Living with the VFR

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I could ride this thing all day and not get tired of it. It’s comfy for my 5’10"/195lb stature. It’s got a great stonkin’ engine. The DCT makes any kind of riding you want to do a joy.

This morning, a guy in a new CBR100RR pulled up next to me, and was checking out the VFR and all I could think was, "you poor bastard…your bike sucks."

Admittedly, he may feel differently.

I’ve been pounding around recently in manual mode, and man, this thing moves when you get the RPMs up over 5k. It pulls like a truck. The Sport mode in auto is nice, and has lots of get up and go, but in manual mode, when you just let it pull to the redline for every gear, it’s scary fast.

In parking lots, the DCT is about 1,000 times better than the FJR’s YCCS tranny. It’s easy to maneuver, though it does require a tad a foot-braking to keep it settled in low-speed maneuvering. It feels way lighter than 600 lbs, even trundling around at a walking pace.

Which I do as little as possible.

I’ve been asked about vibration. Yeah, it’s there in manual mode. It’s more noticeable at higher revs. But, to me, it’s part of the character of the V4, and I like it. And you really have to push it before the vibration becomes anything more than part of the background.

I’m immensely satisfied with the bike.

A bit of light farkling

wG8QI mentioned in a previous post that the beautiful paint job of the VFR’s tank was a bit delicate. I have solved that problem with some new tank protectors.

If you look at the full, high-res pic, you’ll see that the rear Rascal Grafik tank protector, while beautifully color-matched to the Honda paint scheme, is color-matched to the CBR-RR paint scheme, not the VFR one, but it’s close enough for government work.

Another CBR item that I’ve re-purposed for the VFR are the Stomp grip pads. I’ve put the clear knee pads on the sides of the tank, where they’re supposed to go, but I’ve additionally re-purposed the black ones to protect the front of the tank, in the cutouts where the handlebars go when turning the wheel sharply.

You can also see the Crampbuster at the end of the throttle—the little dealie that allows you to use your palm to twist the throttle–which is an additional little comfort thing I like. It allows you to manipulate the throttle without having to grip it tightly, for a more relaxed hand.

All of these items were purchased this past weekend, when I finally took the bike in for my rain-delayed 600 mile service.

Yes, she’s out of the break-in period, with 1160 miles on her now, which brings me to the most disappointing thing about the VFR1200.  It BEGS you to…do things. Awful, illegal things. Adrenaline-surging, V-4 growling things. Things you absolutely, positively, cannot do. It is a minute-by-minute struggle not to lay my palm heavily on the Crampbuster, feel and hear that growly V-4 and take off like a rocket. 100MPH on the VFR 1200 is nothing. It’ll do that in third, with plenty of top end to spare before redline. It is positively painful to obey traffic laws on the VFR in a way the FJR never was.

And I live with that pain every day.

So, I decided to unwind the VFR a bit…

…and here’s what happened.

It’s 6:30am, and I’m on an empty road outside of town, stopped at a light. Since there’s no traffic, I thought, "why not see what this baby can do?" So, I popped her into manual leaned forward, and peged the throttle as soon as the light turned green.

Nothing much happened. I mean, it pulled briskly off the light, as good or better than the FJR ever did, I guess, but it was just—I dunno. Boring. No excitement. Just smooth acceleration. "Well," I thought to myself, "for a bike that’s supposed to be capable of a sub 3-second 0-60, and a 10 second 1/4 mile, this isn’t very impressive."

Then the tach hit 4,000 RPM.

The VFR leapt forward as if a giant had smashed the back of the bike with a hammer, my arms jerked against my shoulder sockets, and the front wheel gently lofted off the ground.

I quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

That was just…scary. In a split second, the VFR want from a tame little kitten to a rampaging beast. The FJR never did that.

I’ve gotten through the fist 600 miles, and I’ve been letting it unwind a bit. And I can tell that this is an extraordinary machine. It certainly has far more power than you could ever legally use on the street. It’s an absolute hoot.

