2010 Honda VFR1200F: taking Shamu to the track

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Photos: The SB Image

I should have known when the Ohlins tech couldn’t stop laughing while he
was setting up the suspension. “You’re not going to like this around
here,” he said, bouncing the rear end up and down to demonstrate the
utter lack of rebound damping despite cranking that adjuster to max.
He’s right, I didn’t. The 2010 Honda VFR1200F is terrifying on a race
track. >

Not terrifying in the anything-but-an-R6-doesn’t-belong-on-track kind of way. I’ve done trackdays on big, heavy bikes before, including a BMW R1200GS and a first-gen Ducati Multistrada. Heck, I’ve even been out on a BMW R1200RT. All the above were perfectly safe and pretty fun, if not exactly fast. Even the R1200GS with its tall suspension was perfectly stable cranked all the way over with a knee on the ground and capable of some surprisingly impressive lean angles and corner speeds. The VFR wasn’t.

Honda describes the VFR as a “Road Sports” motorcycle, which to me sounds like a sportsbike that’s been made a little bigger, a little softer and a little friendlier in the name of comfort and practicality. To me, it should still be capable of fast riding, it should still be a sportsbike, just a comfortable one. One you could ride 500 miles on just to get to a good mountain road, then really enjoy riding that mountain road.

Beaverun_Map.jpgWith that in mind, we threw Shamu in a trailer and drove out to Beaverun, in western Pennsylvania. Any bike with vaguely sporting intentions should be track-capable, right?

Not this one.

First session of the day, second lap out and the pegs go down hard as I turn into the uphill right hander that’s turn 10 on Beaverun’s North Track. I thought I was still warming the tires before trying to ride it quickly. Recover, point the bike back uphill and wind on full throttle. Rather than rocket down the short straight, Shamu just sort of thrums along, sportsbikes flying past left and right. 172bhp and 95lb/ft of torque aren’t enough to coax much get up and go out of the 591lbs (wet) Honda.

Brake early for turn 1, the brakes are snatchy so you can’t trail them into the corner. Get off the side, push the inside bar deliberately and it turns in, but getting the bike back up, then over to the right has the bike and me wobbling into the wrong line.

Turn 4 is the kind of flat, 90-ish degree corner where you can really play with some serious lean on most bikes. Not on the VFR. Again, I brake early because the snatchy brakes are scaring me, made worse by the too-soft forks that dive at the merest whiff of right lever. I’ve got to limit my apex speed too to keep the peg off the ground. All that and I still have to wait until the bike’s virtually upright before really getting on the throttle, it’s snatchy too, and the too-soft rear end plummets when you’re on the throttle.

Then into the uphill right, over-the-crest left and downhill right that are turns 5,6 and 7. Shamu goes into a serious wobble as the elevation catches it on the entry, it’s reluctant to get back over the left over the crest and the downhill right, where these photos were taken early on in the session, is just completely frightening, with the bike bobbing and weaving imprecisely instead of tracking along a predictable line. Remember, this is with suspension set up for this track by a professional.

Five laps in, I called it quits, too terrified to continue.

Specifically, the VFR has four big problems that prevent it from working in this environment:

1. The suspension is too soft. Sure, with a 591lbs curb weight it’s extraordinarily heavy, but stiffer suspension or at least a larger capacity for adjustment could make it corner. Instead, it dives, sinks and wobbles around all over the place.

2. It’s got zero ground clearance. Even after decking out the pegs hard and repeatedly, there was at least 1cm of unused rubber on each side of the rear tire. If I’d been brave enough to do more than one session I’d have started to hang off the side like a monkey to take as much lean as possible out of it, but even that wouldn’t have helped much.

3. The controls are unpredictable. The fueling is seriously bad, like early Honda fuel-injection bad. It surges when you don’t expect it to and the twist grip just doesn’t have a linear relationship to engine power. The brakes, too, are snatchy, something that’s not helped by the linked arrangement. They’re plenty powerful and didn’t fade at all, but combined with the soft suspension and abrupt application, the front end goes diving for the ground with a finger brush.

4. The ergonomics are poor. The wide seat, low pegs and huge tank make it hard to hang off in a conventional manner and, once you are off the side, the slippery seat makes it hard to stay in one spot. The tank is so tall that your outside arm is fully extended over it before your torso gets anywhere near parallel to the ground.

All of this leaves us without an understanding of what the VFR1200 actually is. 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.

Having said all that, while we were out enjoying more appropriate bikes, grey hairs were drawn to the VFR like geriatrics to bingo. Explaining that it wasn’t ours was like explaining that Grant and I weren’t their grandchildren. Our new friend Phil, an experienced 52-year old Enduro racer ranted and raved about how much he loved it.

Maybe track-riding whippersnappers like us are the wrong audience for the VFR. Maybe it’s really for old guys that want to look like they’re going fast, when really they’re just cruising around on a Lay-Z-Boy; who want to feel fast when really they’re five under. They can keep it.

Honda-Shamu.jpgWhy do we call the VFR1200 Shamu? Believe it or not, the nickname’s not supposed to be negative. Last summer, when black and white photos of the bike leaked, before we ever knew it weighed what it does, commenters and forum fan boys started calling the bike “Shamu.” Look at this black and white photo and tell us it doesn’t look like an Orca whale with all those organic curves, smooth bulges and contrasting colors. We like nicknames, so it stuck. No harm meant.

  • HammSammich

    It’s an attractive bike, but I’m glad to know that it has no sporting ability to back up it’s apparent intentions. I’ll be starting to look into Sport Tourer’s in earnest within the next 12 – 18 months, and this one will likely not make my list.

