Recently, I acquired a 2014 Honda VFR800F. I saw it in red, thought “buy me! buy me!” and suddenly I was handing over money.
When I spoke to a sales rep about the most recent Honda VFR800 (a black one that I didn’t buy), he called it an “8th gen”. An 8th gen?? What were the other gens? I was really curious because the VFR800 has been produced since 1998, but I couldn’t remember that many changes.
I learned a few interesting things, including
- The VFR generations started with the VFR750 quite a long time ago, and the 1st gen is actually a VF and is almost unobtainable
- Some of the VFR generations were short, and some were very long (like 5th gen)
- There were breaks between some generations when Honda went back to the drawing board
And more things.
Here they are — all the Honda VFR generations and model timeline.
General disclaimer — Honda didn’t name these generations — fans did. There’s dispute about some of them, like whether the VFR1200 belongs in the timeline. I accept that there are disputes, but I’m trying to present here a generally accepted timeline that I see referred to in forums like VFRWorld, and so on. I’ve really tried to research this, but if you disagree, I’m a willing student.
Despite that disclaimer, and despite forum controversy like “is the 7th gen really part of the same series?” people still generally call the 5th gen a 5th gen and an 8th gen an 8th gen, even though there’s disagreement about what goes before and between them.
Are you obsessed with motorcycles?
Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)
Honda VFR generations and model history in a nutshell
Here’s a table outlining all the Honda VFR generations, from the Gen 1 to the Gen 8. (See my disclaimer above — I welcome being educated further on this.)
Things they all have in common — all models have liquid-cooled DOHC V4 four-stroke engines, pushing through a wet clutch and chain drive.
Another thing all VFRs have in common is the power. With the exception of the Gen 7 VFR which some say isn’t part of the same series, since the 90s they have all produced around 75 kW or 100 hp. This is in that “neither crazy fast nor boringly slow” sweet spot that pleases a lot of riders.
|Generation||Gen 1*||Gen 2*||Gen 3||Gen 4||Gen 5||Gen 6||Gen 7||Gen 8|
|Model name||VF750F Interceptor||VFR750F||VFR750F||VFR750F||VFR800Fi Interceptor||VFR800 VTEC||VFR1200F||VFR800F, VFR800D|
|Model code||RC15||RC24, RC26||RC36||RC36-2||RC46||RC46||VFR1200F||RC79|
|Core features/ changes||Race bike.||Gear-driven cams|
More relaxed riding position
|* More sport-touring (alongside Hurricane sport bikes)|
* Showa Cartridge forks
* Single-sided swingarm
* Larger tyres
|* Final 750cc|
* Final carburettors
* Improved braking
8 Adjustable rear shock
|* Fuel injection (PGM-FI)|
* Last with gear-driven cams
* Linked braking
* Chain driven cams
* Optional combined ABS
|* Much bigger 1200 engine|
* Optional DCT (auto)
* Shaft drive
* Comfortable position
|* Traction control|
* Digital display with tach, gear, fuel consumption
* Deluxe model with ABS, traction control, self-cancelling turn signals, and heated grips
|Engine||748cc||748cc, 698CC (RC26)||748cc||748cc||781cc||781cc||1,237cc||782cc 90-degree V4|
|Max power||64 kW (86 hp)||82 kW (103 hp)||75 kW (~102 hp)||75 kW (100 hp)||81 kW (108 hp)||80 kW (107 hp) @ 10,500 rpm||127 kW (170 hp) @ 10,000 rpm||78 kW (105 hp) @ 10,250 rpm|
|Weight (wet)||248kg (546 lb)||236 kg (520 lb)||253 kg (556 lb)||226 kg (498 lb)||235 kg (518 lb)||218 kg||267 kg (589 lb)||240 kg (529 lb)|
* There’s some debate about whether Gen 1 is actually a VFR, as it starts with VF. An alternative view is that Gen 1 is 86-87, and Gen 2 is 88-89.
