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Unleaded 12-06-2012 10:06 AM

60+ miles on a VFR1200...
I've found myself bikeless for the first time in more than 20 years. Sold my K1300S recently to pay some unforseen family expenses. While I miss the K1300S every day, I'm not one to dally too long in the past. There are bikes to be ridden, if not owned. :deal In an attempt to use my 'days as a single man' (bike-wise) wisely, thought I'd check off a ride on a bike I've never particularly admired, but always wanted to ride just the same.

Stopped in to my local Hondayamasaki dealer to peruse the used bikes, and saw a VFR1200F on the floor. Hadn't so much as sat on one before, so I ambled closer for a look.
It's a 2010. Guy bought it in '10 on a whim as a change from his past cruisers, put 2801 miles on it, and traded it back in on a cruiser. Too fast, too uncomfortable...just not him.

My impression was much different than I thought it might be. Pics and passing glances at the very few new VFR's I've ever seen in the wild did nothing for me.

I should probably just get it out of the way now: I'm a European bike snob. Not because I want to be seen on one - I'm an introverted sort by nature. Instead, its because part of motorcycling for me is the connection with the machine. The lingering look back, the quirks that provide 'character' in one form or another - the little things that make a bike, well...not Japanese.

But the silver lining of not owning the bike - for me, anyway - is a measure of objectivity. Everyone has a preconceived notion of what a bike should be, what it should look like, and what they desire from the ride. I'm no different. My lens is clouded by what I've loved and not loved in my history on two wheels. But there's nothing in my garage with a motor and two wheels at the moment, and truthfully, I've ridden just a very few bikes in my life about which I liked nothing. In that spirit, I've tried my best to call this one as I saw it. Didn't intend on writing a review. But I was so surprised by my own reaction to this bike after riding it, that I thought I'd use some phone pics I snapped at the midpoint of the ride to put together some thoughts. Here they are.

Build quality on the VFR1200F is phenomenal. There's just no way around that. It's beautifully finished, and flawlessly executed. The paint is much-talked about for it's mirror-like smoothness, and it should be. The paint is gorgeous. This red had a heavy metal flake, which was really beautiful in the sun, and understated indoors and in the shade.

I've never been much for the styling in pics - I've already established that. Actually that's probably a soft description of my feelings. I hated the styling of this bike. I never ran to puke in the bushes when I saw one in print, but I did feel the bile rising in the back of my throat. And I think I share that feeling with the majority of Americans. :lol3 That's one reason this thing is rare on the road, and why used examples like this sit in dealer showrooms for 10 months.

Pic includes a gratuitous reflection pic of me :)

But I'll have to admit, it was MUCH better looking in person. Still don't like the headlight and the nose fairing, but more on that later. The gauges are extremely easy to read - even in the bright sun - and are well laid out. They're larger in person than they appear in pics.

Ergos are eerily similar to the K1300S. The Cycle-Ergo website shows a tad less reach to the bars, and higher pegs with almost exactly the same seat height, resulting in less legroom. I'll agree with the former, although it felt like the seat/bar distance was very close; it's just that the shape of the Honda clip-ons were angled just a hair more inward, and maybe a few millimeters higher, but overall width of the bars the same.

The legroom had me puzzled a bit. It felt very much the same as the k1300S in terms of seat-to-peg distance, but the overall rider's triangle felt more relaxed than the sum of its parts. I would liken the feel to a K12/13 with about 10mm lower pegs, and maybe 20mm higher bars. But the numbers don't lie, and they say the bikes are awfully close to the same. The windshield is similar in size, but wrapped a bit more around the cockpit, and seemingly angled upward at a steeper rake than other hypersports. And I think the windshield, coupled with the tach arrangement placed fairly high, at the very base of the windshield in easy view, added to the illusion of a bit more room.

The tank was slim at the waist, and was much less bulbous - much more organically-shaped and flowing than it appears in pictures.

The factory exhaust in shape and size is a monstrosity of the sort found on most new offerings of the sportier variety from Japan. If it was my bike I would change it. But not because it's so ugly. Actually, in person, it just kinda works somehow, balancing front and rear of the bikes profile, while keeping the single-sided swingarm in full view. I would change it because it's quiet. Really quiet. The V4 does sound nice, though, even through the factory can. Deeper undertones than the wedge inline 4 - and more vibration, too.

At idle, the rear plate-hanger shook noticeably. I hate to make the comparison, because its actually a deeper, more aggressive sounding note, but it sounded a bit like a Boxer at idle: in cadence, if not in exact tone.

