Road Test: VFR800 VTEC vs. ZZ-R1200 vs. FAZER 600

Three different bikes, three different prices and three different ways to sports, tour and commute. These bikes are living proof that in the world of motorcycling, you can indeed have your cake, take it to the South of France and eat it...

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By Bertie Simmonds, Gus Scott, Simon Bowen, Daryll Young on Mon, 21 Apr 2008 - 09:04

Visordown Motorcycle News


With the budget Fazer 600, the luxurious Honda VFR800, and the vast Kawasaki ZZ-R1200 you have three slightly different takes on the do-it-all theme. And by do-it-all, we're talking here about bikes that can sports, tour and commute in equal measure.

They'll take you solo through the bends with a smile on your face wider than the Nile. Then, when the holiday season shows up you can chuck some luggage and a passenger on the back and head for the sun. The daily commute's a doddle too thanks to Japanese build quality and fairly frugal fuel consumption figures - providing you have puritanical control of your right wrist.

The Fazer FZS600 has been around since 1998, meaning used examples fall into the sub-three grand bracket. It's a gem of a bike with features you'd expect to see on a bigger machine - two trips, fuel gauge, clock, underseat storage, a proper pillion perch, unburstable (ex-Thundercat) motor with near perfect carburation and decent build quality. So good was the original back in '98 that the only changes since have been a bigger fuel tank in 2000 (making 160 miles before reserve a regular possibility) and then sleeker bodywork and an even bigger tank. It's little wonder the Fazer sits near the top of this year's best sellers list.

The VFR meanwhile has been around since 1986 and has been the definitive do-it-all bike ever since, featuring a smooth V4 motor with a unique sound and build quality to die for - even now the last of the 750 versions go for three or four grand, while the first of the 800s start around £4,500. This latest version takes the VFR back to its roots with radical new styling (thankfully the single-sided swingarm stays) and a complete chassis and engine makeover. There's also Honda's patented VTEC system in there too which gives a performance kick in the pants at 7,000rpm. Sales figures show it's still a favourite too, with 1,250 finding their way out of dealers already this year.

The ZZ-R has been around almost as long. The original 1100 was launched back in 1990, undergoing a major overhaul in '93 and then remaining pretty much the same, until the birth of the 1200 incarnation this year.

Pre-'93 models will be pretty scruffy by now as the ZZ-R's weight and power combo puts its components under some serious abuse, but the post '93 models are much better put together, as well as having a twin-ram-air snout which made them the fastest things on the road until the advent of Honda's Blackbird in '97.

For 2002, Kawasaki moved the ZZ-R away from their own ZX-12R and made it more of a (very fast) sports tourer than a flagship missile, and it seems to be working because despite not being in the showrooms until late March this year it's already shifted 400 units.

So we took them for a day's thrash through Northamptonshire, put in the commuting miles for a couple of weeks, loaded them with all the luggage we could find and revved the nuts off them whenever we got the chance. And here's what we reckoned... Bertie

YAMAHA FAZER 600

Now before I start getting all carried away with the Fazer for its many and varied qualities all available at a jolly competitive price, I must say that this paint scheme is ghastly.

I mean really, what were Yamaha thinking of? What do they call this one? Dog piss yellow? Nicotine orange? Either way it is perhaps the worst colour on the planet. What's wrong with good old-fashioned Kenny Roberts racing yellow, eh? That's a proper Yamaha colour, but this? No.

Beneath the paint lies an attractive motorbike. Let's face it, the Fazer's never going to win any beauty contests, but it does have a certain rugged '80s charm. The (fake) fins on the motor lend it a credible air and that pointy nosecone does at least allow it to cut a mildly sporting dash, but she's no major headturner.

Which is just fine because nor does she make you look away in disgust. This isn't the kind of bike anyone majorly lusts after, it's more the kind of machine that people enjoy and then flog when they make the move to something saucier.

Either way, none of this seems to have harmed the Fazer's sales prowess one jot, because it's the biggest selling 600cc bike in the UK so far this year.

In terms of performance you get a detuned (less top-end, more midrange) Thundercat motor that produces a respectable 83bhp at the back wheel and delivers 'em to you as smooth as you like. The carbs mean there's no snatchiness to bug you at slow speeds, but decent power and torque mean drive smoother than a baby's bum right the way to the redline.

And she's fast enough to send you sailing up to just shy of a genuine 140mph too, although you'll need to thrash the absolute spuds off her to get there.