    • dogfm

      I’m not sure what the ohlins guy knows about showa suspension, it sounds like he put you offf. Former Moto GP rider Ron Haslam is reported by UK Bike magazine to have said he could win a club race on it – fyi he adjusted the suspension from standard by adding 4 clicks of preload and a touch of damping. Mind you he didn’t mind the pegs touching down as they fold up.
      I guess the ohlins professional took the p*ss

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        I think Ron Haslam could win a club race on my bicycle. It doesn’t matter which company pays your bills, if your job is to set up suspension all day, then you know what you’re doing.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/christophercullen/sets/72157622530167071/ CMC

    I like the look of it in the B&W photo. If it came in a dark grey & silver it would be a classy looking machine, all other issues aside.

  • keith

    Great review. Appreciate one where the bike is reviewed for what it is – positive or negative.

  • Brian Zooom

    I also appreciate the earnest review. Apparently, I have heard rumors, some of the british press were encouraged heavily to curtail their honest opinions of the machine after a press day at one of their tracks riding this machine.

    FWIW, I am looking forward to hearing your full honest review of NESBA like you did with STT.

  • David

    I never really liked the VFR1200. It does not look good on paper, in photos, in reports, or in the flesh. But when you throw in the towel on the bike, any bike, after 5 laps, I really question how much your preconceptions going into the ride tainted your decisions and write-up. Tweak it, fuck with it, figure out, run it the whole day, and then piss all over it. Don’t give me this “Shamu is scary crap.”

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I don’t go into bike reviews with an agenda. Believe it or not, I really like riding bikes, all of them, but I’m not going to waste a trackday I paid for on an utterly unsuitable bike and I’m not going to keep riding a $16,000 bike that doesn’t belong to me when I’m convinced a crash is virtually inevitable. Doing either would be dumb.

  • Roman

    I have a hard time understanding how a 172 horsepower bike can feel slow in any environment. I get that it’s big/heavy and I am not at all surprised that it’s cumbersome at the track….but slow? Really? Maybe once I ride the latest/greatest liter bikes on the market, my sense of speed will be recalibrated, but for now it’s a little hard to digest.

    Btw, I rode in a session with a BMW K1200S on the track at Thunderbolt raceway last year and my god was that thing ungainly through the turns. It might’ve been the rider, but that bike just looked very awkward in the track environment.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Looking at the numbers makes it a little easier.

      Just did a simple crank HP divided by wet weight comparison:

      R6 = .313 hp/lb (wet)
      VFR = .293 hp/lb (wet)

      And it’s a track, so you can use ALL of that R6′s power.

      • Roman

        But wouldn’t the VFR then have a power to weight advantage when you look at torque? Besides, I’ve never heard anyone say that the R6 is slow at the track.

        Not that I am trying to defend the the VFR1200. I ride the fifth gen VFR800 (2000) and it’s a great bike. Interestingly, it is the first fuel injected VFR and the fueling is absolutely spot on. I’m not at all surprised that this bike won so much acclaim in when it came out, it just does everything so well. Though some people will probably think it’s too slow for a sportbike, the smooth engine and perfect fuelling give you a ton of confidence on the street (haven’t taken it to the track yet).

        It’s too bad that Honda never really built on the formula of what made that bike so great. Instead they fattened it up and gave it the unnecessary VTEC (I know there are 6th gen fans out there, just my opinion) and let that bike linger in the market for 7 years. Now, instead of losing some weight and developing a meaty 1000 cc V4, we get this pig of a bike that apparently only appeals so the silver foxes who already have their site on Beemers anyway. Sigh…maybe Aprilia will come out with that V4 Futura some day soon, not that I’ll ever be able to afford it.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          It does have a torque/weight advantage, but bog standard R6s were flying past me on the straights. Gearing is probably a bigger factor than raw numbers too.

          The old VFR800s with the square headlights were near perfect motorcycles. Simple, well made and extraordinarily practical.

        • Mike

          1998 was the first year for the FI VFR800.

          Shamu is a pig. What were they thinking? Honda’s product planners need to be replaced with employees more in tune with what rider’s want. Not this goofy fat slug of a motorcycle.

          They will have these things in warehouses for years.
          I wouldn’t buy one at 8K.

  • JR

    Such a disappointment. I remember, in my youth, when the Interceptor was advertised in all kinds of mainstream magazines. Mine is not a motorcycling family so I didn’t get my first bike until age 20. But ever since the the early 1980s, the VFR has been the one for me. Well, I lusted after the first generation of the 800 cc Interceptor, the 1998 to 2001 bikes. Then when the time came, I couldn’t justify the cost of it over the new Bandit 1200. (I was 24 at the time and not all that flush with cash). Then they uglified the bike with the 2002 redesign. I’m older now, and wiser, and I loved the look of this new one. Shaft drive, 1200 CC, comfy seat. I mean I hoped for it to be a sportier FJR1300 type of thing. I guess not. I might have to pick up a holdover from last year even though they’re ugly, just because they’re the last of the true VFRs.

  • Pete

    Great Review. Knowing nothing about the bike prior, I sat on one of these a few months ago (I was never considering buying one, just wanted to feel it out) and was very surprised by the weight. It felt Harly-ish between the knees. It seemed like it would have super comfy ergos though. I now feel no need to back up my quick sit with a ride.

  • Alex

    This is disappointing. Why can’t anyone make a sportbike with nice ergo’s (a comfy seat, higher handlebars, and a descent windshield)? Wouldn’t that sell like crazy? This thing is a lot heavier than it should be.

