Honda VFR800i (1998-2001): Review & Buying Guide

Kev Raymond
By Kev Raymond

Kev's been riding since acquiring half shares in a CZ175 field bike back in the seventies, passed his test in a blizzard on Christmas Eve 1985, and got his first job on a bike mag in 1990. Likes: long distance touring and short-distance twisties. Currently owns a 1987 GSX-R1100, a 1992 Ducati 400SS, a 1973 Honda SS50, a 1978 Honda CX500, a 1988 Honda Bros special, a 1957 Mobylette and a 110cc pit bike. None of them work.

Honda

 

Honda VFR800i (1998-2001): Why you want it

By the time the VFR800i arrived in showrooms in early 1998, the VFR legend was firmly established. After the humiliation of the chocolate camshaft VF750s of the early 80s, Honda had pulled out all the stops to prove that they could build quick, reliable V4s for the masses, as well as all-conquering full-on race bikes for the well-heeled and talented. The factory RVF endurance and TTF1 race bikes dominated their classes wherever they went, and when the four-stroke tide turned towards production bikes with the new World Superbikes series in 1988, Honda were straight in with the sublime RC30, using every trick they'd learnt with the prototype RVFs. On the road, the VFR750 was a revelation in 1985, with build quality and finish way ahead of what we were used to – and no surprise, given that Honda were rumoured to be making a loss on every single VFR they sold back then... It was a canny move, re-establishing the big H's reputation for innovation, while establishing a new one for build quality and longevity.

Fast forward a decade or more, and the VFR was in need of a refresh. The RC30 had been replaced by the RC45 in 1994 and for 1998, the VFR more or less pinched the RC45's engine, adding a couple of mm to both bore and stroke to bring capacity up to 781cc, moving the gear drive for the cams (one of the reasons for the VFR's high production costs) from the centre to the end of the cylinders, and adopting a dumbed-down version of the 45's PGM-FI fuel injection instead of the 750's carbs. On the chassis side, the frame and swingarm were recognisably VFR but all-new, using the engine as a stressed member and pivoting the single sided swing arm directly from the crankcases.

The result was outstanding – like a VFR, but more so – and everyone loved it. So it was a bit of a surprise when it was replaced by the VTEC version for 2002, a move many VFR fans still regret. Over 20 years since its introduction, the VFR800i is still a great used buy, so long as you know what pitfalls to avoid. So let's have a look, shall we...?

 

Honda

 

What to look for

Engines are legendarily reliable – if it starts and runs there's probably not much wrong with it, and if it doesn't start and run it's unlikely to be anything fundamental mechanically (unless it's been left outside with the airbox off and the cylinders have filled up with water....). They're a bit of a sod for access for servicing though, so it's not uncommon for cheapskate owners to skimp on valve clearance checks and spark plug changes. Plugs are due a check every 8000 miles, and a change at 16k (same time as the valve clearance check. But if you fit posh Iridium plugs you can forget the 8k check and many owners say the plugs will last more or less indefinitely. Poor running - especially at low revs, accompanied by suspicious vibration, is often down to poorly balanced throttle bodies – they really need quite careful balancing so invest in some vacuum gauges.

Clutch and gearbox are tough, but there's a known issue with the clutch pushrod, which gets covered in gunge and/or rusts badly, which causes it to stick instead of moving freely. This can lead to a bizarre combination of clutch slip under power, and clutch grab as you pull away. Clean it up, or source a new replacement and all should be well. While you're guddling-about down in that area, you might want to go down a tooth on the front sprocket (from 17T to 16T. This gives you better drive and acceleration, without affecting top speed (the VFR is over geared as standard) although you might find it makes it a bit less relaxed at motorway cruising speeds.

Suspension is pretty basic front and rear. At the front, a proper revalve by a specialist is ideal, but if you're on a budget, just try fresh oil and raising the forks in the yokes by about 5-10mm – makes a huge difference to steering response and front end feel. At the rear just bite the bullet and buy a new shock from Hagon, YSS or Nitron.

Brakes are strong, but the linked Dual Combined Braking System (DCBS) is complex and it's a pain in the bum to bleed effectively. Warped discs aren't uncommon - vibration through the lever is a sign – although you should check that the semi-floating bobbins haven't got chocked up with brake dust, which can produce the same symptoms.

