual) plans a devastating triple-digit attack on the d
Honda is a motor company. The 1237cc V-4 should be brilliant, and it is. The two rear cylinders are closer together to keep things narrow. A 28-degree crankpin offset harmonizes with the 76-degree V-angle to squelch primary vibration. Asymmetrical exhaust headers help the V-4 deliver 90 percent of its torque at 4000 rpm. Even at idle, there’s a jagged, metallic edge to the exhaust note that separates the VFR from anything and everything else. Nobody will mistake the rest of the bike for anything else, either.
Though skewed toward the sporting side of this quartet, the Honda always manages to feel a little more intuitive than anything else here regardless of the speed, road surface or other circumstances. Despite spotting the BMW 25 lbs. and 5 bhp, it’s also the quickest, covering the quarter-mile in 10.23 seconds at 136.8 mph.
The magic V-4 is as gracious in a Caltrans construction zone as it is at the dragstrip. Skillful weight management makes the 594-lb. Honda feel more like a middleweight compared to its less nimble peers. Aside from an audible clunk that punctuates every shift, the VFR gearbox is equally obliging, but there’s way too much slack downstream in the shaft. The fly-by-wire throttle responds abruptly every time you pick things up from idle, sending an embarrassing clunk through the driveline. A smooth right hand can minimize the effect around town and elsewhere. But the harder you ride, the more annoying it gets, regardless of the riding environment. The rest of the bike deserves better.
After an hour or three chasing the horizon on four wide, arrow-straight lanes, it’s hard to fault the Honda’s performance. It’s dead smooth at 70 mph. Mirrors stay crystal clear, making it easy to spot stealthy Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors skulking up from behind. Considering its sporting dimensions, the fairing does a decent job; on par with the BMW’s. There are no electronic distractions to scroll through on those LCDs flanking the big, central tachometer: just speed, fuel supply, trip distance, ambient air temperature and a clock. The artfully sculpted seat may not look comfortable, but it isfor a few hours. Spend much longer there and you’ll find yourself sliding forward onto the thinly padded forward edge. After 100 miles or so, the fuel gauge usually reads half full, which implies another 100 or so to go given the same pace and terrain. Except the second half goes in about half that distance. Putting more than 160 miles between fill-ups gets a bit dicey for those of us who aren’t all that keen on staring at the low-fuel light or pushing something this big and heavy down the shoulder.
The VFR routes cooling air in and out between layers of its intricate bodywork to keep its
No distractions here: Just an analog tach in the center, a digital speedo and fuel gauge o
The VFR’s optional color-matched saddlebags look great, but the locks and latches feel che
The VFR snaps through tricky corners with maximum speed and minimal effort. The rear spring is soft for a 200-lb. rider with packed luggage. Otherwise, you’re looking at the best medium-distance strike fighter in this squadron. At 4000 rpm, you still have another 6000 of instant-on thrust. Nothing else comes close. There’s a blind, off-camber left coming up twice as fast as the yellow sign says it should. The BMW makes you commit. The Kawasaki makes you pray. The Triumph makes you sleepy. Just keep the slack out of that sloppy driveline and the Honda will make you smile. Its linked brakes are powerful enough to haul things down in a hurry without ever making you think twice about which end is doing what. The standard Bridgestone tires do an admirable job, but steering precision diminishes rapidly. Feed in an appropriate handful of throttle and the VFR pulls like a candy-red projectile from Godzilla’s rubber-band gun. Your right wrist is the traction-control system on this one, and 81.4 lb.-ft. of torque can spin that rear ’Stone enthusiastically enough to leave black marks on the pavement and brown ones in your tighty-whities.
So? If shorter sporting sorties are more important than long hauls, the Honda is squarely in the hunt. That goes double for those who put elegant technology ahead of a tight driveline and are willing to pay the price. Everybody else will try another showroom or wait and hope the VFR1200T materializes sometime soon.
To be or DCT?
Replacing the VFR’s clutch lever and shifter with Honda’s computer-controlled Dual Clutch Transmission sounds brilliant. Why waste time doing something the computer does better? Because with a good rider on board, it doesn’t.
The DCT VFR does get from one gear to the next quicker, but quicker shifts make the loud gearbox and sloppy driveline louder and more annoying. Left to its own devices, the computer shifts up and down well enough. But gear changes come sooner or later than most testers would like in Drive or Sport mode. A pair of paddles on the left bar lets you time shifts for yourself, but adapting burns more mental energy than doing it the old-fashioned way. And when DCT adds 41 lbs. and $1500 to the price of the standard VFR, we’ll pass.
The technology is clever, but it works better on cars.