Honda VFR 750 – review and opinion – The best bike ever made

1 Feb 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Honda VFR 750 – review and opinion – The best bike ever made
Honda VFR 750 F

The best bike ever made

How did Honda do it? Back in 1986 when the VFR750 was first introduced Honda was on the slippery slope to motorcycle oblivion.

They had proved to one and all that they couldn’t make a reliable V4 engine. The early eighties V4 engined models, the VF500 and VF750, both blew up if ridden hard, and wore cam chains out at an alarming rate regardless Honda’s in line four cylinder bikes were failing in comparison to faster rivals from Suzuki, and more reliable bikes from Kawasaki. The smaller bikes in the range were dying a death too, Yamaha and new Italian manufacturers taking over Honda’s bread and butter market with aplomb.

In short the big H’s motorcycle arm was in big trouble.

Then along came the VFR 750 and everything changed. The first models were C registered 86 bikes, and featured a more powerful 100hp engine, 16 front wheel, the camchain faults fixed through expensive gear driven cams, a nice looking four into two exhaust, and powerful (for the time) twin pot disc brakes all round.

The first time I ever saw one was on BBC TV, in fact the old Grandstand sports program on a Saturday afternoon. Racing legend Ron Haslam was taking part in the old Europe vs. America challenge race series called the Transatlantic Challenge, and his race bike had gone AWOL.

The legend has it that Honda unpacked a brand new (dark blue) VFR 750 for him to ride in the race. You could easily spot it on TV, no bright paint job, not even any stickers. He hadn’t qualified, and as a consequence he started from the back of the grid.

Against full race machinery this standard road bike starting from the back should have had absolutely no chance, no more than someone driving a Ford Mondeo at the back of a Formula 1 car race.

In this fairy tale sadly Ron didn’t come from the back and win, but his standard road bike passed all but three bikes in the race, and was gaining on them at the end. It was unbelievable riding talent, but everyone knew right then that the VFR750 was a serious machine. For Rocket Ron to beat the best riders of the day was amazing, to do it on a road bike straight from the crate was unbelievable.

The queues at Honda dealers started on the Monday after the race, and Honda are effectively still selling the bike now nearly 20 years later in modified 800cc form.

So what made it so good?

Simply put, Honda bet the house on it. They massively over engineered every component at huge expense, gambling that one great motorcycle would rescue the company’s

Pictures of Honda VFR 750

An old nail – more miles than starship enterprise

failing image. For example, the engine is very expensive to produce, the gear driven cams cost many times what a simple chain driven equivalent would to manufacture, it is the only production bike that uses them as a result. The same logic was applied to frame and chassis. The beam alloy frame on the first FG 86 models looks like a work of art and compared to the tubular steel efforts from rivals at the time was lighter, more rigid, and much nicer to look at.

The alloy welds are perfect. A hydraulic clutch was fitted, smoother compared to cables on rival machines. This over engineering exercise meant that the development costs of the VFR were huge, and in order to recover some of the investment the VFR had to be expensive in comparison to its peers of the time.

The gamble worked though, enormous numbers of the VFR sold worldwide in 1986. The sales success was so strong that Honda did not modify the bike at all for the FH 87 model year, the first modifications coming in 1988 when 17 wheels front and rear were brought in, along with updated colours (red, white, or black) and some minor changes to the plastics. Again this model sold for two years, the first major revamp taking place in 1990.

The early VFR was so successful that Honda themselevs made a copy! The NSR125 mimicked the styling and colour schemes of the original VFRs so that aspiring learners restricted to 125cc could get in on the VFR act.

During 1988 the VFR became the basis for the most successful race bike of all time, the VFR750R, internally designated the RC30. Based closely on the VFR’s engine, the RC30 was an out and out race bike that was road legal for homologation purposes. On a fast uncrowded road the RC30 is simply magical, on a crowded one it’s hellish. It is geared for a somewhat ridiculous 94mph at the redline in 1st gear.

Standard RC30s fetch a mint and are collector’s items, most went straight to the race track, where they won every major production race bike series for the next three years, including Fred Merkel winning the inaugural World Superbike series.

In 1990 the VFR got a major facelift, a single sided swing arm was added, the engine was revised in line with knowledge gained from the RC30 (firing order was now 360 degrees instead of 180), and the bikes was made larger and heavier. This model (the FL in 1990) continued with mainly cosmetic changes until the end of model life at the FV model in 1997. Cosmetic changes in this time almost always added to the weight, without adding extra horsepower.

