Pros: Built to last, fun and easy to ride, true character, excellent value
Cons: Riding season too short.
Its no secret. Im a machinery junkie. I might be associated with cars by my friends and for good reason. Iv owned, collected, worked on, built a business around and teach auto tech. But I may not be the best person to give advise on what to buy. You have to understand. My own cars are old, odd or modified beyond their original design parameters. Bikes on the other hand, for as much as I love them, I hate messing with them. I like a bike I can throw a leg over and go. I had my fill of Harleys, Lucas era Brit bikes and old Italian machines that look better on a pedestal than they do dancing around tight apexes. I got to a point where the romance was gone and the need for a reliable steed became the only solution.
That brings me to the VFR750. In particular the 1996 VFR that I bought new. Iv had quite a few bikes over the years, including the granddaddy to the VFR, the original 82 VF 750. The bikes I had prior to the VFR and since have not been missed. Iv owned a few other bikes since I bought the VFR. Unfortunately they turned out to be just one-season toys that got old way too fast. The big dual-purpose bike ended up serving no purpose and the touring bike took one long trip and then spent the other 50 weeks under a nylon tarp.
What it all boiled down to is that the VFR750 really was/is the best all round bike Iv owned. This bike was voted best 750, best sport tourer, best GT, best who knows what for about a ten year span through the late 80s and 90s. The VFR750 was the bike that garnered just about every accolade you can imagine. A lot of that push by the motorcycle magazines caused me to do something I wouldnt normally do. Buy new! I broke down in 96 and bough this bike and just in the nick of time. As it turns out the 94 to 97 model VFRs are really the bikes to own.
By 1998 Honda did a revamp of the VFR. They jumped the displacement to 800cc and did away with the whirring gear-drive valve train in favor of a belt drive system. This quitted the bike down a lot but at what expense? The gear drive system was indestructible, maintenance free and gave the VFR a certain character most Japanese bikes lack. The 800cc version really had no performance benefit over the 750 since they also managed to pork it out with an added 50 pounds or so. A couple years later V-tec or variable valve timing added more complications to the valve train with a nominal performance gain.
So is that all there is to complain about? Oh heck no! The magazine editors with their love of crotch rockets The VFR750 was more standard bike than race and their continuous complaining for that end, caused the 1998 model and newer to get an ergonomic miniaturization operation that ruined the feel of the whole VFR lineup. They downsized it to a kid sized 600 feel. The old 750 felt narrow, spread out, relaxing for all day rides at speed or just chugging down back roads. The old VFR was a real 750. A true ? sized bike. Smaller than the liter class bikes yet larger than the middleweight 500 and 600s.
Ok, Iv griped long enough. The 94 to 97 VFR750s were just fantastic bikes. They were all that a good motorcycle should be and more. They came from a race inspired background. They had continuous upgrades through the years and the end result for that last four year model run was this. You got a V four liquid cooled motor with four valves per cylinder. Those four valves were actuated by double overhead camshafts that in turn were centrally driven by a gear drive from the crankshaft. This was a fantastic set up. The cylinder arrangement in V, with two cylinders forward and two canted slightly back at a 90 degree angle made the engine very compact and low in the frame. This low centered mass made for a very neutral handling bike. Get off a VFR and onto an inline three or four cylinder bike and it will feel like its tipping over on you in every corner. The VFR feels much lighter and compact than it really is.
The gear driven camshafts also give this bike a huge advantage. The gear drive comes from the center of the crankshaft up through the engine block and mates at the center of the cams. This makes each camshaft very rigid from its drive point to its respective cam lobe. Each cylinder can maintain an accurate valve actuation equivalent to that of a single. Since there is no chain or belt extending over the camshafts, valve adjustments are made that much easier.
Moving on from there, the engine is fed by four cross-over carburetors. The carbs are surprisingly easy to keep in adjustment and for long rides give a peace of mind that no EFI system can. They allow the bike to be made with a lot less electronic sensors and controls and will never peter out on you when you need them.
Talking electronic engine controls. The one weak point on this bike is the electronic voltage regulator. Older VF models had a big finned-diode monster size regulator that will probably outlast the bikes. The VFR comes with a small crappy ceramic regulator that uses the frame of the bike as a heat sink. This set-up doesnt work so great and I loose regulators about every 14,000 miles. In defense of the VFR, this regulator has been used across the board in 90s model Honda sport bikes and the VFR isnt the only bike thats suffered regulator burnout. It is probably seen more often on the VFR since it is a bike that is capable of putting on a lot of miles fast.
The VFR came with a very nice all aluminum frame that holds everything together and allows easy access to the top of the motor for maintenance. Its suspended in front with a standard hydraulic fork assembly and out back by an ELF design single sided swingarm. This swingarm makes for easy wheel and tire removal. Just like a car with four lug bolts. Adjusting the chain is also simplified with the single sided swingarm since the hub rides in an eccentric. To adjust the chain, simply loosen the pinch bolt and turn the hub until the chain is properly set. Retighten the pinch bolt and its done.