Before the VFR — Honda Interceptor VF750F (RC15), 1983-1985
Yes, the first generation wasn’t a VFR, but a VF. (Note — some people don’t agree with this, and split the next generation into two.)
Main innovative features for the 1st gen Honda VFR:
- V4 engine from the Honda Magna VF750C and Sabre VF750S, but tuned to make 6kW (8 hp) more — by way of a newly designed airbox
- Five-speed transmission, chain drive (the Magna is shaft-driven)
- Slipper clutch (made the clutch slip on hard braking to stop the rear tire from bouncing) — first on a street bike
- Chain-driven cams
- Fully adjustable Showa suspension
The Honda VF750F was built as a street replica of a race bike to allow their V4 race bikes to compete. This was in accordance with then-new AMA superbike regulations that bikes be production based.
So the Honda VF750F was made as a very high-quality bike, as close to race spec as possible.
On the other hand, the VF750F (and other V4 motorcycles of this generation) had an engine problem where camshafts would wear very quickly. Honda fixed this problem when they realised there was too much clearance in the camshaft bearings and that the cam lobes were not hardened correctly in the manufacturing process, leading to them wearing out quickly.
Honda set out to fix this with the 2nd generation VFRs from 1986.
Note — the first generation (if you accept the VF as a generation) included VF1000 and VF500 models as well (which irks some people because it stretches the definition of “generation”, but I find that groups related to the VF750 are welcoming of the other VFs of the same era).
2nd generation VFR — VFR750F(1986-1989)
The 2nd generation Honda VFR750F was Honda’s attempt at fixing the notorious problems with the top end of the VF750 (and siblings).
Note: Some say these are two generations, the 1986-1987 and then 1988-1989 generations (1 and 2 respectively). It’s a little dependent on whether you accept the VF750 as the 1st gen VFR.
The 2nd gen was totally different. Apart from the engine size, all parts in the engine and exterior were upgraded.
Some important changes were
- About 10 percent less weight (20 kg, 44 lb) than the VFs
- Gear-driven cams
- A higher redline (11,000, up from a previous 11,000
- More horsepower — about 15kW (22 hp) more, according to the press releases, or 3 kW (5 hp) more according to a magazine test
Externally, the 2nd gen VFR is much less race-oriented. This is a street machine!
Alongside the 748cc VFR750F, the US received a smaller VFR700F2, which was the same other than with a shorter-stroke engine and different tune to suit (different cams and altered timing). This was to beat tariffs imposed at the time on US motorcycles with capacity greater than 700cc, a protectionist measure designed to help Harley-Davidson survive.
There was a minor revision in 1988-1989 of the VFR750 which was never imported into the US. This revision had
- A two-position flip-up screen
- Stronger fork legs (up to 41mm from 37mm)
- 17-inch wheels front and rear
- More reliable ignition
- Larger valves, larger carbs
- Upgraded gearbox shift mechanism
- Clock and fuel gauge
- Bolt-on pillion footrests (rather than part of the rear subframe)
The stronger fork legs and 17-inch wheels, in particular, made this a desirable upgrade, so some Americans are salty that it never hit their shores.
3rd Generation VFR — RC36 VFR750F (1990-1993)
The 3rd Gen VFR was a huge update — mostly because of that beautiful single-sided swing-arm!
New for the 3rd generation VFR750F:
- Single-sided swing-arm
- No more “Interceptor” name
- Larger diameter front fork with cartridge dampers (for wider front tyre)
- 17 inch wheels (introduced in 1988, but that model wasn’t imported into the US)
- More weight (14 kg / 30 lb)
Honda dropped the “Interceptor” name from the 3rd gen VFR in response to insurance companies penalising owners with names like that in their motorcycles.
But the basic VFR750 was the same. It was still a 748cc dual-overhead-cam V-four with an aluminium frame — and now, a signle-sided swing-arm.
