A LESSON IN FAILURE: HONDA VFR1200F

Back the day, there was a place called “Heritage USA”.  It was, at the time, the #3 Tourist Destination in America, behind Disney Land at #2, and Disney World at #1.  Heritage USA was a huge theme park.

It had a water park, roller coasters, and old timey street kinda like at Disney Land… It even had a magic castle.
The getaway resort had a large hotel as well… a big brown monolithic tower that still remains today.  Most everything else is long gone.  Check out this video for some more info on the place.

You can see the crumbling tower there in the back ground.   I bring Heritage USA up because they really had something going on here… But Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker screwed it up royally.  It was destroyed practically overnight.   Honda did the same thing with the VFR series.   Since the beginning of the VFR line, the bikes were potent, fun, versatile, and every one of them were good solid bikes. They might not have been the fastest or the flashiest, but each one was a damn fine bike.  And then things changed with the 2012 model year.  The red bike there is a practically new VFR 1200 F.

At first glance, the VFR 1200 F doesn’t look all that bad.   Kind of a mix of a HALO Ghost vehicle, and something from Star Trek Next Generation.  Weird and futuristic… kinda cool when looked at from a distance.  But the closer you get, the stranger it becomes.

The color is nice… and I do like the two tone design that’s going on here.    Riding it, things are different.  Lets start with the Good.  The riding position feels more Sport than the VFR’s market target Sport-Touring.  So my knees are uncomfortably cramped, but that’s fine… The suspension is solid and I have no complaints about that.  The steering is much like my old ZX-11.  It’s agile enough for a full-bore cycle, and stable in the curves.  The brakes are quite good.  So those factors are Two Thumbs Up.

Unfortunately that’s where things start to go down hill.  The weird Trapezoidal Exhaust is just kinda… Ugly.  There.  I said it.  It’s ugly.  And being polished chrome where everything else gray is a brushed or matte finish… and that big angled thing is bright freaking chrome.

The exit ports at the rear of the pipe are… Most interesting.  It doesn’t make sense.  The tone is very Honda Accord-ish.  It’s quiet and the sound is just… Meh.  Bright Chrome Meh.  In photos it’s not too bad.  In person, that weird exhaust just sticks out and you can’t not look at it.  And I don’t know what’s going on with that tail light situation.  It’s kind of… Cat’s Ass.  But that’s not the worst bit.

Look carefully at the above photo here.  What’s missing?  I’ll give you a hint… Clutch.  There’s no clutch.  There’s also no shifter down by where your Left Toes live.   Now, look at that big red switch on the right… Below that switch is a gray switch with an S, D, and N labeled on it.  That’s right.  This bike is an Automatic.
When you put the bike in “D” mode, it goes into First Gear and it’s ready for you to roll on the throttle.  The Clutch wants to fully engage rather quickly, so the bike has a bit of a lurch going on when you start.  The bike pretty much accelerates like Honda Accord and very much unlike a 1200cc sport bike.  Supposedly, this 1200 cc engine is supposed to be delivering 145 horsepower.  It doesn’t feel like it…  acceleration is just as boring.  Now, roll on passing power?  Forget it.  It’s always in the wrong gear and takes too long to downshift… it’s just totally useless.  The Manual Mode is mostly a Vague Suggestion Mode.  The whole thing is terrible.  This is a terrible motorcycle.
Really, all the FAIL stems from the Automatic Transmission.  Give this bike a regular gear box, and it would be twice the bike, instead of feeling like a fancy Scooter.  If you want a motorcycle with an Automatic – You shouldn’t be riding, unless you have some physical disability where specifically you lost your left foot and/or a couple fingers off your left hand.  Because other than that reason – Automatic Transmissions have no place on a motorcycle.  They take away from the experience of Riding.  It destroys the connection between you and the Bike and the Road.  It isolates you… insulates you… it takes you out of the loop and it’s doing the thinking for you. (And by the way, it’s always wrong)  It waters down the experience.  You might as well just drive a car.
Honda keeps persisting with this Automatic thing.  It’s an option on the Africa Twin, which is otherwise a fine bike.  Put the automatic on it, and it’s ruined.  Just like Honda ruined this bike.

