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1999 Honda VFR800MSE Ratings

1999 Honda VFR800The original Interceptor of 1983 was a motorcycle that completely changed our expectations of the 750 sportbike class. It had an external square-section frame, a V-four engine, a 16-inch front wheel, and it provided the street rider with everything o

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AddedDate Added: 20th September 1998
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Editor Contributor's Review

It was high-tech to the bone and the trend it started is still in place today. The Interceptor name is now back on the VFR because Honda wants everyone to know that this bike is again meant to make a statement. Much has changed though and that’s a big expectation in today’s world.

While other manufacturers build 750 supersport bikes that are basically racebikes for the street, Honda took a different route a number of years ago and separated its street machine from its roadracer. The latest Interceptor, like the many VFRs before it, takes design clues from its brother RC45 but, other than having a 90-degree V-4 engine and a single-sided swingarm, it is a completely different motorcycle. It doesn’t much matter to Honda that the irony of all this is that the first Interceptor was the 750 sportbike that started the whole racebike-with-mirrors-and-blinkers thing. Just because they started a trend doesn’t mean they have to stick with it.

The Interceptor stopped being an all-out sportbike when its racing duties were handed over to Honda’s full race RC30. The Interceptor became docile, friendly, and smart, while the RC30 was given the racebike-with-mirrors-and-blinkers duties. This split allowed Honda to build a streetbike that was actually meant to be just a streetbike and to also take its built-for-racing homologation machine to an extreme that was impractical for the street. Well, maybe not impractical but certainly very expensive.

At the same time that the RC30 replaced the Interceptor on the racetrack, the Interceptor name was dropped, reportedly for fear of a growing backlash from the insurance industry and the non-motorcycling public. It was thought that names like Interceptor and Hurricane expressed an evil, irresponsible, speed-crazy attitude and flaunted the image of law breaking bikers, hell-bent on destruction and violation of school zone speed limits. For some reason, that fear of societal repercussions is now absent. Maybe motorcycles are more acceptable to the general public now? Maybe Honda has lawyers who are brasher? Who knows? Either way we are happy.

So in ’98 Honda brought back the Interceptor name even though the bike still isn’t used as the basis for its racing machine. But one thing the bike does now have is character. The character that the VFR was lacking. Although many editors have reaped praise on the VFR for years, it was a bike that left me cold. It was efficient, reliable, smart, and. . . efficient. But its outstanding abilities seemed to deprive it of personality. That might sound a little silly and subjective but with motorcycles, image and character are important factors in buying decisions. Unfortunately, personality is a pisser to plan for in engineering meetings and although I think I know it when I see it and am quick to condemn a motorcycle for not having enough of it, I’d be at a loss to explain exactly what it is. The new Interceptor has it. The bike is just as efficient, reliable, and smart as the old VFR but it now has that elusive quality that had been missing.

From the outside, the new Interceptor looks like a mild improvement over the old VFR but a closer look reveals that it is a completely new machine from end to end, inside and out. Wind tunnel testing influenced the Interceptor’s styling and, the machine has a coefficient of drag that is 9 percent better than the last VFR while also providing better wind protection for the rider and passenger. Some of this protection is attributed to a vent that funnels air in under the windscreen. The weird thing about this opening is that one would think it would direct air onto the rider yet it actually raises the height of the airflow. The front blinkers are again incorporated into the bodywork but they no longer dictate the styling of the fairing lower.

Rider protection, a lowered drag coefficient and great looks aren’t enough; the Interceptor’s fairing is also a functional element of the bike’s cooling system. The fairing’s lowers have side vents that control the flow from, and to, the twin, side-mounted radiators. The front fender and fairing upper are shaped to feed air into the high-pressure opening in front of the engine, and the airflow is then assisted on its exit out through the side openings by the low-pressure area outside the lowers. The coolest part of the Interceptor’s cooling system (the coolest part literally, that is) is that a fan reverses the flow and sucks air in through the left-side radiator when the bike is at low speed or stopped, helping to keep the rider from absorbing the engine heat. This appears to work well but the rider’s right leg does end up a little hotter than the left one.