But even in the faster company here, most notably the ZZ-R's, the Fazer can still keep up on UK roads even if you do decide to throw the speed limits and highway code in the bin. Even on the fast, open and empty thrash to Bruntingthorpe for top speed runs at the end of this test the Fazer was never once left behind, because whenever the roads cleared enough to hand the ZZ-R any advantage, the next set of bends would soon hove into view and the Fazer would be right up its chuff once more.

So it's a good job the little Yamaha handles too. Those high bars really let you chuck the thing about and although the suspension is budget and springy, it gives you enough feedback to push the bike and know just where its limits are. Those limits arise before they might on a FireBlade, unsurprisingly, but the Fazer can still be thrown about remarkably hard, and hard enough to show-up all sorts of classier tackle in the right hands.

Smart brakes too, straight out of Yamaha's R1/R6 stable and they'll let you pin the Fazer's front end into the floor with more confidence than on either of the other two here. Part of this may be down to the Yamaha's comparative lack of weight but whatever, it stops sweetly.

Riding position's a winner too - really comfortable and only just aced by the ZZ-R here for ultimate rider comfort. The equal of the VFR though, but you'll not get the same kind of weather protection off the Fazer - that top fairing is really very good, but you'll still get wet feet if the heavens open on you.

Only criticism is that on a long high-speed autoroute blast you'll get worn out crouching behind the Fazer's screen. But then you'll get worn out holding the throttle cable bowstring-tight too, so if fast, fast foreign mile-eating is your thing I suggest you go for the VFR or ZZ-R.

In terms of practicalities the Fazer is excellent. We're talking a clock, a centrestand, hazard lights (no, really), loadsa bungee points and space for luggage on and around that pillion seat.

Talking of the pillion accommodation, it is a pearler - proper rear grabrail that really is better than any side handles you care to mention. The bike's softish suspension may mean a bit more pitching and yawing for your pillion if you get enthusiastic two-up but then this is a budget bike and how hard do you really want to go with the missus digging you in the ribs anyway?

All in all, the Fazer really quite impressed me. For the money it's a winner and I can see why they're so popular. Although the other two may do better on a cross-continent jolly, how many times do you really do that? For all your realistic day-to-day needs the Fazer's a stunner, but it's also got the added bonus of a dose of a proper grin factor thanks to some really rather good, if a little boingy, handling, and a motor with some real oomph.

SIMON BOWEN'S SECOND OPINION

Daryll's right, that paint is an abomination but if you can avert your gaze from the violent yellow glare coming off the tank once on the move, there's a lot of bike here for the cash. Fast enough for my ageing ambitions, comfortable enough for my brittle bones and cheap enough for my moth-ridden wallet.

HONDA VFR800

I have to admit I fell in love with this little beauty just wheeling her out of Honda's workshop before this test. Especially in that red, she's on the verge of giving me a trouser tent all the time.

Opinions seem to be split on the new VFR's styling with people either falling into the 'love it and want to marry it' camp, or the 'I'd rather be seen wearing a dress than riding that' faction. I'm in the former group and reckon the thing looks cool as you like - all futuristic, sharp and angular. It almost puts the new Blade to shame because where that doesn't look aggressive enough for what it is, this takes the cake. Those pipes under the seat and single-sided swingarm are just the icing on the cake and those rear lights, ooh yeah...

Hop aboard the VFR and despite that 213kg dry weight you'll be at home right away. Everything is just so - seat height, bar reach, the lot, and even those of you challenged in the inside leg department like my stumpy self should happily be able to plonk both yer plates on the floor. If I'm searching for a gripe I'll have a go at the levers - set too high as they always seem to be on new bikes, but then as you can sort that in about two seconds flat with the toolkit it's hardly a worry.

The mirrors are bang on, until you head over 50mph and then the vibes mean you won't be able to tell the difference between a police car or a sales rep until it's too late. Up in that cockpit you've more info than the average NASA launch pad with umpteen temperature gauges (air temp is handy for ice warnings in winter, or in the summer we've been having come to think of it), clocks, trips and a fuel gauge (expect to see about 120 miles before the light rears its head).

There's also that massive preload adjuster under the seat - very BMW - so's you can easily switch between solo or two-up settings for those pillion moments without resorting to an ungainly roadside fumble with a C-spanner.

