Honda VFR750  RC36  (1994-1997)

vfr750 1994-1997
Many models reach a peak of perfection just before they go out of production. The VFR750 is an exceptional example of that. Choose any VFR and you have one of the best-developed, most reliable machines you could ask for.
Motorcycle News, December 1999. The VFR scored 90% and was rated "almost perfect". It was tested alongside models which were intended to be its rivals - Triumph's Sprint Sports and Ducati ST2. They also threw in the Suzuki RF900. The Triumph is based on components which were far from cutting edge when it was introduced in the early 90's, while the Ducati ST2 is a little more sporty (i.e. less of an all-rounder) in true Italian style. The RF900 is lamentably ugly but has a superbly powerful engine. Despite being unchanged in its 4 years, the VFR showed them all a clean pair of heels (or is that wheels?). It scored top for engine, reliability and build quality.

Overall scores:
Model Rating Comments
1997 VFR750 90% Almost perfect
1996 Triumph Sprint Sports   81% Excellent all-rounder
Suzuki RF900 86% Seriously underrated
Ducati ST2 81% A touch too sporting

It's a pity they didn't compare it to the newer Triumph Sprint ST and Ducati ST4. The Sprint Sports was a half-faired model using the old modular frame and 885cc triple engine. This was replaced in 1998 by the far better Sprint ST with its fuel-injected 955c engine and twin-spar frame, and was based on the new Daytona T595 or 955i. You can read a review of the new Sprint at Motorcycle Online. The Triumph looks like they took a VFR and stuffed a 3-cylinder engine in it - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess.

RC36 model details

1994 brought a lighter, more responsive VFR750. Honda made a swathe of alterations to breathe some new life into it. For example, The new frame weight 1.5kg less. 600g was shaved from the forks. Smaller diameter 34mm carbs save 500g. Exhaust and centrestand mods save 3.1kg. The total saving was 7.25kg. While the geometry and wheelbase remain untouched, there were a host of internal modifications to the engine. The rear wheel width shrunk from 5.5" to 5", and it gained RC30-style cartridge forks. At the launch Bike magazine said
The new carbs and re-profiled intake ports have injected fresh snap at the throttle. What was hardly a lethargic engine is now completely rampant through its upper midrange; from 7,000-10,5000rpm the VFR is frankly staggering - dominant in class, easy. It is so damn useful having a choice of 3 gears for any corner.

The new VFR is no FireBlade, but after a model life spanning eight years and 100,000 sales it is certainly sorted. On the road they combine to make the VFR behave like the old one. On the Jerez circuit it was a minor revelation, hard work but eminently flickable and barely less responsive than a GSX-R750. On the GP circuit it was about ten per cent close to the RC30 than the old one, on the roads at least 5% more adept as a potterer. The only bugger is the expected 15% price hike
It retailed at 7605, in the days before grey imports forced the UK importers to bring their prices down to realistic, non-ripoff levels. To put it in context the supposedly 'bargain bin' RF900 was still 6999, their decidedly old-tech GSX-R750 was 7790, while the FireBlade retailed at 8360.

To fill the inevitable Winter lull, Bike rode the new VFR alongside the Kawasaki ZX-9R and Suzuki RF900. The two bigger bikes certainly have considerably more power, but Bike was looking for The Best Bike In The World, and this is what they said:
I can't think of another bike that demands such miniscule nit-picking when looking to find fault. And that's because, basically, the VFR's got it all: an astonishing, distinctive engine; the best 'compromise' chassis around and the highest quality of build, finish and integrated design of any bike on the road. Its paint is so creamy it's like molten wax. Its clocks are the clearest of the three with a fuel guage and a clock. It's got a mainstand. It's got everything. So does that make the VFR the best bike on the road? Well yes, it does. Sure, the Ninja is superb: a great all-rounder with that Kawasaki edge. Sure, the RF is wonderful: a great all-rounder, fast and cheap. But the VFR, still, has that something extra, that something special and that's what makes it worth every penny.
And no-one even mentioned the Honda had 24 months warranty, against the 12 months of the other two manufacturers.