Underway, the vibes were still there, but subdued. Again, not unlike a Boxer. If the vibes on an R-bike bother you, those from the VFR mill would too. They could be felt more through the pegs than the bars, but I didn't find them obtrusive or uncomfortable. More a throbbing pulse than a tingly, high-frequency vibe.

The bike left from a stop easily, with relatively light clutch action - aided, probably, by very long control levers. Not much clutch slippage needed for a smooth getaway, as off-idle torque and gearing conspired for an uneventful takeoff.

Steering was light. The bike has a bit steeper rake than the K, and felt it. Power was immense, but wasn't delivered in the manic style of the K at higher revs (which I loved about the 13). Just very linear and very tractable up to about 6000 RPM, when the fury and the sound were unleashed. Fantastically fast, and probably very similar to the K if you didn't have experience with either. But I never felt the 'hand-of-God', face-melting surge of the BMW I'm so accustomed to. Looking at the speedo, the numbers seemed to climb at the same rate, but the overall feeling was a bit more subdued.

Road handling was superb. The bike felt much lighter than it was. Side-to-side transitions were effortless, and the effort required to initiate a turn was very slight. Overall, the steering felt more airy than the K1300S. Stability was also very similar in sweepers. The Honda had that rail-like feeling many have come to appreciate on longish-wheelbase bikes, with maybe a slight bit less side-to-side stability than a K1300S over rough pavement and in cross winds due to the tighter geometry. But the differences in stability were very, very slight.

I read about first and second-gear fueling problems on the '10's and '11's that were rectified in the 2012 VFR. I felt no such thing in first, but second gear had some flaws. Under engine braking, second gear on-off throttle transitions were extremely snatchy. Throttle pickup was abrupt enough to upset the chassis considerably. Once I discovered the trait, I did everything I could with the throttle to ride around it. Even the slightest movement back onto the throttle caused a big jump in power delivery. It can be managed with gear selection on a bike with this much power, but it took some experimentation to find, and some forethought to execute. Staying in third under engine braking, shifting into second simultaneous with a bit of throttle pickup resulted in realtively smooth transitions. The revs have to match the gears on this thing pretty precisely in the lower 2 or 3 apparently. But if your riding is done in tighter, more technical terrain, a solution requiring conscious thought would get annoying in a hurry.

Suspension was decent. That's it. Decent. There wasn't anything wrong with it really. There are some nasty stretches of highway on state road 63 in Indiana, I found out, and I aimed for them all. The bike wasn't upset by the roughness, but it felt more firm than a K with ESA in 'sport' mode. A bit harsh, actually. Front and rear are manually adjustable, and in fairness I adjusted neither preload nor damping. But whether they could be dialed in to feel as good as the K without going to the aftermarket is a question I'll have to leave unanswered for another day.

View from the mirrors was fine. If you happen to have experience on the BMW K, and have become familiar with a certain part of your shoulder on a K/S, you'll see that same part of your shoulder on the VFR. Only it'll shake a little more. There was a little vibration at some RPMs in the mirrors, exacerbated by the slightly-lumpier engine of the viffer. Nothing that would bother me, and nothing more than most other bikes I've owned, but a bit more than a K.

Braking was fantastic. Excellent feel from the front, and very progressive. Tested the ABS intentionally a couple of times, and it was transparent. Like the K/S, more of a 'sound' than a 'feel' upon activation.

Shifting was impressive. As in, totally positive, totally quiet, totally effortless impressive. Up and down, skipping gears, finding neutral with a few revs still on the clock, I couldn't find a flaw. It was that good.

The shaft drive seemed excellent. I didn't notice it, and didn't think about it. That's probably the highest compliment I could pay to a shaft-driven final.

The seat was wide in the seating area, and waspy-thin at the tank junction. I didn't hang off on the test ride, but doing so wouldn't be inhibited by the seat. It was plank flat. Really flat. And the foam was hard. And at only 60 miles ridden, with a stop at the halfway point to snap a few phone pics, I'm not qualified to pass judgement on long-term comfort. But the seat wasn't uncomfortable in the least, despite my description. The hardness came from the seating materials, rather than from settling through some overly-soft foam to the pan. It seemed supportive.