13 thoughts on “A LESSON IN FAILURE: HONDA VFR1200F”

  1. Looks like the old Pacific Coast thing they built back in the 90’s? Early 2000’s maybe.
    Honda. Strange company.

    1. I have an ’89 Pacific Coast sitting in my garage. Sure it’s all ‘Robo-Cop Future’ lookin’, but this red thing with the ugly and the wtf is faaaaaar uglier and much less useful.

      1. No offense meant, it’s just the first thing I thought of when I saw that VFR. I crashed an original 750 Interceptor back in the late 80’s. I locked up the 16″ front wheel and slid about 30 yards down the road into a wall. I was just congratulating mysel on being relatively unscathed when the bike clobbered me. That was the last Honda I’ve ever ridden.

        1. No offense, but that sounds like User Error and not a fault of the bike. Blaming the bike is like blaming the sights on a pistol when you keep missing. Very Rarely is that the problem.

          1. Oh, it was definitely user error. Didn’t mean to imply that was the reason I haven’t ridden a Honda since, my writing wasn’t the clearest.

  2. Yup, you nailed it. A good bike for the disabled, like the old Honda CB Automatic.

    It’s nice that they offered one, but I wouldn’t buy it unless I managed to lose my left foot.

  3. Is the bike still a V-4? I hated what Honda did to the last generation of VFR so much that I have not looked at new ones for the last 5 years or so. V Four Racing, IIRC is what the engine designation originally was. Now a bloated poofter- mobile.

  4. Heritage USA was definitely quite the story around here, even before it blew up. It would make a great “Fallout” setting now.

  5. There is a “normal” version of this motorcycle for those who might desire to remain tied to their old riding habits. Honda’s VFR1200F “commercial problem” has to do with the fact that it did not fit any hyper-specialized category (such as the fastest, the lightest, the roomier, the …) and this kept it from finding some very specific niche. Anyone really interested to know this bike should look online for the easily available real long term evaluations of this model.

    1. Having owned and ridden most other versions of the VFR, before 2012 when Honda went all Star Trek with the VFR’s looks.. I can easily say that Honda has taken the VFR in the wrong direction.

  6. This has to be for the American market only as the Japanese wouldn’t put up with crap like this. I bought my one and only VFR400R (1997 model) when I was living in Japan and was able to import it when I returned Stateside. It was a full on race bike (the RR version had a different exhaust & carburetor/jet setup) and looked & performed nothing like the abortion featured above. I have no idea what Honda USA was thinking or smoking when they thought this would be a great bike to unleash on the riding public.

  7. The dual-clutch transmission seems like an engineering triumph. Might have future applications on an electric vehicle of some sort, but I would have to agree that ANY automatic transmission is an abject failure on a motorcycle. Though I suppose the old Honda SEMI-automatic transmissions from the CUB/PASSPORT series & mini-bikes etc, was actually a damn fine idea. If only because it forced you to do wheelies & catwalks everywhere if you wanted to ride the bike as hard as possible – no slipping & sliding on that clutch, it was always just a click-BOOM operation. Loved that – I only wish they’d made ’em bigger, something like the Aermacchi & Benelli 250cc-350cc horizontal/slant singles, or the Guzzi Nuovo-Falcone 500cc – EITHER of which would make good fodder for an embiggened “MEGADAX” project I’ve been dreaming up for some time now. I’m always yapping about it….