    Once you add in your weight, the number should favor the VFR over the R6, since you’re adding 150lbs to each denominator (weight), but the numerator (HP) of the VFR is bigger.

    I’m curious if you attribute the poor handling to the suspension setup (I know it was maxed out), or was the whole bike just messed up?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      The whole bike’s just super soft. Even maxed out there wasn’t enough damping on either compression or rebound, so you’re just pogoing along on the soft springs.

      The weight compounds this as you’re throwing a huge amount of enertia into each wobble.

    • Brian Zooom

      “This is disappointing. Why can’t anyone make a sportbike with nice ergo’s (a comfy seat, higher handlebars, and a descent windshield)? Wouldn’t that sell like crazy?”

      in 2 parts…the 1st being the bike you describe, the Yamaha FZ1! and 2…those bikes don’t sell like crazy here in the good ole US of A because the consumer here is generally preached to either buy a Harley ( or likewise acceptable cruiser clone) due to peer pressure, or they buy the fastest thing they can get their hands on ( ie: GSXR1K, CBR1KRR, ZX10R, R1, 1198, etc) and practicality is often a thought that is never afforded by the buyer for themselves. The practical bike is a misnomer in the US because most of the good ones never make it here. They are also the ones that draw no looks from anyone and that is because the moorcycling community in the US is one of more recreational purpose. If we had a more distinct and vast majority of riders throughout the country that used common purposeful practical motorcycles for everyday commuting and life and everything else they could think of, like in the rest of the world, then maybe some of those machines might make it here.

      I have a practical bike, and it is also a non-common one. The Cagiva Gran Canyon. It is far from being fast and far from being a sexy looker, but it gets almost every task done that I use it for. This bike is far from being in the common ground of machines for more than just it’s heritage or purpose or design. It is uncommon because it is a multipurpose bike that does alot of different things rather decently. There have been lots of bikes built that never made it here or were not popular when they were here in that regard. A few examples, the Yamaha TDM, the Honda CB1000RR of the current generation, the Bros Honda NT650 or any of the NT650 variants they made like the Afrika Twin, the Suzuki Bandit 400, the Yamaha Fazer600, the Cagiva Raptor, and the list could go on after naming a few….all practical bikes and none of them would make even a dent of mention on the US bike market except to the cult few. The bitter thing about this whole segment, is that by the time most riders that would even care to look at these machines for exactly what they are, they are grown past the need for these machines and have gotten to the point of farkled out touring machines of various sorts.

      Sorry for my off tangent rant Wes…

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Sounds pretty on topic to me :)

      • Alex

        The FZ1 weighs 458lbs dry (508 wet), and makes ~40HP less than the R1. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

        I agree with the part about the FZ1 not selling, but why doesn’t the FZ1 weigh <400lbs (dry) and put down 180HP? Last time I rode an R1 it had gobs of torque (granted I was in 1st and 2nd as much as possible, not 6th). Can’t we have comfort and speed as well? I know comfy ergos are not ideal for Ben Spies, but I ride an SV650 on the track and am not limited at all by the ergos.

        • Brian Zooom

          458LBS I think is a 1st Gen(which is based powerplant wise off of an 01-03 R1) and they slimmed it down about 10 more lbs for the 2nd gen. I looked into #’s/specs and as far as comparing to the R1 itself, the 1st Gen FZ1 has a completely different frame, especially in the rear, that the R1 doesn’t have. You are talking (dry weights of course) 383lbs for the R1 with 152hp vs the FZ1 that was 458lbs with 143hp. The 2nd Gen FZ1 changed a bit in this whole gambit taking on more of the ’04 R1 in power plant and framework, with a reinforced rear subframe and different exhaust routing. The R1 at that point ( dry weights again) was slimmed down to 379 lbs with now 170hp while the detuned FZ1 was down to 449lbs with 150hp. So they aren’t THAT far off each other when you consider what Yamaha probably had to do to each of those machines to get them to a place to compentently do what they were designed to do.

          now, number crunching aside, why really and truly anyone legally needs more than 100hp on the street is beyond me, but if an FZ1 doesn’t meet your needs, then buy an R1 and streetfighter it and call it a day.

  • Stephen

    I knew it was heavy, slow and expensive but I didn’t think Shamu would be dangerous to ride. I’d like to see what the factory’s test riders thought of it (not that the public would ever be privy to that information). I wonder if they panned it, only to have management approve its production anyway.

    Maybe Dexter Ford would like to tackle that question.

  • Peter

    Wes, have you ridden the XR1200X? The weight seems similar to the VFR1200 (560 for the Harley and 591 for the Honda). I’ve read many reviews that say the Harley is a blast to ride even though it makes a little more than half the horsepower of the Honda. It appears that Honda really screwed up the chasis geometry and suspension selection.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I haven’t ridden the Harley. Weight is never a good thing with bikes, but it doesn’t necessarily = horrible mess.

    • eric

      I’ve ridden the xr1200, though not the ‘x’ model. It’s remarkably well balanced; probably because Scott Parker was one of their test riders. I’ve never ridden a bike that was that heavy, and still was well balanced. Spring rates & compression/rebound were pretty good; I imagine the adjustability of the X model would make it even better.

      Now, if only HD would put it on a diet…

      There are quite a few owners who’ve done some of this on their own; apparently, it’s not too hard to cut 40lbs or so off, but then it REALLY gets expensive quick after that.

