Riding Australia on Honda’s new VFR1200F
By, Trevor Hedge (Part 1)
I am no stranger to long distance travel.
Countless trips up the east and west coasts and nearly a dozen trips across the bottom of Australia on a huge variety of motorcycles can attest to that. A 45 hour strop from Phillip Island to Perth on a 2006 Fireblade was my most recent long distance sojourn in Australia while in 2008 I rode across America.
But I am yet to cross the top of Australia from east to west.
When word broke on the imminent arrival of Honda’s new VFR1200F (we previewed the model here) I thought that time may be ripe to remedy that situation and take Honda’s new sport-touring flagship for a trip right around Australia.
That’s basically how the plan was hatched and after picking up the VFR1200F that Honda displayed at the World Superbike expo last weekend I rode out of Phillip Island Monday morning and made a beeline for the Hunter Valley.
My plan as I make my way around is to avoid the boring dieways where possible and take in some of Australia’s best motorcycling roads as I work my way around. Thus despite some very inclement weather I still made the choice to head to NSW’s Hunter Valley via Bairnsdale, Cann River and Cooma rather than slab it up the blacktop of the dreaded Hume Highway.
I needed to be at my destination on the Monday night so there was not much time for messing around. The national press launch for the VFR1200F was taking place on Tuesday along the infamous Putty Road so Monday’s ride called for 1150km of riding on some very wet and slippery roads.
Of course I was not on my Pat Malone in making such a journey as I joined thousands that make their annual pilgrimage from all corners of Australia for the World Superbike weekend at Phillip Island. Motorcyclists and motorcycles of all ages, shapes and sizes cross paths as they work their way home somewhat worse for wear after a weekend of camping or partying. For most though this is a non-issue and no matter what hazards mother nature throw their way it won’t stop them coming back for more next year.
Tuesday was a somewhat more relaxed day incorporating a couple of laps of the Putty Road which provided the first opportunity to try the VFR1200F out on dry roads.
Before leaving Phillip Island I had fitted the VFR1200F with Michelin’s new Pilot Power Pure tyres that were only released this week. A new premium sports offering from Michelin their claim to fame in the Michelin marketing propaganda is that they claim to weigh a kilogram less than comparable hoops. I haven’t weighed them yet but I can say that in the wet they were absolutely sensational with even the most slippery sections of wet and shiny tarmac, of which there were many, provoking only the slightest little nibble from the tyres. In the dry along the Putty they also hung in for dear life and the limits of my testicular fortitude ran out well before the grip afforded by the new rubber.
Likewise the VFR1200F was proving much more sporting than I imagined.
Despite tipping the scales the wrong side of 250kg when fuelled the VFR1200F feels slim between the knees, responds eagerly to peg pressure inputs and is more than capable of setting a scintillating pace through challenging bends.
The suspension is proving more than up to the task of controlling the mass with only the largest hits momentarily upsetting the apple cart before good damping control brings the springs quickly back under control. I was not alone in this observation as the assembled throng of journalists present on our Putty Road jaunt was largely surprised by the VFR1200F’s sporting prowess.
Its touring credentials are also proving accommodating. A comfortable seat, easy reach to the bars (the seat-peg-bar axis is identical to the VFR800), good wind and weather protection and almost a complete absence of vibes made Monday’s 1150km much more pleasant than they might have been on many comparable machines.
An 18 litre tank means that an eye must be kept on fuel stops. The best economy I have managed is around six litres per 100km which after the Putty strop blew out to over seven litres per 100km through a little over exuberance with the right twist grip. The engine is still tight and no doubt will loosen up as the kilometres mount but it seems clear that it will be hard to stretch any more than 300km out of a tank on the VFR1200F.
Wednesday was a slightly more relaxing day that took in a visit to the Hunter Valley Gardens. Situated below the Brokenback Ranges and nestled amongst the multitude of Hunter Valley vineyards the gardens provided an ideal backdrop for some photographs. Opened in 2003 the Hunter Valley Gardens features more than 60 acres of themed garden displays and made a welcome break from the blacktop for some Zen time with nature.
Honda needed the bike for a dealer meeting and ride on Thursday morning thus I had the opportunity to write this early part of the yarn during my forced separation from the VFR1200F.
Reunited with the VFR1200F I managed to get away around 1330. I programmed the GPS (Tom Tom Rider V2) to get me to Walcha via Dungog and Gloucester. Not far into this leg things started to go awry…
When setting the GPS, any GPS really, I have become accustomed to ignoring the dirt road warning it gives you before the instructions as if programming the unit 100 metres up a driveway it generally brings up the dirt road warning. And I knew it was tarmac via my waypoints. But, the Tom Tom had another route in mind…
After 40km of undulating and broken tarmac I then found myself on dirt and heading through Monkerai Nature Reserve. I have no problem getting dirty and the 25 kilometres of gravel over clay was reasonably well graded so pressed on. Until I came to a bridge out sign which, sure enough, appeared just before a bridge that was indeed out, and looked to have been for some time… So it was time for some more dirt roads before finally making it back onto The Bucketts Way and tarmac. All was not to turn out quite as well as I had hoped however…
As I pressed along The Bucketts Way up through Gloucester looking towards a run up Thunderbolts Way I started to feel the uneasy signs of the rear tyre starting to drift and walk around through the turns. I stopped to check things out only to have my suspicions confirmed. A nail in the rear tyre, right in the deepest part of a tread groove. So a quick call to Glen at Taree Motorcycles reserved me a new Pilot Power rear hoop and I made a beeline for Taree to get it fitted.
Glen had me back on the road soon enough and I decided that due to the delay and fading light it was perhaps best to slab it up to Port Macquarie.
An early start on Friday for a run through along the Oxley Highway to Walcha via Gingers Creek. The road was fairly slick so caution was in order but things started to dry as I headed up through to Armidale via Uralla and onto Waterfall Way. A photo stop was called for at Wollomombi Falls before turning north towards Grafton via Nymboida along the undulating and very broken up Armidale Road. Another fuel stop and photo call overlooking the Clarence River before heading up the dreadful Pacific Highway through Ballina before passing the Gold Coast, Brisbane and then proceeding up to the Sunshine Coast. Finished the day with a run along the coast taking in Noosa before tackling some back roads through to Gympie for the night. That last stretch returned 284km from 16 litres with only the final 50km of that sojourn riding specifically for economy. With more right wrist restraint I am sure I can improve on that much further.
I must say I am glad to have New South Wales behind me. The gravel roads seem better maintained than the tarmac roads in Australia’s most populous state. The quality of the tarmac road surfaces is appalling.
Cornering clearance on the VFR1200F is proving great as I have touched nothing down in the bends. On the straights however it is a different story as fully loaded the VFR scrapes its centre-stand when upright and using full suspension travel over large bumps, of which NSW has plenty.
From here on in it looks as though I might need to take some floaties as I am heading into flood country! Perhaps the next update will be made via snorkel…
See you on the highway, maybe…. In the mean time follow updates and images more regularly via Facebook, via Twitter or RSS.
-- Continue to Part 2 --
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