V.Far V-Four: 1000 miles on the Honda VFR1200F

We’ve ridden the VFR1200F a thousand miles on typical UK roads in typical UK weather. Snow, rain, freezing fog and temperatures of barely more than zero answer one question. How real-world-good is the new VFR?

The plan is brilliant in its simplicity. Fuel up the VFR and ride it, somewhere, anywhere. Repeating as necessary until the above question answers itself. How hard can it be? My journey begins on the driveway of one of my childhood idols. In an ideal world Mark Forsyth’s first eyewitness account of my riding should have happened last year, I would have been on the back wheel of a B-King and he would have been kerbside, nodding his head giving me a cheery wave as I sailed past, he’d have been impressed and no messin’.

Instead he gets to see me after a 154-day lay-off from riding, on a fully fuelled 285kg super tourer in three inches of snow, sliding gracelessly and squeaking like a girl toward him. Picture an un-oiled Tin Man entering Dancing On Ice riding the Cowardly Lion after a night on the piss. It’s far from pretty but luckily enough this ain’t no beauty contest, otherwise me and the fugly VFR might as well call it quits before we’ve even got know each other. I plan to head south from Stamford to Cornwall, 815mm beneath me millions of pounds and thousands of hours worth of hard work perambulates effortlessly.

As easy as the bike is to ride I’m struggling to cope with the monstrous acceleration, it feels like a rocketship. I prise my peepers away from the road and note that I’m doing 43mph in fourth, too nervous to even laugh at myself I realise this is what Ricky Bobby felt like when he made his comeback in Talladega Nights, only with snow. Forty miles later things start to feel more like they used to. First thing I pick up with the VFR is the riding position. It’s at odds with itself, my top half is relaxed and roomy but my feet are too close to my knees. It’s not uncomfortable, far from it, it just feels different to what I expected. I decide I like it.

Part DN-01 Part Edsel Pacer

The big question mark hanging over the VFR is the lack of touring tank range so (thankfully) I intend to spend the first tank squirting every single drop of juice like it’s my last in an effort to set an economy benchmark. Think short-shifting, miniscule throttle movements and all the boring stuff. Looking at the tank (plastic by the way, unlucky tankbag fiends) you’d think it’d take 20-litres easy, rather than a piddly 18. Even so, I set my sights on doing at least 160 miles before we stop for more. It takes 58 miles for the first of the digital fuel bars to ebb, the remainder spreading themselves equally over the next hundred miles before I bottle it and roll into some services on the M4. There’s a couple of litres left so 160 wouldn’t be a problem if you were happy to put up with the flashing reserve warning for the last twenty odd miles.

By now the snow has stopped, the sun is out and inside I’m flying high, I light a smoke and digest the aesthetics. I think Honda should be applauded for delivering something so identifiable with the concept bike (hubless rear wheel and plastic tyres aside of course). I get the impression that different sections of the bike seem to have been designed by different people though, there is no real flow to the design. The headlight is part DN-01 part Edsel Pacer, neither of which are pretty.

I love the details though, little VFR logos here and there compliment the mile deep paint job to give an overall impression of a very high quality product. The switchgear is way too similar to the old BMW set-up for it to be just a coincidence. The horn on the left and the hazard switch on the right look just like Bee Emms old style indicator switches. Are Honda trying to tempt new customers by making them feel at home? Of course they are and all credit to them, though I do end up despising the indicator switch by the end of my ride. It’s too low on the bars and too bulky.

The 83mph Somerset Scrotum

Me and the 1200F are getting along nicely by the time we hit the M5 and head south. Especially at 83mph where I’m treated to a pervy scrotum buzz through the seat, get the speed wrong and it disappears in a flash. I spend the whole of Somerset getting the speed just right. Keeping a constant speed is easy though thanks to the heavy and long travel throttle action. Fly-by-wire it may be but the first half of the action feels like the wire is rolling over a huge eccentric cam, you twist, you twist some more, then it gets easy and you get the other half of the throttle travel, by which time your right hand is cocked like some Kung-fu tile smasher about to prove a pointless point. Viffer is fast though. Proper real world useable fast.