      I’d expect it would be MUCH harder to do so on this Honda. What a disappointment; my first big bike was an ’84 VF750 Interceptor. Great all-around bike; too bad the latest generation is such a disappointment.

  • SteveO

    What’s “enertia”? Think you’ve been drinking too much Brammo kool-aid.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      D’oh!

  • http://www.tripleclamp.net Sasha Pave

    Thanks for the honest review, a rarity these days.

  • johnnyb

    Interesting, i was just reading in Motorcycle Consumer News (paragons of honesty due to no-ad policy) that the thing is “brutally stiff”. Until they backed off a bunch of preload whereupon “the ride became so soft that it pitched too much.”
    Thim are some serious adjusters, sounds like… you guys play with spring preload at all?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      JonnyB: I can’t comment on Motorcycle Consumer News’s writeup as I haven’t read it. Having said that, HFL is emphatically not a part of the motorcycle industry establishment and what you read here is not designed to curry favor with access granters or please PR people. What we write is for you, the reader, no one else.

      Why do you think we haven’t ridden Shamu until now?

      Of course we played with the preload, as well as every other suspension setting. The bike didn’t perform as advertised in our hands, that’s all I can report.

  • Cajun

    Seeing as how I’m nearly 52 and a trail rider I guess I’m not hip to the jive what does, “want to feel fast when really they’re five under” mean anyway. Also Mr Siler why do you constantly feel the need to tear down other motorcyclists in order to build your self up? If these “old guys” on a “Lay-Z-Boy” are representing the sport in a positive way why do you have to present them in a negative light? You stand up for some kid doing wheelies on the interstate but the elderly are simply a target for your derision.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Cajun: If you haven’t caught on yet, we have a good time here at HFL. Roll with it, or, you know, we can have a frank discussion about how your generation has driven the economy into the ground, sold our country to China, lost every war you’ve fought in or started and turned politics into jingoistic pursuit of the lowest common denominator in order to turn a corporate profit. Oh and every bike currently made is tailored specifically to you, so don’t be too bitter.

      Les: Thanks, rock on.

      Mike: SV writeup coming.

      Jnk: tell Ducati to start giving us bikes.

  • Les

    I used to lust over the vrf800, but I couldn’t stand the idea of v-tec and valve jobs that required far too much money and the other over engineered non-sense. I never bought one. I waited.

    …and I waited some more for Honda to get smart and and revert to something more rc30/vfr750-ish. Something v4 lean-ish and mean, but with soft seat and raised bars.

    After enduring countless years of rumours of v5 vfrs and all the rest… this… this thing.. drops.

    Honda is lost.

    The new ducati multistrada is more along the lines of what this beast should have been (tech wise). If anything this should have been in the honda ST family.

    A total shame in this honda boys opinion.

    Thank you Wes, for this site and for your thoughts. It’s extremely refreshing to read articles not full of corporate brown nosing guided by thoughts of shareholder value and advertisers. It think it’s what they used to call rock and roll.

  • MIke

    Since Shamu was a bust how was it riding the Sv? Please post a few thought on the little bike =D

    • pdub

      If it’s a reasonably well track prepped SV it will be a revelation compared to Shamu. Hell it will probably be a revelation to the point and shoot liter bike riders as well.

      • Brian Zooom

        a well set up SV can be an excellent track tool/toy/etc…and as always, I think it is more fun to ride a slow bike fast, than it is to ride a fast bike slow…getting as close to 10/10ths out of a machine is where it is at, even if 10/10ths for the person is still only 7/10ths of the machine!!!

  • Jnk

    Can you please get your hands on Multi 1200 S do the same test… I would love to see how it stacks compared to other bikes outside its genre (Sportbikes? or Nakeds? etc)

  • Bud

    Yawn.

  • Troof

    Agreed.

  • the other larry

    I’ve really had to shake my head at all the excitement the VFR crowd had over the announcement of the new model just because it’s labeled “VFR”. Nothing in common with the prior models, just blind badge loyalty. Sorta like the Harley and BMW scene. Anything with the badge is gold to them. Whatever, sorry.

  • johnnyb

    Well it’s a good thing you’re not trying to curry favor with access granters or please PR people, because how you could’ve tried different settings and declared the thing a heap after five laps probably is not a good way to accomplish it. I know I’m still blowing out the cobwebs my first five laps when i do a track day, but then I’m no expert.

    Amazing that Honda would invite the world press to ride the thing around Sugo circuit at its launch, and not one of those spineless vestpocket toadies had the journalistic integrity to pronounce it a wobbling deathbike. Not even Catterson or BIKE, the British mag known here for never buckling under to advertising pressure (like all the superior British mags). Interesting.

  • Trent

    Wes, how much do you weigh? Do you think the issue could be solved with heavier springs?

  • Liquidogged

    It’s a lot of fun to poke at Wes for being such a superior little wanker and all, but his points still stand as far as this test is concerned:

    - $16k bike not owned by him, and not loaned to him by Honda as a tester

    - suspension tuned by pro suspension guy

    - scary enough to get him off the bike after 5 laps. This is a guy who despite his love for the e-bike thing obviously loves going stupid fast.

    Those facts speak for themselves. Should he have ridden it all day? Maybe. Would that have changed his opinion of the bike? Possibly. Should a 16 freaking thousand dollar “sport touring” motorcycle with decades of pedigree from one of the premier motorcycle manufacturers in the world be at least passably adequate on the track after having its suspenders tuned by a pro?

    Definitely.

