Sportbike for the Sport Coat Crowd?

1998 Honda VFR800 Interceptor: Bigger, Lighter, Redder, Faster

After an interval of 15 years from the interceptor's introduction, Honda has reinterpreted the VFR so that it is more like what the Interceptor was at inception. A sportbike. Still well-behaved and conservatively dressed, but in its renewed soul, a sportbike nonetheless. Interesting.

The original 750 Interceptor, released in 1983, was a revolutionary step forward in the ascent of sportbiking. It was the first mass production streetbike whose design concept followed a philosophy completely opposite from how motorcycles of the Pacific Rim had previously been conceived. The Interceptor was designed as a racebike with blinkers and mirrors, rather than as a streetbike that could be adapted to the racetrack. It brought out the supersquid in every guy on the planet who claimed the likes of Mike Hailwood as their hero. In '83, it was the only cool bike to own.

With its departure from a backbone frame to an exoskeleton, and its introduction of the revolutionary V-four engine, the Interceptor redefined sportbiking just as much as Honda's CB750 had 12 years earlier. It was rad, it was race-ready, it fulfilled every boy's dream. It was so advanced that no aftermarket modifications of the time could make any other bike even come close to its potential.

But through the years the Interceptor went through many changes, beginning in 1986, when the machine received a new frame and an all-new engine, and lost its Interceptor appellation. The talk at the time was that the name was dropped for fear of mounting backlash from the general public. Motorcycles were becoming faster and faster and their racy sounding names were making it look as though the manufacturers were brainwashing us crazed bikers into breaking traffic laws. The nice people you used to meet on Hondas were becoming hairy-palmed, drooling demons of speed. So in '86 the bike lost 40 pounds, gained significant horsepower, was plenty faster, and got the politically correct new designation of VFR750F. It was a rose by another name and it accelerated just as sweetly.

In 1990, Honda again changed the bike completely, but this time it lost all pretense of being a race-ready rocket. The VFR750F became a kinder and gentler gentleman's conveyance, practically the antithesis of the racer-replica soul of its inception. Although it sported a single-sided swingarm, it was a streetbike in intent, performance and feel. In '90, the task of racing was handed over to Honda's all-new RC30, and from that day forward Honda maintained a distance between its mainstream streetbikes and its superbikes.

This latest version of the Interceptor is closer to the original concept than the many permutations the machine has experienced. The all-new Interceptor is still just a streetbike but Honda has put more of the sport back into the bike that, once, defined what a sportbike was. Its focus has narrowed but its abilities have broadened. Its design intent is to no longer be out of place in the canyons with the repli-racers, while making the neighbors none the wiser.

A New V-Four

The redesigned Interceptor's engine features more displacement than any other bike in its class, with an over-square bore and stroke measuring out to 781cc. This would be considered cheating were it not for the fact that there are no rules in the 750 streetbike class. There is no tech nor teardown, and you can ride whatever size bike you damn well please.

The guys at Honda told us that they tried dozens of engine displacements before settling on 781cc. They said that this displacement created a "happy" engine. What they mean by happy is the engine is inherently balanced throughout its rev range. It doesn't strain as it nears redline, nor does it lumber at low rpm. It doesn't make the rider feel as if he is committing a nasty sin by running it all the way up to redline.

To achieve the engine's lighter, smaller, and more powerful character, Honda created a shorter crankshaft that runs on three main bearings, rather than the four of the old engine. This was accomplished by relocating the gear-driven valve train to the engine's right side. Not only is the crankshaft shorter and lighter, but the engine is 15mm more narrow than the old unit.

The crankshaft carries the left and right piston pairs on common pins. The pins are located 180 degrees from each other, unlike the RC45, which carries its pins at 360 degrees.

The bike's cylinder sleeves are now a composite created by impregnating ceramic and graphite into high-pressure-formed, sintered-aluminum powder. The composite sleeves are more wear-resistant than the antique steel ones. Also, the pistons have been redesigned and sport LUB-coat coatings on their skirts, which interrupts possible friction at the intense interface between them and the cylinder walls.

Fuel is fed into the engine with injectors that are lighter and smaller than the ones on the RC45. The throttle bodies are 36mm; a smaller interior diameter than those used by most of the other manufacturers. Dual, interrelated, three-dimensional programming maps control the injection system for each cylinder.

The bike's radiators have been moved over to the sides of the engine, both to increase airflow and to maintain a short wheelbase for the motorcycle. At low speeds, the left-mounted fan pulls air from outside the fairing rather than from within the enclosed area around the engine. This ensures that the rider will not be an active participant in the cooling of the engine.

A Pivotless Chassis

The frame is also completely new. Its duty now is only to hold the engine to the steering head, and to provide a mounting point for the top of the rear shock. The double, box-section frame is a twin-spar design, without additional tubing for engine mounting points or swingarm mounting plates (like last year's version). But the frame is taller in section by 35mm through most of its length, making it stiffer.

