Honda’s venerable VFR800 has been absent from Canada for half a decade now. The sports tourer was overshadowed and ultimately shoved aside by its larger, more comfort-oriented 1200cc brother.
The VFR1200 was Honda’s big-daddy flagship, while the 800 was cast aside. But the VFR800 enjoys a loyal following. Ever since the day it left there’s been a fleet of customers pining for its return, envious of riders in Europe and elsewhere who had access to what they say is a bike bred of perfect balance.
It’s one of those bikes that inspires a sense of freedom through its versatility. There’s comfort there, yes, but also a surprising sporting prowess. When the gap between corners is marked by long, flat straights you need the sort of support offered by the VFR’s touring ergonomics: high, flat bars, a high screen for wind shielding and an adjustable seat. Once you get to those corners though, it’s party time when the bike is up to it. The VFR800 is.
This new VFR800 retains some of the classic VFR elements. There’s the familiar single-sided swingarm, the angular profile, the iconic hand grips for the passenger. It also has heated grips, and there’s an optional quickshifter unit too.
Sadly – or not, depending on your perspective – the side-mount radiators and underseat exhaust are gone, in their place, conventional radiators and a low-slung side-mounted exhaust. The first thing a VFR fan will notice is the shrunken width. Where VFRs of old were wide and purposeful, this one is svelte and agile, those of us with shorter inseams will be thankful. Not only is the VFR800 narrower, its lighter at 239 kg fully fuelled and ready to ride – that’s a full 10kg less than the previous generation.
The more things change, the more they stay the same though and the VFR800 retains a smooth and linear 90-degree V4 engine with VTEC. The unit is managed by Honda’s advanced traction control software that can be turned off at the press of a button on the left grip – you know, because wheelies.
In the old days of the VFR800 VTEC kicked in with a violent surge, threatening to tear the handlebars from your hands and spit you out the back. This one has been refined and is far smoother than the VFR800 of old. Even the change in engine note is more muted, and I had to actively listen for it the first time I went out. Still, the engine delivers satisfying oomph all the way to the 12,000 rpm redline.
Honda in North America don’t publish horsepower figures, but Cycleworld.com’s dyno run showed 94 hp and 53 lb-ft of torque. 100 km/h surges up fast on the real road, and there’s power to hustle into any gap in traffic – even when two up. The six-speed shifter is a joy to use, we can only imagine how much more exciting the quickshifter would be.
We rode the 800 back to back with the Honda CBR650F and came away impressed by the agility of the larger, more touring-focussed machine. Preload-adjustable 43mm shocks keep the 120/70 ZR 17-inch tires at the front connected to the road, while an adjustable Pro-Link HMAS mono-shock keeps the back settled down.
Squirting out of corners will cause the back to squat slightly but not lose grip, and turn-in is responsive if not rapid. The rear shock comes with an easy remote pre-load adjuster which can be operated without tools, handy for switching to two-up mode.
If anything, the VFR handles better with a pillion, allowing me to use 100 percent of the tire if so desired – like when you’re novice pillion climbs the wrong way on an offramp. The suspension soaks up bumps and lumps better when two up, but I suspect a lot of that nervousness when riding solo could be remedied with a little attention to the suspension adjustments.
Honda has thankfully done away with linked braking systems on the VFR800, though ABS remains standard. The twin 310 mm floating discs with radial-mounted four-piston calipers do a phenomenal job of arresting the bike when the occasion calls for it, but if I’m honest I rarely found myself pushing that hard. Instead, the VFR lured me into a brisk-yet-gentle pace – a happy middle ground between pure speed and lazy touring.
The Victory Red and Pearl White VFR800s represent a step back in time for Honda in North America, while at the same time issuing it into a new era. In white especially, the VFR800 has incredible curb appeal, and will have an audience among new riders and returning riders looking for a middle-ground sports-tourer for weekend romps in cottage country – especially those who want to bring a friend along for the ride.