The Interceptor’s smart and comfortable ergonomics allow the rider to tuck in tightly against the motorcycle for maximum wind protection both from the front and side. When the rider is alone, a rear cowl can be put in place over the passenger pad making the aerodynamic package complete. At the very rear of the bike the tail-section blends into the combination taillight-blinkers that end in an uninterrupted and handsome arch. One might wonder why a bike like Honda’s CBR 600F4 -- which is used for racing -- doesn’t have its blinkers blended into its tail-section because on racetrack aerodynamics are even more important than on the street. The explanation is that incorporated blinkers create a wide tail-section and in racing it’s permissible to remove the blinkers completely. Taillights on protruding stalks are one of the compromises of riding racebikes on the street.

Powering the new Interceptor is the latest version of Honda’s V-four that originally debuted in the ’83 Interceptor. This new power plant, though, has more in common with the present day RC45 engine than it does with the old Interceptor motor, and in some ways it’s even a step beyond that contemporary racing power unit. The Interceptor’s engine has been bumped up to 781 cc, has a compression ratio of 11.6:1, and breathes in its mixture through shortened intake ports. All of this adds up to an increase of ten percent of both horsepower and torque over the previous VFR. And it’s a ten percent that you can feel.

The valve train gear drive has been relocated to the right side of the engine from its past location of centered between the pistons, allowing Honda to shorten the crankshaft and use one less journal creating a savings in both internal engine friction and overall width of the engine. And it weighs less, too. Honda modified the gear drive to quiet it down somewhat since it’s now located on the engine’s side, but it seems still louder nonetheless. Not annoyingly louder, just nicely louder. The gear driven valve train actually adds to the personality of the bike’s unique sound by singing harmony to the captivating buzz created by the firing order of the V-four’s unusual piston configuration. It’s pure music.

The cylinder sleeves are an all-new aluminum composite that is high pressure formed. The product is a ceramic and graphite impregnated sintered aluminum that is much lighter than steel while also providing better wear resistance heat dissipation. It truly is a material world. Sliding with the cylinders are pistons that have a LUB-Coat, solid lubricant coating on their skirts, which also minimizes friction. Each opposing V-pairing of pistons has their rod big ends located at 360 degrees from each other, which is an engineer’s way of saying that they’re located on the same journal. As you might be aware, in any discussion of a circle, 360 degrees is very similar to 0 degrees. It’s sort of like the difference between noon and 12 pm. If this confuses you just go back and take a look at the picture of the crankshaft and count the rod journals. They’re the ones located like bicycle pedals from the shaft’s center.

The efi that Honda uses on the Interceptor has 36 mm throttle bodies into which the fuel is sprayed by means of injectors that are smaller than those now used on Honda’s RC45. The system is controlled by dual, three dimensional mapping that reads intake air temperature, intake manifold pressure, ambient air pressure, camshaft speed, throttle position, crankshaft speed, and coolant temperature. The system, though, isn’t able to compensate for cold starting. Triumph appears to be ahead of most every other motorcycle manufacturer on that one. Them and every carmaker, that is. How a bike can be this good, this trendsetting, and this polished of a finished product yet have a throwback like a cold starting lever, I’m not sure. But all and all, it’s a small complaint.

The swingarm is of course the signature VFR single-sided unit made out of cast aluminum. The shock has a notched-collar type pre-load adjuster and features rebound damping. Up front, the forks have been moved apart an extra 12 mm to increase torsional rigidity. They too have pre-load adjusters, and each end of the machine provides an equal 4.7 inches of suspension travel. The wheels have been lightened from the previous model reducing unsprung weight and the rear wheel is now a half inch wider, measuring out to 5.5 inches.

The Interceptor now sports Honda’s third generation linked braking system and it is by far the best yet. Linked braking should provide an advantage yet not be intrusive to those who use brakes properly. This system does just that. Applying the brakes on either end of the machine will provide braking to the other end but only to a reduced limit. Using the rear brake provides braking to two of the rear caliper’s three pistons and to one of each of the front twin caliper’s three pistons. The linked braking to the front is controlled by a delay valve that gives the rider a feel of rear braking over front braking when using the foot lever.

