More Than Meets The Eye
We'll come back to the heart of the bike later, but let's not forget all of the supporting players. Suspension duties are handled by Showa, with forks adjustable for rebound and preload, while the rear shock is also only two-way adjustable. While the racetrack might be a little harsh for sport-touring suspension, these standard units performed rather well at taming the 600-pound motorcycle, even though its obvious plush setting is geared more toward the long haul rather than hauling ass. Two 320mm discs out front are clamped by two six-piston, radially-mounted calipers, while a single 276mm disc is mated to a two-pot caliper in the rear. Linked braking sees its way onto the new VFR, but it's less intrusive than before. Get on the rear brake only and one piston in one front caliper will also engage. And in case you didn't get it by now, yes, ABS comes standard. On the track the VFR's weight was most felt when on the binders, as all the pressure on the front caused the ABS to activate frequently, but its actuation was hardly noticeable. Using both front and rear brakes slows the bike down drastically, and since they're linked, the front end doesn't dive. Instead the whole bike seems to compress equally through the suspension's travel.
Being a sport-touring bike, there's a whole laundry list of options and features including, but not limited to; a 29-liter pannier kit, 33-liter top box, an adjustable add-on windscreen and heated grips with more circuits to heat the fingers.
Back To Business
Bring the V-four to life and the muffled exhaust note hides a throaty sound that, when barking loudly, faintly resembles an RC212V. Honda decided to start us off on base versions of the VFR with standard six-speed transmissions, and really, the only niggle was a hesitant shifter that required hefty swings from my left foot when clutchless upshifting. We think that'll remedy itself with more miles. Otherwise we focused our attention on the DCT model. Right off the bat a few things are clear: the engine produces ample torque, the seating position is comfortable with a hint of sporty aggression, and the ground clearance is the first limiting factor when searching for speed. Having the rearward cylinders innermost on the crankshaft makes for a cockpit that gives the bike an overall smaller feeling than what it really is, though its 32-inch seat height might intimidate shorter riders.
Dual six-piston calipers grip...
Dual six-piston calipers grip 320mm discs via Honda's linked ABS system. Lever feel was progressive, even on track, with modulation easy to manage. Slowing a heavy bike isn't easy on the binders and the ABS on the VFR goes about its business almost unnoticed.
On this standard transmission...
On this standard transmission model you can clearly see the single-sided swingarm with Honda's impressive shaft drive that greatly reduces shaft-jacking motion on acceleration. Standard Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart tires provided incredible grip and weren't phased by the racetrack environment. Note also the ABS wheel speed sensor which is one of four used during full automatic mode on DCT equipped models to determine when to shift.
Seating position is comfortable...
Seating position is comfortable with the handlebars high and footpegs low. The V4's narrow midsection makes the bike feel smaller than it really is. Wind protection channels a large portion of air up and over the rider's helmet.
Honda's first try at fly-by-wire throttles was worth the wait as it's almost impossible to notice any amount of lag. We first tried the standard "D" mode with the bike on fully automatic, but that didn't last very long as it absolutely neuters an otherwise lively machine in the name of fuel economy. It's as though the bike is constantly two gears higher than it should to keep the engine spinning as slowly as possible without stalling. In Sport mode the characteristic is completely changed with shifts optimized for track or aggressive riding. The V-four powerband starts from as low as 3000 revolutions and tapers off just shy of the 10,000 mark, with upshifts clicking off just as the power starts to dip. Engine speed is matched perfectly during each downshift and the computer is smart enough not to backshift while leaned over-all without the use of a bank angle sensor. Instead, the VFR uses four sensors: front and rear wheel speed (piggybacking off the ABS), throttle position and crank to determine what scenario the bike is in and when to shift. Trust us, we hate it when a machine does the thinking for us, too, but when it's right more often than not it's hard to ignore.