    (((It would be like a further evolved version of my current “KZ440LOL” project, with the 4LS drum in 3.0×16″ Borrani rims, for low-profile Maxi-Scooter spec radial tires in 110/70-16 & 140/70-16, and an all NOS belt-drive in several ratios on hand – Which is interesting if only because it turns out the BUELL BLAST also uses these very same tires as a DIY upgrade, only they’re pinched in tight onto vastly skinnier cast rims on the Blast – Can’t wait to get the “KZ440LOL” out on the road against the Blast and see whether it blows ’em away! Ha-ha. If I had my druthers, it’d be a KZ400S bottom end with kickstart only & “battery-eliminator kit” capacitor type ignition, etc etc. Of course, if I had my DRUTHERS I’d use the spare rims, or better yet some rebuilt COMSTAR wheels with some Akront “NERVI” center-flange rims I’ve dug up in the same 3.0×16″ size, just for that original Monkey/Dax flair with their bolt-up composite wheels – And of course the frame itself would be skeletonized alloy wrapped within a tree-trunk coil of spiral-wound carbon-fiber, carved to the shape of the original ST-70 DAX aka “Honda Trail 70” frame, then wrapped again for a smooth finish, ideally overlaid with little snippets of reflective mylar film cut out with a Martha Stewart “scrap-booking” craft-punch, I’m thinking autumn leaves for the base model in red or green or orange or brown or gold or all of the above, laid up under a candy lacquer, as a scaled-up version of the old Candy Metal-Flake paint you see – The same treatment on some USD fork off of some random crotch-rocket, for more of the same scaled-up Monkey/Dax vibes, a 1″ thick Harley ape-hanger bar with brazed-on cable type control perches, huge over-sized waffle grips from some sod-cutter or lawn-mower or cement shaker or floor polisher or other. An automotive sized license-plate, tail light off a ’60s era Mac dump-truck, a King-&-Queen style seat with one of those old sheep-skin covers like they used to sell for BMW’s in the ’70s – Everything like a Monkey/Dax but scaled right up. Now you might want to go with triple disc brakes in which case there are 16″ diameter ‘Boomerang’ Comstar wheels, but I’m gonna suggest the spokes from 17″ CB750A/GL1000 rear wheels cut down to a length appropriate to the new 16″ diameter rim, and maybe even use the CB750K/CB750A drum type Comstar hub on the front with a CM400/CB250N size drum on the rear. Might even be feasible to carve out TWO drums from the Comstar type hub, and bolt ’em back-to-back (maybe even welded together) with the Comstar spoke blades etc. That way you’d have a 180mm 2xSLS drum up front rather than just the single drum with a cover over the cush-drive side. ALMOST as much brake as the puny 200mm Suzuki 4LS on the “KZ440LOL” but the important thing is that bolt-up composite wheel AESTHETIC, and keeping the handlebar perches really minimalistic & simple, clean lines & all that. Maybe the bar should be some type of folding arrangement, rather than a straight up “Ape-Hanger” bar it might be more like the “rabbit” bars with the base of each tube bolted through the top yoke? I dunno – finer details, I suppose. But the POINT of the whole thing, is to have a scaled-up “ADULT-SIZE” version of the ST70 Dax, a “MEGADAX” or better yet “Honda Trail 700” with a bored & stroked Guzzi Nuovo-Falcone motor, just sufficient for light touring duty on the highway, and a chassis which could actually match the engine size.)))

    Couldn’t you see it though? A scaled-up version of those old Honda Cub-Clone motors, perhaps even going higher than the 3-speeds, perhaps even employing the same sort of clutch onto other engine configurations? Something “PURE” about the old horizontal singles though.

    Of course it’s perfectly feasible to work with the existing CUB motor design, use a big-bore kit on the 110cc version, though it’s doubtful you’d get as high as 200cc’s out of the thing. Maybe with a non-pushrod version of the V-twin modded Cub made by Alan Millyard? Difficult to visualize all that being done with the OHC version what with the cam-chain etc, but ignoring the complexity of which, it’d be feasible to build a 350cc-400cc V-twin based on the old CUB motors. Maybe instead, the “LINTO” style, as was done with the Aermacchi singles, a “Siamese twin” approach, a “parallel horizontal-slant twin” configuration. Perhaps even a V-four, combining BOTH techniques? For a 700cc-800cc version of which? YES, this is totally UNSANE – but the key being, it’d still be a CUB! Ha-ha.

    Meh – Then let’s just settle for the Chinese Cub-Clone motors in 175cc’s, for a lightweight inner-city runabout? It could STILL employ features of my “MEGADAX” project, you’d only use narrower versions of the same Maxi-Scooter tires, skinnier alloy rims for wire wheels, well there are 2.15×16″ & 2.50×16″ Boomerang Comstar rims for that matter, all suitable to do up the new CHINESE Cub-clone motors in 175cc-185cc size, though I’d have reservations as to the FRAMES – perhaps an SL70 frame could be braced up with a few more tubes? I’d rather see the whole damn things redone with ALUMINUM sheet next time.

