2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000

Suzuki has just never really pulled me in.  Right or wrong, in my mind, they’ve always been the purveyor of low-cost, low-quality, low-inspiration-value motorcycles in the marketplace.  Yeah, I know.  The GSX-R 1000 was, for a long time, the gold standard of liter bikes. And the smaller-displacement models were (and are) no slouches. But when Spies moved on and Mladin faded away – not to mention the relentless onward march of european design and technology in the class – it’s hard not to notice that even the great Gixxer began to lose a bit of it’s luster. Besides, while Suzuki makes a great sportbike, there are many other classifications of motorcycles which apply more readily to the masses. Or at least to me.

 

Enter the 2014 V-Strom. A bike that promises to run the needle around the fun-o-meter while not skinning your checking account in the process.  Is it inspirational in the vein of the Panigale S or S1000RR?   Uhhh, no. But then it’s not meant to be.  That’s missing the point entirely.   What it is, is eminently livable, while not sacrificing the visceral joy of motorcycling at the altar of practicality.  It’s the latest revision to Suzuki’s venerable line of do-anything bikes. The big trailie. The Adventure bike. Most of the manufacturers have one in their lineup these days. And most are skewed much more toward on-pavement adventures than ad copy would have you believe. The V-Strom fits that bill.

 Strom 1

And to Suzuki’s credit, I haven’t seen them advertising the bike as anything other than what it is:  A tall, comfortable street bike. But that’s what most riders really want, anyway. Americans are discovering, in ever-greater numbers, that the joy of having the room to stretch out, a ridiculously smooth ride, the ability to haul two week’s worth of gear, power to spare, and shockingly nimble handling long ago ceased to be mutually exclusive qualities.Strom 2

 

There are a lot of well-engineered bikes in the segment, and Suzuki recognized their need to move to the next plateau in perceived quality. With this new Strom, they’ve definitely taken some steps up the mountain.

 

Pictures bely the trellis subframe and the broad tank, with wings extending up around the fork legs, and it’s easy to recognize the design influence of BMW’s GS. In the metal, though, the bike looks, to my eye, to be much more KTM-inspired than BMW, due in no small part, probably, to the cyclops appearance of the center mounted headlight.

 

The Strom – in both large and small(er) displacement, has garnered a cult-like following for it’s low cost, responsive handling, relatively light weight, and an engine which has surprising pull, and even more surprising smoothness at highway speeds. But it was looking dated, even among the homely adventure-touring set. Leaving cost out of the equation for the moment, this new bike has all of those things, but in even greater quantities, and in a decidedly modern package. Strom 3The body panels and surface finishes of this bike are modern in appearance and feel. Panel gaps are straight and tight. Even small touches, like the neatly-placed, rectangular rear brake reservoir add to the air of quality and thoughtful design.

 

The new Strom has all the love-it-or-hate-it V-twin pulse and chatter of the old bike.  I happen to really like the character of a twin, but coming from fours, it always takes a bit of settling-in for me.  The engine is based on the original twin mill of the V-Strom of past years, but is heavily revised. Slightly bored cylinders bump displacement to 1037 cc’s – enough for a hp gain of around 3, and a small gain in torque of around 1-2 lb/ft. Not huge, but the torque is available farther down the tach, resulting in a feel from behind the handlebars of much snappier off-idle performance. And this while offering a (claimed) 16% increase in fuel efficiency. Coupled with a 5.3 gallon tank, the resulting estimated 40 mpg should clear the 200 miles-per-tank barrier.  Just.

 

 

 

strom instruments

Turning the key causes the tach to do the familiar left-to-right-and-back-again sweep, followed by the small-but-tidy instrument panel coming into view. The interface is fairly simple, legible, and easy to navigate.  A weatherproof SAE plug just below the tach face is a nice touch, and well-placed.

A quick thumb of the starter and the bike jumps to life without hesitation. The exhaust note through the stock can is quiet, as mandated (along with reams of safety stickers) by busloads of lawyers, but is definitely throaty. Lower in tone than the older version of the bike, it seemed to me, but very similar – as it should be.

While not low enough for stump-pulling duties, or really even putting around in sand washes, first gear is still sufficiently low to pull solidly from the line, with little feathering of the left lever necessary. There have been not a few reports of throttle jumpiness at low revs, but I noticed no such thing. It’s a very easy bike to ride, and ride smoothly. Dump the clutch, twist and go.

