Honda introduced the v-four engine in the VF models in the early 80's. It nearly died there and then, as camshaft problems caused any number of failures. However, 1986 saw major changes (including the use of gear-driven cams) and the first VFR750
Over the next 3 years the changes were minor. In 1988
they replaced the 16" front/18" rear wheels with 17" at both ends, upgraded the suspension and made minor mods to the fairing.
Then Honda decided to make substantial revisions to the already popular VFR for 1990. With the VFR750-L
they brought in the single-sided swingarm from the endurance racers - mainly a stylistic benefit - and a host of other changes. This made it a very useable alternative to the more extreme race-replica bikes in the 750cc class.
The VFR remained virtually unchanged (the mark of a good design) until 1994, when the final incarnation of the VFR was introduced. This model featured new bodywork, with the Ferrari-style fairing slats, reduced weight and better handling. This model remained unchanged until the appearance of the VFR800. The VFR750 1994~1997
appeared in 1998. It featured more aggressive styling and, most notably, a bored-out 780cc version of the World Superbike engine from the RC45. They added fuel injection and linked brakes to produce the most refined, tractable VFR yet. It is reckoned to be slightly more powerful than the previous model - VFRs have made 90-92bhp and reached 150mph since 1990. This model kicks out a little more power and torque all through the rev range. More...
For 2002 Honda thoroughly revised the VFR. While it still uses the same engine capacity, the changes add up to a new model. A clever version of their V-Tec variable induction technology, chain-driven cams and bespoke hard luggage are just a few of the alterations that have been made for the 2002-on model VFR
Race Bikes - RC30 / RC45
The VFR750R or RC30
was introduced in 1987 as a works racer with lights, and was based on the RVF750 endurance racer. It was so far ahead of the competition that it took until 1992 for it to be matched on the road - and that was by Honda's now legendary CBR900 Fireblade
. The RC30 is a limited-edition single seat model with a mildly tuned version of the engine found in the VFR750.
By 1993 it was clear that the RC30 was being eclipsed in racing (its real purpose was as a homologation model for four-stroke racing), and by the end of the year Honda announced its replacement - the RVF750 or RC45
. It featured fuel injection and a totally modified chassis, and was cause for concern at rival factories, who saw it as a four-stroke GP bike. However, it has been plagued by handling niggles throughout its racing career, often attributed to the placement of the engine. World Superbike rules (the class which it is designed for) do not allow change of engine position, so Honda continued with this model until 1999. Veteran tester Alan Cathcart rode the last World Superbike RC45 - Colin Edwards' 1999 machine, and extracts from the article and photographs have been reproduced here
2000 was the first competitive airing for Honda's VTR1000 SP-1
, a 1000cc v-twin produced to go head to head with Ducati's dominant 916
(now sold in road bike spec as 996cc). Honda worked hard on this machine - it was in development for 4 years. It won on its World Superbike debut and secured the Championship for Colin Edwards, and at the 24hr at Le Mans the elf Honda team of Costes, Charpentier and Gimbert won in its first endurance race. However, Colin has failed to find class-winning form in 2001. Race news, links and other snippets can be found on the RC51
was introduced in the same year as the RC45, but has had greater success on the track. Carl Fogarty has used it to devastating effect, winning four World Superbike titles to date - 1994,1995, 1998 and 1999. Much has been made of Ducati's cubic capacity advantage (twins are allowed a maximum of 1000cc), though engineers will concede that a 1000cc v-twin cannot make any more power than a 750cc four. The secret, one suspects, is in the hands of Ducati's designers. The road version of the 916 has long been considered the best handling bike in the world, and a glance under that red plastic will show you why. Remove the panels and you see a spindly trellis frame wrapped around the v-twin engine. The design team have obviously made this bike work as a true racer, then added on the necessary items to make it reasonably practical too.
VFR400 & RVF400
The domestic Japanese market is rather different to that of many European countries and the USA. Riders are generally restricted to 400cc machines, which has resulted in a huge market for small-capacity bikes of all types - sports, supersports, retros, cruisers... anything you care to think of. The best-selling models are sports bikes, and the best-selling sports bikes are Hondas. The styling of the Fireblade was echoed in the CBR400RR, and the unique character of the RC30 was mirrored in the VFR400. The VFR was already a popular machine, but the track success of the RC30 resulted in the appearance of the VFR400R NC30.