The FV model with twin headlights is probably the best looking of the VFRs, its style is still current even now 9 years later.

Some (me included) say the VFR lost its way a little in 1990, and that the best models to own were the full powered light weight FJ (1988) and FK (1989) models with the 17 wheels and close to the original body styling.

The FJ and FK are identical in every discernible way, so are effectively the same motorcycle. They have a claimed 105bhp output compared to the FV model’s claimed 97.5bhp. Combined with a dry weight of 440lbs this delivers a power to weight ratio of 525bhp per tonne, pretty impressive even now. The FJ and FK models are also the cheapest to run, they manage the best fuel economy at around 45mpg, and have the lowest service costs too.

The smallish but grippy tyres also help to keep costs in the real world. Having tried most brands on a VFR at some point I would recommend Michelin Macadam radials, the standard sizes are 110 front and 140 rear. The rear can be taken up to 150 without any hassle; these are easier to find in current tyre ranges. I used to manage around 8,000 miles for a rear and 10,000 miles for a front on Michelins.

Bridgestone now get rave reviews in comparison, but I haven’t tried them on a VFR yet.


Top speed is around 150mph from FJ / FK, and about 145 mph from later bikes. Rapid and torquey acceleration from the V4 engine makes overtaking not something to worry about. The VFR is not up with current sports bikes in terms of out and out performance, but if the VFR is ridden well it should be at least able to keep up with tackle 15 years younger.

This can be great fun. if a little disturbing for the rider on the newer machine. The VFRs are not in Yamaha R1 territory on a track though, but A-B on real world roads are probably quicker.

The engine has a flat torque curve up to 8000 revs, at which point it remembers its a multi and takes off like scalded cat. This split personality can make progress very rapid, or very relaxed depending on your mood, a perfect compromise between fast and friendly.


Relaxed rather than razor, but secure even in the wet nonetheless. The VFR is soft enough for comfort but hard enough for spirited riding when the mood takes you. Again it strikes a perfect balance between the two opposing requirements.

What goes wrong?

Honda VFR 750 F
Honda VFR 750 F

Not much is the answer to this one. The VFRs tend to fail more due to abuse that reliability. Falling off is expensive as the plastic breaks, and cheapskates tend not to get the bikes properly repaired. Mechanically as long as there is oil and water in the engine the VFR will keep going.

I know of several older models that have passed 200,000 miles without major failures.

The exhaust collector box is a weak spot through rust, as are the downpipes which also rot. The electric fuel pump occasionally fails and is expensive to replace, and I have heard of CDI unit and alternator failure but this is very rare. The last common fault is the discs which are prone to warping when worn. Pattern discs are available but wear much quicker than the standard ones, and will warp much more easily as a consequence.

And that’s it. the VFR is exceptionally reliable if well maintained.

Buying one

Lots about, ranging from real nails (I’ve got one in the garage if anyone’s interested!) to minters that have done less than 10,000 miles and have been kept in a heated garage. A reasonable FH-FK model should cost around Ј600-1000 and FL/FM a little more at between Ј1400 and Ј1700. Later models can still fetch up to Ј4k at a dealer, and absolute mint low mileage examples can still fetch even more.

The best option for me would be to find a very good condition 1989 FK model at around Ј1000-Ј1200. These bikes simply do not depreciate at all, keep it tidy and it will be worth what you paid for it or more in five years time! Try that with a Mondeo!


Maintenance is easy, 10W40 oil, cartridge oil filter, air filter under the tank, check the coolant levels, and once every 20,000 miles take it to a dealer to have the valve clearances done and the carburettors balanced.

Technical Data

Sorry, do a web search. Technical data can be found everywhere and I don’t see what’s to be gained apart from the items included above. If the bore and stroke makes a difference to you then you’re from a different mould to me.


Simply the best road bike ever made. If you haven’t had one yet, go and buy one now. You’ll love it.

Post Script

Just bought another one off ebay. I paid Ј750 for it (a pound a cc). It’s a red FK model and came with a new honda exhaust!

The bike’s in ok condition, but seems to have a fuelling fault that makes it run unevenly. I guess I’m just addicted to these bikes. the intention is to sort it out to do a European truip sometime in the summer.

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Honda VFR 750 F
Honda VFR 750 F
Honda VFR 750 F
Honda VFR 750 F

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