 

 

Clutch lever effort wasn’t particularly light, but not unduly heavy, either.  Before that sounds like a copout, it was actually difficult to tell: The levers are flattened in the middle, yielding an unusually smooth feel. The result being a progressive and natural pull, not at all tiring.

 

Underway, I was once again smitten with the upright riding position and quick handling that defines this type of machine. Handlebars were wide, but not overly so. I found them just about perfect for long days in the saddle, while not leaving you feeling like you’ve been hugging a trash barrel in a wind tunnel for a day.

 

Windshield adjustment on the bike was quite clever: A ratcheting action allows the rider to grab the top of the shield and push it forward on the fly, to any angle among 9 detents. Push it past the last detent and it pulls back. Raising the shield up or down can be accomplished, but it’s a bit more involved – 4 screws removed and then re-installed will do the trick. The windshield seemed well suited for years of grabbing, pushing and pulling. It was thick, and didn’t flex or wobble noticeably.  While I found the combination of the wide tank and the taller shield of the Adventure version provided a good amount of wind protection, the windshield is far enough forward that I really couldn’t discern much of a difference between windshield angles.

 

Strom 4 seatPerhaps a long day in high winds would provide more insight as to whether buffeting could be solved for different-sized pilots by shoving the shield up or back a bit.  At the most rearward angle, there was no buffeting across my Shoei RF1200 on my 6’2” frame. The air wasn’t quiet, however, and I would imagine that shorter or taller stature, as well as helmet selection, might very well dictate whether or not the rider experiences turbulence.strom riders view

 

The seat is extremely firm – almost board-like – but not in the way of a superbike. There is ample padding, and a few miles in the saddle made the seat more comfortable, rather than less-so. A long tour would be required to make any real judgement, but after my ride, the seat would not be the first thing I’d change.

 

Shifts were crisp, clean and quiet.  No false neutrals, no missed shifts, just solid, Japanese refinement.  But candidly, the benevolent twin really doesn’t care much what gear you select. Just find one close. Acceleration is very linear with throttle input. No surges or flat spots were immediately noticeable. While not God’s Hammer, the bike really does feel quite sporting when the loud handle is twisted in anger. And a feature I had forgotten about until I stomped a couple of gears down to slow for a quick light? A slipper clutch. A nice feature on a bike with a lot of suspension to contend with – and especially nice on a big-jugged twin.

 

There were no knee-dragging hijinks to be seen on my ride:  The dealer had fitted a pair of Continental TKC-80’s to the bike, and while they upped the badass quotient considerably, aren’t the choice of pavement aficionados…not that I was planning any mid-city bravado, anyway.   They stuck well enough, though, that some vibration at low speeds was the only real indicator they were even there.

 

Although there is plenty of acceleration available, this isn’t a bike that begs to be wrung-out.  The spirit of the V-Strom isn’t found in mad Strom back view thompsonsdashes to the next turn, throwing it onto your knee, and powering out on the back wheel. I’m sure it’s capable of doing just that with a willing rider. The real beauty, though, as is the case with most of the ADV genre, comes in relaxing into the office-chair riding position, enjoying the view from the high, broad saddle, and riding the torque wave at lower revs.

 

The Adventure model, which I rode, has identical specs to the base model, save for a few add-ons, like a taller windshield. I would’ve liked to have seen Suzuki put a larger tank on one model or the other, but it’s really a convenience (laziness) issue, rather than a deal breaker. Both the standard bike and the Adventure variant are under 13 grand, so while it would be nice to have it all, you’re already paying for hamburger and eating steak, here.

 

 

Strom front viewAdventure bikes – or more aptly – tall tourers, are taking the US by Strom storm at the moment. Suzuki has upped the substance of their entry into the fray to a formidable level. The price point at which they’ve chosen to do so makes the 2014 V-Strom a very, very dangerous bike to the competition.

 

 

It’s important for me to mention Thompson’s Motorsports in Terre Haute, IN.  And in particular, Scott Westfall, the sales manager.  He was fantastically helpful and amenable to setting up this bike for my evaluation. And not only this one.  They sent me out aboard other motorcycles, which you’ll see in future reviews.  I have zero affiliation with this dealership (other than having purchased my VFR1200 there), nor did they ask for, or have an opinion in, my review.   But I can say unequivocally that I would not (and will not) hesitate to make bike purchases at this dealer.  The staff rides, and is passionate about motorcycles.  They are honest about what they like – and don’t – about specific bikes.  And they’re knowledgable about their offerings.  That should be a given, but anyone who has frequented as many bike shops as I have, knows that in today’s world, it is anything but.