Wind management was really, really good for the type. Here's where I address that front-end I mentioned earlier...
The windshield has a 3\4-or-so inch gap at the base, maybe six or seven inches wide, ostensibly to prevent the "convertible effect" of the vacuum behind windscreens. And it seems to work well. Amazingly well. There was NO turbulence at any speed for my 6' 2" frame. None. Just smooth quiet air.

And that's why I wanted to address the front end in a bit more detail. When you experience the wind protection firsthand, and then look again at the fairing after the ride, it's...still ugly.:yelrotflmao: But it begins to make some sense, too. The flat-silver of the mirror stalks complete with huge turn signal lenses, and the tendrils of the upper part of the headlight lens angling up-and-out from the main bulb, give a "shiny" look to the front. In fact, after looking at some reviews of the bike (but not looking closely-enough) I was always critical of the use of chrome on a bike of this type. But there isn't any. It's the combination of flat silver paint, and a large mass of reflective lenses in the oversize lighting that give it that feel.

I have to be honest here: I didn't expect to be impressed by this bike. At all. With many pardons begged of any Honda fans here, Hondas to me are the Toyota Camrys of motorcycling. And the perfect paint and finish and the jetson's-like futuristic styling of the bike would give one every reason to feel the same about this bike. The styling isn't for everybody. In fact, to the chagrin of Honda, it's for hardly anybody.:grape:
But this is no Camry. It's a decently throaty-sounding beast of a bike with impressive power, surprisingly-quick handling, a staggeringly good transmission...and some de-facto character as a result. 60 miles are nowhere near enough to expose liveability flaws, for sure.

Would I buy it over a K1300S? Apples-to-apples, no, I wouldn't. But I learned a bit more about myself and my euro-centric snobbery...because I prefer the K13 not for any reasons of competency of the K over this bike. The VFR was not great compared with (fill in the blank). It was a great motorcycle, period. I prefer the K simply because it has the intangible mix of character and German-ness (and all the good and bad that brings), and the combination of civility and incivility that is the BMW. The VFR I rode was basic - no luggage, no heated grips. Electronic suspension and traction control aren't available (although I believe TC is now offered on the '12 model). It's hard to call this bike 'spartan' in technology or options, but in comparison with a spec'd-out BMW, it most definitely is.

But if price were factored in, would I buy it? Yes. Hell yes. This bike could be bought somewhere in the 8-9K range. Didn't buy it, but I was sorely tempted. Which is saying a lot. Because I was no more a fan of the styling of the VFR12 than I am of root canals. But after riding it, it's much easier to come to terms with the looks, because it just works so damn well. Honda's failure to price this bike option-for-option with the competition, and the massive letdown felt by the VFR 750 and 800 set when the light-yet-powerful new Sprint-beater never materialized....and that over-the-top styling, all compounded the fact that this is a wonderful bike at the wrong time, in a world where many are switching to big trailies. An epic marketing fail for Honda now results in what has to be one of the best sport-touring used buys in the motorcycling world at the moment....if you can get past that nose - and the fact that it's a Honda. Some of us just don't want to be the "nicest people".:lol3

brentde3 12-06-2012 10:18 AM


Thanks for the write-up. I've waffled about this one's looks too, but, having ridden a 98 VFR800 all around the country, I'm drawn to it. I loved the VFR800. Maybe if I can beg a test-drive on one of these I'll be smitten as well.

PhilB 12-06-2012 10:35 AM

Thanks. That's one I've been wanting to testride. I am also a bit of a Euro-snob for machinery, especially for the Italian stuff. But out of the Japanese, I've always been most attracted to the Hondas. They have a quality level that is hard to beat, their engineering prowess is unmatched, and they build different things -- not just the same cookie-cutter one-bike-in-each-identified-market-segment lineup as the others. Sometimes that results in really weird stuff that makes you think WTF? -- like the DN-01. But sometimes it results in something that is just right.


wannaklr 12-06-2012 11:00 AM

Local dealer has a new 10 and a 12 on the floor. He offered me a test ride last time I was in there. I may just take him up on the offer now.

Unleaded 12-06-2012 11:17 AM

Brentde3: You might be the first VFR800 pilot I've read who has any interest in the new VFR at all. :lol3 If you already appreciate Hondas, I think you'd be shocked by how good the new 12 is. I understand there are a lot of "why?" questions among people about this thing. I had them too. I get it now.