The engine of the 3rd gen VFR750F still made 75 kW (100 hp). Unfortunately, the new model was also some 14 kg (30lb) — more or less, depending on which source you find — heavier. The bike is still fast enough though as a sport-tourer rather than an all-out sportbike (remember, this bike was produced in the era of the CBR900RR).
This generation of the VFR won Cycle World’s Ten Best award every year of its existence. They consider the next generation (’94-’97) the same generation, and also awarded it then.
As with all VFRs, the third-gen VFRs were known for being versatile, usable either as racetrack stars or backroad bombers. And the 180-degree V-four engine makes a unique sound matched by few.
4th generation VFR — RC36-2 VFR750F (1994-1997)
In 1994, Honda made enough revisions to the VFR750 to warrant fans calling it another generation. Honda claimed to have made some 300 changes to the VFR750 4th gen.
Some of these were
- New bodywork, styled after the NR750 (the super-expensive superbike with oval pistons)
- Many tweaks to reduce weight, including wheels, dropping it 8-16 kg (16-30 lb) depending on whose scales you use
- Revised cartridge forks (lighter, but stronger) and swingarm (ditto)
- Last of the 750cc models, last of the carburettor-fed models (with smaller 34mm carbs)
- New design lighter 4/2/1 exhaust for better throttle response
The 4th gen won as many accolades as did the 3rd gen, for much the same reasons — it’s a great all-rounder. The improvements from the lighter weight were welcome, of course.
The 4th gen was the last of the VFRs to be fed by carburettors, which makes it somewhat of a collectable motorcycle. Even though they’re long in the tooth, owners of VFRs tend to be fastidious, and apart from the general signs of aging (older plastics, and a higher fail rate on parts), you can still find them in reasonable condition if you’re patient.
5th generation VFR800 Interceptor (1998-2001)
The 5th gen is one of the favourite models of all VFR owners, simply because they had fuel injection, no VTEC, and gear-driven cams.
New for the 5th generation VFR800:
- Larger capacity engine — 781cc (more square with a slightly larger bore, slightly shorter stroke)
- Fuel injection replacing the carburettors of the 4th generation.
- Return of the name “Interceptor”
- Dual combined braking system (not ABS). The rear brake is attached to the front brake and applies proportionally. Both the hand lever and foot pedal each control the front and rear brakes.
- Digital dashboard
- Last model with gear-driven cams. The chain-driven cams in the 6th gen proved a little problematic.
The 5th Gen VFR is, like models before it, more than the sum of its parts. It handles like a dream. Even when being wheelied. One reviewer said that it’s “unfeasibly controllable when lofted… in fact, it would have been rude to not have turned the bars from lock to lock whilst in the air to demonstrate”. OK, point taken.
The new Honda VFR800 was a homologated version of the race spec RC45, not just a bored out VFR750. The engine, mounts, and many other components were all changed. But the spirit remained the same — a touring-oriented but very sporty V4 motorcycle.
The engine was still a gem, producing 95 rear wheel horsepower at 10,000 rpm.
Interim update — 5th gen 2000-2001
In 2000, the 5th gen got some updates, including
- A closed-loop fuel injection mode, meaning it would cruise at higher efficiency
- Temperature-actuated fast idle, negating the need for a choke lever
The 2000-2001 VFRs are very well-loved. Posts on VFRworld wax lyrical about them being some of the best VFRs — nay, motorcycles — ever built.
6th generation Honda VFR (2002-2013)
New features for the 6th gen
- Engine overhaul, still a DOHC fuel-injected 781cc V4, but now making 81 kW (110hp) @ 10,500 rpm, and 82 Nm (61 lb-ft) @ 8,500 rpm
- VTEC valve actuation — two-stage valves that change from two valves per cylinder to four mid-way through the rev range
- Styling makeover with sharp, angular look, replacing the smooth lines of the Gen 5
- Chain-driven cams (replacing gear-driven cams)
- Linked front and rear brakes
- Optional ABS in the later years
The most significant change to the 6th gen VFR800 was the VTEC valve actuation, which opens up two more valves at higher RPM. On the earlier models this was at 7,000 rpm, but by later models in the generation this was lowered to 6,500 rpm.
