Honda's first dip into the current naked-bike pool had a couple of problems: At $7999, it wasn't exactly cheap, and saddled with a coat of flat-black paint called Asphalt, it was less than visually electrifying. More engaging colors came with ensuing model years, but American riders never embraced the bike with the enthusiasm of their European counterparts. Shame, really. Underneath the Asphalt, the 919 is a solid, surprisingly capable performer, no matter what sort of pavement you're on.
Armed with a fuel-injected de-fanged version of the old CBR900RR four-calmer cams and 36mm throttle bodies in place of the RR's 38mm carbs-the 919 puts 103 horse-power to the pavement. That's enough to propel its 485 fully fueled pounds down the dragstrip in 11.18 seconds at 120.7 miles per hour. And according to Pete Christensen at Coast Motorsports in Ventura, California, the understressed four has proven itself a trouble-free lump. "It's not the sort of engine people rev to the moon all the time," he says. Power tapers off to the right of 7000 rpm, which means bits such as the cam chain and its automatic tensioner live longer. The gearbox is a gem. The only engine-related gripe is more buzz than we'd like through the grips and pegs at 80 mph.
Lighter and more agile than most of its peers, the Honda carves curves with the precision and agility of a 600. Brakes work better than they should, though Christensen says you should check rotor thickness on a high-mileage example. The real snag on '02 and '03 models is flaccid suspension, led by a non-adjustable fork. The '04's fully adjustable 43mm fork is an improvement, but the bike is still too soft, and spring preload is still the only rear suspension adjustment on a brand-new '06. Sprayed with Light Silver Metallic paint or a bilious green dubbed Matte Uranium, the '04 also got a dressed-up instrument pod and tacked on a digital clock. Considering nothing but paint changed in '05 or '06, that's the one to look for.
The 919's underwhelming showroom performance means you might have to strain the analog and digital classifieds to drum up a good one, but that's the only real bad news. OK, so nobody here was particularly bullish about laying down $7999 for a new 919 back in '03. But when a check for half that buys a bike that dissects twisty bits on Sunday and pulls 200 commuting miles out of one 5-gallon tank of unleaded, we say buy.
Reliable as an anvil and significantly more fun on weekends
Limp, price-point suspension bits and a buzzy ride at 80 mph watch for Worn-out brake rotors on high-mileage examples
A first-rate way to economize when you're only out to impress yourself
Doin' Time Honda VFR800F Interceptor
Average fuel mileage: 38.7
Some riders might have difficulty finding the good in a bike that's heavier, slower and more expensive than current sportbike offerings. That is, until they consider all the things Honda's VFR800F Interceptor does that those incredible sportbikes can't. Such as the ability to go 200 miles on a tank of fuel in far greater comfort, and an all-'round versatility those harder-core sportbikes lack. Those things certainly make the VFR worth considering if the number of motorcycles you've been allotted in life is one.
Honda redesigned the storied VFR in 2002 to create the sixth generation in a long line of Interceptors and their kin dating back to 1983. The key ingredient is, of course, that venerable Honda V-four, an engine that has attracted a huge following over the years. For 2002 the big news was the engine's Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control, or VTEC. The system altered the number of valves operating from two to four, a bike-industry first.
Problem was, a lot of riders weren't exactly smitten with the change. Gone was the sweet music of the gear-driven cams and the engine even lost a bit of power. The bike did gain an improved chassis and suspension, but it put on weight, too. Overall the VFR remained capable, but it had suffered the misfortune of following one of the greatest motorcycles in Honda's recent history.
For 2006, Honda has tried to address VTEC's shortcomings. Engineers revised the ECU mapping so the system engages the other eight valves at 6400 rpm (600 rpm lower than before) in an attempt to smooth the transition of power.
Otherwise, I've logged about 500 miles on our 2006 long-termer and I'm enjoying it more and more each day. It does take time to appreciate the VTEC powerplant, though. Around town, I cruise below 6400 rpm in econ mode and enjoy the V-four's smoothness, low noise levels, good fuel mileage and, er, soft power. Out on the highway, I keep it spinning above 6400 for silky forward thrust and the sophisticated, almost Ferrari-like shriek. That's one of the most beautiful things about the Interceptor: It ain't an inline-four.
The Viffer is a complicated machine, however, and it would make little sense spending large sums of money to try to make it lighter and faster. Rather, I'll focus on improving its strengths, specifically its comfort and sport-touring abilities. Not that a little extra performance wouldn't hurt. For instance, there's a Dynojet Power Commander sitting on my workbench, but finding the right aftermarket exhaust system that fits under the Honda accessory hard bags has been a challenge. Only a few brands do so, but they're out of stock for the time being. Next issue perhaps?
Still, I have managed to do something. In 4 minutes flat I bolted on one of Zero Gravity's Double Bubble windscreens (www.zerogravity-racing.com). Mounting was a cinch, and the $89.95 screen works as advertised, keeping wind blast off my 6' 3" frame without any buffeting to speak of. For me, the Double Bubble is a nice compromise between the stock screen and Zero Gravity's more extreme Sport Touring model.