The bike's swingarm is attached to the rear of the engine, a move made popular by Ducati and already used on Honda's Super Hawk twin. As usual, since 1990, the new Interceptor has a single-sided swingarm. Both the swingarm and the frame offer more rigidity than those of the previous model VFR and weigh a remarkable seven pounds less.

The Interceptor's forks are a 41mm, right-side-up design that feature preload adjustability. On both ends, the wheels are cast-U sections-reducing unsprung weight-and the rear wheel width has been increased by 0.5 inch, to measure 5.5 inches. Also contributing to reducing unsprung weight are the front rotors, which are now only 296mm in diameter and supported by lighter weight carriers.

Linked Brakes

The Linked Braking System(tm) featured on this latest Interceptor is Honda's third-generation LBS. It is intended to be more sport-oriented than its previous designs. This system uses an additional master cylinder and a three-stage proportional control valve, or PCV, as Honda calls it. Both ends are linked-the hand lever provides some rear braking and the foot lever provides some front braking.

When a rider uses the hand brake lever, only the outer two pistons of each of the three-piston front calipers apply front braking. The rear braking portion of the system is activated through a secondary master cylinder that is controlled by the braking action of the bike's left front caliper. This master, which the front left caliper is mounted to, activates the PCV that controls the center piston of the lone rear caliper. So, the harder the front calipers brake, the more pressure is applied to the rear caliper. But remember, it isn't the pressure of pulling the lever that causes the rear braking, it is the actual braking forces applied through to the ground that apply force to the secondary master.

So theoretically, when using the hand brake lever it might be possible to lock the rear brake under ultra-severe braking. But once the front tire locks up, the forces needed to lock the rear would probably no longer be present.

When the foot brake lever is used, the two outer pistons of the rear caliper are activated, as are the center pistons of the two front calipers. This linked system doesn't use a secondary master cylinder but instead transfers the front braking through a delay valve mounted on the right fork tube. The delay valve ensures that the front braking will not startle those who'd rather pretend they weren't using the front brakes at all.

For those of you who have been bothering to think this all through, I'll answer the question to which you've probably now arrived. When the foot lever is actuated, the secondary master located on the front left caliper is back-pressurized so that the braking of the front wheel does not cause additional braking at the rear. In short, using the linked foot lever for braking delinks the other system.

In the Saddle

Although many editors have praised the earlier versions of the VFR, some of the more sport-oriented among us found the old bike to be too soft, too sport-touring, and too characterless. But this latest version of the Interceptor isn't meant to win praise from those who loved the old one, or from those who couldn't care less. No, the new Interceptor is designed to be just better overall.

The first thing that stands out when riding the Interceptor is the increased power of its engine. The bike really does like to be revved and although it has plenty of midrange torque, the real fun begins once high rpm is reached. Whereas the old version was competent, this latest engine has character. And the broad, smooth power delivery has enough range to please everyone. It's not a peaky sportbike power curve but rather a friendly rush from one end of the range to the other.

The sit-up riding position offers all the comfort that VFR owners have long appreciated, while not distracting from the sporting potential of the machine. Compared with some of the latest sportbikes, it actually feels sportier because it is easy to tuck in behind the windscreen and hide from the wind; whereas some of the rad stuff leaves the rider hanging halfway over the fairing upper.

The dashboard gets the sporting point across nicely. The speedo has a black face and is off to the left, while the tach has a big white face and is located dead center. The important gauge is center stage. And not only does this thing have a clock, it also has an ambient air thermometer so you can know exactly how cold you are during the darker months. It was entertaining to watch it climb back to the comfortable temperature of the L.A. basin, after spending a day photographing the bike in the San Gabriel mountains.

The biggest surprise of all was that the linked braking didn't scare us like we had expected, especially since some of the old systems had. When using the hand lever it is difficult to detect much rear braking, and the threat of the bike swapping ends when braking hard for tight turns eventually became nonexistent. It just results in making the bike strangely balanced. And when using only the foot lever, hard braking resulted in hard slowing with little threat of rear brake lock-up. In order to get the rear brake to lock at all, the foot lever had to be stabbed on hard. The system was designed to offer the most to average riders and we think that Honda might have gotten it right this time. It's almost too easy to ride.

The Interceptor now handles more like a good sportbike should. The suspension offers adjustability to allow the rider to stiffen it up for hard riding, yet it is soft enough for lumbering around town over speed bumps all day. The machine is quick-steering and has the predictability and stability of Honda's own F3. In fact, in many ways it's like an F3 but with tons more torque. It all makes one wonder why the 16-inch front wheel that was dumped from this thing nearly 10 years ago, is still found on the CBR900RR.