 

 www.thompsonsmotorsports.com

 

2014 Yamaha FJR1300

fjr left side in front of shopThere are a few motorcycles which will be ascribed, for varying reasons, exalted status in the annals of time. Triumph’s original Bonneville, the Honda CB 750 four and Ducati’s 996 are three that spring to mind as having secured their places in the book. And despite the eye-rolling and muttered comments of angry disbelief that may follow, I submit the first-generation Yamaha FJR 1300 belongs in similar company.

 

Not for aesthetic reasons. The FJR still looks relevant after only minor cosmetic changes over 13 years, but there wasn’t ever anything earth-shattering about the design from the beginning. Instead, the FJR is a classic because it set the original baseline for sport tourers. The simple genius of the package as a whole is borne out by the fact that it still competes well today, essentially unchanged from the original. Note: I didn’t say Yamaha invented sport-touring. BMW’s K100, the original Kawasaki Concours, and the Honda ST1100 are archetypal ST mounts, with avid followers still today. But when the FJR arrived on the scene, it single-handedly changed what we expected from bikes in the genre: Stupid fast, good protection from the elements, quiet, comfortable, decent fuel range, and reliable as a granite dinner plate.

 

All of those descriptors still apply to the newest version. The competition, though, has increased the size of the pond. And muddied it, too. Adventure bikes threaten to – some say have – become the new sport-tourer, with bikes like the Ducati Multistrada blurring the lines even further by being entirely street-focused.

 

That isn’t to say the FJR has been left behind, or remains completely unchanged.  With the exception of 2006, when a broad slate of changes were carried out, revisions have been mostly limited to the occasional minor cosmetic update, and a tweak here and there to increase heat dissipation and decrease vibration. 2013 marked only the second, and arguably most significant, list of significant changes to the FJR since it’s inception. Far from a clean-slate rework of the bike, the 2013 iteration was really a large-scale refinement of the platform.

 

The electronics package now includes rider-selectable throttle control, traction control, electronic cruise control, and a new LCD dash with a clear and intuitive rider interface. Aluminum cylinder bores, new piston rings, and a revamped ignition system conspire to increase output by 3 hp, to a claimed 144 at the crank. The fairings have been bent and twisted a bit to further assist wind management and dispel engine heat. The windshield is taller and wider. The 6.6 gallon tank and very respectable fuel economy in the high 30’s to low-40’s should give the bike a range close to the 250 mile mark.  I rode the 2014 model, which aside from a coat of Candy Red paint and optional electronic suspension with upside-down forks (not included on the bike I tested), the FJR is unchanged from last year.FJR left 3:4 rear

 

Astride the big Yamaha at a standstill, I’m reminded of one thing that has always stood out to me about these bikes: the FJR’s fit and finish plays second chair to no other motorcycle. There aren’t any creaks from body panels, sloppy fasteners or poorly hidden wires. Compact and solid, it’s as if the bike was carved from a solid piece of metal.

 

Starting the bike produces the subdued whisper and thrum familiar to pilots of all versions of the FJR. As the new dash comes to life, it’s apparent that Yamaha’s engineers have put real thought into the instrumentation. It is at once both information-rich and clean. Tidy and concise, yet totally legible, even in bright sunlight. FJR instruments:key (not close)Normally loathe to make sweeping judgments, I’ll admit the new FJR dash might be my favorite in all of motorcycling.

 

Clutch effort is beautifully light, and a satisfying snick into first gear generates the most noise the gearbox ever made during my ride – which is to say, virtually none. It’s precise and quiet, just as you’d expect. The FJR is known for it’s linear power curve, and it’s even flatter still for the new bike. Big torque is available from any RPM, making it feel for all the world like you’re aboard an electric-powered locomotive. It isn’t blindingly fast, but then a test ride on the ZX-14, and many miles aboard BMW’s K1300S and the Honda VFR1200 have skewed my perception a bit. It’s plenty quick, and no sane rider will ever find it lacking in power.

