Used Bike

Buyer Guide: Honda VFR800

It’s one of the few ‘sensible’ cult bikes in the world and a machine with remarkably few flaws. The Honda VFR800 in fuel-injected or VTEC guise is a class act – but no motorcycle is entirely without issues...

Click to read: Honda VFR800 owners reviews, specs and image galleries.

The best bike in the world? Yes it was, at the time. The VFR did it all and did it exceedingly well too. It’s a jack of all trades and pretty masterful at a good number of them as well. It’ll handle every kind of riding from track days to touring and commuting plus it’s extremely reliable and well built.

And there’s more. The V-four engine gives it just enough rough, raw edge to be classed as a bike with character and dodge the common criticism that Hondas are bland. OK, there are better machines available now but the VFR’s still a sweet ride that’s capable of loads.

There are two distinct models covered in this article. The first is the VFR800Fi which was sold from late 1997 until 2001. Late in 2001 the VFR800 VTEC replaced it. It received a mixed reception.

Owners loved the Fi model but the VTEC came with a version of variable valve timing which although simpler than the system used in cars is comparatively complex for a motorbike.

Critics said it added little and caused a jolt in the power delivery as it cut in, plus it made valve servicing prohibitively expensive. As a result, the VTEC has never had quite the following of the  earlier Fi model VFRs but the flip side of that is they’re a little better value on the used market.

Don’t expect to pick up a decent example of either for buttons though. A clean VFR’s money in the bank even if the model can no longer be regarded as the best bike in the world which is more due to the competition getting better than the VFR becoming worse.

A whopping 88 VFR800 owners filled in our online survey this month giving us an accurate picture what these bikes are really like to live with, 39 own the VTEC and 49 the Fi model.

They’ve personally ridden well over a million miles on these bikes which are showing over two million miles on their clocks in total so (as ever)  you can believe what you read here.

Honda VFR800 Specifications

V4 engine
A rare, exotic and soulful configuration. Newer rivals tend to have more power and midrange but typically due to larger capacity.

Regulator/rectifier
They fail on the VFR800Fi model. Exactly a third of these bikes in our survey needed a new one and they often kill the battery when they go too. We’d suggest a more durable replacement if you have a bike with the original still fitted.

Cam chain tensioners
The Fi model has gear driven cams and no issues there. Two VTEC models (out of 39) in our survey needed the cam chain tensioners replacing. The bill including problems caused by their failure came to £985 for one owner – it’s the only expensive VFR problem we’re aware of and we think most or all have been sorted under warranty now.

16,000 mile service
The biggy with valve clearances and said to be costly, especially on the VTEC model.  Average price paid in our survey was £362 for the Fi and £398 for the VTEC. Some owners who took their VTEC bikes to main dealers sometimes paid £600 or more but others used independents to keep costs down. It’s not cheap but it’s not silly money either.

Reliability
Overall very good. 86 problems were mentioned in our survey in which owners had covered just over 1.25 million miles on their VFRs. That’s one problem every 15,000 miles. Most were minor and cheap to fix too.

Finish
Significantly better than most modern bikes. A proper ‘made in Japan’ Honda. Earlier ones are arguably better than later models but age counts against them.

Thermostat
Not a famous issue but it happened to three (of 49) Fi owners and two (of 39) VTEC owners. Can leak or cause other minor grief but it’s not an expensive or tricky part to replace.

Headlights
Good on the Fi, excellent on the VTEC. That’s typical VFR – a useful detail that’s ignored on many machines.

Console
A printed circuit board on the Fi model can suffer, especially if water gets into the unit, causing partial failure. It’s best to strip it and fix the problem (see how online) as replacement is costly, new or used.

What to Pay

There’s almost a VFR800 for any budget They’re an excellent machine with a strong following and they’re durable and reliable so there are no cheap bargains. A rough, or high mile, early bike will still fetch over £1500, tidy Fi bikes make about £2500 and the very best £3500.

VTEC models don’t have cult status but they’re still not cheap. A skanky one can be had for about £2000 while a tidy 2002 example will fetch more like £3000 - £3500. The most desirable bikes are the 2006 onwards machines with the revised VTEC operation. You can recognise them by the clear indicator lenses and the graduated tint on the screen.

