Honda VTR1000F Firestorm review: Future classic

Date 23.3.2015

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader

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Honda VTR1000F Firestorm

INTO THE STORM

When Honda released the VTR1000F Firestorm in 1997, it couldn’t have imagined such global popularity. Built to cash in on the sales and race success of Ducati’s 916 during the 1990s, the Firestorm configuration represented a massive shift from Honda’s tried-and-true four-cylinder sports offerings. It was probably also a move the company was reluctant to make.

The bike allowed Honda the opportunity to take advantage of World Superbike rules allowing twins to run to a capacity of 1000cc. Thus, in 2000 it released the RC51 (SP-1), powered by the VTR’s 998cc, liquid-cooled, V-twin engine and with it, taking the World Superbike Championship with Colin Edwards riding for the Castrol team.

Suzuki tried to get in on the act at the same time, launching the ill-fated TL1000S. The less said of the poor old TL the better. As one Suzuki insider recently said of the TL experiment, “woops”. Let’s leave it at that.

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The Firestorm’s powerplant was an all-new design and the bike introduced several design concepts. These included the semi-pivotless twin-spar aluminium frame, peripheral radiators, single-casting engine case, connecting rods with cap screws instead of nuts, and the biggest carburettors Honda ever fitted to a motorcycle at 48mm. The instrument panel was also redesigned and new, smaller indicators fitted.

The tank capacity in 2001 was upped from 16 litres to 19. This went some way to addressing the VTR’s biggest bugbear – a limited touring range. Why the bike was originally built with such a small tank remains a mystery and there seems no good reason. Even when Honda ceased production, the VTR had a reputation for its thirst and below-par range which dogged it unfairly.

We can only wonder the Firestorm’s full showroom potential had this silly design foible been avoided.

Further changes for the 2001 model included fork improvements, a more forgiving riding position via less steeply raked clip-ons (raised 15mm and angled upward seven degrees) and an LCD display for fuel level, engine temperature, dual trip meters, odometer and clock. An immobiliser also became standard. Interestingly, the bike was known as the Superhawk in the US – perhaps the Firestorm designation was a little close to the first Gulf War’s Desert Storm references for the Americans – and the bike strangely retained the 16-litre tank in the home of the brave.

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NOT ALL BEER AND SKITTLES

While the VTR is well put together and solid, camchain tensioners can fail, along with water pumps and corroding primary pipes.

The regulator or rectifier can give up the ghost. When it does fail, sometimes other components are affected, which can result in a very expensive repair. In most cases the battery is rendered useless as a consequence. There are aftermarket rectifiers available (the same issue beset the VFR800), which are said to be more reliable than the Honda unit. We’d recommend going this way.

Brakes are twin 296mm discs with Nissin four-piston calipers up front and a 220mm single hydraulic disc with a single-piston caliper at the rear. Those stoppers aren’t the bike’s high point and ‘adequate’ was a word that cropped up more than once among owners. That’s a euphemism for ‘poxy’ in the sportsbike world.

A popular fix is to bolt on six-pot calipers from the 2002 GSX-R1000, which are said to be a straight swap (the forums are alive with this sort of thing, but check the info carefully). An easier improvement is to fit braided lines with feedback from owners being a very reasonable improvement in feel and power.

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Pillion accommodation is good, but there’s no grab rail as standard (yet another peculiar omission). Why a bike aimed at the sports end of the sports-touring category would think a pillion seat strap offers sufficient passenger purchase is beyond us.

Good news is there are aftermarket grab rails available for the Firestorm, such as the Renntec version, which can be bought online for around $120. Forks are a little soft with no compression damping. Different springs (plenty available from Ohlins, Hyperpro or WP) and heavier fork oil sorts this. Common mods see Dynojet kits and filters fitted on many used examples, and some owners drill the carb slides claiming much improved throttle response.

FIRE SALE

The Firestorm represents all that’s good about Honda, especially when purchasing used. Longevity is proven, but the big payoff is in the bike’s handling. It is simply rock solid, with great fat dollops of mid-range grunt from that silky V-twin.

It’s plenty fast enough, too, with 76kW at 9000rpm and 93Nm at 7000rpm.

The bike is also a cheerful commuter, happily putting about town in that refined Honda manner and the seat height of 810mm is reasonable for those of lesser vertical stature.

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There are plenty of good used examples around and older ones can be bought for as little as $5000. Choose correctly and that represents a whole lot of bike for a pretty reasonable outlay.

It’s a Honda and parts are never going to be an issue, but the price you pay for all that Honda reliability is a bit of a pipe-and-slippers reputation. You’re not going to stand out on your Firestorm, that’s certain. If none of that bothers you then there’s a hell of a lot to like about the VTR1000F.