 

Low-speed steering is just slightly on the stiff side, but for a bike this size, it’s very stable and predictable. The electrically-controlled windshield is reshaped with a vent at the base, reducing the vacuum effect in the cockpit. fjr front closeupI found the air at the lowest setting to be clean, with no buffeting. In the highest position, things got much noisier, but I still didn’t experience any turbulence.

 

The suspension felt very planted in the turns, but if I were getting ready to buy, I’d want to try the ES version before making the final decision. This is a big, heavy bike, and mid corner bumps let you feel the weight a bit, producing a slight springy wallow in the chassis. For covering distance, the FJR is extremely comfortable. Expansion joints and rough pavement are all subdued by the suspension and mass, producing a supremely smooth ride. Taller riders may wish for a bit more legroom, but the ergonomics were just about perfect for my (nearly) 6’2” frame.

 

Toggling between the touring (T) and sport (S) settings on the throttle control menu gives the impression of two very different bikes. Touring mode clips throttle response considerably, resulting in almost sluggish acceleration. The throttle on the FJR at full power is already very manageable and easy to modulate, so it’s unlikely most riders will often choose ’T’, unless they find themselves in very slick or unpredictable conditions.

 

The brakes are excellent, and the ABS was totally transparent, though feel was somewhat wooden on hard stops. That can probably be attributed to the bike being brand spanking new. Once the pads bed in a bit, I would expect feel to improve.fjr instruments:left controls left side

 

fjr right bagLuggage is the same size and shape of former years. Decently-sized, but too small for full-face helmets. The bags detach and reattach in seconds, but the red finish is so smooth and reflective I’d most likely not risk the inevitable scratches and dings, and leave them on the bike at the hotel, choosing instead to pack everything in liner bags. The luggage is mounted low, so no worries of hitting boots on the bags during mounts and dismounts: a common complaint on the Kawasaki Concours 14.

 

The seat itself felt great for about 10 miles. After that, I could already feel myself sinking through the padding. For a larger rider, it’s doubtful that one of my favorite stopgap fixes – the Airhawk pad – would be sufficient. I’d be saddle shopping right after I signed the purchase contract.

 

A lot has changed in 13 years. From a comfort, technology, power and handling standpoint, there is now a dizzying number of choices. The Concours 14 is probably the FJR’s most direct competition. But though it’s of similar intent, it’s also of a completely different feel.  BMW’s R1200RT provides better wind protection, a bit more legroom, and quicker turn-in.  The K1600GT is more powerful, more comfortable to some, and bristles with more technology than the student dorms at MIT.  But it costs 6-8 grand more.  Bikes like the Multistrada, the BMW GS, and Yamaha’s own Super Tenere are all much more spacious and have bolt-upright seating, while providing nearly the same – and in the case of the Multistrada, even more – performance.

 

But if smoothness is at all a virtue you prize, if a decade-and-a-third track record dotted with virtually no major engine issues sets your mind at ease, the FJR is worth a long, hard look.  Let’s face it. We can talk about the latest technology and read stat sheets until the numbers blur, but choosing a bike, at the end of the day, is about how it makes you feel.  And at 16 grand or so for a bike with enough technology, speed, comfort and handling to get licenses revoked and break the bank in fuel and tire expenses, one needs to ask: How much do we really need?fjr full right closeup trees in back

 

I live a long way from any real curves, so long-distance riding is almost a necessity for me.  I’m a fan of adventure bikes.  Heck I’m a fan of just about anything on two wheels.  But everything is a compromise.  If dirt roads aren’t something that calls you off the pavement, I’ve found that a little better wind protection and a quiet, smooth engine offset the gains in legroom from the taller ADV rigs for the highway droning that punctuates my riding. For that, the FJR is hard to fault.  And at 16 grand, with a dealer network sprawling to just about every corner of the world, the Yamaha FJR can still stand proud, even against an international coalition of some pretty salty bikes.FJR right fairing closeup

The 2014 FJR1300 was provided for this review courtesy of Thompson’s Motorsports in Terre Haute, IN.   I have no affiliation with the dealer, nor do they pay for advertising or suggest reviews. They’re just an exceptionally helpful local dealer with a sales manager who lives and breathes motorcycles.  My thanks…

 

www.thompsonsmotorsports.com

 

2010 VFR1200

 