It wants to take curves—even very sharp ones—far faster than the FJR did. It may not be quite as fast or sharp-handling as a 1000cc Gixxer on the track, but it’s pretty sporty for a middle-aged gentleman like myself. Or almost anyone else for that matter.

If you wanna rip, the VFR1200 will rip. If you want to take it slow and easy, the VFR will accommodate. The ergonomics, now that I’ve gotten used to them, aren’t uncomfortable at all, though more sporty than the other sport-tourers.

Handling is decently sharp, and turn-in is relatively easy, although it takes some conscious rider input. I blame the tires for that, and I’m still planning on getting rid of the EOM Dunlops at the earliest opportunity.

The more I ride the VFR1200, the more I like it. I love the DCT, and the ability to switch between manual and automatic modes. I like the size. I just like it. So far, I haven’t found a major negative aspect of the bike to complain about.

Settling in to the VFR1200F

I’ve now got slightly north of 400 miles on the new VFR. I’m really impressed with her—except for a couple of minor quibbles. In general, my overall rating for the VFR1200F is "Wheee!"

The DCT just…works.  In heavy city traffic, where I spent about 4 hours today running a whole bunch of errands, just putting that bad boy in "D" and letting the automatic tranny take care of everything is just sweet. There’s enough oomph that you can zip by cars when you need to with a twist of the wrist. At the same time, it’s perfectly controllable power at all times. You can just toddle around town without a care.

The paddle shifter works pretty well in Manual mode, too, but I have to say, with the automatic Sport mode I just don’t use manual too much. I don’t know how Honda worked out the algorithm to when it shifts, and what gear it picks, but it’s pretty amazing. About 99% of the time it picks just the right gear for whatever you’re doing at the moment. However it does it, it’s pretty sophisticated.

There is some vibration, but it’s not intrusive or bothersome. It’s nice V-4 vibration. I dunno how to explain it, except to say its part of the bike’s character. It lets you know you’re on a V-4 instead of an I-4. It doesn’t make your little hands sleepy or anything. It’s just…there. I like it. It kind of has the same feel as the BMW Boxer. It’s a good vibration.

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Luggage is a problem. The VFR has a really wide tail light assembly. I’ve tried a couple of different sets of sport bags for the tail and they just don’t fit, without covering up most of the turn signals. I’m beginning to think this is an intentional design move by Honda to force people to buy the EOM luggage for $1000+.

Either way, I can’t seem to find saddlebags that fit, look nice, and don’t obscure the rear lights. So, I still have nothing but my Tourmaster top case to carry stuff with. I’d really like some other luggage options. I guess I’ll have to keep looking, because I really don’t want to have to pay Honda an outrageous price for what are essentially plastic boxes.

It was pretty warm today, and I can already see that the Honda is gonna be way more comfy in hot weather than the FJR was. You get more air, and better, smoother air than the FJR. And the VFR doesn’t seem to bake you at a stoplight by bathing you in engine heat like the FJR. Superior air management. Of course, in cold weather, like we had last week, I’ll admit I missed the wind protection of the FJR and the huge Cal-Sci windscreen I had on it. I knew that would be the case going into it, but I had to re-learn how to dress for winter Southern California weather, like I did before I got the FJR.

Layers. That’s the key. Layers are important.

It hot weather, though, it’s a blessing to get moving on the VFR.

The footpegs are a skoche too high for my comfort. It’s not bad, but lower pegs would make the bike a bit more comfy for me. I think that’s gonna have to go into the "Deal with it" category, though. It’s a sporting machine for fancy gentlemen like myself, and if I lower the pegs, it’s going to compromise the lean ability a bit. Based on my experience so far, I probably shouldn’t do that.

The other ergonomics are just fine for me. The bar risers make the reach to the controls a bit sport-biased, but not uncomfortably so. Mainly, the bike fits me rather well. I’m happy with the extra sportiness of it.

The seat…meh. It’s an EOM seat. The FJR seat was better. The shape of the Honda seat just catches the back of my legs in a place where I don’t like it. Fortunately, both Corbin and Sergeant make seats for fancy gentlemen like myself. Heated, too.

Handling is way better than the FJR. It’s only 50 lbs lighter, but the way it handles makes the FJR seem positively porky by comparison. The thing is, I think that the Dunlop OEM tires make the VFR seem porkier than it should be. I really, really, want to burn through these tires to get a set of Pilot Road III’s on this baby. As it is, though, the VFR is pretty flickable for a bike that weighs 600 lbs.

I was also a bit apprehensive about the range with a 5-gallon tank, as opposed to the 6.6-gallon tank on the FJR. Not really a problem. I’m getting better mileage on the VFR—though that me be because I’ve been limited in my ability to push it, but even so, my range is only about 30 miles less on the VFR than it was on the FJR. Since I’m mainly a daily rider and not planning on going on long tours with it, it’s not really an issue for me.

The VFR could be a little quicker off the line. Like I wrote previously, it appears Honda has tamed the initial throttle response—it’s all fly-by-wire on the VFR—in 1st and 2nd gears. This is undoubtedly to keep you from killing yourself. Because if you switch to manual mode, the jam the throttle all the way to the stops from a dead stop, it accelerates gently, right up until the tach hits 4000. At that point, your arms get jerked out of socket, and the front wheel gently lofts off the ground. Maybe it’s a good thing that initial throttle response is tamed the way it is. Somersaulting your bike over like a flapjack at a stoplight would be embarrasing.

So, it’s not a drag racer. But when you’re zipping along right in the meat of the powerband, some throttle discipline is mandatory. Anywhere from 4,000-10,000 RPM, the VFR cranks. Assuming the weather stays nice, I’ll burn through the remaining break-in miles in the next week or so, and then…we’ll see what we will see.

Getting used to her

Now that I’ve had a chance to get more acquainted with the VFR, I’m really starting to like it a lot. I’m not too happy with the OEM Dunlops. I’ve gotten really sold on the Michelin Pilot Road, so the current set of Dunlops will be the last.  The PR is just a far more responsive tire.

But, even with that said, I’m settling into how to ride the VFR, and sort of internalizing the new riding style it requires. As I do so, the bike seems lighter and more responsive. It certainly beats the FJR hands down in the handling department. As I get used to her, my confidence in what she can do continues to climb.

Yesterday, I took a huge gamble with the weather…and lost. It was 45° and just pouring rain. Storm cloud

But the VFR handled it with aplomb. It just motored right on through it with no drama at all.

Coming from the electronic clutch on the FJR to the VFR’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) automatic transmission, I can say I don’t have a single complaint. In Drive mode, it just puts along, as gentle as a lamb. In Sport mode, hitting the twisties, you can really just ignore it, and power on through the corners. When it does shift gears, you hardly even notice that it’s done so. The transmission goes "click-clack", the engine tone changes slightly, the chassis does nothing, and you keep riding.

In manual mode, when you downshift aggressively…nothing much happens, either. RPMs go up a lot, more engine braking is felt, and you just…keep riding. The amazing thing about the DCT is that once you turn on the automatic mode, it’s completely ignorable. All you have to do is concentrate on diving into the corner, holding a line, and powering out. It’s a pretty amazing piece of technology.

It has a couple of less than perfect things, though they’re pretty minor. The black paint on the spine of the fuel tank scratches really easily. A tank protector is a must. The bike has a notable tendency to stand up straight under braking, so some discipline in corner entry speed is required. Finally, it seems Honda has been "helpful", and tamed the initial throttle response in first gear, so it doesn’t pull really hard right off the line. Then at about 4,000rpm—Boom!—instant power. I’d like a little less help in that area. I’d like to launch without the "helpful" nannying.

Those are pretty minor deals, though. In the main, this thing is as fun as a barrel of monkeys. I’ve just got 450 more miles of break-in before I can let her hair down more aggressively.

I can’t wait!

Finally, I’ve applied the very first customization on the VFR.

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VFR Update

So, I’ve tooled around town on the new bike. Some initial impressions below. But first, a walkaround video and some pics.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTCr83dsjkA

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I’m keeping it very sedate while I’m breaking it in, so I haven’t pushed the engine more than a little bit. But even a little bit of pushing and this thing takes off. For instance, i

n automatic, there’s a standard Drive mode that short-shifts and is very strongly biased to fuel economy…to the extent that you’re in 6th gear by 40mph. Not very exciting at all.  Like a moderately sporty scooter. Then there’s the Sport mode. It’s…the opposite. It shifts at redline. And, while I can’t really use the sport mode much during the break-in period, it is…exciting. Let’s just say you can leave rubber from the rear wheel…in 3rd gear, though with brand-new tires.

You don’t need to know how I know that. Or how badly my pants were soiled.

The hardest thing to get used to is not shifting. Over the last three years, I’ve built up all these habits on the FJR. I upshifted with my foot, but downshifted by tapping the handlebar paddle. But there’s no need to shift at all on the VFR with the auto tranny. So, I have to keep stopping myself from tapping the shift lever on the handlebar, and pulling out of auto into manual mode.

Also, the FJR didn’t do anything at all until the RPMs hit 2,500. But as soon as you touch the throttle on the VFR, it goes. So, I’ve gotten a little sloppy on the throttle, because twisting it slightly on the FJR didn’t do anything. That is not the case with the VFR, so I’m re-learning how to discipline my throttle hand.

I haven’t yet figured out the optimum process for making sharp turns, or low-speed maneuvering in general. Like the FJR, the VFR takes a combination of throttle input and rear brake, but I just haven’t found that optimum amount of each that makes turning smooth. Without a clutch to keep at the friction point, low-speed stuff is a little tricky. I had it mastered on the FJR, but now I’m having to relearn it. It’s trickier on the VFR because it responds instantly to the throttle.

Interestingly enough, the VFR doesn’t pull hard from a dead stop, like the FJR did. The VFR stomps at >3,000 RPM, but the initial takeoff is fairly smooth and easy. Having said that, I also haven’t twisted the grip hard yet.  We’ll have to revisit this impression after break-in.

I really like it so far. It seems much lighter than the FJR, though it isn’t, really, at just 50 lbs lighter. I’ve also only been able to ride in town, so I have no experience with the twisties, and even when I ride to work the next few weeks, I won’t be able to push it.

This break-in period is really hampering my usual riding style, which is…not conservative. Mainly, I’m riding it in the standard auto mode, which is so biased towards low RPM that it shifts to 6th gear at 40 MPH. So, I’m gonna have to wait for another 550 miles before I can get into the performance aspect of the machine.

So far, it’s exactly what I expected, and exactly what I wanted in a fancy gentleman’s sporting bike.

I guess I’m a VFR guy now

Yeah, I haven’t posted for 6 months. Mainly it’s because I’ve been really busy with other things. That seems to be my standard MO with this site. Post a lot for 6 months, then sort of move on to other things. Then, eventually, come back.

Well, I have a reason to come back, now.

Yesterday, on my ride home from work, I decided to go by North County House of motorcycles. While there, I saw a brand new 2010 VFR1200F with the DCT automatic transmission on sale. They’d marked it down from $17,499 to $11,999. So, I traded my FJR1300AE for it on the spot.

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This is the only picture I have of it, a crappy cell phone pic the sales guy took just before I geared up and rode off on it. I didn’t get bags with it, but I put my tailbag on it as soon as I got home.

I had a lots of work to do today, so I only got a chance to ride it to the store and back. So I’ve only got 20 miles on it. I can already tell that there’s a bit of a learning curve for it.  I’ll keep updating my experiences with it as I break it in and get used to it.

The main difference is that, unlike the FJR AE model, you don’t have to hit 2,500RPM on the tach before it starts to move. Touck the throttle and it goes. And I mean goes. The performance simply outclasses the FJR in every way…if you want it to.

It’s got lots less wind protection and general cushy comfort than the FJR had, though I knew that going into it. I miss the heated grips, too.

But it’s a stonkin’ great engine. Which is what I was looking for in this case.

My cunning plan is to have both a fancy man’s sporty bike like a VFR or K1300S, and a fancy man’s touring bike, either the R1200RT or K1600GT. So, I guess I’m halfway there.

“Really, DCT is awesome”

Wes Siler, of Hell For Leather, has already been pretty vocal about his unpleasant experience on the new Honda VFR1200F, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see him not only back one one, but liking it. What he likes, specifically, is the one thing I’ve been leery about, which is the new Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT).  Owning an AE-model FJR with the electronic clutch, I’ve found it convenient in city traffic, but a bit scary in parking lots, as I’ve mentioned many times before.

This new DCT, however, seems to be a different beast.

The thing that makes this transmission so brilliant is that it actually, honestly, really improves control over the bike at low speed. Yes, some hydraulic pumps, two clutches and an electronic brain are better than my left hand at smoothly, predictably modulating power. Tight u-turns become a cinch, barely requiring your concentration. Pulling away at a crawl is as easy as twisting your right wrist. Coming to a halt, you just stop, the transmission simply cuts the power unobtrusively and instantly.

And that is precisely the bit of information I wanted to know about. The FJR AE has a problem with slow speeds.  Once that tach drops below 2500RPM in first, the clutch engages and you lose all power.  This mainly happens inevitably when you’re leaned over a bit pulling into a parking space, making the FJR AE want to flop over on it’s side.  The key is to give it some throttle, and stomp on the rear brake to slow down.  This requires a fair amount of hand-foot-eye coordination. That seems to be completely unnecessary with the Honda.

Of course, it also comes at a steep price, bringing a DTC-equipped VFR to a sticker price of $17,499. That’s perilously close to BMW territory when it comes to pricing.  But, without the BMW’s large-capacity bags, heated seat, grips, ESA, traction control, and usably large fuel tank.

With gas mileage in the 30s, and a 4-gallon tank, the VFR is hardly the best equipped “touring” model of the sports-touring category, unless “touring” to you means stopping every ton for gas. And the available luggage for the VFR is pretty small compared to the rest of the bikes in the sport-touring class.

It seems like a great, powerful bike with some great technology, but the high price and assorted drawbacks don’t impress–at least, not in a good way.

The rumor, of course, is that Honda already has a sport-tourer version of this bike in pre-release (as well as an adventure version). Perhaps they’ll rectify some of the current range and luggage issues with that bike.  I suspect, however, that the drawback of high sticker price won’t be solved.

Honda ST1300 replaced by an ST1200F?

The Spanish Motorcycling web site SoloMoto is touting an exclusive (in Spanish), which is that Honda will replace the venerable ST1300 with a touring version of the new V-4-engined VFR1200F. They state that their information is that a presentation of the new model will be held at the international motorcycle shows in Cologne or Milan (October or November respectively).

They report that the new model will be available with or without bags, as well as with or without the new DCT transmission option.  Compared to the new VFR, this touring model will have higher handlebars and more relaxed seating position, suitable for touring.  Based on the drawings they show, the preload adjustment for the rear suspension will be moved to the right side of the bike, and the front braking system my be different from the current VFR, due to having inverted forks.  They also speculate that the rider’s seat height will be adjustable, and that the windshield will have electrical height adjustment. The new bike also seems to keep the dual-layered fairing of the current VFR.

So, for all you ST1300 lovers, Honda may be providing you with something to love even better.