As incredible as it may sound, Honda has actually succeeded in creating a sportbike and a sport-tourer while hiding any hint of compromise on either side. If you desire the abilities of a sportbike but also want the comfort of a sport-tourer, this bike is worth a look. The new Interceptor is able to offer its rider the opportunity to have great fun while looking mature and responsible. Not that that ever concerned us. During our interlocution with the Honda guys at the Interceptor's introduction, they insisted that the machine was more focused as a sportbike yet still a great sport-tourer. It was difficult not to think that they were hopelessly trying to have it both ways. Damn if they didn't succeed.

Test Notes
X Linked braking on muddy roads is weird X Taking the press down muddy roads during a bike's intro is weird, too + Really cool ambient air temp gauge + That's "cool" like in nice, not like in cold - Where are the OEM hard bags? - Hey! Read the damn test

Interceptor VFR800FI****Suggested retail price: $9499


Type: **Liquid-cooled, 90 deg. V-four
**Valve arrangement: **DOHC, 4 valves/cyl., gear-driven
**Displacement: **781cc
**Bore x stroke: **72 x 48mm
**Compression ratio: **11.6:1
**Carburetion: **PGM electronic fuel injection
6-speed, close-ratio


Front suspension: 41mm HMAS cartridge fork with stepless spring preload adjustability; 4.7 in. travel
Rear suspension: Pro-Arm, single-sided swingarm with Pro-Link-mounted, HMAS gas-charged shock with 7-position spring preload and stepless rebound damping adjustability; 4.7 in. travel
Front brake: Dual 296mm discs with LBS three-piston calipers
Rear brake: **256mm disc with LBS three-piston caliper
**Front wheel: **3.5 x 17 in.
**Rear wheel: **5.5 x 17 in.
**Front tire: **120/70ZR17 Dunlop D204 Sportmax
**Rear tire: **180/55ZR17 Dunlop D204 Sportmax
**Rake/trail: **25.5 deg./3.94 in. (100mm)
56.7 in. (1440mm)
**Seat height: **31.7 in. (805mm)
**Fuel capacity: **5.5 gal (20.8L)
**Weight: **499 lb (226kg) wet; 458 lb (208kg) dry
**Instruments: **Tachometer, speedometer, odometer, two tripmeters, fuel gauge, ambient temperature gauge, clock


Top speed: **150.9 mph
60-80 mph/5.23 sec.
80-100 mph/4.98 sec.
Fuel consumption: 40 mpg average
Quarter-mile: 11.14 @ 122.18 mph

Sport Rider Opinions

Personally, I wasn't impressed by the old VFR 750. It always seemed to be a neutered Interceptor. Honda took the coolest bike of its day and made it into a pleasant, civil, well-mannered machine. Conservatism and moderation may contribute to a long life but they're a drag to party with.

But this latest transmutation of VFR/Interceptor lineage has spunk. It revs the way a sportbike should. It's been de-neutered. Re-balled.

What I want to know is, how long will it take for an aftermarket company to make a pipe, located on the left side, that will give the machine a racier look by revealing the swingarm-less, right side of the bike-like the RC30/45?

The new Interceptor is, in short, a repli-racer that doesn't look like one. It behaves like one in the twisties, but on the long haul down the highway, it doesn't feel like one. And the passenger accommodations don't put your date's thighs in against your shoulders. I know that many of us have enjoyed that seating arrangement but the person in the rear has often felt differently about it.

If you get pulled over by the law for testing the boundaries of local enforcement, show him the clock and ambient thermometer. After seeing those he'll be convinced that you're mature, smart, and should only be given a warning.

Peter Jones

When the original Interceptor came out in '83, I drooled incessantly over the foldout color ads. Man, it was da kine back then; nothing else was even close. But then as the years went by, the bike started to get soft in the gut, and soon it quietly slinked out of the all-out sportbike category. Although it was still a fantastic bike, the VFR was just a bit too sterile for my tastes. A little too "gentlemanly."

I'm glad Honda decided to spice up the new Interceptor a little. Hell, the new VFR (Ooops, they aren't calling it that anymore, are they?) actually has a bit of a midrange "hit" now, and the motor is a much livelier revver, with the fuel injection giving it snappier throttle response. And the new chassis works just as good, if not better than, the older model.

I'm still not a fan of the LBS, however. Although I realize its benefits for some riders (plus the fact that this third-generation unit is the least intrusive yet), I would much rather be able to make simultaneous applications of both brakes myself, in addition to rear brake-only usage.

Nevertheless, I like the new VF...I mean, Interceptor. It's still the "Gentleman's Express"-just with a little attitude this time around.

Kent Kunitsugu

This article originally appeared in the June 1998 issue of Sport Rider.

Related stories: