2009 Honda VFR800 Interceptor - Long-term Evaluation

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christa Neuhauser

In 1983, performance-riding enthusiasts got their first look at Honda's radical new sportbike, the VF750F Interceptor. For most of them, it was love at first sight. The aggressive lines and racy paint scheme were truly infectious. And after nearly three decades of refinement, the VFR800 is still turning heads.

While nothing is truly timeless in the dynamic world of motorcycling, Honda's venerable V-four engine and the Interceptor badge are about as close as you'll get. Throughout the 1980s, this iconic machine dominated professional road racing by capturing five consecutive Superbike titles. Even after inline-four powered machines returned to dominance in the 1990s, Honda's smooth, torquey Vees still impressed in their street applications. Sport touring enthusiasts especially embraced the Interceptor and it continued to prowl the highways and byways through the 2000s. Though technical tweaks and upgrades certainly defined much of the bike's 27-year evolution, the original design philosophy is still prevalent in today's model.

From the second the starter is engaged, the hot-rodish howl from the twin, high-mounted mufflers lets you know this bike is different from the others. Fed by a Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI) with 36mm throttle bodies and an auto-enriching system, start-ups are quick, choke-less affairs even on the coldest days. Once under way, the power is smooth and predictable whether sprinting solo or loaded for the long haul. And for those with a taste for the twist, the Interceptor has its VTEC ace-in-the-hole that really gets things stirring at higher rpms. As the tach needle sweeps past 6,500, the cylinders' other two valves engage, providing a kick in the pants that lights up both sound and speed, which belie the mill's 781cc. The howl and rush of the VTEC never fails to elicit a mischievous grin from this rider.

Getting that power to the pavement is one of the slickest shifting gearboxes available. Just the slightest nudge is all that's required both going up and back through all six-speeds. False neutrals are never an issue and finding neutral is hassle-free. The hydraulic clutch has a near effortless pull and engages smoothly no matter the load, grade, or gear.

While the impressive power plant has long been the Interceptor's calling card, it's important to remember that the chassis has also been subject to near three decades of refinement. The triple-box-section, twin spar, aluminum frame, Pro-Arm single-sided swingarm, and Pro-Link preload and rebound adjustable single-shock rear suspension have all evolved from years of race-tech trickle-down. The same goes for the preload adjustable, 43mm Honda Multi-Action System (HMAS) cartridge front forks. This package delivers laser-like handling that wows even with a pillion astride. Just pick the line and pull the trigger: the VFR delivers confidence in the corners that few bikes can match.

Though we may not always want to slow down, a good set of binders are still a sport-riding necessity. In this department, the Interceptor is also well equipped. A pair of 296mm discs with triple-piston calipers modulates the front wheel, while out back, a single-caliper sporting three more pistons pinches a 256mm disc. The whole package is linked via Honda's Combined Braking System (CBS). This setup keeps the front and rear brakes from locking, making emergency or loose surface stops far more predictable situations. Our unit was equipped with optional ABS that worked flawlessly during controlled tests.

Sport is only half of the sport-touring equation; the open road makes up the rest. True to RoadRUNNER form, we strapped on the bags and hit the road for a two-up adventure. For those that appreciate a sportier ride, the VFR has no equal when it comes to making serious miles. The seat is perfectly comfortable with even the pillion getting rave reviews. And the potential for heat rising from the under-seat exhaust pipes never became an issue. The very effective muffler shields protected our rubber-backed soft bags. The large 5.8-gallon tank offered plenty of range, especially considering that our fuel mileage averaged 44 mpg. Other nice finishing touches include adjustable hand levers, and an easy reading instrument cluster that includes an electronic tach, digital speedo, two tripmeters, and even an outside air temperature display.

For the touring enthusiast bent on performance, the 2009 VFR800 Interceptor is as close to perfect as any ride out there. Track-ready handling and 500-mile days are both delivered with ease. Perhaps the only glaring deficiency about this bike is its lack of availability. After 27-years Honda is pulling the plug on the Interceptor. As time marches on, so do market trends. Honda's V-four tradition will continue though. The new-for-2010 VFR1200F should be a very worthy replacement. But for now, we're proud to be touring on one of the finest motorcycles to ever grace the American road.