Let’s just hope that while they’re piling on all these touring amenities, they give us a fuel tank larger than the VFR’s 4 gallons.

Honda VFR1200F: Shamu?

Man, the guys at Hell for Leather really don’t like the VFR1200F. They took it out to the track, supposing that, since Honda says the bike has tons of sporting pretensions, it’d be kind of fun.  Turns out, they thought it was terrifying.

Their four main complaints:

  1. Suspension is too soft
  2. Ground clearance for cornering sucks
  3. Controls are unpredictable and fueling is monumentally bad
  4. The ergos are poor.

Wes Siler sums up:

It’s nowhere near fast enough to be a Hayabusa or ZX-14 rival and doesn’t handle nearly as well as either of those bikes either. The riding position is more forward-leaning and uncomfortable than a Kawasaki Concours 14 and the Honda doesn’t come with luggage as standard. It kind of looks like a rival for the BMW K1300S, but that bike would run circles around Shamu in a corner and feels notably quicker.

What we’re left with is a bike that’s got a sporty riding position, but corners like it’s made out of jelly. A bike that’s got a big engine, but isn’t terribly fast. A bike that’s as heavy as a tourer,  but looks like a sportsbike. A bike that’s supposed to be friendly, but is difficult to ride.

That’s more or less what I’ve been saying.  An interesting bike that fills some incomprehensible niche. An all-round sports-touring bike that does neither well. I just don’t get it.

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2010 BMW K1300S vs Honda VFR1200F Shootout – Motorcycle.com

Motorcycle.Com has the results of their shootout between the BMW K1300S and the Honda VFR1200F.  On paper the bikes are a really close match with the Beemer putting out 146.8HP and the Honda throwing out 146.4 HP.  BMW has the edge in torque, though, with higher torque all along the rev line, except at the tippy top, and maxing out at 89.6 ft-lb compared to the VFR’s 82 ft-lb.  The BMW hit max torque 700RPM shorter, too.

On the other hand, they write that the Honda is easier to ride, more maneuverable, more comfortable, and carries its weight better than the BMW.  Both bikes sport about 5-gallon tanks, so neither one is all that impressive when it comes to touring range.

So, what’s the bottom line?

“Although the BMW may not have the utter refinement of the Honda, I wouldn’t be ashamed or regretful of having a K1300S in my garage if I’d purchased one and then later had the chance to ride a VFR1200F,” says Pete. “Furthermore, the practical techy options like anti-spin control, ESA II, etc, that have real-world application raise the K13’s’s price by only $1,800 more than the Honda’s, making a case for the BMW being the better value. Frankly, the BMW’s Premium Package option is simply worth the added cost over base MSRP, especially so if you amortize that $1,800 across the term of a loan.”

The price on the Honda is the kicker.  For what you get for the money, I’d agree that the BMW is probably a better deal.  You really do have to ride a BMW to really get how good the ESA is.  And the BMW cruise control really is excellent.

I really wanted to like the new VFR a lot, but this 1st-gen model doesn’t seem to quite have “it” at the price Honda’s asking you to shell out.

Honda VFR1200F Pricing Announced…Partially

Honda USA has announced the pricing for the manual-transmission version of the VFR1200F as $15,999.  Still no pricing for the dual-clutch model, but we can expect it to be significantly higher, I suppose.

I guess I still don’t get it.  Who is this bike for? Certainly not touring people, who will hate its “fuel-suckery +_small tank = limited range/no standard luggage” equation.  Not sport-bikers, who’ll hate dragging around it’s lardy bulk.  Honda had the chance to bring out a really game-changing sport-tourer or hyperbike.  People who’ve rode it say it’s nice, but not spectacular.

Even the old VFR fans I’ve talked to seem disappointed by the specs for the 1200.

And, for 16 grand–probably 17 grand for the duel clutch version…well, that’s almost in BMW territory.

Somehow, I don’t see K13GT riders making a switch to the VFR any time soon.