It was replaced in 1994 by a gorgeous miniature version of the RC45, the RVF400
The NR750, shown to the world in 1992, was a showcase - Honda's expression of some kind of 'ultimate' motorcycle. They had tried using oval pistons in their v-four 4-stroke racer (the NR500) in 1979 and failed. The oval-piston concept resurfaced in the outrageously priced NR750, which was made in very limited numbers and generally sold to the type of people who bought Ferraris to sit in the garage and paintings to sit in the vault. But there is more to the NR than the cost. Read more...
The first of the gear-driven V4 bikes, this was one big, heavy beast. It was expensive too. More information
ST1100 / STX1300 Pan-European
The Pan European is a big, faired 1100cc touring machine. It's a comfortable, refined and practical machine which allows the rider to cover many miles in comfort. It is still the machine of choice for many professional riders, and consistently comes top in magazine 'shootout' type comparisons of serious touring machines. It has been revamped for 2002. More on the ST1100 & ST1300
If you don't know what I'm talking about or just want to see some nice photos, take a quick peek at Motorcycle Online's
1998 review of Sport Tourers
- the Pan was #1, of course. It was top dog in 1996 too, when the chaps at MO declared the V4 is "the perfect touring engine"
(the 1996 review is linked from the 1998 article above).
VFR1200 - 2010 and beyond
The VFR1200 is Honda's new flagship sports-tourer, set to replace the Super Blackbird (and some say the VFR800). It showcases many new features, including semi-automatic transmission while the engine has a new 76-degree V4 engine with an extremely compact layout.
Oct 09: MCN published their impression after the test ride here
. The new VFR gets full marks, 5 stars in most departments - Engine, Ride & Handling and Quality & Reliability, while Equipment and Value get 4. Find more info on the VFR1200 page
The ultimate v-fours - 500cc GP two-strokes
One could argue that the emergence of the v-four configuration being used on a four-stroke motorcycle was partly due to the success of the 500cc v-four Grand Prix bikes. While WSB enjoys huge popularity in countries such as Great Britain and, to a lesser extent, the USA and Japan, all true race fans would acknowledge that the GP two-strokes are the pinnacle of motorcycle roadracing at the end of the 20th century.
This is why Mick Doohan is the supreme racer, having secured no less than five
consecutive world championships. I don't doubt it would have been six if it wasn't for his career-ending crash at Jerez in 1999.
Mat Oxley's authoritative book about Mick's career is highlighted on the books and videos
page. You can see what Mick has to say about the new generation of four-stroke GP bikes on his official site
, which is updated regularly, and holds lots of information.
The introduction of the GP-1 four-strokes into the Grand Prix class in 2002 has demonstrated a variety of fascinating developments in engine technology. It will be interesting to see how riders in both Grand Prix and World Superbike classes find the new machines. Honda's development of a V5 GP-1 bike (see the MotoGP
page) is a disappointment to fans of the V4 range, but the format that dominated both two- and four-stroke racing for the last 20 years is far from dead.
The ulimate v-fours revisited - 800cc MotoGP bikes
When the 500cc two-strokes were replaced by 990cc four-strokes all GP-watchers wondered what would happen. Yes, the costs rose. Yes, the power went up. And yes, eventually the organisers decided to reduce the capacity to 800cc.
In 2007 Ducati's V4 and Bridgestone tyres proved a mighty combination and young Aussie star Casey Stoner took Ducati's first title in the class. After looking fast but a bit too furious in 2006 the kids hardly put a wheel wrong all year and dominated the class. Honda had a V4 but sadly for them, and 2006 champion Nicky Hayden, it was uncompetitive for most of the season. In top level racing the V4 format is most definitely back on top!
V-Four books & videos
Probably the most informative book on the V4 - Honda's V-Force
by Julian Ryder. Read our review on the books and videos page
There is also a page about Joey Dunlop
, the greatest road racer of them all.