Thrashing around the makeshift circuit at Bruntingthorpe between speed testing runs, the suspension did show up its budget nature by overheating and then starting to squirm about after just one lap, even if it was a very fast and bumpy one. Put a sportsbike through the same punishment and it'll stay the same lap after lap. Anyway, it was cool, the VFR still gave you the feedback to know the suspension was slightly losing the plot..

But then if you want supersports handling, buy a supersports bike not an all-rounder like the VFR, and even despite these limitations the Honda still turns easily and predictably and can be held on a line

well - the only real problem comes if you want to change line when you're well-committed but again, if you ride on the ragged edge all the time, perhaps a VFR ain't for you.

Engine-wise I love the way that V-four motor makes its power. It's torquey and revvy all at once and best of all, it is smooth. It's not the fastest thing off the blocks thanks to its mediocre 100bhp but it's still fast enough to give you what you need for everything from motorway to fast backroads, as long as you're prepared to thrash it.

And if you thrash it you'll find the VTEC coming on song from 7,000rpm and the extra two valves per cylinder burst into life giving the VFR some very welcome added top end poke and excitement. It's dead handy for punting past cars on the motorway too without having to dance on the gearshift.

The only downer is the snappy on/off throttle response from the fuel injection and the way the motor stutters if you try cruising around that VTEC watershed. 105mph in top is 7,000rpm and it ain't a good place to be - best bet is to stay above or below.

So she's fun to ride, good looking and useful too.

It looks as if that 'ideal all-rounder' crown could be safe in the VFR's sweaty grasp for another year. After all, on top of everything I've already been babbling about this bike scoops the pillion honours here with the most relaxed and comfortable perch of the lot.

It is supremely comfortable, only marred slightly by those twin grabrails - they're not bad but not a patch on a single bar affair as seen on the Fazer.

The VFR may now be more sports bike than sports tourer, but she's no redlining demon and really is a placcide pussycat of a thing most of the time. Very easy to ride and very unthreatening in her power delivery but as capable of picking up her skirts and tearing into the distance when she feels like it as she is of getting getting you and your chick on hols. You could even happily put in the odd trackday on your VFR and show up a few R1s. Which gets me thinking - imagine one of these all tricked-up for the track, with wheels, titanium exhaust and what have you. Now that would be a tool...

SIMON BOWEN'S SECOND OPINION

The VFR's the only bike here that truly does it all - I hate to say it, but even after all these years it's still the definitive all-rounder.

But all is not perfect because it is starting to feel a touch on the sluggardly side and could really do with being a 900 to give you the midrange to waft along loaded up without having to keep kicking the gearbox.

The styling is, for a sartorial gent like myself, over the top and ridiculous, but get beneath the points and angles and I really struggle to fault the package that is the motorbike beneath.

KAWASAKI ZZ-R1200

Welcome to the new and improved ZZ-R1100, or ZZ-R1200 as it's now become. She was always a bloody fast, competent bruiser was the old 1100 and to be honest the new 1200 version really is more of the same.

To look at though I reckon Kawasaki could have pushed the boat out further with the facelift - it looks like they just changed the lights at both ends, threw some new clocks in and left it at that. She's not the prettiest bike on the block but at least in the plain colours Kawasaki are bringing her out in she has a certain air of regal grace.

So if the bike looks like the outgoing 1100 it's no surprise to find it feels a lot like one to ride too. An updated and slightly refined version for sure, but still a raw and comparatively old-fashioned bike.

Tell you what though, that motor's got some poke. It's not a top end rush thing like a ZX-12, and nor is it the sheer sledgehammer punch of a Hayabusa. Nope, it is plain old-fashioned shove bred from the bike's whopping 90ft-lbs of torque rather than outright power, although 146bhp at the back wheel is still not to be taken lightly.

This vast amount of torque means the bike pulls hard from nowt, and I mean nowt - you can pull top from 1,000rpm clean and easy. Roll on that throttle and feel that surge pump you forwards. Very strong, very easy-going, very nice.

Top speed may no longer be up there with the outright speed kings nowadays but that's not really what life's about for the ZZ-R now and I can't see people who are after one being bothered it's not the fastest bike on the road. Best thing about that motor is it makes this a stunning mile-eater. Motorways, autobahns, you name it, this bike will gobble them up faster than Jenna Jameson can her co-stars, as you sit there in sumptuous comfort.

The riding position is one of the most comfortable about with stacks of room, an excellent screen and very little pressure on your wrists, especially when you're holding steady cruise speeds mile after mile.

Shame that pillion seat's a duffer then. The pegs are too high for comfort, it's too hard despite plush appearances and the old 1100's single grabrail has been replaced with those less-effective twin-sided affairs.

At least if you're going solo the ZZ-R has bags of room for as much luggage as you care to throw at it, so if you simply can't decide what outfit to wear when you get where you're going, just take your whole wardrobe.

The brakes are adequate, but that's about it. They'll haul the big ZZ-R up quite well enough but fast stopping, as it were, needs mucho effort from the lever. Then again, the forks soon let you know where their limits are if you get heavy with the anchors so you're better off riding this bike smoothly, rolling on and off that fat midrange rather than revving the tits off it and last-minute braking everywhere if you want to make fastest possible progress on it.

Handling? Yup, it does handle and really very predictably for something this size. The front can feel a little vague when on its ear, but you can take it right to the limits of the tyres and ground clearance in confidence, and it holds a line once in a corner surprisingly well for a bike so big. Still wouldn't fancy it on the track though, whereas the other two bikes here will gladly cope with that sort of malarky really rather well.

And so to that size because it is a handicap. It hampers the bike in town where you really need to be very at home with low-speed riding to wheedle it through the gridlock without all those kilos catching you out and dumping you unceremoniously on the floor. Get it right and it's no worries, get it wrong and you'll be accosting passing weightlifters to help you get the bloody thing upright again. Point being, the ZZ-R1200 doesn't hide its weight as well as, say, a Blackbird, and certainly not as well as the smaller Fazer and VFR800.

As for the practicalities, there's that fuel gauge which is good and at least gives you a fighting chance of avoiding having to use that fiddly reserve tap. There's a centrestand, more bungy points than you could ever need, the most protective riding position here and a clock. Marvellous.

The ZZ-R may have been updated but it doesn't really seem to have been developed a great deal. It's had a mild restyle and a big bore which has allowed Kawasaki to create a new model out of very little. This doesn't take away from it being a very competent motorbike, I just wish Kawasaki had been a bit more adventurous with it.

For me, despite loving it for mile after mile down the motorway I'll put it last out of this bunch.

Yes it's big, yes it'll take all the luggage you can strap to it without batting an eyelid, and yes it is very comfortable to ride but I wouldn't want to commute on it, it takes muscle to hustle, and pillions won't be your best mates for long. It's a bit of a one-trick pony - go a very long way, very fast and it'll be ideal. Deal with day-to-day practicalities and the Fazer and VFR will run rings around it.

DARYLL YOUNG'S SECOND OPINION

For an old-stylee bike she still looked good to me - like your best mate's mum at a wedding, and I liked the analogue clocks too. You're not buying the most up-to-date bike on the road by a long way so I actually quite liked 'em - a nice old-fashioned touch.

Awesomely comfortable from a rider's point of view and even short old me could get both feet on the floor, which was handy given the weight of the thing.

Despite this though you could still chuck it about surprisingly hard and that screen was lovely - being a shortarse I never even had to dip my head for any mega speed stuff - I could have sat there comfortably at 160 all day long. But for a bike that is aimed at the touring market more than anything else, they really could have put some more effort into that pillion perch.

CONCLUSION

And so we come to the end of another test and its time for the winners to leap into the arms of the nearest willing cheerleaders while the losers slope disconsolately back for an early bath and a microwave meal for one. What fate awaits our three contenders this month then?

Well, I hate to say it but the VFR is the winner. It's built to last a nuclear winter, cossets you and your pillion better than a World of Leather sofa, and really can do everything this side of motocross. Where the Fazer hasn't quite got the legs for regular distance touring and the ZZ-R's just too porky to make life in town easy, the VFR comfortably sits between the two - long-legged enough for any run to the sun you care to mention, but easy enough to ride you could do a spot of despatching if you happened to be short of cash. She could really do with more power these days and the looks aren't everyone's cup of tea but for doing it all, the VFR still remains the bike to beat.

Which leaves the ZZ-R and Fazer scrapping over second spot and the Fazer emerging victorious.

Why? Well it's an absolute bargain for starters that's so capable it really is the genuine 'budget VFR'. Bags of comfort, enough of a turn of speed to deal with balls-out thrashing and motorway miles, and as for cutting the mustard in town, it'll do that one in its sleep.