From the saddle you notice that the bike feels very narrow. More than what you might expect from a 750. Thank the V design engine for that. The seating position for my six foot frame is about as perfect as you can get. You sit slightly forward with hands comfortably resting on the bars and your feet almost straight below you with a slight bend in the knee. Your knees actually sit into a narrow spot at the rear of the fuel tank. The engine is so narrow that the fairing comes out to the width of your legs but then has closures that go back to the frame, which is the same width as the fuel tank. This set up gives you not only protection for your torso from the upper fairing, but also a good deal of protection from the elements for you legs. Most real sportbikes dont offer this level of coverage.
The instrument cluster is very well done and easy to read from the saddle. A few nice touches include a tachometer with a white face and speedometer with a black face. This ensures your not mixing up what youre looking at when you give a quick downward glance. There is also a clock above the tachometer that comes in very handy. This is a bike you can just go out and spend all day on so it makes sense. Theres also fuel and temperature gauge on the right side of the dash panel that are extremely handy. Of course you get a full compliment of dummy lights. Oil, low fuel, turn signals, high low beam and kickstand down.
On a roll the VFR is like Sybil. It takes on different personalities depending on how you are riding. The motor has plenty of low end torque, so you can ride around short shifting at fairly low RPM below 3000. In that manner it sounds like small Ducati twin. As you start winding it up and those four cylinders start pumping some air the bike takes on a V8 under load sound. This to me is when the bike really makes me feel good. You get in the 3500 to 5500 RPM range and its like sitting on top of a small block chevy. The bike has a roll on acceleration in that range that is just incredible. When you start getting into the 6000 RPM and above range then you know youre on a four-cylinder bike. It starts wailing with the best of them and will roll right past its 11,500 RPM redline without giving you warning. Keep an eye on that tach.
All through the rev range the VFR is like an electric motor. It pulls from right off idle all the way to red line and is super smooth doing it. The thing about the VFR is that it has no real point where the power just kicks in and makes the bike take off. It can be kind of a let down if your getting off an inline four bike because you just expect that kick of power somewhere. What you have to realize is that the VFR pulls strong from right down at low RPMs all the way to redline. This eliminates that feeling of afterburners being kicked on at some point up the rev range.
Handling of the VFR is very good. Real hardcore racer boys may find faults here and there, but theyre minimal. 99% of anyone that buys a VFR is going to be more than happy with what this bike can do. I have had absolutely no problem dragging my knee through corners with this bike and Im an old guy. The rear shock can get a little spongy after getting hot but thats just the bikes way of telling you slow down and enjoy the ride a little. The front fork also had that problem, but some fresh high quality fork oil solved that. If youre serious about wanting to use this bike on the track, then there are plenty of suspension upgrades to be had for the VFR.
Where the VFR really excels is in day to day use. Like I said before, I had a touring bike. It was just to heavy to jump on and go any time I wanted. I have a lot of nice motorcycling roads around where I live so I found myself always wanting to take the VFR to better enjoy them anyhow. The VFR also made more sense for quick errands, especially if slicing through traffic was a factor. I had a big dual purpose bike. Same problem. It was a cool bike, but didnt have the wind/weather protection of the VFR. It was a lot slower on the roads and highway and I always found myself tip toeing it around in traffic. The VFR fell right in between and did it all pretty darn well so it has stayed.
When it comes to riding with friends choose wisely. I have a lot of younger guys with hot sport bikes that I ride with on occasion. They love to try and run away from the VFR and can sometimes do it. The problem with these guys is that they want to get off and rest or head home way too soon. I guess I would to if I were cramped up like that. The VFR is just a more capable bike for spending more time in the saddle and without the added size or weight of full liter class bikes. It is really a very well rounded bike and has spent eleven years with me. I am always looking for a replacement for it, but have yet to find one that will do it all as well as the VFR does.
A used VFR of this era can usually be found in good condition. The VFR was not a cheap bike and not the sportiest or fastest bike when it was sold new. Therefore it did not appeal to the younger crowd who would be more apt to tear a bike up and put off maintenance. Instead this bike appeals more to experienced road riders that understood that this was in Hondas upper echelon of quality products. Built for riders that wanted quality, long haul, long term ownership machines. A used VFR still commands a premium, but compared to the cost of a new bike and for the quality you can expect, is a bargain.
I'll save the best for last. Except for the regulators that have gone out like clockwork every 14K, the VFR has only had oil changes, a brake pad replacement, a few spark plug swaps and I bleed the brake system out every two years to keep moisture out. With over 40k miles it still has the original chain, thanks to a Scott lube oiler and thats it. Its the only bike that hasnt nickle and dimed me to death and the most reliable. Id Buy another of this year range if this one was ever stolen or wrecked.