    Sign of the times, boys and girls. Fat old bikes for fat old guys. I personally find it beyond frustrating that something so unnecessarily HEAVY could cost SO DAMN MUCH. Give me 15k to blow on my 1975 Honda CB750F ($700) and I will have it whipping Shamu at any challenge, and weighing 150 less pounds to boot. We live in an age of super light weight composites and Honda isn’t living in it. Or at least Shamu isn’t.

  • GeddyT

    Wes, I still don’t see eye to eye with you on the Aprilia viral video, but this here review goes a long way towards suggesting that that was an isolated incident (I mean, I guess you do OWN one of those things, so it would make sense that you really do like it and wouldn’t have a problem backing it, so I’m softening on the whole thing…).

    Great review of Shamu. Thank you for the honesty.

    And this also leaves me really wondering if the situation at the print mags is as bad as you have portrayed it. I have subscriptions to Cycle World, MotorCyclist, and Sport Rider. I can’t remember exactly, but I believe at least two of them had sizable writeups on Shamu’s press intro at some European track. Again, can’t remember exactly what they had to say, but I don’t remember them writing ONE bad thing about the bike, either. And I would remember if they did, because it was a bike I was very interested in.

    I think Shamu is one of the few bikes that looks better in pictures than in person. Saw it at the IMS show and couldn’t believe how… fat it looked. Then I sat on it. I will admit that it did hide its weight under me quite well. But it completely failed to hide its girth!

    Then Honda finally released the wet weight. Done! That three digit number that nearly starts with a six was the end of any interest I had in the bike.

    Why can’t a company get smart and just make a current, non-neutered sportbike comfortable? Basically go back in time ten years (Honda F4, etc.) with riser bars on comfortable seats and generous pillion accommodations, only with the full-balls motor and electronics from a modern sportbike and without the extra 30 pounds to suggest corners were cut? Oh, and have it not cost nearly twice as much as a modern sportbike (sorry Multistrada)?

    This is running long, but:
    1.) Where did you get the bike if it wasn’t a press loaner?

    2.) It would be interesting to get someone to put some serious work into one of these fat bastards to make it handle at a track just for the masochistic challenge of it. Something like a Project Car Hell, only with a new bike. Rearsets might help with clearance issues, and a spring/valve job at both ends couldn’t hurt the handling. Not sure where the diet could come from, but I’m sure there could be some pounds to ditch, too!

  • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

    JohnnyB: it’s not like it was half a click of compression away from being brilliant. Everything was essentially maxed out and it was still squidgy as can be. How would fiddling with adjusters have corrected the lack of ground clearance, snatchy controls and bad ergonomics?

    Trent: I’m 175lbs soaking wet, which is probably one of the reasons hanging off (promise I got further off than in these embarrassing photos) had such little effect.

    A couple other points.

    I would have loved to have ridden it all day. With the way it was performing, I just didn’t feel comfortable doing so. Sorry, can’t afford to write Honda a check for $15,999.

    It was a press loaner, one we’ve been asking for access to for over a year and only now have had reluctantly granted to us.

    I don’t own an Aprilia, but I have always owned Hondas, almost exclusively. Seriously, if I have any bias in this, it’s pro Honda motorycles.

    • GeddyT

      Oh, I thought you owned an RSV4 because of an earlier story where you got a speeding ticket while riding one. Maybe that was a loaner too. Sorry.

  • Don Zielke

    Hey Wes, do you think there’s any chance that the suspension on your test VFR was defective in any way? I’m really surprised it couldn’t be made stiff enough with adjustments. If Honda gave you an early press bike, is there a chance that it had seen enough “significant attention” at the hands of other journalists that caused the suspension to have this issue?

    I had an ’87 VFR, loved it. Rode every generation VFR after that and never liked them as well as the first generation VFR. (yes I realize that technically it’s the second generation, but the first one was a VF, not a VFR…)

    • Grant Ray

      It’s totally possible the suspension was defective, but there’s no excuse for that twitchy throttle as this wasn’t an early press bike. Honda/Yamaha NY over in Queens, who handles Honda’s New York City press bikes, didn’t even get the VFR until a couple of months ago. And I’m pretty sure they got it new. Before anyone goes there, the techs at HondaNY know how to set a bike up properly. The CBR1000RR they managed for our Coney Island feature was perfect.

    • UglyDuc

      “Defective suspension” Huh? The Honda press bike w/500miles that was probably gone over a dozen times by Honda techs and then the Ohlins guy wouldn’t have “defective suspension.” That doesn’t really mean anything either. Forks and shocks either work (but need spring rate/preload/rebound/compression damping adjustments) or the seals are leaking oil and it’ll feel like a spring. From the author’s track report sounds like the bike is sprung WAY too light front and rear.

      • http://www.dashzerosystems.com Barry

        Ummm, no. Modern forks and shocks have these cool widgets inside called valves, and they can be tuned for high and low speed(and everything in between) behavior. It’s not that the suspension out of the box is defective(most likely), it’s that the designers tuned them to act in such a way that they can’t adequately control the movement of the suspension to maintain traction. Springs just hold the bike/rider up. If your seals are leaking so badly that you’ve removed the fluid from the system, then yeah, it won’t work at all under compression or rebound. That’s independent of whether the rest of the suspension “works”. You’d notice if the bike was leaking. The Ohlins guy probably wouldn’t have even let you out on the track if he was responsible for the setup/bike. Plus, front and rear were exhibiting similar behavior wrt being soft. Unlikely you’d have both fork legs and a shock all go on a demo bike that’s been prepped for review.

