The news about Honda's Interceptor is no longer news. The ink is
dry, the book is closed and all factions of the motorcycle world long ago
reached a consensus: Honda's VF750F Interceptor was the best sportbike—no, make
that the best motorcycle—of 1983.
But now, less than one year later, there's no reason to buy one.
At least, that's how Honda expects American riders to feel. The
750 Interceptor is still around and is as good as ever; but it's now subject to
the stiffer import tariff on bikes displacing more than 700cc, and so is being
imported only in limited quantities. The spotlight has shifted to the VF700F, a
bike designed to fill the 750's shoes in every way.
Not that the 700 is superior, or even all that different
compared with the 750. In fact, there are only two significant differences: a
3.2mm decrease in the engine's stroke, and an $800 decrease in the bike's price.
Everything else is the same; the V-Four, liquid-cooled motor still has four
valves per cylinder, a five-speed transmission and a one-way clutch designed to
slip rather than allow the rear wheel to chirp if the engine isn't revved high
enough during a downshift. The Interceptor exists as a 700 (actually, 698.9cc)
simply as a way of sidestepping the tariff while providing all of the sensations
and thrills of the 750.
That, of course, puts incredible pressure on the 700. It isn't
meant to break new ground in the handling wars, nor is it aimed at setting new
quarter-mile records. The 700's success will be measured on one criteria alone:
Is it as good as the 750?
In terms of outright acceleration, the inevitable answer to that
question is no. Last year, the 750 tripped the quarter-mile lights in 11.67
seconds with a terminal speed of 115.23 mph; this year's 700 clocked a 12.44
sec. at 107.52 mph. Of course, these times were turned by different riders at
different tracks and, obviously, on different days. Still, that's over a
half-second in an age where companies are scratching just for hundredths;
and that E.T. might be the 700's most damning fault if outright acceleration is
a potential buyer's highest priority. If it's not, if real-world measurements of
performance such as top-gear roll-ons carry more significance on a rider's
personal priority scale, then the 700 might surprise him. With both machines
cruising at about 50 mph in fifth gear, a throttle roll-on will see the 700 walk
away as though the 750 bike were chained to a tree. And it isn't until the
machines reach license-losing speeds of about 110 mph that the 750 begins to
make up ground on the 700.
Assuredly, the most significant reason for the 700's roll-on
superiority is its difference in final-drive gearing; the 700 has a 16-tooth
countershaft sprocket whereas the 750 has a 17-toother. Honda's goal was to make
the 700feel as much like the 750 as possible; and because decreases in
displacement usually result in less low-end power, a gearing change was in
order. The 700 also has different cam timing, with less duration for both intake
and exhaust. That replenishes some of the destroked Interceptor's lost low-end,
but costs a little power on top, especially above 8000 rpm.
Those who fancy themselves knee-draggers will probably notice
the top-end deficit right away. The 700 feels somewhat lackluster when revved
all the way to the red zone, but that was a trait of the 750, as well. The
low-pitched hum of the exhaust and smooth nature of the power delivery gave the
rider the impression that the motor wasn't really pulling all that hard, when in
truth, the machine was accelerating spectacularly. With the 700, however, the
feeling is more authentic, although you still usually are going a lot faster
than you think. And until you get on a twisty road and start buzzing the tach up
near the redline, it's very difficult to tell the 700 from the 750 as far as
horsepower is concerned.
In terms of handling, there's almost no way to tell the
difference, for the '84 700 and 750 chassis are absolutely identical. The 700's
frame and running gear have the same features that made the '83 Interceptor
stand apart from all the sport-bikes before it: single-shock Pro-Link suspension
with four-way-adjustable rebound damping (although the damping on all four
positions has been increased compared with last year's machine); air-assist for
both front and rear suspensions; four-way-adjustable compression damping on the
right fork leg only; and Honda's Torque-Reactive Anti-dive Control (TRAC), one
of the few anti-dive systems that do effectively reduce fork dive under hard
Those features were enough to make the motorcycle world drool
over the Interceptor last year, and this year the VF700F handles every bit as
well. But standards can change overnight in this industry, and what was magic
last year can be routine today. When the Interceptor was introduced, it was the
first of a new breed of motorcycle, with its 16-inch front wheel and
ultra-responsive steering. But today, in an environment populated by the likes
of Honda's own VF500F and Kawasaki's Ninja, the VF700F hardly seems
quick-steering at all. It is responsive, but far from being a motorcycle
that falls into the turns by itself. The VF now seems a stable machine, one that
doesn't require constant correction to counter road irregularities.
