Sunday, May 8, 2011

2008 Honda VFR Interceptor First Ride

The 2008 Honda Interceptor may not have undergone any major changes  but it still carries all the trademark features from its racing roots.
The 2008 Honda Interceptor may not have undergone any major changes, but it still carries all the trademark features from its racing roots.
Few dates on the calendar instill the kind of fear and loathing-not to mention paranoia-in the American conscience as that of April 15th. That's right, tax day. The date is so foreboding it has the ability to rouse angst in even the most honest, law abiding citizen. Like many of the country's tax paying individuals I approach the day (rather it approaches me) with a kind of resigned dread. The last several years, late at night on the 14th, as I plowed through the requisite pile of receipts a freelance moto-journalist acquires throughout the year, I promised to get my taxes done early the following year. That promise was repeatedly broken each subsequent season. That is, until this year.

With uncharacteristic diligence I managed to dive into the daunting task ahead of schedule. This was achieved by making a deal with myself; that if I could get my taxes filed early, I would reward myself with playing hooky on April 15th, tax day, and spend the day on a motorcycle. In the end, I made peace with what I owed the good ole USA government, wrote out a check, and sent the forms to Sacramento. The morning of the 15th, a Tuesday, dawned with a kind of lumbering laziness. Instead of the usual dark mood and ominous silence, birds were chirping and there was a scent of freshly mowed grass in the air. I thought maybe I'd dreamt the episode of being done with it all, but quickly realized it was true. I was free. April 15th would be my day.

A hot cup of coffee in the quaint village of Ojai after a good ride add up to the start of a perfect day.
A hot cup of coffee in the quaint village of Ojai after a good ride add up to the start of a perfect day.
Coffee and toast were enjoyed with a calm normally given over to Saturdays. Then I suited up. The day would be spent with the new 2008 Honda VFR Interceptor. To stretch the legs of the sport-touring mount - as well as indulge this unexpected mid-week freedom - I decided to take a dash up the back roads to Ojai, California, simply for the beautiful extravagance of a coffee in the quaint village. As I headed out of town I noticed that Kinko's was a beehive of activity. Disheveled citizens-with blood shot eyes, wired from a night consuming coffee-morbidly and numbly made copies of their returns. The light turned green and I dropped the clutch on the VFR to start my day of hooky.

As a sport-touring mount Honda's VFR is a solid player that can give most liter sportbikes a run for their money (Just watch Freddie Spencer-who uses a VFR as a teaching platform-put one through its paces at his riding school). The Interceptor has a rich racing pedigree that Honda continues to evolve, albeit very incrementally. The VFR has merely been refined over the past three years with no dramatic changes. That said, it remains a formidable machine that provides riders desiring performance and comfort with a stylish, practical, and thoroughly enjoyable alternative.

The  08 Interceptor features a fuel-injected  VTEC V-4 engine  an aluminum chassis  ABS and an all-new color scheme.
The '08 Interceptor features a fuel-injected, VTEC V-4 engine, an aluminum chassis, ABS and an all-new color scheme.
The Interceptor is equipped with Honda's 781cc liquid-cooled 90-degree V-TEC engine. The V-4 powerplant has 4-valves per cylinder, but only operates on two-valves (one intake, one exhaust) per cylinder at low rpm, then transitions to operating on all 4-valves at 6500 rpm and above. The theory and practicality behind the V-TEC engine is to imbue the Interceptor with the benefits of increased torque and fuel economy of a 2-valve engine at lower revs, with the more efficient flow and top-end power a 4-valve head affords at higher revs. The engineering has an F-1 type feel to it, augmented by a powerfully sweet growl that really sings on top end. The VFR was put on the dyno at Peak Performance Motorcycles in Simi Valley to get a true horsepower rating. Just before tagging redline the Honda hit a respectable 107 horsepower at 10,800 rpm. Maximum torque rating was 59.49 ft lbs at 7750 rpm.

The technology is impressive, but it comes at a cost. There is slight flat spot and subsequent surge when the motor switches from 2 to 4-valves. Honda has improved this for 2008, smoothing out the transition significantly. On the plus side, the motor pulls strong off idle and at low, traffic-friendly applications. Once the 4-valve configuration starts pumping, the Interceptor can really scream. The F-1 techno feel runs through the entire Interceptor's drive train. Transmission and clutch deliver seamless shifts, perfectly accented by the responsive motor.

The torquey qualities of the VFR at low rpm complemented the stop and go traffic as I departed town, sharing the congested streets with morning commuters. A short jaunt on the freeway was devoured with aplomb, the 6-speed close-ratio transmission providing a decent spread between gears. Breaking off from the freeway the Interceptor lapped up the winding two-lane roads that snake through the mountains to Ojai, showing off the machine's racing roots.

Its 5.8-gallon tank gives the  08 Interceptor good range. Throw on the optional hard saddlebags and you ve got a solid sport-touring package.
Its 5.8-gallon tank gives the '08 Interceptor good range. Throw on the optional hard saddlebags and you've got a solid sport-touring package.
A 57.4-inch wheelbase gives the VFR a quick, sporting response on turn-in with good mid-corner stability. Fully fueled the VFR tips the scales at 554 pounds, the weight bias distributed 288 lbs on the rear (52%) and 266 (48%) on the front. This weight, when multiplied by inertia, contributed to some front tire cupping, although truth be told, that was after some very serious riding with aggressive trail-braking.

The Interceptor I was riding was equipped with ABS, with the front and rear brakes linked (which automatically applies some front brake when the rear pedal is depressed). The only critique I have of the ABS system - which I always recommend for touring for unpredictable weather and unfamiliar roads - is that under heavy braking the feel of the front brake is inconsistent. This is due to the ABS erroneously trying to regulate pressure and wheel speed, misinterpreting the aggressive braking as wheel spin. It's quite common with ABS systems and, again, this is somewhat of an unfair criticism as this only occurred when flogging the Interceptor very aggressively. The brakes consist of dual 296mm rotors mated to 3-piston calipers on the front, with a single 256mm disc on the rear.

The VFR is definitely more of a sport machine that has been adapted for travel with a slightly relaxed seating position and optional hard bags to earn it a sport touring classification. Although more comfortable than most sport machines, the Interceptor is going to feel cramped for most riders on long hauls. Freeway flying distance junkies would be better suited to Honda's ST1300. Further proving this out, Honda's website places the Interceptor in the sport category as opposed to the touring section. The VFR has a 5.8 gallon capacity fuel tank, which is going to render (depending on riding habits) a range in excess of 200 miles between fuel stops.
The Interceptor is the type of bike that looks smokin  hot even when it s sitting still.
The Interceptor is the type of bike that looks smokin' hot even when it's sitting still.

The Interceptor possesses aggressive lines with attractively wedged bodywork and an angular windscreen that works sufficiently at freeway speeds. A single-sided swingarm and dual under-seat exhaust contribute to the VFR's high-end sophisticated presence. What the Honda VFR Interceptor offers is a machine with the performance and good looks of a sportbike, combined with more practical ergonomics for weekend jaunts. Naturally, the whole package is graced with Honda's phenomenal dependability and stellar fit and finish. Available in one color; a classy, striking Metallic Silver.

After my day of hooky, roosting around the back roads of Ojai, I headed back home, getting into town as stragglers were frantically trying to get their tax returns post-marked before 5 p.m. Unlike the traditional rush, this year for me, April 15th, had delivered one of those wonderful days of pointless wandering a motorcycle inspires. I wonder if I could write the VFR Interceptor off next year as therapy for well-being?

2008 VFR Interceptor ABS MSRP $11,799 (standard $10,799)

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