        As for the replied-to comment about being amazed you can’t make the suspension firm with the external adjustments, I see it all the time. My favorite recent example: on a shock dyno(yes, I have access to one), the low speed compression circuit of recent gen Triumph 675 shocks has nearly zero effect to compression force. We thought it was broken at first, but no, we have five different ones in the shop, and they all have less than 1% difference in force between all in and all out at a variety of temperatures. It’s a marketing knob as far as I can tell. Yamaha is almost as bad, but not as consistent. And the big piston forks on Kawi’s and the new GSXR’s? What a load of junk. Can’t tune in enough rebound, and you can’t tune out enough compression. The way to “fix” those seems to be to yank the internals and refit some good aftermarket stuff.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Thanks Barry, I owe you an email.

          As he says, the bike wasn’t defective, just a bad performer. You guys don’t think I’d have noticed busted seals? Come on, I’m not an incompetent.

      • Brian Zooom

        “From the author’s track report sounds like the bike is sprung WAY too light front and rear.”

        Most bikes are sprung too light, because they are set for some 140-150-ish lb. guy, and not for the standard 180-220 lb. American + gear which adds up quickly.

      • Don Zielke

        UglyDuc – Yeah, I know it was pretty implausible, just a shot in the dark. I’m just surprised that Honda would spring the bike so softly given it’s sporting past. But given it’s porkiness I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

  • Sledgecrowbar

    I’m not defending this bike, but I’m curious to see how it compares to, say, the K1300S and Concours – cross-country – with it’s soft suspension. I’m guessing that Honda decided to hide a GoldWing under that sport-tourer.

    • Brian Zooom

      that does in fact make me wonder in a head to head, how Shamu would stand up against a Goldwing, because I have seen some Goldwings do things I would not have thought they were capable of. I have seen an ’05 GW in full dress do wheelies and I commonly think of that guy “yellowwolf” that lurks or lurked around Deals Gap hauling the mail on one like it was an R6 and luring in sportbikes to play with him.

      THAT would be a helluva comparo!

  • tuts

    Siler thinks this bike is aimed at the geriatric set (anyone over 30, it seems), but I bet the marketing guys aimed it squarely at his generation – twittering, facebook users who wait in line for the next generation, high tech-toy like lemmings.

    It is high tech flash for the iPhone using, fan-boy crowd, those who will shell out exorbitant cash for the latest and greatest. Too bad all those twenty something squids with MBAs who were formerly in the financial services industry raping the economy have lost their bonuses.

  • http://www.dashzerosystems.com Barry

    Fair review, and totally matches my experience with the modern Honda suspensions. I do between 15 and 30 trackside suspension setups most weekends between March and November, and I can all but assume with any stock Honda that the rear shock will need all of the rebound, most of the preload(or all I can safely give it and advise the rider to buy the right spring for his tubby butt), and a good chunk of the compression. On the new gen CBR1000′s, the rear Showa shock is just junk. Yeah, I’m a racer, but this is just my track day bike, and the rear shock is inadequate for a 200lb rider with the right spring. I’ve got the rebound dialed all the way in at ~600 miles, and tire wear/bouncing shows that it’s completely inadequate to the job. I’ll be revalving the body… ummm… today, before heading to Eagle’s Canyon Raceway for two days of heat stroke and tire abuse.

  • UglyDuc

    true true instead of “defective” perhaps purposely designed by Honda for fat old guys that have $15k to drop on a bike that doesn’t do sport or touring well. I wonder if all VFRs are set up so mushy from the factory or did Honda give the US the 70′s Cadillac suspension settings. I did a number of track days a few years ago on a Honda F4 and even with the rebound turned all the way it couldn’t put the tire on the ground fast enough and I was getting tire wear/bouncing marks all over it. I was only in intermediate at the time.

    • Brian Zooom

      “perhaps purposely designed by Honda for fat old guys that have $15k to drop on a bike that doesn’t do sport or touring well. I wonder if all VFRs are set up so mushy from the factory or did Honda give the US the 70′s Cadillac suspension settings.”

      I suspect,based on report, it tours fine and it is probably quite plush in isolating you from the road and bumps and stuff like that, very much like a Cadillac. I just don’t think this is the right tool if you are looking for an edge pushing corner carver.

  • UglyDuc

    Sorry to geek out on this but Barry raised an interesting point – Cycle companies market their sportbike’s tune-abilty. Low/High speed compression, rebound etc. Wouldn’t it be interesting if it turns out that all those cool looking knobs and dials purposely did next to nothing as Barry noted, because motorcycle lawyers don’t mind selling you a 180mph bike but making your own REAL adjustments to the suspension now that’s just not safe! BTW this site rocks.

    • http://www.dashzerosystems.com Barry

      It’s unfair to say that the knobs don’t do anything on even a moderate cross-section of suspension components. The Triumph 675 shock is just such a terrible one, it makes a good example. The 08 CBR1000 shock is much more typical. Fine for a little while at moderate street speeds with the stock spring or lighter. Tolerable at beginner pace on the track when new, but overwhelmed with the stock valving at even a moderate intermediate pace on the track, esp. with a spring for the “real average” weight of most american riders(at least the ones I’ve dealt with).

      On the street, if you weigh 140, and just stop-light to stop-light the bike, and never really do much more than the occasional wheelie, then that stock shock is great for the usual 12-14k miles between fluid services, and would probably just have enough adjustment range externally to keep it dialed in as the seals/fluids wear in.

      You’ll notice that most “normal” bikes we see here in the States come with the same/near same Showa/Sachs setup. It’s unusual to get anything else until you go European or off-road(I mainly deal in street/track), or for the short period that Yamaha owned Ohlins, they made some special editions. And oddly enough, the components on new Yamaha’s LOOK like Ohlins components, but don’t really WORK like them any more.

