2010 Honda VFR1200FA

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(From the Archives)

Honda is the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles and internal combustion engines, so it comes as no surprise when the company launches a technological wonder like the all-new for 2010 Honda VFR1200.  This V-four shaft-drive ‘sportbike’ is a showcase for Honda’s engineering might.  This is motorcycling’s equivalent to a Speedo-clad Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime strutting down the beach saying, “This is what I’ve got.  What do you have?”

The VFR1200 bristles with Honda’s state-of-the-art technology, with the new V-four engine the centrepiece.  The engine design is radical, having an asymmetrical front-rear cylinder layout.  The two rear-facing cylinders (those between the rider’s legs) have their connecting rods side-by-side at the centre of the crankshaft, while the two forward-facing cylinders’ connecting rods are located at the ends of the crankshaft.  The result is the rear cylinders are close together with a narrow dimension, allowing the machine to be slimmer between the rider’s legs.  Also unusual is Honda’s use of a 76-degree V, a departure from the more common 90-degree design.

Shaft-drive, fuel-injection, throttle-by-wire, linked ABS brakes, slipper clutch, exhaust with a servo-operated valve that opens at high rpm, and a new (patented, says Honda) fairing design that optimizes air flow and engine heat management are only some of the technological features on Honda’s techno-wonder.

Climb aboard the new flagship sportbike and the ergonomics are typical Honda – perfect.  Honda has the uncanny ability to design motorcycles that ‘fit’ most riders immediately.  The main controls are precisely where you expect them.  Five-way adjustable clutch and front brake levers accommodate a range of hand sizes, the cast handlebar risers lean the rider comfortably forward and the footpegs are slightly rear-set.

The instrument panel, a combination of analogue and digital technology, is easy to read and attractive.  Front and centre is a large analogue tachometer with digital readouts on each side (speedometer and fuel gauge to the left, odometer/trip meters/coolant temperature/ambient temperature/time readouts to the right.)

Underway, the VFR1200 feels remarkably light and easy to handle.  At a claimed 268 kg (without the optional sidecases), this is no featherweight motorcycle, and is just 20 kg lighter than the pannier-equipped BMW K1300GT sport-tourer.  Yet the VFR is another example of Honda engineering (similarly shown on big machines like the ST1300 and Goldwing) which makes the motorcycles seemingly shed weight once rolling.  Clutch pull is very light and its engagement silky smooth.  Matched to the torquey V-four engine, this is one of the easiest bikes I’ve tested in stop and go traffic.  With perfectly calibrated fuel-injection, the VFR is a pussycat in town and a lazy rider can lug the engine down to 2600 rpm without causing drivetrain hissy fits.  Snick the smooth action six-speed transmission down a few gears and once the tachometer sweeps past 5,000 rpm, the V-four engine emits a distinctive, refined, mechanical yowl and thrust is eyball flattening.

Honda’s insistence on marketing the VFR1200 as a ‘sportbike’ is puzzling.  It’s specifications shout ‘sport-tourer’.  The VFR has a long 1545 mm wheelbase (the same as Yamaha’s FJR1300 sport-tourer.)  The shaft-drive, adored by touring riders, adds weight, but the flat, broad saddle allows the rider to easily find a comfortable position on long rides.  Helping long distance comfort is the bike’s fairing, which presents the rider with a clean, smooth airstream.  Honda’s list of available options reinforces the VFR1200’s sport-touring character – hard luggage ($1368.99), heated grips ($319.95), side deflectors ($249.99) and 12v socket ($141.99).  Fitted with these options, a new VFR1200 has an MSRP of $20,379.92, comparable to sport-tourers such as the BMW K1300GT ($21,900) and Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS ($20,199).

The V-four engine is smooth, powerful and has an exhaust note with character.  The ergonomics are much sportier than other big ‘shafties’ (such as the Honda ST1300, Yamaha FJR1300, and BMW K1300GT), yet it’s comfortable enough for an extended weekend trip to the mountains.  Two complaints are the small 18.5-litre fuel tank (riders attracted to the VFR will likely trade off longer distance touring range for a more sporting nature) and a ‘wooden’ feeling rear brake pedal.

The VFR1200 is a modern day “Gentleman’s Express” – a long-disused descriptor once reserved for big, fast and comfortable motorcycles.  Overall the VFR1200 is an impressive motorcycle, and when outfitted with available touring options, is a fine choice for motorcyclists who want a sportbike experience with the ‘tourability’ and convenience of shaftdrive and luggage.

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