This is a review based on my thoughts from a bit under two years ago, just after a test ride on a 2010 VFR.  The original draft circulated among a few discussion boards on the web, under the title “60+ miles on the VFR1200”.  It has been revised and cleaned up a bit since then, in anticipation of publishing it on my own web page.  It was never originally meant to be more than a quick summary of the bike for internet discussion, so some of the photos of the bike are more recent, replacing the more hastily-snapped smartphone shots.  I felt then that the VFR1200 was an ironic victim of Honda’s own marketing missteps – a beautifully written bike, devoid of any readers.  Designed for the way Americans in general do not ride, and marketed as a game-changer to a crowd that was never really watching the game in the first place.  “Honda has lost the plot”.   “What’s the point?”.   “An answer to a question nobody was asking”.  These were common remarks that met the VFR1200 upon introduction.  

Instantly tattooed as being too fat and heavy for the sport bike crowd, too cramped and sporty for the touring set, and too ugly for them all by a hungry public expecting a lithe, nimble, light and more powerful VFR1000, it left a multitude of fans of earlier VFR’s feeling forgotten.  But the tragedy among the ashes is that the VFR1200 is a brilliant motorcycle.  After the review was written, I went on to purchase the bike, which I still own.  After 18000 miles aboard the big Honda, my feelings are still very much the same as they were after the test ride.

 

 

 

vfr front right 3:4 closeHaving recently, against my better judgement, kicked a gorgeous German stalwart out of my garage, sadly in exchange for nothing but cold, lifeless cash, I’ve found myself bikeless for the first time in more than 20 years.  My BMW K1300S was to be a keeper, but unforeseen family expenses are more important, even for a fanatic like me.  While I miss the K bike, I’m not one to dally too long in the past.  There are bikes to be ridden, if not owned.  In an attempt to use my days as a single man (bike-wise) wisely, I thought I’d fill the void by having a go aboard a few bikes that had piqued my curiosity.

In that spirit, I stopped by my local dealer to peruse the inventory, as I do on a regular basis, and saw a VFR1200F on the floor.  Having never so much as sat on one before, I ambled over for a look. It was a 2010, bought new on a whim by the previous owner, as a change of pace from a long string of cruisers.  He put 2801 miles on it, and traded it back in on another cruiser;  A short-lived and expensive exercise in futility.  You probably haven’t been riding long if you haven’t experienced the same thing in pursuit of the “One”.

vfr rear right 3:4 parking lotMy impression was much different than I thought it might be. Photos, and passing glances at the very few new VFR’s I’ve ever seen in the wild did nothing for me, but I should probably just get it out of the way now: I’ve had a history of being a European bike snob.  As a sometime reviewer of bikes, I’m usually adept at suppressing my biases in the interest of objectivity.  But we all have them, and mine are toward the unusual. Not because I want to be seen on any certain bike – 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 at Italian exhausts and the precisely engineered subtleties in shift levers- the quirks that provide ‘character’ in one form or another.  The little things that make a bike, well, sort of…not Japanese.

But the silver lining of not owning a bike – for me, anyway – is that there are, as of now, no lingering looks back.  My lens is still colored 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.  I’ve tried my best to call this one as I saw it.

 

 

vfr black panel closeupBuild 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. The red has a heavy metal flake, which is really beautiful in the sun, and understated depth indoors and in the shade.

I’ve never been much for the styling of the VFR’s I’ve seen in pictures.  Actually that’s probably a soft description of my feelings. I hated the styling of this bike initially. 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.  Sales-to-date indicate I share that feeling with the majority of American riders. That’s one reason this thing is rare on the road, and why used examples like this sit in dealer showrooms for 10 months.

But I’ll have to admit, it was MUCH better looking in person. I’m still a bit stylistically-offended by 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.

vfr riders view (best)Ergos are eerily similar to the K1300S, which are in turn quite close to the VFR800. 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 is very close; the shape of the Honda clip-ons are angled just a hair more inward, and maybe a few millimeters higher, but overall width of the bars is roughly the same.

The legroom had me puzzled a bit. It felt very much the same as the K/S 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.

 

 

vfr right side low to ground on roadThe 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 were 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 a front-weighted profile, while keeping the single-sided swingarm in full view. Instead, 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 of the K1300S – and a bit 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 the engine sounds much like a Boxer at idle: in cadence, if not in exact tone.