Many shops and owners don’t realise they’re significantly improved over the earlier VTECs and you should be able to get one for £4500 - £5000 for a low mile minter.  A perfect one to two year old bike will be about £5500 - £6000 private sale or £6000-£7500 from a dealer. Two years ago list price for a new VFR800 was £8599. It’s currently £9400 with a £150 premium for the white model although all machines are now classed as old stock now the 1200 is on sale.

Parts Breakdown

They’re common bikes so there are plenty of used parts in breakers and pattern/non-standard goodies from other manufacturers. Try David Silver Spares (01728 833020) as they’re Honda parts experts.

  • Bar end weight -  £14.96
  • Left mirror - £45.75
  • Rear brake pads - £22.59
  • Clocks (complete) - £860.70
  • LH Headlight (complete) - £198.94
  • Clutch lever - £27.87
  • Front left indicator - £23.93
  • Pair of front discs - £260.22

(Genuine parts prices)

Servicing

Rumours of very high service costs for the major service on the VTEC model abound but our survey shows it’s not outrageously expensive. Starting with the earlier Fi model, average price paid for the minor (4000 mile) service was £158, the intermediate (8000 mile) service was £213 and the major (16,000 miles including valve clearances) came in at £363. Prices paid for the VTEC model were pretty similar at £148, £216 and £399 respectively. The intervals are the same as the earlier bike. Just three out of 38 VTEC owners paid £500 or more for the major service. As always independents are almost always cheaper than Honda dealers but may not have the special tools, diagnostics and expertise.

54% of Fi owners do all their own servicing, 40% do some and just 16% do none at all. More VTEC models are under warranty and just 30% do all their own work, 43% do some while 27% do none at all.
Several owners say the starter valves need to be adjusted at service time to keep the throttle smooth even though they’re not mentioned on the schedule.

Tyres and running costs

The most popular tyres by far are Michelin’s Pilot Road II, favoured by exactly 25% of owners. They say they grip well, especially in the wet and last better than other tyres too. Bridgestone’s BT021 is next most popular with 10% followed by the older BT020 with 8%. A few owners say the 021 front wears too fast and they go for a 021 rear and 020 front. Also quite popular and worth a mention are Dunlop’s excellent Roadsmarts, and if you’re looking to save a few bob, Continental Road Attacks or Pirelli’s older Diablo Stradas are worth a look.

Both bikes take the common 120/70-17 front and 180/55-17 rear. Almost everyone opted for sports touring rubber which is wise as it’s got enough grip to get the exhaust/pegs down and sportier rubber isn’t necessary.

Average tyre life for the lighter Fi model was 7730 miles from a front and 5913 miles rear. The sportier but heavier VTEC managed more; 8167 front and 6107 rear although it’s possible they’re being ridden more gently.

Owner Case Study: "My VFR800Fi has 60,000 on the clock"

Mark Sheehan bought his 1998 VFR800FiW three years ago and he’s done 32,000 miles on it, taking the mileage to 60,000 in total

“It’s been perfect. I do a fair bit of two up riding with my Mrs and it’s great for that.

“I do all my own servicing but I’m a mechanic which helps! It’s not too difficult. I checked the valve clearances about a year ago when the clocks were showing 46,000 miles. Although lots of people say you don’t need to adjust them seven out of 16 needed doing on mine.

“It’s only had one problem. One time the FI light came on. I pulled over and counted the flashes – it was doing six of them. I checked the manual and it said that meant there was a fault with the coolant temperature sensor. I checked it out and it was a wire in the block connector which goes to it. Water comes of the tank and goes into it and the wire had corroded.

“When I first got it, the reg/rec was running very hot and only putting out 13.6 volts. It was the upgraded Honda one but I swopped it anyway for my own peace of mind. I fitted one from a 2004-2006 R1. I’ve had two CBR600s before and the VFR’s much more comfy. I had a TDM850 as well but it went wrong a lot. The VFR’s the best of the bunch. I use Carbon Lorraine SBK3/5 brake pads which are excellent. I’ve only used Maxxis tyres but I get 15,000 miles from a front and 7000 from a rear.”