The VTEC valve actuation system works by only allowing two valves out of four valves in each cylinder to be opened by the camshafts. A controller opens up the other two valves at higher RPM. What the controller actually does is engage send power to a solenoid which actuates an oil spool valve (a sliding pin). The valve then sends oil pressure to the lifter actuators, and positions their spring-loaded engagement pins above the valve stems to initiate actuation of the remaining two valves.
The goal of VTEC is to have the torque-forward benefits of a two-valve engine at low RPM, and high power at higher RPM.
Unfortunately, VTEC was an unwelcome addition for many VFR lovers. The early models (2006-2007) had what many people called a quite abrupt VTEC valve actuation, which could be alarming when coming out of a corner — a bit like a turbocharger coming on after turbo lag. I’m pretty sure that you could call this “character” if you wanted, and with the passage of time it is becoming a historic curiosity, like the turbocharged CX500 Turbo. Never a great idea, but super cool to have in the garage these days.
By 2007, Honda changed the ECU mapping to engage VTEC at 6,400 RPM. This was a much smoother transition.
Another significant change for the 6th gen was the move to chain-driven cams. The goal of this move was to reduce weight and noise, but many VFR owners actually loved the whine of gear-driven cams, and didn’t want another thing to maintain periodically (though very infrequently).
Finally, the 6th gen retained linked braking, which some people complain about (but which, in most street usage, is not noticeable by many riders).
6th Gen X — VFR800X Crossrunner (2011)
Not really a generation by itself, but in 2011 Honda introduced the VFR800X Crossrunner in many markets (though not in the US).
The Crossrunner was a VFR800 but in touring form. Same engine, but with a different riding position that’s more upright, supported by taller handlebars.
Compared the the VFR800, the best thing you can say about the Crossrunner is that it’s even more comfortable, and the worst thing you can say is that it doesn’t look as good. Like many cult bikes, the Crossrunner is loved by its owners who have a slightly different priority set.
7th Generation VFR — VFR1200F (2009-2017)
The 7th generation VFR is a bit of an outlier — it has a much bigger engine, is much heavier, and has a shaft drive. So much so that people claim it doesn’t really long in the series of VFR motorcycles. Really, the most it has in common is a V4 engine, a general sport-touring riding position, and a single-sided swing-arm.
But the VFR1200F or “7th generation VFR” is a very different motorcycle. In fact, Wikipedia lists two motorcycles as its predecessors — the 6th generation VFR800 and the Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird, a high-speed touring bike! This bike took over from both those bikes.
Honda made the VFR1200F from 2009 until 2017, adding a few colour schemes along the way.
Here are the things that changed for the 7th gen VFR, the VFR1200F
- Engine: 1,237cc 76-degree V4 (water cooled)
- Power: 127 kW (170 hp) @ 10,000 rpm, and 129 Nm (95 lb-ft) @ 8,750 rpm
- Ride by wire including ABS and traction control (called Honda Selectable Torque Control)
- Optional DCT (automatic) transmission with paddle shifters
The DCT is important to mention because the VFR1200 was the first production motorcycle to have DCT. The same system has been a popular option in many subsequent Honda motorcycles, including the venerable Gold Wing, Africa Twin, and the new-for-2021 Honda Rebel CMX1100, along with a few other models along the way.
7th Gen X — Honda VFR1200X Crosstourer
Aside from the huge changes to the VFR, the VFR1200F also spawned an upright adventure-touring style motorcycle, the VFR1200X Crosstourer from 2012.