The kind of fast that delivers all of the real world speed you’ll ever need the instant you want it. At 5,500rpm in top the VFR pulls an effortless 100mph, add 500 rpm and you’ll gain nearly twenty mph. This does a number of things, first it makes overtaking a complete doddle, no need to tap down a gear just shovel on the coals and keep an eye out for plod. Second it tricks you into thinking this bike is capable of ZZR-esque top speeds, which it isn’t. The road conditions dictate my speed and only once do I get near 140mph, by which time I get the feeling I’m past the best of the rush and all that’s left is twenty or so mph which you’d only ever call on if you were going to miss a ferry or really wanted to get home in time to catch Hollyoaks.

If that doesn’t sound like enough for you then you’re probably not in the market for a sports tourer yet, but you will be one day and the VFR will still be here, willing and waiting to prove the point I’m getting at. Anyone looking at this as their next purchase will love how you can let the speed drop down as low as thirty-odd mph yet still not need to change down from top when you need drive. I did find a tiny fluffy patch at the bottom end of second gear but it was always as the needle was passing through rather than sitting there.

Stupid Boots And Sellotape

By Taunton the weather has started to turn, I’ve had my own head up display of the route since London, and not the sat-nav variety. Overhead a mile wide black cloud has tracked my path, whichever way the road flows, the cloud is always there and in North Devon it begins to provide me with constant updates as rain taps away on my head. Initially I like it, remember it’s been ages since I’ve ridden a bike and everything is a novelty. Like my choice of footwear. In my childlike anticipation of riding this bike I somehow decided a pair of ankle high Alpinestars town boots would be perfect for the job. Idiot.

By the time my left boot is full of water I’ve also decided I’m sick of the rain beating its way down my neck, the sound that made me smile two hours previously is now like having a roll of Sellotape constantly unravelled in my ear. Thankfully it only continues for the next 28 of the 29 hours I’ve yet to spend on the bike. I stop at the Barnstaple junction to change back to a clear visor. Pulling into the garage I spot another biker and immediately pressgang him into giving me his opinion of the bike. I don’t know why I’m surprised to find he’s Norwegian, after all it’s February, freezing, raining and generally miserable out. I kind of make out that he likes it but he thinks it’s a young man’s bike as it looks fast. Not quite how I would have described a VFR, but interesting all the same.  

Spin Up Another Fat One

At this point the pace took a nosedive. The weather had been bad but bearable all day, now with the light pretty much gone and the temperature dropping I had to slow down. Me and the 1200F spent the next few hours catapulting from 40 to 120mph. It’s while doing this, particularly in second gear, that I decide that the VFR needs traction control. I can see no reason for not having it, after all it’s not like Honda needs to keep weight down on a bike like this, it has a slipper clutch and ABS already so why isn’t it on there?

In a straight line when you know it’s coming, spinning up a big fat bike like this on the throttle is good fun, but I’m well aware of the torque waiting to chime in as I exit slimy second gear roundabouts. You’d only need to forget once to end up learning an expensive lesson. I also get the chance to experiment with some reasonably high speed (wet) A-road cornering. The signs are promising. Completely stable and very inspiring. But I find the brakes are the weakest of the trio of suspension, engine and brakes.

The motor works in perfect harmony with the suspension, neither really causing the other any concern. I don’t particularly like the feel of the suspension. It works well but there’s so much weight for the component parts to have to deal with that I think some sacrifice has been made in terms of feel over strength. Regardless of where we were in a corner I never got the feeling that the motor was about to overcome the suspension or that the springy bits couldn’t cope.

But on the way into corners I did find myself wanting a bit more feel while on the brakes. I think the suspension is too firm to cope with the demands of hard braking, if the forks were able to move through their stroke a bit more on the brakes then feel would improve, though I think the compromise would then hinder the cohesion between motor and suspension. Although the brakes are the weakest link on this bike, they’re thankfully not linked to each other.

A great example of the stability of the VFR was proved to me on the countless occasions I ended up chopping the throttle in mild panic when my own pace proved a little too progressive for my liking, whether that was mid-roundabout or halfway through a high speed turn, the bike refused to unsettle, thankfully.  