That makes the Interceptor a rare kind of sportbike that doesn't
limit its appeal just to the sport rider, for it is competent at virtually
any kind of street riding. Sure, everyone knows or has heard about how well
Interceptors turn, how far they lean and how fast they go; but it's easy to
overlook just how good the 700 is when the riding intensity is clicked down a
few tenths on the peg-scraper scale, when the rides are longer and comfort plays
a more important role. With a few suspension adjustments— say, 10 psi in the
rear shock instead of 35, and 0 psi instead of 10 in the fork— the VF changes
from canyon-racer to sport-tourer like some sort of two-wheeled chameleon.
In fact, the Interceptor invades a market set aside for another
of Honda's five 700s. The Nighthawk S is supposed to be more of a
general-purpose sport motorcycle, with the Sabre, Magna and Shadow progressing
through the sport-touring and cruiser segments of the market. But the
Interceptor is every bit as comfortable and easy to manage around town as the
Nighthawk S, and the VF has more low-end power and a much smoother powerband.
What's more, the seating position is less cramped than that of the Nighthawk,
not to mention a lot of other sportbikes. All of which means that the
Interceptor is a sportbike you don't have to be a roadracer to appreciate. So
while Honda might consider the VF700F an extreme, few other extremes, if any,
have quite as broad a focus.
Using the Interceptor for everyday street riding does have
drawbacks, though. There are a few details that don't truly limit the machine,
but might just annoy the owner. Details like a helmet lock that is nearly
inaccessible, a less-than-reliable fuel gauge, and a lack of an oil-level
window. On the other side of the balance sheet, there are an equal number of
positive details. The Interceptor's fuel petcock is large and Reserve is easy to
find while you're riding the bike. The mirrors are positioned so you can see
where you've been without twisting and contorting like Gumby with back spasms.
And there even are well-positioned grab handles on the tail section for the
Of course, the 750 had all those features, too, and so they have
no bearing on the primary question: Is the VF700F a worthy replacement for the
There are those who inevitably will say no, claiming that any
dilution of the original recipe is too much. They will claim that when
perfection is downgraded, no matter how slightly, it no longer is perfection.
But the 750 Interceptor never was perfect, regardless of what its strongest
proponents might claim.
And a closer examination would probably show that each of the
dissenters falls into one of three categories: They've already purchased an '84
750 and paid the stiff import tariff; they've bought an '83 Interceptor and paid
the dealer tariff— the inflated price that many dealers charged for 750
Interceptors when those bikes were in short supply; or they're simply hardcore
So in the end, it all boils down to a simple case of values. And
no magazine can presume to tell you which is worth more, a half-second in the
quarter-mile or $800 of your money. But $ 16 is a lot to pay for each additional
cubic centimeter. And at $800 for a half-second, the VF750F is earning almost $6
million an hour—a tough rate, especially when you're paying the bill.
Admittedly, then, the VF700F is a compromise. But it's a
compromise that gives away little and gains much. The 700 offers nearly
everything the 750 offers, but for considerably less. And even those few
individuals who buy the 700 and ultimately find that it's not enough have the
option of buying all the parts (rods, pistons, crank and cams) and building
their own 750—the price of that venture would be about $800 in parts plus a lot
of work. Meaning that for potential Interceptor buyers, it still can't be said
that there's no reason to buy the 750. But what can be said is that there's no
reason not to buy the VF700F. H