Much like the VFR800X Crossrunner, the Crosstourer is an upright adventure-touring version of the same VFR1200X. It has the same 1,237cc V4 engine, but is tuned for lower power with a peak of 95 kW at 7,750 rpm, and peak torque of 126Nm at a significantly lower 6,500 rpm.
The VFR1200X also has an adjustable screen, spoked wheels (still with tubeless tyres), and a range of luggage accessories.
The VFR1200X looks like a very compelling option for long-distance travel in the flesh — but didn’t sell well next to the Africa Twin.
Oh, and if you don’t like any of those options, consider the Ariel Ace, a Honda VFR1200F engine and some components in a radically different chassis. (Not a Honda, but I found the photo by accident and it looks cool.)
8th gen VFR — VFR800F (2014-2017)
Finally, the Honda VFR800F — the bike I ended up buying.
New for the 8th Gen VFR, the VFR800F:
- Standard Traction control
- Optional ABS (standard in some markets)
- Optional factory bar risers that integrate very well
- Optional luggage that looks really good (and not weird when it’s not on)
- International models and US deluxe model with standard ABS, heated grips, center stand
- Last model VFR to be made…
The last gen Honda VFR was much like the previous versions. Except it didn’t make more power — it made slightly less. And apart from that, not much was different at all — it wasn’t like previous owners were clamouring for traction control or standard ABS.
I really like my VFR800. It looks great, sounds wonderful, feels really nice to ride (a nice balance between vibrations and smoothness), handles intuitively, and has just the right amount of power for me to shift through gears without being in very illegal ranges. The handling is not fully adjustable and some call it “simple” — but I can hang (somewhat) off it around turns easily and it feels very stable, even to me, a non-professional rider.
It’s unclear why the Honda VFR was killed off, but the headline reason was poor sales. The cause of the poor sales has been guessed to be
- High price vs really attractive competition — both the Yamaha FJ-09/Tracer 900 and Kawasaki Ninja 1000 were more powerful, lighter, and comfortable. And for the same price as a VFR800, you could get a high-power sportbike.
- Declining sport-touring market as people gravitate towards adventure sport-tourers
- Not enough different to warrant an upgrade from the earlier versions (for the VFR diehards)
- Annoying pricing in the US — people wanted the Deluxe version at Standard prices. International markets just had one package (the “Deluxe” one).
So the VFR800 had a niche that was too small for it to exist. The leftover stock was heavily discounted and sold cheaply in the US.
But for those who were patient (like me), it’s a lot of bike for a really attractive price. And it still has a few things that give it cachet.
Here’s a few reasons to pick up an 8th generation VFR800:
- A V4 engine: There are no bikes being made with a V4 engine that aren’t highly-strung Aprilias and Ducatis. They’re great, but they are expensive to own.
- Style: They look really good! The bodywork is elegant and minimalist. There are few affordable and recent used bikes being made with a single-sided swing arm, and almost zero from Japan, other than the Honda CB1000R.
- Affordable rider aids: They have enough rider aids to feel safe — ABS and traction control (although I find the traction control too intrusive even for regular road riding)
There are, of course, downsides to owning a VFR800 8th gen. A few of these are
- More expensive maintenance — VTEC in a V-4 engine under bodywork mean that valve services will be expensive, probably a full day of labour. Luckily, these only come up every 25,600km.
- It’s a bit top-heavy — Compared to other modern sportbikes and sport touring bikes, the VFR800 8th gen is slightly cumbersome. It’s not hard to handle, and definitely can perform very well in capable hands, but it doesn’t glide into corners like many more advanced sport bikes (even older ones).
- The traction control is a bit intrusive. I sometimes turn it off, even for moderately paced street riding. But I don’t like the warning display that comes up on the dash.
But if you put up with minor annoyances (and all motorcycles have them), the VFR800 8th gen is a lot of motorcycle for the money. I have thought of replacing it but I’d need to double what I paid for it to get similar enjoyability. And I just can’t stomach that right now!