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Honda VF 700F Interceptor
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 700 feel 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 braking.
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 passenger.
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 VF750F?
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 performance addicts.
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.
Source Cycle World 1983