What goes wrong?

Not a lot. A mere 86 problems were mentioned in our survey in which owners had covered just over 1.25 million miles on their VFRs. That’s a problem once every 15,000 miles on average. Starting with the Fi models, the most common issue by far is the failure of the regulator/rectifier unit. This electrical gizmo converts the three-phase electricity the bike’s generator creates into the smooth, voltage limited, DC current the bike needs. When it fails it typically stops the bike and can kill the battery too. Exactly one third of owners had suffered this problem. Many fit a different unit, use a small fan such as a PC fan to keep it cool or use heat transfer paste to prolong its life. We’d be wary of setting off on a really long journey with the original still fitted. The updated 2000 onwards models have an improved version but it’s still prone to failure. Eight percent had problems with the clocks due to the printed circuit board failing. It’s possible to dismantle and fix it yourself in most cases if you’re handy with a soldering iron. Six percent had the thermostat fail in some way. Other problems were one offs and pretty minor.

The VTEC model’s even more reliable. Three problems each affected 5% of owners; thermostat issues, alternator burning out and cam chain tensioner failure. They’re all pretty rare but be wary of the cam chain problem – one owner paid just under £1000 to have the resultant damage fixed on his 32,500 mile 2003 VTEC A3 model. There were five other one off problems, all minor.

Overall the VFR800 is one of the most reliable bikes we’ve surveyed especially considering many are getting old. Buy and ride one with confidence. If you do want more information on the few known problems as well as loads more great VFR info, check out www.bikersoracle.com/vfr/forum.

Extras

Hard luggage is popular. Givi’s by far the most used on the Fi model and is generally well regarded although one owner had their Monorack break. Givi’s second fiddle to the genuine Honda topbox and panniers on the VTEC which owners seem to think is better for numerous reasons including a closer fit to the bike and the frames being less obtrusive when the luggage isn’t fitted.

Overall Givi and Honda OE are well liked and very few other brands were used in our survey. Aftermarket exhausts aren’t that popular and they’re quite expensive for the VTEC as it needs two end cans and generic ones tend to look a bit out of place.

Other mods tend to be pretty sensible stuff. Quote a few owners have refreshed or upgraded the suspension, especially on the Fi model – money well spent as it can transform a soggy bike. Hugger mudguards, front mudguard extenders, Scottoilers are very popular. Bar risers and double bubble screens are also pretty common. A Power Commander with a custom map seems to make the bike smoother and a touch more frugal which is worthwhile. Most mods tend to be the sensible/touring type which is a good sign if you’re buying used rather than mini-indicators, undertrays, small number plates and other giveaway signs of ownership by young tearaways.

Your Reviews

We're still looking for owners' impressions of the Honda VFR800, log your thoughts and opinions on the VFR800i and the VFR800 VTEC.

Owner Case Study: 'I’ve done over 100,000 miles on VFR VTECs"

Brian Thurgood did 70,000 miles on his 2002 VTEC, then sold it and bought a 2007 model which he’s done 36,000 miles on

“I loved that 2002 VTEC, especially the aggressive switch from two to four values, the 2007 bike is smoother but less charismatic as a result.

“During the 70,000 miles on the 2002 bike, I had to have the cam chain tensioners replaced under warranty and the head bearings too. I think the head bearings were the result of an accident though. Apart from that I had no problems whatsoever. I replaced the chain and sprockets after 50,000 miles. In hindsight I traded in the 2002 VFR and perhaps should have kept it… with 70,000 on the clock I got next to nothing for it. I shopped around looking at BMWs and Triumphs but the VFR ticked all the boxes.

“I had the valve clearances checked twice on the 2002 but they didn’t need adjusting. It cost £800 each time and towards the end of my ownership it just wasn’t worth paying that sort of money. I’ve now done over 32,000 miles on the 2007 bike but so far I haven’t even bothered getting them checked. Again I’ve saved £1600 which will probably buy me a new engine if it does go bang!

“Would I change anything about it? I wish it was a little lower and lighter. I rarely use all the power. Tank range is 180 miles another 30 would be good. A Scottoiler as standard or shaft drive perhaps.”

Latest Videos

Feature
Article
Article