As part of my obsession with motorcycles I often find myself perusing manufacturers’ websites, muttering: “I want to ride that one, and that one, and that one, and…”
Doing this on Honda’s UK website the other day I happened to notice something that I hadn’t heard mentioned anywhere: the Honda VFR1200F has been dropped from the line-up. I thought perhaps it might just be a reflection of UK market tastes, so I checked Honda’s Spain site – no, la motocicleta no está allí. To be certain, I jumped over to Big Red’s US site, and, sure enough, the bike Wes Siler once referred to as “Shamu” is gone from there, as well.
I personally feel the VFR1200F is/was one of the most beautiful bikes ever made. The quality of its fit and finish was so far beyond anything else that Honda makes. It was one of the very, very, very few Japanese bikes that I could just sit and stare at, happily taking in every little detail. Sadly, I never got a chance to ride a VFR1200F, and now it looks like I never will.
I would have thought the sport-touring genre would be one that Honda would be happy to dominate
Meanwhile, a bike that I feel Honda probably should drop hangs on: the ST1300, aka Pan-European. The stalwart machine is still just sitting there in the line-up, looking and performing almost exactly the same as when first introduced some 17 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the Pan. It’s another bike I’ve not had the pleasure to ride, but every owner I’ve met speaks highly of the machine and clocks up huge miles on the thing. Still, it’s pretty long in the tooth – I mean, really long in the tooth – and expecting anyone to pay £15,000 for a new one is laughable.
The VFR800F, meanwhile hangs on, and maybe there’s an argument to be made that Honda is re-imagining the genre with its new lighter, slicker Gold Wing, but by and large it seems the company has abandoned the sport tourer.
I guess you could say that’s an overall industry trend. And perhaps one that makes sense. The adventure-sport category – bikes like the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT (a bike that KTM actually refers to as a sport tourer) or the under-appreciated Triumph Tiger Sport – have more or less filled the space previously occupied by sport tourers. And for a guy who’s 6-foot-1, these adventure-sport bikes are more comfortable than the sportbike-emulating machines of old.
But not everyone is my height nor as inflexible as me, and for those folks most manufacturers have kept a toe in the sport-touring pool. Yamaha overhauled the FJR1300 not too long ago, Kawasaki has also kept its GTR1400 from getting too old, BMW is finding all kinds of ways to expand the appeal of its K1600 platform, Ducati introduced its SuperSport only last year, and Suzuki – well, if rumors are to be believed and you buy the idea that the GSX1300R can easily lend itself to touring – is on the verge of rolling out a completely overhauled Hayabusa.
But Honda, it seems, isn’t keen. I find that interesting. I would have thought the sport-touring genre would be one that Honda would be happy to dominate, since many of the factors that define the genre also happen to define most of Honda’s large-capacity line-up: reasonably fast bikes that can be ridden really far.
This makes me wonder how Honda sees itself – how it wants to see itself, and how it wants others to see it. There’s long been a quiet conversation in moto-journalism circles that the company doesn’t seem entirely happy with what it is at the moment, but that it seems equally unwilling to explore what else it could be. To some extent, it’s like a well-grounded middle-aged man – feeling the pangs of a mid-life crisis but equally unwilling to give in.
Whatever Honda is thinking, I have to admit I’m a little sad the VFR1200F won’t be a part of its future plans. Though, perhaps it is telling that I never found time to actually ride one.