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Review: Honda Interceptor - One HOT Bike! AB FAB VTEC.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Nicholas Frankl Contributing Editor.

The undisputed Master of the Universe.

You might have heard, that more often than not, awards go to all the wrong people. It is the triumph of marketing over material. Nowhere is this more true than here in L.A. This is the world Mecca of all that is gaudy, brash and contrived.

Of course, the ones who win these awards (especially the Hollywood types) go on to earn more money, get better roles and therefore win even more awards – it’s a self-professing monopoly. Refreshing, therefore, to see occasional good sense and clear judgment enter the equation. Now, as far as the car and motorcycle firms are concerned, their stuff always wins something. Even if the award has to be invented and sponsored by them in the first place (yes it has happened).

Speak to the world’s finest motorcycle riders and testers and you’ll be stunned (unless you are a petrol head) to discover that there is a bike which actually deserves the swarms of accolades and ribbons heaped upon it over the course of the last 13 odd years. The Interceptor (known as the VFR in Europe) has won Best in Class from one or other (or all) the magazines over the past decade, and this year was no exception. With the introduction of the new 2002 revamped, reengineered machine, Honda pushed the boundaries even further, achieving the enviable result of a comfortable, compact, fast and nimble sports bike that can get you to the shops, the office and the race track and even do a few blistering laps without embarrassment. It was, as they say, “ always so”. I remember very clearly talking with the supremely knowledgeable, and infinitely able, Leonard Seitright in 1995 at a car launch in Spain. It was quite a good car as I remember, made all the better with some fine Paella and 1990 vintage Spanish wines. But I digress. More interesting were Leonard’s views on motorcycles. Having raced them in the 50’s and 60’s, and written countless books on the subject, I thought he’d be a good person to seek advice from, as I had only been testing bikes for about a year. “Honda V4”, he said, “the best all round engine and bike in the world. You can’t go wrong with it. Get a VFR.” I can’t tell you what Leonard thinks of the new one as he is in the depths of the English countryside in semi-retirement, but knowing how hard he likes to push on, I’ll bet he’s still on side. I also recall how we came to the conclusion that if the finest and most advanced engine manufacturer (the same ones who make the CART, F1, hybrid and VFR units) in the world hadn’t ever produced a commercial diesel engine, there had to be a good reason. This brings us nicely onto a motor racing theme, very appropriately, as it was the Long Beach GP weekend when I had the chance to get the best out of the Interceptor. On the highway, the rider is more stable and better protected than on the previous model. The new screen is a significant improvement and the riding position feels more comfortable, although I cannot say if it has actually been changed in any way. The good news for travelers is that the bike can now be equipped with hard luggage. What does that mean for the rest of us? Well hard bags are heavy, so the frame has been stiffened up, any previous criticism of the frame being a touch wobbly in the extremes, now corrected.

The best bit of all is the unique introduction of the VTEC engine. Those in the car field will remember that this was originally developed with the late great Ayrton Senna for the NSX intro in 1990. VTEC is now fitted throughout the car range but had not previously made the jump to bikes. Pity those who (like poor Ayrton) will never experience the rush of the induction roar as the revs hit 7,000 rpm and the lungs, aided by opening 2 additional values to assist with heavy breathing exercises up to the 12,000 red line, begin to swell and thrust the Interceptor forward with noticeably greater vigor.

The bike has been independently tested at 98 horsepower at the back wheel and 54 foot-pounds of torque. These numbers are similar to that of the out-going model, but now with better-spaced ratios, and without the previous hole in the power band from 3000 – 6000 revs, the bike feels - and is - quicker. The dohc, 90-degree V-Four remains fuel-injected and liquid-cooled, with 16 valves, an oversquare 72.0 x 48.0mm bore and stroke, and a displacement of 781cc. However, the geared camdrive, synonymous with the VFR since 1986, has been replaced by a less costly, and 6.2 pound-lighter dual-tensioner chain.

Parking has also been improved. What you say? Does it have reverse? NO. But the striking design, with the new nose and light configuration (excellent both visually and for illumination) combined with the double twin exhaust protruding from under the seat, mean that even the police are intimidated and consequently let me park right in front of the entrance at Long Beach, where of course they posed and guarded the machine!

Girlfriend on board and off to the beach and the canyons, Anna seemed to think this was one of the most comfortable bikes she had ridden on with me – and she’s been on most of them. Certainly, the rear end accommodated her long legs no problem. And as any rider will testify – a happy girlfriend makes for a happy day’s riding!

Up to 100 mph the bike is very easy and comfortable, the wind deflecting around the rider and the buffeting being reduced by the new wind tunnel- aided design. As for the instruments? Really Honda, if you can produce such easy-to-use and comprehensive binnacles, there’s no excuse to install other below par stuff on your range of machines.

Ask most serious riders (those who venture out in all climates and dare I say it other days except Sundays) which bike, given only one, would they choose, and I’ll lay you good odds that maybe 75% or more would have an Interceptor on any list of three.

Certainly, as far as The Auto Channel is concerned, I will voting my conscience when the Golden Tachometer awards come around again.

I hear that the Black Bird XX is set for a revamp in ’03. Any chance of a VTEC XX?


Model: VFR800FI / VFR800FI ABS

Engine Type: 781cc liquid-cooled 90° V-4

Bore and Stroke: 72mm x 48mm

Compression Ratio: 11.6:1

Valve Train: VTEC DOHC; four valves per cylinder

Carburetion: PGM-FI with automatic enricher circuit

Ignition: Computer-controlled digital with three-dimensional mapping and electronic advance

Transmission: Close-ratio six-speed

Final Drive: #530 O-ring-sealed chain

Suspension Front: 43mm HMAS cartridge fork with spring preload adjustability; 4.3 inches travel

Suspension Rear: Pro Arm single-side swingarm with Pro-Link single HMAS gas- charged shock with seven-position spring preload and rebound damping adjustability; 4.7 inches travel

Brakes Front: Dual full-floating 296mm discs with LBS three-piston calipers

Brakes Rear: Single 256mm disc with LBS three-piston caliper Optional ABS

Tires Front: 120/70 ZR-17 radial

Tires Rear: 180/55ZR-17 radial

Wheelbase: 57.4 inches

Rake (Caster Angle): 25.5°

Trail: 95mm (3.74 inches)

Seat Height: 31.7 inches

Dry Weight: 472/ 483pounds (VFR800FI ABS)

Fuel Capacity: 5.8 gallons, including 0.8-gallon reserve

Color: Red

Meets 2008 CARB emissions standards.