Honda  VFR800  (RC46)

1998 VFR800 in Silver

Superbike magazine tested the then-new VFR800 against its immediate predecessor, the 1997 VFR750, in their March 1998 issue. They said:

The new bike has a better engine, better handling and better styling. The brakes are a matter of taste, but by my reckoning that makes it just that much better in nearly every department.
Even discounting the fact that journalists do get rather excited about new models (well, if they didn't they would have nothing to write about and we would have nothing to read), it seems that Honda did their usual trick of quietly improving their already excellent bikes, instead of making radical changes which can easily ruin a bike's character.

Its all-round ability is so complete that they pitched it into their Sportsbike of the Year competition. While it couldn't compete head-on with the likes of the Fireblade, ZX-9R and Yamaha R1 on the track, they had this to say about it:

"A standard VFR would benefit from some chassis tweaks, although the factory set-up is pretty well suited to its use as a roadbike."
Having ridden a VFR800 I have to say that the suspension is on the firm side of comfy, offering control and feedback while allowing you to sail over surface irregularities with ease. However, the linked brakes are awful, and I don't really like the angular styling, but I guess I could live with it.

MCN had this to say about the new VFR:

Honda's updated VFR800 proved it's still the world's best all-rounder with a long-distance tour and a scratching race at Cadwell Park. In a gruelling four-day test the VFR covered more than 1000 miles and went to all corners of the country. Then we taped up the headlights, wired up the sump plug and took it racing.
Performance Bikes said:
This isn't just a motorcycle we're talking about, it's a standard. A standard by which all others should be judged. The motor's strong, it's also extremely flexible. After a long day in the saddle I couldn't be arsed to change gear. It was effortless - just wind on and off, and the bike does everything else for you.

The whole bike looks and feels as if it was assembled by a Swiss watch maker. From the clocks and machined top yoke, to the beautiful single-sided swingarm, it all radiates an air of class.

50th Anniversary RS Performance VFR

In 1998 Honda unveiled Limited Editions of four models - the VFR, CBR600FW, CBR900RR-W Fireblade and VTR1000 Firestorm. The CBRs had some engine mods (hotter cams and different carbs) and came with Akrapovic full race exhaust systems. The bikes were prepared by RS Performance, who produced the Fireblade Evo (see the Fireblade page for more info). Just 50 VFR800s, retailing for £1,000 more than the standard VFR800FiW, had the following standard equipment:

One proud owner has kindly supplied some photos of his RS Performance VFR alongside the red and silver factory machine discussed below. Click the image below to see them.

Anniversary VFR

Factory Anniversary model

Anniversary VFR For 1999 Honda produced several models in special 'Anniversary' colours. The VFR was given the red & silver paintscheme which was meant to reflect the amazing 1960's racing machines (go to the classics page to see a photo of Mike Hailwood's 6-cylinder 250).

However, the impression of the chunky VFR in this colourscheme is not one that is pleasing on the eye - in my opinion it looks like a panel mismatch after a crash. The image shown here is a promotional photo taken from a Honda UK brochure. There is another photo of this model taken at the 2009 Wistanstow Classic Bike Show.

2000 model changes

Honda introduced some changes for the 2000 year model:

Bikes supplied to the European market also feature an anti-theft device, whereby the ignition can only be started with the supplied key. Any other key, even one cut the same, will not start the engine.

It appears changes were also made to the still troublesome regulator/rectifier (see link below). The following is taken from a thread on the excellent Honda VFR Club forum:

The 2000 (FiY) regulator/rectifier differs from the previous years because it has an extra wire "Voltage Sense". This voltage sense is a feedback mechanism that helps prevent the reg/rec from cooking itself. This is why you hear of 1998/99 bikes cooking the reg/rec but not the 2000 bikes.

Honda press information for the 2000 model VFR said this about it:

Extremely cold temperatures can often cause oil to thicken, mechanical friction to increase and injected fuel vapour to condense along inside walls of carburettors or fuel injector bodies. These symptoms often combine to impede cold weather starting, and make initial warm-up operation extremely rough and irregular, with frequent stalls and fitful performance until the engine reaches its optimal operating temperature.

To effectively combat this problem, the VFR’s advanced fuel injection system now features the addition of a new automatic bypass starter system that ensures smooth performance and quick starts in virtually all weather conditions. Introduced last year on the CBR1100XX Super Blackbird, this new automatic bypass starter opens new internal air passages designed into each throttle body to deliver an extra shot of air that assists starting and increases idling speeds for quicker warm-up whenev-er coolant temperatures fall below 40° C.

As the engine warms up, coolant circulates through the throttle bodies to warm the fuel for optimal combustion, and through the bypass starter to actu-ate a small piston that gradually pushes out to close the auxiliary air passages. Completely automatic, this innovative and effective system ensures quick and simple starts, shorter warm-up cycles, steadier idling and smoother performance in all operating conditions.
The graphs show that minor changes to the fuel injection system and a higher quality ECU have allowed the normally incompatible goals of increased fuel efficiency in addition to more power, particularly above 9,000rpm. PDFs of the press releases can be downloaded in PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format from the UK Honda Owners Club (go to the Gallery page).