And so we come to the ZZ-R. Were this test all about 'what's the best bike to bash to France, fast?' then the Kawasaki would indeed scoop the honours. Supremely comfortable (for the rider at least), capable of taking more luggage than the average Bedouin camel, and seriously fast and easy with it, this is a classic Ÿber-tourer. But, town can be hard work, sports riding is hard work compared to the other two, and pillions get a bum deal.

If you can afford it, take the VFR. If cash is an issue then get the Fazer, but either way the ZZ-R comes last. You've really got to want to do a lot of touring on top of your everyday usage to actually buy the Kawasaki, and even then you'd want to be doing it without a passenger...

Boil it down to three disciplines - commute, tour, sports fun road or track, and the Honda is the only one here to score well in all three. The Fazer is a very competent tourer but not a great one yet it still shines in town or when you're feeling a bit daft, the ZZ-R is the best tourer here but can't really do much else, but the VFR? Well it's almost as good as the ZZ-R to tour, and as good as the Fazer at the town stuff but better still at the fun bit. Even after all these years it is still the definitive all-rounder. Crikey.

SPECS - HONDA

TYPE - SPORTS TOURER

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £8349

ENGINE CAPACITY - 781cc

POWER - 100bhp@10,800rpm

TORQUE - 55lb.ft@8700rpm

WEIGHT - 213kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 805mm

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - 147mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

SPECS - KAWASAKI

TYPE - SPORTS TOURER

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £7695

ENGINE CAPACITY - 1164cc

POWER - 146bhp@9100rpm

TORQUE - 90lb.ft@7900rpm

WEIGHT - 236kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 800mm

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - 169mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

SPECS - YAMAHA

TYPE - STREETBIKE

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £5099

ENGINE CAPACITY - 599cc

POWER - 83bhp@10,900rpm

TORQUE - 42lb.ft@8000rpm

WEIGHT - 204kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 790mm

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - 136mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

With the budget Fazer 600, the luxurious Honda VFR800, and the vast Kawasaki ZZ-R1200 you have three slightly different takes on the do-it-all theme. And by do-it-all, we're talking here about bikes that can sports, tour and commute in equal measure.

They'll take you solo through the bends with a smile on your face wider than the Nile. Then, when the holiday season shows up you can chuck some luggage and a passenger on the back and head for the sun. The daily commute's a doddle too thanks to Japanese build quality and fairly frugal fuel consumption figures - providing you have puritanical control of your right wrist.

The Fazer FZS600 has been around since 1998, meaning used examples fall into the sub-three grand bracket. It's a gem of a bike with features you'd expect to see on a bigger machine - two trips, fuel gauge, clock, underseat storage, a proper pillion perch, unburstable (ex-Thundercat) motor with near perfect carburation and decent build quality.

So good was the original back in '98 that the only changes since have been a bigger fuel tank in 2000 (making 160 miles before reserve a regular possibility) and then sleeker bodywork and an even bigger tank. It's little wonder the Fazer sits near the top of this year's best sellers list.

The VFR meanwhile has been around since 1986 and has been the definitive do-it-all bike ever since, featuring a smooth V4 motor with a unique sound and build quality to die for - even now the last of the 750 versions go for three or four grand, while the first of the 800s start around £4,500.

This latest version takes the VFR back to its roots with radical new styling (thankfully the single-sided swingarm stays) and a complete chassis and engine makeover. There's also Honda's patented VTEC system in there too which gives a performance kick in the pants at 7,000rpm. Sales figures show it's still a favourite too, with 1,250 finding their way out of dealers already this year.

The ZZ-R has been around almost as long. The original 1100 was launched back in 1990, undergoing a major overhaul in '93 and then remaining pretty much the same, until the birth of the 1200 incarnation this year.

Pre-'93 models will be pretty scruffy by now as the ZZ-R's weight and power combo puts its components under some serious abuse, but the post '93 models are much better put together, as well as having a twin-ram-air snout which made them the fastest things on the road until the advent of Honda's Blackbird in '97.

For 2002, Kawasaki moved the ZZ-R away from their own ZX-12R and made it more of a (very fast) sports tourer than a flagship missile, and it seems to be working because despite not being in the showrooms until late March this year it's already shifted 400 units.

So we took them for a day's thrash through Northamptonshire, put in the commuting miles for a couple of weeks, loaded them with all the luggage we could find and revved the nuts off them whenever we got the chance. And here's what we reckoned... Bertie

Click to continue to the Yamaha Fazer 600 review

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