      And for touring/sport-tourers, I’ve never seen ANY manufacturer even come close to hitting the sweet spot for a bike that can be ridden empty one up, or bagged out and two-up. That’s a TOUGH target to hit though. You usually end up going one way or another because you can’t have everything you want, and compromise is everything on suspension.

  • http://cbr1100xx.org Brian

    I guess I’m stuck with my Blackbird for a while. A pity Honda stopped listening to their customers, and neglected developing the XX in favour of Shamu and fancy paint.

  • Jeff_66

    I do not know who Honda figured would buy this thing. Honda is starting to get like Harley Davidson. Just because we build it you will buy it. The VFR1200 is like a Harley – overweight, overpriced and ugly.

  • pauljones

    Well, that’s pretty much explained right here:

    With that in mind, we threw Shamu in a trailer and drove out to Beaverun, in western Pennsylvania. Any bike with vaguely sporting intentions should be track-capable, right?

    If this article was about an actual touring bike, like a Goldwing, Electra Glide, Vision, Vulcan Voyager, etc., your complaint would be be reasonable.

    But like it or not, the VFR1200 is marketed as a Sport Tourer, and Honda advertising milks those power numbers for all they’re worth.

    If it’s a Sport Tourer, it should literally be as Wes described it: A slightly scaled up sport bike that is comfortable for long, long rides, and yet still capable of playing with the sport bikes. Kawasaki has it just right with the Concours: Sport Tourer is a sport bike first, and touring bike second.

  • armpucks

    I would like to see how a 6th Gen. VFR compares to this fat girl on the track or a nice canyon for that matter.

  • MTGR

    Not surprised.

    Honda has made many good bikes but many overrated ones as well. Usually they have gotten away with it because, as I have said before, all print journos are always conscious of the fact they might anger someone and cost the mag too much money to survive. It has been that way for years, especially when that player is Honda, biggests bike maker in history and known using that size to their advantage against anyone who dares post a bad review.

    Thanks for not being one of those spineless masses Wes. Good or bad, a Journo by definition should do the best they can to provide the facts.

  • shinigami

    As always I credit Wes for calling it as he sees it (whether I agree or not) but this excoriation of this particular bike makes me go “hmmm…” in light of every other available review on the subject, none of which come close to the level of criticism leveled in this one.

    Even Kent Kunitsugu had positive things to say about this bike- something lacking in his review of the previous gen. (which I am hanging on to as it’s still the best all-rounder in my garage).

  • johnnyb

    Curious Wes, how many hours did it take you to do the five laps?

    Oho! good one! cracked myself up…

  • DoctorNine

    Wow. How could Honda have gotten the setup so wrong? Really too bad, because the V4 architecture has such potential. Guess I’ll have to wait for the Motus, or see how the CB1100 feels when it shows up.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Just get a CBR600RR, that’s the real do-it-all Honda.

  • Salad Shooter

    So, after just five measly track laps you’re confident enough in your judgement to condemn this motorcycle wholesale and publicly? That’s credible journalism? What exactly are your bike testing credentials, Wes Siler?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Aaron, obviously I could never be as qualified as a prestigious Motorcyclist journalist like yourself, so why even bother?

      I absolutely stand by my assertion that the VFR doesn’t work on a track.

      As I’ve said above about three times now and as I’m sure a persistent commenter such as yourself has read, I’d have stayed out longer if the bike had anything else in it, but if it’s reaching the limits of its ability on the second warmup lap, what on earth is there left to discover?

      Look, I’m just relating my experience here, I’d love to see what other people think.

  • Mikw Deezay

    A Hayabusa out handles it? Something is wrong with you or your sample bike.

    Ive owned a Hayabusa and i currently own a VFR1200.

    VFR1200 is far superior in handling.

    • Grant Ray

      How’s the throttle response at low speeds on your VFR? I can’t stress enough how twitchy it is on our press bike. There’s absolutely no room for finesse or stable throttle management in the lower rev range.

    • Filip

      I’ve ridden both of them hard. The Busa has more ground clearance, steering is a LOT more precise and you can brake really hard into corners. With ABS on the Viffer, you can’t.

      I rode the VFR on track and I loved it, though. You do have to adjust your body position to avoid scraping them footpegs all of the time, but apart from that I immediately felt very comfortabable. Steering is lighter than expected, brakes are strong (although C-ABS would be great) and it does not wobble around the place imho (could be track related). Of course, a Desmosedici it is not, and of course it is a heavy bike. It comes with a camshaft, remember?

  • kaibosh

    It sounds like all you guys need to go buy a ZRX and put a stage III kit on it. ;)

    Nice review, by the way – exactly what we all feared. Very sad… Looks like they tried to combine an FZ1 with a Tiger and just… Failed.

  • Taylor King

    The author should attend a good race school. I’ve run my VFR1200 on the track and it handled just fine for a big girl. If anything it was too stiff. I even let my racing instructor try it out and he said the same thing… too stiff.

    I wore the chicken strips off, front and back, dragged my knee and never touched a peg down.

    Maybe the bike you tested had fucked suspension.

  • Taylor King

    Now that I think about it, your loaner probably had a blown shock or something. It’s a press bitch that Honda let actual journalists hammer on for the last 4 months.

    • Grant Ray

      Ha. Taylor, you’re so silly with you’re “actual journalists” snark and saying the author should attend a good race school.

      • shinigami

        He may indeed be silly, but what about the rest of his message?