Bore & Stroke
Compression Ratio  
Power (claimed)
Torque (claimed)
Front wheel
Rear wheel
Fuel capacity      
Colours (UK)
72 x 48mm
120/70 ZR17
180/60 ZR17
21 litres
1998: red, black
1999: red, dark blue
2000: dark green, blue, red

Note: colour information is from a magazine, and not necessarily accurate. For example, no mention is made of the VFR being available in yellow, which it was. Also, I have seen photographs of 1998 bikes in silver. For the USA only Red was available in 1998 and 1999. For 2000 they added Yellow, then back to only Red for 2001.

Bike magazine featured the VFR800 in its buyer's guide section for the July 2001 issue:

If you're over 30 and have sampled a fair number of bikes, then you'll love it. You'll realise that the difference between its 158mph and a true sports 750's 165mph means nothing on the road. You'll admire the superb build quality, the excellent finish, and above all, the way in which that RC45-derived V-four engine drives like nothing else (except possibly a Triumph Sprint). You'll love the distinctive sound it makes, and you'll grow to appreciate that you can commute on it, tour on it and go mental on it.
Other points: the stainless steel header pipes mean they don't rot like those on the VFR750, but check the side-mounted radiators for impact damage and watch for a dodgy regulator-rectifier (more info at the VFR FAQ and below). They are quite uncommon, but it does happen. Routine servicing is the only maintenance, and, like the VFR750, keep on top of annual servicing and the 16,000 mile valve check and you should have no worries. Make sure the toolkit has the special chain-adjusting tool.

H.I.S.S and keys

As mentioned above, the 2000 model VFR was fitted with Honda's anti-tamper ignition system. One fact that prospective owners may forget is that, for the bike to work, the key must be an original Honda key. A recut or duplicate key will not do the job.

If you have only one key for your VFR I suggest you hot foot down to your dealer and ask about buying a spare. It will be a lot easier to do while you have a key than if you have only a dead VFR. Also, bear in mind that H.I.S.S may not be compatible with other alarm/immobiliser systems.

VFR Regulator / Rectifier faults - more information

This one continuing weakness of the VFR750/800 is discussed in a VFR Club thread. If the above link doesn't work go to the club's search page and type in "regulator". One of the contributors provided a link to a page with photos, showing the modifications made: Stu's Reg/Rec. This describes a similar solution to one linked from the bottom of this site's RC36 page.

December 2003 update: Regulator/rectifiers manufactured by Ricks Electronics are available from They ship worldwide. These items are claimed to be better than OEM Honda parts, as well as significantly cheaper. However, those in the UK should check with Honda UK first, as I have heard that they will fit a replacement reg/rec for free as a warranty part if the bike is less than 5 years old.

VFR vs The World

For the December 2001 issue Bike magazine pitched the VFR800 against "The World". They took the best bike in a number of classes, and compared each with the VFR:
  1. The Peugeot Speedfight scooter in town
  2. Suzuki GSX-R1000 on the track
  3. The Suzuki GSX1400 retro for looks (a bit weak, this one) and
  4. A Honda Goldwing for touring
How did it rate against these more specialised, focussed machines?
  1. the VFR beat the scooter through rush-hour traffic, though it was neck-and-neck all the way.
  2. the 1000cc sports bike won, but the VFR's ability was not in doubt - they said "It doesn't offer the ultimate in performance but what it does have you can access straight away, getting up to a limit you, and the bike feel comfortable with from the first twist". Its track credentials are not doubted by three-times World Champion "Fast" Freddie Spencer - he uses VFR800s at his race school.
  3. Parked up next to the hottest retro from Suzuki the black VFR didn't get much of a look. But who cares?
  4. "If the brief for a tourer is the ability to tour on it, then the VFR fits the bill". The riders even found the VFR more comfortable over a long journey, and felt the lack of gizmos that the Gold Wing featured was no hindrance."
So the conclusion was that yes, the VFR can do everything. It is competent in just about every type of riding, and it's easy to get the best from it. Verdict: a resounding thumbs-up for the VFR.

In the January 2002 issue Bike took the VFR800 out for a run with its successor and a Triumph Sprint ST. The old bike held up particularly well, you can read about it on the page devoted to the 2002 VFR.

For VFR800 literature visit the books page.

Related links

Motorcycle Online have an in-depth review of the VFR800, where they discuss its roots and
compare it to its predecessor.
Review of 1999 VFR at 2WF
Motorcycle Daily reviews the VFR800, Jan 2001
Motocorse 98-99 used bike review (in Italiano)
Triumph Sprint ST - the VFR's nearest rival, reviewed by Motorcycle Online

wheelie pic from Superbike's Sportsbike test

Power/torque - VFR800 (black) v VFR750 (red)
power & torque curves, from Superbike mag, March 1998