Honda VFR800 Review
|✓||Fuelling, handling, brakes, headlight, build quality|
|×||On the heavy side, traction control, finicky indicators, switch gear|
What Is It?
The 2014 Honda VFR800 is a premium sports touring bike which was first launched in 1998 with updates in 2002 and 2006.
Engine: 782 cc V4, 104 bhp
Economy: 45 mph, 210 miles
Seat Height: 789 mm
Wet Weight: 242 kg
What Is It Like?
My first encounter with a VFR was way back in 1986. The original, the blue one, that Ron Haslam rode at Donnington Park in the Transatlantic Challenge on a damp Easter weekend, where he managed a third on a bike off the showroom floor. I’ve always liked and admired the bike as it developed over the years, having ridden several but never owned one myself. My favourite being the original VTEC up until the end of 2013, when the first pictures of the latest version were released. I was wowed by a mixture of its curves and straight lines which flow along the length giving it that “Italian” sexy look as well as the new look wheels, much slimmer too thanks to the radiator being moved to the front. In the winter of 2014/15 I was in a position to be able to afford a “new” bike and wanted something that would be capable of touring, commuting and a bit of sports riding as well. Something to replace my £250 ZX9R with, something which provided a better pillion capacity as my other half wasn’t too keen on being “perched on top of the world” as she put it.
A 120-mile trip later in sub zero conditions I found myself in possession of a set of keys for the new VFR and test ride beckoning. Comfortable enough to sit on from the start I ventured out onto the back roads of Cumbria for a test ride. Trying to keep it smooth on the winter roads was easy enough, no thanks to Honda's slick gearbox and the V4s’ seamless transition into VTEC mode, where it took off like the Enterprise going into warp mode. Big difference compared to the first VTEC. The suspension was a bit soggy for my liking, but a few turns of the preload adjusters it felt and tracked a lot better but never felt really comfortable on the stock Dunlop tyres, the brakes were superb.
In the sub-zero conditions the 5 stage heated grips were sublime, on their hottest position too warm for -3, about right for setting 3, all controlled by a thumb button mounted in the grip itself. I liked the layout of the dash. Nice big rev counter in the middle, in keeping with previous versions and an easy to read speedo to the left with the fuel display to the outside of that. The right side of the dash houses the various odometers and info readouts including the gear indicator, with the area above either side housing the idiot lights. All easy to read. With more snow threatening it was time to head back to the showroom. A chat and a cuppa with the salesman before heading back home in sub-zero conditions. He happened to mention that the demo bike was for sale. I thought about it all the way home especially those heated grips.
I had convinced myself, and a few days later struck a deal. I was to become a VFR owner for the first time. The bike came with panniers (29L) and I also ordered the 45L top box kit to go with them to complete the touring package. I picked the bike up a month later and so began my love affair with the new VFR.
All kitted out with sat nav and Scottoiler we set off for out first weekend away spending it touring around the Borders and Northumberland. Where she coped admirably on those country roads. The next big tour was a month later, France for a week, with a 500 mile trek to the South coast in what turned out to be one of the wettest and windiest weekends for ages, with the rain finally abating as we approached Windsor. The VFR coped admirably in the conditions fully loaded up although numb bums and wrists were of the order by the end of the day, but that is to be expected covering those distances.
The bike will happily sit at 70mph all day in top gear and the V4 engine has enough torque to cope with most things without having to go into the VTEC area, which kicks in around 7K rpm and then things start to happen quickly, as I said earlier the transition is seamless now compared to earlier versions, but still gives you that same rush. It much prefers the twisties in VTEC mode. I find it needs to be pushed around a bit more than my old CBR600, but in the same sense it feels more sedate than the smaller bike. In “take it easy” mode it will cover 200 miles or more before the low fuel light comes on with its 20.5 litre tank. I will openly admit to finding it difficult taking it easy when on the VFR. Some find the standard seat uncomfortable for them, I find it okay for 300 mile + days, it's adjustable between 789mm/809mm and both positions are sportier than the outgoing VFR. I also find the bars a bit narrow for my liking and feel they could do with being moved out a degree or two as they force your elbows into your sides, but then, I am a bit wider than most riders. I’ve added ½” risers from Moto Pumps but not noticed that much of a difference. Whilst on the subject of additions, being in the right place at the right time on that famous auction site I obtained a quickshifter and Akrapovic exhaust, both brand new for what can only be described as bargain basement discounts from a Honda dealers’ shop. The exhaust is substantially lighter and sounds way better then the factory fitment even with the baffle still in, looks 100 times better too. The quick shifter is a nice addition meaning no more closed throttle upshifts.
To date I’ve covered around 24k miles on my VFR and still love it. Yes, it has its faults but then again so has every other bike I’ve owned in the past 34 years.
It looks fantastic, many ask if it’s a Ducati only to be surprised when told it’s a Honda. Red is the fastest colour. I find it very comfortable despite the bars needing pushed out a degree or two. The screen protection is fine, I’ve tried various others but keep going back to stock, changing it is a bit of a pain though, but easy enough when you have sussed how to do it.
