- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000

Honda's VFR800 Interceptor has all the strengths that attracted me away from Japanese standards to sport bikes: agility, power and style.

But the VFR has a fourth asset that I thought I had sacrificed as part of the bargain: comfort.

You will never find this bike on the racetrack, but for slicing along your favorite back road with a minimum of fuss or for long-distance hauls at speed, it is fantastic.

The foot pegs are comfortably low, the clip-on handlebars are comfortably high and the seat is oh so comfortably wide. Even the passenger, woefully neglected by most repli-racers, gets a plush ride.

But don't let the luxuries fool you. This beast's heart is a fuel-injected, 780-cc, 90-degree V-four engine that provides usable power from 4,000 rpm and by its 12,000 rpm redline emits a sound crossbred between a two-stroke's buzz saw whine and the snarl of a four-stroke racer.

Think Gran Turismo of motorcycles.

To be fair, the bike's torque is down by today's sport-tourer standards, but with a claimed 97.4 bhp and dry weight of 463 pounds it will go from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and finish the quarter mile in 11.7 seconds.

Try that in a Mazda Miata, which takes a laborious 9 seconds to get to 60 mph and costs almost exactly twice the VFR's $9,499 price.

Despite that speed, with digital mapping metering fuel delivery to each cylinder, the bike gets about 40 miles to the gallon, and that while clicking along at 80 mph to 90 mph.

If you ever need to get into the engine, V-4s are a notorious pain, but Honda eases that a bit with a stock center stand and shim under-bucket valves, that need checking just every 16,000 miles or half a lifetime in motorcycle years.

The bike also has an idiot-proof linked braking system.

Grabbing the front brake lever squeezes two of three calipers on each of the front two 296 mm discs and one of three calipers on the rear, 265 mm disc. Pushing the back brake pedal squeezes the other two calipers on the back disc and the remaining caliper on each of the front discs.

In theory, the system lessens the chance of locking the front brake or at the other extreme more common for new riders completely forgetting the front in favor of the rear.

In practice, the front brake stops the bike quickly, and the back brake, well, is still a back brake.

Other high-tech stuff includes: using the engine as a stressed member of the frame; a single-sided swing arm for the rear wheel; injection-molded nylon passenger grab rails that won't scorch in the summer or contact freeze in the winter; and an instrument panel after which every other should be modeled.

The instrument panel is remarkably easy to read in day or night and features electronic tachometer and speedometer, and liquid crystal display (LCD) readouts for odometer, two trip meters, time, and coolant and ambient air temperatures.

Also masterful is the overall look of the bike.

Available this year in pearl yellow only, the bike steps away from the bulbous bug look other sport bikes have adopted, instead using slash vents, a valanced front fender and sleek body work to give a strong, stylish, but not too aggressive appearance.

Particularly well done is the tail section with its taillight and integral turn signals.

The bike has relatively minor faults.

First, it runs hot.

Dual, side-mounted radiators allowed Honda to shorten the wheelbase and keep the bike nimble, but it also means they are out of the direct air flow and the single fan seems only to kick on when the bike is at a standstill. That means the bike heats to 240 Fahrenheit in traffic and even at highway speeds on a hot day. The ominous blinking LCD warning of imminent overheating only flashed once during test rides (and that under pretty extreme circumstances), but the right foot gets pretty toasty.

Second, for some reason Honda decided to drop damping adjustability from its front forks, a feature it had offered on Interceptors all the way back to 1985. The problem and the test bike felt very undamped should be readily fixed by swapping to heavier fork oil, but on a bike that shows such an attention to details, it seems a shame to miss such an obvious one.

Nonetheless, the Interceptor remains a great all around bike.

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