    But yeah – a scaled-up mini-bike with that 3 speed SEMI-AUTOMATIC transmission, I believe is what I was talking about! Ha-ha.

    Sure, they were severely limited in terms of power, in terms of a stiff & stable CHASSIS yes of course. However the basic character of those bikes, it’s clear to see that while it was a “SEMI-AUTOMATIC” transmission, they were very lively & fun bikes – If the ST-70 has brought a smile to so many faces, just imagine the “MEGADAX” – Or better yet another idea I’ve had for a Laverda SFC 750 twin powered “Embiggened Honda”, an homage to the ’57 CB92 Benly Super-Sport, using a Tony Foale leading-link fork which he made for the CBX1000/CBX1050 & coincidentally the CB900F – ‘Cause I’d call this particular beast the “CB902” heh-heh. Visualize it though. You could probably keep the original frame, just wrap the sub-frame with a fiberglass shell kinda like the CB1100R bodywork rear section with it’s integral seat side-covers & rear cowl etc, only this one would fit super tight and the cowl would turn downwards with just a hint of skirted lip to the cut-down rear fender rather than the Trailer-Park-Boys hockey-sticks “SPOILER” which the CB1100R & CB1100F had – OR you could build some sort of OSSA 250 style welded alloy monocoque frame for it, if you had $$$’s to burn on such a project. It could really be one lovely looking bike, just like the CB92 itself, only scaled up. OR perhaps a CA72/CA77 Dream/SuperDream styled … wait or it … “MEGADREAM” ha-ha. The net effect would be that of a proper late-’70s early-’80s Laverda ENDURANCE-racer, with full Egli/Foale chassis etc, but the aesthetic would be pure ’60s Honda twin thanks to the “Walrus-Head” engine architecture which Laverda borrowed from Honda – Good thing they did, too – I mean Honda themselves weren’t doing anything with it – SOMEBODY had to! It would really need that Tony Foale leading-link fork though, as you couldn’t just polish the sides of a Laverda Aluminum gas-tank in the toaster-tank style and call it a day. It would require a full-on “Faux-Leading-Shoe” fake DRUM hub & everything. Not just the wire-spoke conversion of the CBX550F Comstar wheel’s “Inboard Disc” front brake, like everybody’s doing these days. I’m tinkering with a GL1500 version of which, and thinking the PC800 Pacific Coast front hub would be even more appropriate. EITHER way, a fake 4LS drum in a leading-link fork, or at the very least an USD fork under the fiberglass shroud which Paolo Tesio did for his Ducati “MS4R” project – For at least the appearance alone, of the ’60s Honda leading-link fork. The pressed sheet-metal chassis, or fiberglass shrouds rendering some “reasonable facsimile thereof” – A ’60s Honda twin with all the speed & handling of an ’80s Endurance special. What’s not to like about that? I mean, the LAVERDA aficionados would be gunning for you. Like the Benelli SEI people feel toward BOB GUYNES since he rebadged one of their bikes as a ’60s Honda CB style – imho he should’ve done it up as a SOHC-6 CBX, a “CBX750” or better yet “CBX900” so as to avoid confusion with CBX750F – It really could’ve been something, though.

    S’POSE the CB92 & CB72/CB77 & CA72/CA77 didn’t have the same SEMI-AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION as I was referring to, but I should think it still carries forward my suggestion that any & all Classic Honda models should be scaled up in one form or another, for one reason or another.

    People couldn’t just SMILE at the same basic “meet the nicest people on a Honda” type bikes, not if they were scaled up to SUPERBIKE size. No – not just smiles. I’m talking about all of the PANTIES it would remove…..

  8. I understand they’ve now done up some sort of dual-sport version of this model, using wire-spoke wheels? How is it even possible they’ve had ’em kickin around this long, and yet we haven’t seen a RETRO-FRIED CAFE-RACER version of that model? Haven’t even seen a STARBUCKS RACER made from one of ’em, yet……

Comments are closed.