The charging system was always a bit marginal – to the point that short commutes wouldn't always keep the battery charged up properly. 20 years on you can add tired wiring and failing regulator/rectifier units to that. As well as fitting the best battery you can afford, and checking that the charging system's actually working properly (measuring about 12-13 volts with engine off, rising to about 14 volts with the engine running at about 5000 rpm, and not going above 15 volts when revved hard) your best bet is to replace the reg/rect with a modern Mosfet type (as fitted to most modern Yamahas and Triumphs) and pimp the wiring to replace old corroded earths and bypass the original main fuse with fresh heavy duty wiring. Also worth working your way through the loom cleaning and protecting all the main connectors – poor connections and especially poor earths can cause all sorts of niggly faults including intermittent fault lights on the dash. The dash itself can also malfunction, usually due to cracks or dry joints on the flexible main circuit board. If you're lucky you might be able to fix this with a bit of judicious soldering.

Also with age comes rot, especially the exhaust. The sinuous header pipes are hidden away, hard to get at, and inclined to rot badly. The good news is you can fit the stainless pipes from the later VTEC model, although you will need to remove the VTEC's catalytic converter first. While you're at it, clean out the reed valves for the PAIR secondary air bleed system, if still fitted – they clog up with age and cause a loss in power and a rise in fuel consumption. Bodywork is also getting brittle with age now, so be careful when removing and refitting – it's VERY easy to snap off vulnerable mounting studs.

 

Any updates

Nope. Four years on the market, and no changes except for colours.

 

Honda

 

What to pay for a Honda VFR800i (1998-2001):

You can pick up a tatty VFR800i for a grand or so, but unless you really know what you're doing, it's likely to end up costing you more in the long run than if you bought a decent, clean one in the first place. At time of writing there was a good selection of tidy VFRs available, mostly through dealers, starting at just under £2000, although if you can stretch to around £2500 you get far more choice. Don't worry too much about mileage – condition and evidence of a clued-up, careful owner is more important by far. Look for sensible modifications like upgraded suspension, and quality hard luggage is also worth having. You'll see a few VFRs with asking prices up towards £3500, often labelled as 50th Anniversary models. We wouldn't pay extra for one of those - it was really just a slightly different paint job (red and silver). However, there was a proper special edition of the VFR, tweaked and pimped by Russell Savory at RS Performance. They had red paint with carbon details and white pseudo-race number boards at the rear and over the headlight, single seat cover, some suspension mods and a numbered plaque on the top yoke. These can go for quite a lot more than standard VFRs.

 

Who to ask

Anyone running an older Honda needs to know about David Silver Spares – the biggest source of obsolete and hard to find Honda bits anywhere – davidsilverspares.co.uk. For general aftermarket parts, try wemoto.com – chain and sprocket kits for £93, and brake pads from just £11.96 a pair, for example.

There are various VFR-specific clubs and forums around, via forums and Facebook, although we haven't found one specific to the 800i. They vary in quality and attitude, so the best bet is to sign up for a few and see which suits you best. We've always been impressed with the depth of info and knowledge at vfr.bikersoracle.com though, so that's a good starting point.

 

Honda VFR800i (1998-2001) spec

Used price

From £1500– £3500

Capacity

781cc

Bore x Stroke

72 x 48mm

Engine layout

90° V4

Engine details

DOHC, 16v, liquid cooling, fuel injection, gear driven cams

Power (claimed)

108 bhp (81kW) @ 10,500rpm

Torque (claimed)

60 lb-ft (82Nm) @ 8,500rpm

Top speed

160mph

Transmission

6 speed, chain drive

Average fuel consumption

40mpg tested

Tank size

21 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

185 miles

Reserve capacity

n/a

Frame

Aluminium twin spar with engine as a stressed member

Front suspension

41mm cartridge-type conventional forks

Front suspension adjustment

Preload only

Rear suspension

Rising rate monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Preload and rebound

Front brake

296mm discs, 3-piston calipers

Rear brake

256mm disc, 3-piston caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR17

Rake/Trail

25.5°/95mm

Dimensions

2095mm x 735mm 1190mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1440mm

Ground clearance

130mm

Seat height

805mm

Kerb weight

222kg

 

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