PhilB and wannaklr: If you guys get a chance to ride one, I strongly urge you to jump on it. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts if you do. I'm 24 hours post-ride, and I'm still feeling a little stunned and confused by how much I liked riding it. Honestly expected to be hugely underwhelmed by everything about it after putting on many miles aboard the K12S and 13S BMWs....just the opposite happened. As I mentioned, other things being equal, I'd like the BMW for the fact that I know and love its quirks and its across-the-pond origins. But even at the same price, the chasm is awfully narrow between them. More like a small ditch, really.:lol3 At the prices the VFR is being blown out....well, I've already talked to the guy I know at the dealer about a second ride tonight - in 40 degree weather, no less. It's just a damn fun bike.

mrbreeze 12-06-2012 11:32 AM

I think the VFR1200 is gorgeous. :D

Unleaded 12-06-2012 11:45 AM


Originally Posted by mrbreeze (Post 20191413)
I think the VFR1200 is gorgeous. :D

You sick freak.:lol3

I don't know what to think anymore. I'm serious - I don't remember the last test ride I had that made me question everything I thought I knew about life quite like that one did.:lol3

It's not perfect, and I do look forward to seeing what some of the other guys here think after they ride it. I'm sure the ride - like the looks - is polarizing. I read some nasty things about it before my chance at it, and very few of them were issues for me. Subjectivity is what makes forums like this relevant.

cls 12-06-2012 02:18 PM

I wanted to like this bike after years of waiting for the big-bore Viffer. Alas, too heavy and too expensive. The latter has taken care of itself in this tough market and I understand it handles lighter than it is. I still need to see a smaller number in the "wet weight" column. I'm getting stubborn and opinionated after so many bikes and I have my ideal concept(s) clearly in mind. Heck, I'd even like to see better economy from the bike while in commuting/travel mode. I understand it gets mid-high 30's. I want it all...Nice to hear the positive write-up, though.

brentde3 12-06-2012 02:25 PM


Originally Posted by Unleaded (Post 20191314)
Brentde3: You might be the first VFR800 pilot I've read who has any interest in the new VFR at all. :lol3 If you already appreciate Hondas, I think you'd be shocked by how good the new 12 is. I understand there are a lot of "why?" questions among people about this thing. I had them too. I get it now.

I rode the Viffer 10,000 miles in 30 days this summer. (Traded my WR250r to another inmate for it, and then traded back at the end of the summer, as he missed the VFR.) It was a great bike, obviously. It was the first Honda I had ever ridden. This new one intrigues me with its shaft drive and up-to-date tech. I'm concerned with the tank size (and reported lack of MPG). The 800 got as high as 47, as low as 38. It's tank (at five gallons) was just enough for me. Still nearly ran out of gas a couple of times :lol3. Also knackered the chain pretty good in that time, no matter how much I cared for it. I'm really jonesing for a shaft bike next time around.

10/10ths 12-06-2012 03:05 PM

I think it looks great.....
.....of course, I have a V-Strom parked next to my original Ducati Monster and Honda RC51.

I have often thought of replacing my V-Strom with the new VFR1200F.

Different strokes....

hankgs 12-06-2012 04:34 PM

Front ends...
Dude, I am a BMW rider and I think the front ends of our beloved motorrad are not exactly pretty to say the least...! The K 1300s is no beauty in anyones eyes as far as I know- I would call it harsh and "transformer-like" vs the VFR 1200 being smooth and aerodynamic, almost airplane like...

Skitch 12-06-2012 05:07 PM

Nice write up. Been on my short list, but not sure I could live with its reported less than 200 mile range.

Ohio_Danimal 12-06-2012 05:22 PM

really really wanna love this big VFR. It ticks off so many YES marks on my mental checklist...

But...if it's actual wet weight included a full 6.5 gallons of fuel..and actual got decent mileage, it would be mine.

But cmon..teeny tank and <40mpg = bike for person with $$ and no far away destinations in mind (hello dual Rotapax)

Unleaded 12-06-2012 05:35 PM

Fuel capacity is a concern for me as well, as is mileage. Probably not enough of a big deal (for me) to be a deal-breaker, as anymore, truth be told, I'm looking for fuel at not much over 100 miles anyway. Just a convenience issue.

Sounds like the '12 VFRs have different mapping. Not sure if/how it affects mileage, nor whether the updated mapping is able to be downloaded by dealers to the '10s and 11's...

RobbieAG 12-07-2012 06:56 AM

Great write-up, thanks for sharing. I've always liked the looks of these. I think the reason they didn't sell was mainly price combined with a bad economy and market trends (the popularity of "Adventure" bikes). I'd love to get a deal on a nice used one.

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