        How can there be virtually no mention of any kind of suspension issues (and quite a few positives) in the rest of the print/blog/web world and this is the first (and apparently only) piece that’s negative about the suspension on this bike?

        (disclaimer- I have no dog in this hunt, but I do enjoy Honda products, I have a 6th gen VFR, and a CBR600RR among others. No Shamu on my personal horizon.)

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          You tell us. The bike was setup specifically for press review. It performed like a dog. What conclusion does that make you draw?

  • shinigami

    As an engineer, I would not come to a conclusion on one data point. Get thee to another Shamu, at factory settings.

  • alex

    When I look at this bike I see my 62 year old parents cruising all up and down pch with the reliability and cost of a Honda – The suspension is probably much better than a Harley especially with 130 pounds of passenger added.

    Personally I’ve heard some grumblings about VFR project bikes that sound promising. I’d love to see Durbahn’s possible take on one that’s for sure.

    • Grant Ray

      Alex, you should put them on a Goldie. Seriously, just ditch the linked breaks and that bike is all-day fun.

      Don’t knock it till you try it.

  • alex

    Maybe it’s because I already have a pretty light and plenty powerful tuned cbr 600 that I don’t feel the need to measure every bike in the same way.

  • nick

    So interesting that a critical review gets people up in arms about testing multiple bikes with multiple settings just to make sure there’s something wrong. Is there an outcry like this when other authors write a half-informed glowing review?

    You shouldn’t have to ride multiple bikes before you get it right, it should be close to begin with and then you can perfect it. That didn’t seem to be the case here.

    Besides, who would ever not buy a bike based on one critical review?

    HFL, keep your standards high!

  • Gaylord Smufiter

    another overtech overweight frickin Honda..
    The VFR for the last 6 years has been.. a has been, techical gobblegook and farkles that belong on a Russian pimps car.
    Honda as one of the premium brands HAH they build fat crap and should be should at Walmart..

  • armpucks

    Dammit, A Russian Pimp car? I used to really love my 6th Gen. before I read this. I shall sell it and buy an SV.

  • sceptical

    i doubt any suspension setup where bike has never been riden (ohlin shock guy who wants you to buy ohlins for your vfr) or a journalist who can’t set up his own ride. i’ve read “journalists” set up for the zx14 and they are all way way off. this story was slanted before it was written.

    • http://twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

      So, your theory is as follows: Wes and Grant are incompetent, Ohlins purposely screws up suspension setups at track days so they can sell products to the owners of wrecked bikes, and HFL hates Shamu. Yes?

  • Geo.

    Hey, Boy Racer. You dragged the pegs and scared yourself with the brakes…we are all duly impressed. How about a proper test next time? Asshole…

  • Hackjob

    Well Wes you knew there was an audience of haters for the VFR so you threw together a hack piece that was guaranteed to go viral on the bike boards and drive lots of traffic to your dark corner of the http://WWW... Nicely played.

    Honda should give you a new VFR to re-test but they probably won’t… because you’ve now proven that your site is a joke.

    • Grant Ray

      Hackjob, Geo, Skeptical, et al, you fellas sure did get your panties in a bunch, didn’t you? We give a poor review to the VFR and and everyone goes apeshit. Clearly, we clearly have a secret agenda, right? Pff.

      We faun all over the Goldwing, the CBR1000RR, we drool on and on about the CBR600RR, the CB1000R, the CB1100R concept, the DN-01, the RC30, the NR750, etc., but fuck it. We’re just hacks who’ve never so much as ridden a push scooter and wouldn’t know a motorcycle from a lawnmower.

      Come out of that bomb shelter, haters, take off the tin-foil hat. We’re not out to get you. We just rode a bike that we didn’t think was Jesus, and said so.

  • Alino

    It’s a great bike; suspensions only need to be customized on driver’s tastes; engine, brakes, are simply awesome. I had 70.000 perfect miles on previous Vtec, and the 1200 limits and flaws are simply less than that great bike had.
    Maybe you did not ride it enough. It’s no R6 more k1300, indeed and clearly not your bag. Honda did a great VFR. Another, VFR. Peace.

    • Grant Ray

      Alino, I’ve spent several hours on it, including two 100+ mile rides in its intended environment.

  • Mike

    sounds like your expert smart-arse stuffed up your suspension big time. Should it be dialled in with track feedback? Seems like it was a shot in the dark.

  • Richard

    I own a ’91 VFR. It was always a comment that the VFR’s suspension was too soft. I have aftermarket sus on it. I though, only having read reviews, that the VTEC had better suspension. I don’t know their rep, but MotoUSA raved at how easy it was to ride in the twisties, so I thought the sus was still good stock. Apparently not.

    This doesn’t change too much for me as at 6’2″ and over 200lbs aftermarket suspension is really the only way to go. I sat on the 1200 a while back and the pegs felt higher, and bars even lower than my VTR clip-ons on my ’91. I suspect that with proper suspension the peg dragging would greatly diminish.

    Is there a chance that the UK/Euros get stiffer suspension than us Americans, similar to cars (i.e. US Ford Focus has much softer suspension than UK/Euro Focus’)?

    Weight is one thing, but Steve Rapp chucked a similarly heavy e-bike around Laguna in 1:31. I think the only thing wrong is the suspension. I wish it wasn’t, but its been that way for a long time.

    As far as power, Rapp’s bike had only 140 hp claimed. I thought the VFR was only 145hp stock, not 176. Still, the 1200 should accelerate better.

    Ehh. My 2 cents.