The front left caliper is mounted on a pivoting bracket that engages the rear brake. This allows the system to increase rear braking as front braking is increased while maintaining two independent hydraulic systems. When the front brake lever is applied, two of the front rotors’ three pistons are actuated and the force of that braking against the left caliper mount exerts pressure against a secondary master cylinder that engages one of the rear brake caliper’s pistons. Although it has been reported elsewhere that the rear brake doesn’t engage while doing a burnout, that is not entirely correct, although it is true that it’s still possible to do burnouts. It just takes a little practice. The rear brake is only actuated by the front brake lever if the front wheel is trying to rotate. In other words, no matter how hard you squeeze the front brake lever while you are standing still you cannot apply any braking to the rear. But as soon as the rear tire tries to push the bike forward, the rear brake engages. So, to do a burnout the rider must dump the clutch. That’s what should be done anyway, regardless of on what bike you’re misbehaving.

The increased horsepower is quickly apparent once the Interceptor is ridden. And since the engine is a bigger bore than the old unit the increase in power is felt everywhere along the rev range. The engine just barrels through the revs from low to high in one nice sweep of increasing acceleration. No stumble down low, no peak up high, no glitch in the middle; just a sweet curve of power building on itself from low to high. And oh, what a nice sound the engine makes in the higher rpms singing that song known only to it and the RC45. Sure it sings it a bit softer than its brother does but it still knows the tune. Every owner has the option to turn up the volume.

On curvy roads the Interceptor is just as much in its element as any 750 sportbike. Unless they hand out trophies in your neighborhood, this bike can keep up with all of the hard-edged machines everywhere except in the tighter turns and under extremely hard braking. But even in those situations, you have to ride with mad men to know the Interceptor’s limits. Never once did I miss having a more extreme riding position, and once the bike returns to the city or the expressway, its more upright riding stance is well appreciated. Maybe I’m getting old . . . Nah.

The linked braking is near perfect and I’m betting that most riders will be hard pressed to notice the system exists even if they’re hard pressing on the brakes. I have to admit that we avoided testing it on a steep grade down a dirt road, but this is a streetbike after all. The brakes were just plain great and the bike can be trail-braked into turns with complete confidence. Actually, because of the linked braking the bike can be slowed down hard with more confidence because the trick brake system better balances the attitude of the machine. All-out sportbikes only have a bit more hard braking certainty because of lighter machine weight and broader suspension setting possibilities.

Honda built the Interceptor to be a real-world sportbike, and its street-oriented characteristics rob nothing from street riders. Sure it’s cool to have a road-going version of the latest roadracing weapon but it might be smarter to have a road-going version of a great road bike. Just a thought. The Interceptor doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t and it doesn’t require the rider to be anything he/she isn’t. This thing will hang with pretty much any 750 in the canyons and will leave most of them behind around town or on the open road. Sure it has an extra 31 ccs but who’s counting? There are no tech rules for street riding.

Everything about this bike is practical from its power curve, to its riding position, to its ambient thermometer, to its rear grab rails, to its suspension, to its clock. That’s how the old VFR was, but this bike goes way beyond its previous model by showing that practical isn’t necessarily equal to boring. And no matter what your opinion of practical is it still stands that practical is practical. I’m beginning to sound like my mom.

My only complaint about the new Interceptor’s riding position is in how the seat slants down into the gas tank without any kick-up on its front edge. This is a popular Honda design and it can be found on the CBR900RR and the CBR 600F4, yet on few bikes from other manufacturers. The reason I don’t like it is because every time I hit a sharp bump I am slammed into the gas tank and my pet monkey gets crushed. I’ve only heard this from a few other riders so maybe I’m just not sitting on the bike properly.

All and all, no bike can be everything to everyone and so neither is this bike. It’s not a racebike, it’s not a dirtbike, it’s a sportbike. And in that it doesn’t display any compromises. In many ways there are really no other bikes in the Interceptor’s class; not just because it’s an 800cc machine but because it is a sportbike built singularly for the street. It’s built without compromise for you. In short, this bike does its name proud.




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