Headlight, when set correctly, is one of the best I have ever used (it's LED) on my now 50mile commute, 45miles of that is on dark twisty Highland roads. The light cut off as you enter tight bends takes a bit of getting used to compared to the spread of a normal light. Sidelights are also mounted in the wingmirrors along with the indicators.
For some strange reason Honda have decided to reverse the indicator/horn layout so you will peep at a few folks till you get used to it and while I’m there, the indicators are self-cancelling. Fine if you’re within town limits but as speeds start to rise you will need to hit the indicator button a few times to keep them going, most annoying indeed (7 seconds duration above 30mph). Whilst on that subject, the traction control button looks like an after thought attached between the switch cluster and the clutch reservoir.
The T/C itself is an on/off affair only. I’ve only had it kick in on gravel/sand/grass when the throttle was opened a bit too quickly, never on the open road. All that happens is the ECU detects the speed difference between front and rear wheel and cuts the fuel supply accordingly, feels like its running on 3 cylinders.
The ABS on the other hand I have used several times, works effectively in conjunction with the radial mounted calipers in all conditions (I think same as the Fireblade of same era, the 2017 bike shares with the Africa Twin) to bring the speed down safely.
Forks are 43mm with adjustable preload and damping and rear remote preload and damping. Take a bit of time setting the suspension set correctly and you will be rewarded.
For those that worry about the charging systems that Honda is notorious for, please note that the new VFR has a new system based on the FH023AA based regulator and waterproof connectors.
Apparently its 7kg- 10kg lighter than the preceding model too, the weight being saved with the side mounting exhaust and alloy subframe.
Living with The VFR
My VFR is now only used for pleasure, so days off and holidays in order to keep the mileage down, my average 18k annual commute being split between car and R1200RT.
I have done all my own servicing apart from the initial two services, it’s easy enough to do with the owners’ handbook and service manual. Panels are easily removed for servicing. Clearance checks are same as previous model VTEC, still within tolerance at 16K and hopefully at 32. With the Scottoiler fitted the chain has been adjusted 3 times in 24k miles and has still loads of life left. Pad life depends on how you use your brakes, fronts replaced @16k with OE pads rear still loads left.
The finish isn’t too bad either, as someone who lives in the West of Scotland and prefers to ride rather than clean, it is standing up pretty well to what has been thrown at it. In fact, the only casualty so far has been the front cam cover when stones have obviously penetrated through the paint and started to lift it. In my defence however, it must have happened whilst it was still a demo bike and I always fit a fender extender. Sadly, I didn’t act within the 2year warranty period so I’m stuck with it. One or two chips on nose cone too. I also fitted a venture shield kit which is fantastic. Another important addition would be the addition of a radiator guard for the upper radiator which sits just below the headlight fairing in the direct airflow.
The bike comes standard with pillion seat and grab rails and in keeping with history also a rear cowl and panel infills. It also has a “wave” key much sturdier that previous keys, and I’m assuming harder to get replacements cut due to the different technology involved, make sure you keep a note of the key number too.
The VFR has been updated since my 2014 model, the 2018 model now comes with a power outlet by your left knee and an updated Euro 4 exhaust system.
- Murray B, 2018
How Does It Compare?
The Second Opinion
Having come from a new BMW F800ST I was expecting to be disappointed at some stage, nearly a year on and no complaints, quite the opposite as the VFR highlights the BMW shortcomings; the suspension is modern and after trying 500 miles on the standard settings I took the advice from one of the VFR forums and altered the settings after which it's been a superb handling machine.
The forks whilst being a bit outdated are easy to set up correctly and provide good feedback to the rider, the rear is also very easy to setup and once done gives a very smooth ride. I'm hard on motorcycles and I've treated this relatively gently but I've still laid it over enough to have wear for the full width of the rear tyre, the grip of which is very good.
Still on the original tyres at 7.5k miles with the front looking good for the same again, the rear has about 1000 miles left on it, compared to the BMW needing a new front at 4,000 and rear at 6,000, by which time they were affecting the handling.
I'm now familiar with the VTEC system and use it as it was designed, great torque for pulling away and then the power comes in as you take it past 7,000, the free revving nature of the engine above this figure means it can be treated as a real sports bike and responds very well. It's heavier than my CBR600 but not noticeable once on the move, keep the revs in the VTEC band and the sportsbike performance is there, I've held my own with a bunch of S1000RRs riding at high speed through the Welsh marches.
The ABS simply brings the bike to a quick uneventful stop, no pulses in the levers or the bike, very smooth and better than the F800ST. The lights are a revelation, the headlight is bright enough on its own but the addition to the extra lights in the indicator heads provides the conspicuous "triangle of light" referred to in the Police riding manual.
The only mods I've made are dark tinted double bubble screen, Ermax hugger and a 12v outlet under the seat for my heated jacket and of course an Akrapovic end can which does make a noticeable difference at lower throttle opening.
It is a heavy bike and despite that is easier to put on the centre stand than the BMW, however once you get used to it I feel as confident wheeling it about as I do one of my trials bikes.
- John C, 2016