Bobbing Like A Mating Parrot

After nine hours of riding I found myself in between Falmouth and Lands End. It was dark, I was soaked and the conditions were miserable but the bike was behaving impeccably. I was convinced I could make it to Lands End for a picture. Exiting junctions I found the bike was spinning up instantly, so I dropped the pace and soldiered on until eventually, riding on a constant throttle I slithered across the white line on a dark deserted road. I had hit sheet ice and the end of my journey in the current direction. Turning around (slowly) I got incredibly angry at not being able to make it and it takes a huge amount of reserve not to crack the throttle in frustration.

Venturing back into Devon we find ourselves near Okehampton. I know I need to meet the photographer the next morning in Hampshire to get some shots, so I decide to just keep heading that way until I can stand no more of the bike and the conditions. By now my visor has given up the ghost. Any effort to clear the mist and rain from it only adds to the kaleidoscopic effect, turning the world into a scary, glazy, dazzling mush of a place. Again I find myself angry and jam the brakes on at the side of the road in the dark to try and sort myself out. Squeezing myself into a hedge to get out of the wind for a wee I can’t help feeling that the bike is laughing at my efforts to do as many miles as possible. It just makes them feel so easy. I saddle up and continue on into the gloom.

After passing a couple of closed B&B’s I get a second wind and decide I should just ride home to get some sleep. Bombing up to the M4 I can’t quite believe I feel as fresh as I do, again testament to the comfort of the VFR. Creeping along the sodden M4 I develop a technique of pushing my visor against the diffuser on top of the screen, the windblast blowing through it acts like a Dyson jet blade hand dryer and clears my view instantly. This only works for about twenty seconds so I end up bobbing my head up and down like a mating parrot all the way back to London. Its 02:15am, I’m in Sarf East London. Five hours previous I was in Cornwall after having already ridden for ten hours. I am utterly amazed at the ease in which the VFR has just covered such a day.

It’s The Shingle Life For Me

The bike hasn’t flinched at anything I’ve managed to throw at it so I get five hours sleep then shoot back to Hampshire to carry on. Through a congested London I find the clutch feels heavy, I understand it has a lot of work to do but it feels heavier than any other clutch I’ve pulled before. With pictures in the bag I set my sights on Dungeness on the Kent coast. It seems like a blink and a fuel stop before I find myself next to the imposing power station and endless sea of
shingle. After being so annoyed at not making the Cornish coast the night before I have to admit to being amused at not being able to escape the Kent coast when I get the bike bogged in up to the axles on the stones. It’s only when you’re truly at one with a 285kg touring bike can you drag it unaided from the stones using only a foul mouth and every single muscle in the human body. I spy that I’ll clock a thousand miles once I’ve finished the final leg of the journey back to north London and the Ace Café so I decide to get cracking.

When you consider how big a landmark a thousand miles in 24 hours is for most riders I find the answer to the fuel range question mark. In the middle of summer on a run to southern Spain this bike would laugh at a thousand miles in a day. It might only do 160 miles to a tank but nine fill ups out of ten it was me that needed to stop before the bike did. Coffee and a smoke taking precedence over more fuel. Granted the range would annoy you if you were commuting 40 miles a day to and from work but I could put up with the extra trip to the pumps if it meant I got to ride everywhere on one of these bikes.

I roll into the Ace 34 hours after I started the journey. I was expecting there to be at least a handful of bikers so am left feeling a little deflated to find it’s Porsche night and the cafe is full of loafers in loafers talking about dabs of oppo and which watch suits their driving gloves best. I’ve been soaked, frozen, scared, tired and lost but I’ve loved every minute of my time with the VFR. I offer to buy it a pint, but just as it’s done for the last day and a half it shrugs me off and prefers to sit outside in the cold like a hard man. I savour a shandy then let the bike take me home.

This VFR1200 offers high definition motorcycling, it not only feels finished, it feels polished. On my last road test for Visordown as a staffer we took a VFR800 to France. I came away saying that, though it had once set the benchmark in terms of all round capability it had been left behind by the competition. Seven months later the VFR lifecycle has come full circle. After seemingly taking the two corners of the south coast and folding them in half the VFR has made the UK feel tiny. This bike has yet again raised the standard in terms of expectations from a sports tourer.

The question shouldn’t be: Is it any good? It’s almost impossible to buy anything other than a good (new) bike nowadays. It should be: Is this bike amazing? The answer: Of course it is silly – it’s a Honda.