Underway, the vibes are still there, but heavily muted, and not noticeable at all above 3000 RPM.  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 – an awareness of a big engine down there – than a tingly, high-frequency annoyance.

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

Steering is light. The bike has a bit steeper rake than the K, and felt it. Power is 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 are unleashed. Fantastically fast, and probably very similar to the K on paper. But I never felt the ‘hand-of-God’, face-melting surge of the BMW to which I’ve become so accustomed. This probably says more about a flat torque curve and a smooth feel than any real differences. Looking at the speedo, the numbers seemed to climb just as quickly, but the overall feeling was a bit more subdued.

Over typical highways, sweepers, and city riding, handling is superb. The bike felt much lighter than it is, and the input required to initiate a turn was very slight.  Make no mistake, on tight curves, carrying much speed on this bike would be work:  It’s no CBR1000.  Transitions from one tight curve to another required some conscious effort.  Mid-turn bumps didn’t seem to upset the chassis much, and the bike stayed on line.  Overall, the steering felt more airy than the K1300S. Stability is 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, no doubt due to the tighter geometry and the lack of a steering damper, which comes standard on the K/S. But the differences in stability were very, very slight.

Much was published about first and second-gear fueling problems on the ’10’s and ’11’s that vfr esteswere rectified in the 2012 VFR. I felt no such thing in first, but second gear has 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 gas caused a big jump in power delivery.  It can be managed with gear selection on a bike with this much power, but the method took some experimentation to find, and some forethought to execute. Staying in third under engine braking, shifting into second – simultaneously adding a bit of throttle – results in relatively smooth transitions. The revs need to match the gears on this bike 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, and I aimed for as many as I could. The bike wasn’t upset by the roughness, but it felt more firm than a K with the electronic suspension 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 planted as the K, without going to the aftermarket, is a question I’ll have to leave unanswered for another day.

View from the mirrors is adequate. If you happen to have experience on the BMW K12 or 13, and have become familiar with a certain part of your shoulder in the mirror, you’ll see that same part of your shoulder on the VFR. There is 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 it is there.

Braking was fantastic. Excellent feel from the front, and very progressive. I tested the ABS intentionally a couple of times, and it is very smooth. Like the K/S, there was more of a ‘sound’ than a ‘feel’ upon activation.

 

 

vfr shaft driveShifting 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.  (EDIT:  After 18000 miles on the bike, the shaft drive still works superbly, with no noticeable lash in the driveline.  At parking lot speeds, it clunks like a hammer in a steel bucket.   All riders I’ve spoken with say the same.  It’s apparently nothing to worry about, but it’s noticeable).

 

 

The seat was wide in the seating area, and waspy-thin at the tank junction. I didn’t hang off onvfr seat closeup the test ride, but doing so wouldn’t be inhibited by the seat.  And it is very flat.  Wooden plank flat.  And the foam was hard. At only 60 miles ridden on the test ride, 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.  (EDIT:  the seat, long-term, is slick and uncomfortable.  Solved with an Airhawk cushion).

Wind management was really, really good for the type. Here’s where I address that front-end I mentioned earlier…

 

 

vfr windshield closeupThe 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 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. But it begins to make some sense, too. Honda did extensive aerodynamic design on this bike, and it’s apparent. 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 print reviews of the bike, (but not looking closely-enough) I was 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 didn’t expect to be impressed by this bike. With many pardons begged of any long-term Honda fans, Hondas, to me, are the Toyota Camrys of motorcycling.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  But with the perfect, automotive-like paint and finish, and the jetson’s-like, futuristic styling of the bike, anyone could be excused for feeling the same about this Honda. The styling isn’t for everybody. In fact, to the chagrin of Honda, so far it’s seemingly for hardly anybody.

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, though 60 miles are nowhere near enough to expose livability 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, but 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 preferred 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 weren’t available in 2010 (although TC was standard in ’12 and ’13).  Because so much technology went in to the development of this motorcycle, it’s hard to call it ‘spartan’.  But in rider-interface electronics and options, compared 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 (yet), but I was sorely tempted. Which is saying a vfr all modslot.  I was no more a fan of the styling of the VFR12 than I am of kidney stones. 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 owners when the light-yet-powerful new world-beater never materialized….along with 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 Adventure bikes.  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 face – and the fact that it’s a Honda. Some of us still aren’t ready to be one of the “nicest people”.

 

Motorcyclefoolery