Bike magazine also covered the VFR750 when testing the then-new Ducati ST2 in 1997. The test was a four-way clash, with the BMW R1100RS and Buell Thunderbolt along for the ride. The VFR proved to be the most powerful (92bhp), the fastest (147mph) and the quickest off the line ( standing quarter-mile of 11.6secs & 117mph). While it scored only 4 stars out of a possible 5, it still had the beating of the BMW & Buell. The testers said this about it:
It scratches, it wheelies, it tours, and you feel good from the moment you first tootle up the street on it. Any worries about the chassis feeling soggy as the speed piles on are soon blitzed as the damping casually decides to control whatever antics you chuck its way. Next to the ST2 it looks dated, but it does everything well. The suspension is soft and relaxed, the engine needs revving harder than the rest, but the bike's agile, comfortable and easy to ride. It's also the best town machine. One of the highest accolades bestowed upon the VFR is that several members of the Bike office claim their fastest ever cross-country ride on one.

VFR is top of the 750s

In a test of late secondhand 750cc bikes, the VFR was pitted against Suzuki's GSX-R, the Kawasaki ZX-7 and Yamaha YZF750. Unsuprisingly, the Honda came top overall:
All it takes is an open mind. The VFR is worth the money for the engine alone... The chassis is the least racy here, but Billy Fireblade will have to be going some to lose a VFR750 on the road.

Bike magazine deputy ed and his VFR, photo by Steve Lovell-Davies "It's the only road bike you'll ever need. OK, there's only 100bhp, but it's beautifully delivered. The handling may be soft but is fine for the road. On one memorable trip down a very twisty, bumpy B-road at night jumping from the GSX-R onto the Honda was like swapping a shopping trolley for a Mercedes. The VFR went much faster, needing far less effort."

Bike magazine's deputy editor bought a 1994 VFR750 (photo left), and despite having crashed it twice, he still loves it:
"A profoundly uneventful Japanese 750, you might say. The most perfect all-round motorcycle yet made, I would reply. Bit slow for the 200mph era? I rather fear not, centurion. That honking 6,000-10,000rpm surge is far handier than a 120bhp top end. Besides, a 150mph bike that never tankslaps is a mental A-to-B weapon."
When he considered the alternatives, none were found up to the task. The only one he thought was possible was the BMW R1100GS. However, his 18,000 mile VFR is still well ahead of the game and, he claimed, worth 4,000.
Tyres: I've tried Pirelli Dragon Corsas (stable, heavy, steering, ultra grippy, ace in the wet, wear fast); Metzeler MEZ4s (hideous, especially in the rain; ditched before they wore out); Bridgestone BT56SS (characteristic 'slimy grip' feel, ultra stable, wear fast); and the current Bridgestone BT56 (my favourite - fast-warming, stable, grippy, good wear rate).

VFR in 8-hour torture session

One more testament to the VFR's complete all-round ability is the decision of the Performance Bikes staff to run a completely standard VFR750 in the Snetterton 8-hour endurance race in 1997. The race was part of the KRC Endurance Championship, so they were up against an assortment of proper race bikes of varying sizes. The modifications done to the bike were minimal: The two-man team finished 12th, out of 48 starters, after qualifying in 19th place.

Bike magazine's buying guide, in the July 2000 issue, summed it up:
Magnificently reliable, deceptively fast, astonishingly useful, Honda's VFR750 lasted 11 years before it was betrayed by its creator. Vanity, racism and overweaning stupidity are about the only excuses for not liking a VFR750. It's possibly the only motocycle every made that offers genuine satisfaction to the full range of riders, from knee-down freak to baggy old duffer.

On bumpy roads it's still one of the fastest vehicles you can ride for any money. A VFR will never tankslap.

It wears chains a little faster than an inline four due to the uneven firing intervals. Clutch life is as good as any, and even if you ride it through a salty, wet Winter it will hold up far better than most. Regreasing the suspension and steering bearings annually is recommended. Genuine pads and well-maintained brakes will help the brakes last (they are often rather soft and lack feel). Check the valve clearances. Rear shocks sag and lose their effectiveness, and watch for corroded header pipes - they're expensive and a pig to fit.
Recommended improvements are few and far between: braided steel hoses, and heavier fork oil if you ride hard and/or weigh over 95kg (15 stones).

A return to biking on a VFR750

A VFR750 proved an ideal machine for one man's return to motorcycling. Read his story.

VFR750 1994-1997
Bore & Stroke
Compression ratio
Carburettors
Front wheel
Rear wheel
Wheelbase
Rake/trail
Fuel capacity      
Colours (UK)
70 x 48.6mm
11:1
4 x 34mm VP CV type
120/70 ZR17
170/60 ZR17
1470mm
26deg/100mm
21 litres
1994: red, black, aquamarine
1995: red, black, silver

Related sites
Uncle Paul on the 1995-1998 VFR
Regulator/rectifier problem - a solution

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