I’d been waiting for this test ride for a long time, years in fact, as the new VR1200F was supposed to be the Blackbird replacement I’d been waiting for since I bought my second ‘Bird in 2004. The world and I were kept waiting until 2010 until the eventual unveiling of the new bike, claimed to be a technological masterpiece worthy of the mantle of becoming Honda’s new flagship motorcycle.
I tried to book a test ride in early June but someone beat me to it, and so I had to wait another week or so until a break in the weather and the promise of sun meant I could try again. This time I was successful, so one Thursday afternoon I collected the bike from Honda Geneve and started my extensive test of Honda’s new V4.
I dropped off near Annecy for Andy to see the beast and to hear my initial impresssions. We’d both seen and sat on the VFR at the Zurich bike show, but how and what would actually riding it feel like, and what impressions would it leave? A short 20 minute ride after leaving Geneva centre and some motorway miles aren’t the greatest test of any bike, but already it felt comfortable, controls fell to hand in the right places ( apart from the horn), and the standover height was very low, meaning I could plant both feet firmly on the floor, a definite plus point. There was some wind noise at motorway speeds, but despite the screen seeming low, it was very effective and deflected the wind onto the tops of my shoulders and felt exactly right for my 5′ 10 height frame. Mirrors appeared quite small but didn’t shake or blur, were easily adjustable, and gave good vision behind.
Initial thoughts start to register as to important aspects of the bike, and one of the first things of note is it’s overall size. It’s pretty small, and with it’s weight carried low is an absolute doddle to wheel around in a car park or garage, almost toy like, although it’s turning circle doesn’t quite match these small dimensions and means you won’t manage a 360 turn in the road without a lot of room! The tank is also small and you really do find yourself with your knees gripping it in the excellently positioned and shaped cut-outs.
The quality of the paint finish is superb, and instruments are “adequate” for those who favour the less is more ideal, but nevertheless it gives all the information you “really” need, with a large central tacho, digital speedo, gear indicator, engine temperature, fuel bar graph, and two trips. Plastics follow the trend for being thinner and lighter but have a quality feel, although I wonder at the costs of a potential tip over or crash, as the fairing seems to be a one piece unit which will inevitably drive up replacement costs and insurance premiums will probably reflect this!
The one thing that I did find odd was the positioning of the horn and indicator buttons. They have been reversed from their ususal positions, meaning the horn button is now above the indicators. The horn button itself is an odd shape with a rasied thumb push on the right of the button, and a little unnatural to push because of this, but having the indicators below them meant that I was continually looking at them each time I activated or cancelled them, just to make sure I’d done it properly. Even after over 600kms I still found myself doing this, which to me indicates that it’s “odd”, and probably stranger than BMW’s old three button indicator system!
As I ascended the hairpins and turns of St Cergue the engine is kept buzzing between 2nd and 4th gears. With 4000rpm on the clock the bike wafts between bends with decent speed and utter composure, the engine driving well with a fairly anonymous, but different exhaust note than your standard screaming 4 cylinder. At the top of St Cergue it’s over to La Cure and the Col de La Faucille. This stretch is one where the surface is so rippled that it often seems the rear tyre is constantly squirming, and I’ve stopped more than once as the feeling is so odd it has felt as if the rear is going flat, but NOT today, and not on this bike. The Dunlop Roadsmarts suit it to perfection, and combined with sublime suspension characteristics, the ride was like a magic carpet compared to other bikes I’ve ridden here. Front forks are adjustable, which the old Blackbirds weren’t, and the handling is VERY accurate, with an ease of turn I’m unaccustomed to, which allows me to place it exactly where I want.
So far so good then, although I do notice that there is very little engine braking, which comes as a big surprise. The brakes themselves are good, but not outstanding. They never let me down or felt inadequate, just had a little less strength in initial bite than I would have expected or preferred.
Fast forward to the next day and the “real” reason I took the test, to see how good a tourer it is for two up riding. Sue has ridden pillion with me for many tens of thousands of miles so will be able to give me her opinion as to whether we should consider the VFR as a potential addition to our garage. Two up and without adjusting the suspension from yesterdays solo setting, I have to say I’mstill impressed. We’re off to the Col D’Aravis along some less than stellar road surfaces, but yesterday’s composure is still there and it’s still turning accurately and negating the poor road surfaces attempts to transmit discomfort to our backsides. The exhaust note changes at 8000rpm and starts to growl, and the light clutch and shaft drive is so slick, you’d never know it was a shaftie unless you checked first. Note to BMW, strip one and find out how it’s done!
So far still no real complaints, and Ive been impressed by the stability of the bike in blustery winds on the motorway, but once we hit the Col D’Aravis and it’s twists and climbs I found it’s Achilles heel. it’s gutless below 4000rpm. Bends I’d round in second gear on my bike have to be taken in first on this, and then you open the throttle and wait, and wait, and wait, for the power to come in. Sue told me she thought we were going to fall over in the bends as the power takes so long to pick up once committed and leant over. Seat comfort is now starting to niggle a little, with both of us finding the seat padding a little light, and I’m finding aches in the back of my thighs. Sue is also less than enthuiasiastic about the positiong of the grab handles, and the metal top box rack she is holding onto behind her is actually cutting into her hand.
I’ll fast forward again now as Sue’s discomfort meant we cut short the ride and returned home early with a big red cross against the bikes two up capabilities. With half the day left though, I decided to try it out on what I call the TT Route, and here I found the real strengths of the bike. Without the need for low end drive from hairpins or engine braking, I’m able to use its engine to effortlessly blast along the A roads and bends on my cross country circuit.
After 3 hours I’m back at home beaming, having enjoyed every minute of the ride and full of admiration for a great handling machine and it’s uniquely sounding V4 engine. The tank range may be a little on the small side but it’s not a major issue for me, and the weight is so perfectly balanced that it never felt heavy at any stage, even two up, a remarkable piece of central mass management.
After 600+ kms I gave the bike back with mixed feelings. As a two up machine for mountain roads it’s a big no-no. As an A roads blaster it’s great, but I already have a V4 in my garage in the shape of my RC45. Whilst the new VFR may be a bigger and much more powerful version of the same thing, it doesn’t meet my needs for a touring bike, and doesn’t have the track capabilities of the RC , so I can’t see the justification for buying one, much as I wanted to at the start of this test.
I would like to extend special thanks to Frederick Grand at Honda Geneve for the use of the bike for the day, and for helping me finally scratch an itch I’d had for years. If you’re ever in Geneva and want to rent a bike, make Honda Geneve your first point of call.