Honda VF500FII – The Svelte Superbike

Editor Introduction: Back in mid 1980’s I rode a Yamaha RD350YPVS. At the time it was the weapon of choice for the young lunatic on budget. But there were alternatives. Most were air-cooled, 4-stroke 550s as typified by the Kawasaki GPz550. A good, swift bike, but no YPVS. Honda had tried to get in on the quick middleweight action with the CBX550. However this was killed by tales of woe regarding cam chain adjusters and the frankly silly inboard disc brakes. But Honda decided to have another go at it and came up with a bike that I hold in equal regard to the YPVS. A sophisticated, stylish, swift bike with proper brakes. It quickly built a reputation as a fine handling bike. Perhaps not as ‘edgy’ as YPVS, but now regarded very highly in many circles.

The Interceptor

This article is the first in an occasional series about some of the bikes, and their owners that come along to the  Oxford group meetings of the VJMC. First Saturday of the month at The Chequers, Weston on the Green if you’re interested in joining them . To kick things off let me introduce you to Martin MacQueen’s 1985 Honda VF500FII. Known in some markets as The Interceptor, it’s an embodiment of the remarkable engineering prowess that Honda demonstrated in the 1980s. This middleweight sports bike has a unique blend of performance, handling, and retro charm. This continues to make it a desirable machine among motorcycle enthusiasts. And that’s a conclusion Martin would certainly endorse. He’d wanted one of these since he was 17. Quite a few years ago, although for the sake of decorum we’ll gloss over exactly how many!

Long Haul to where he is now

He bought this particular example in December 2012 and spent the next two years stripping and completely rebuilding it.  As is the  case with many of us who have gone down this path the rebuild costs totalled nearly three times the purchase price. Was it worth it? Well he certainly seems to think so and having seen the bike close up while taking the photographs I’d also agree. The bike is a testament to the quality of his work.

Get to know the VF

If you’re not that familiar with mid 80’s Hondas here’s a quick rundown of the VF. At its heart is a 498cc liquid-cooled DOHC V4 engine. This compact yet powerful unit provides a lively and engaging ride. It revs up to an impressive 12,000 RPM, producing a power delivery that is both linear and exhilarating. Its V4 engine is a testament to Honda’s innovative spirit, and its distinctive exhaust note adds to the overall sensory experience of the ride. You might think that a 12k redline and long engine life are uneasy bedfellows but with over 54,000 miles on the clock Martin’s VF still sounds crisp and mechanically quiet.

Well worth all the blood, sweat and tears

Intricate, the restoration work is meticulous

Great Combination

The engine is paired with a six-speed transmission, offering a broad range of power that suits diverse riding conditions. In city traffic, the bike feels agile and responsive, while on the open road, the engine’s top-end rush provides an adrenaline surge that still holds up well even when compared to modern sports bikes.

He is particularly impressed by the bike’s handling. Its low weight: approximately 200kg when fully fuelled. Combined with its compact size, make it agile and nimble. The bike provides excellent feedback to the rider, instilling confidence in various riding situations. Its adjustable anti-dive system in the front forks and an adjustable ‘monoshock’  set up for the rear suspension help the bike remain composed over different road surfaces: They contribute to its stability even when cornering at higher speeds.

It’s not perfect

Despite these strengths, the VF500F is not without its drawbacks. The ’80s era switchgear and instrument panel are outdated and can feel quirky to operate for those accustomed to modern motorcycles. Additionally, the V4 engine’s complex design can make maintenance a challenging task. The bike’s relatively short production run also means that finding replacement parts can be difficult, which may deter potential owners who are not up for the challenge.

Some say outdated, or is it just crisp and clear?

Typical of the period

Aesthetically, the VF500F is a distinctive representation of the 1980s. Its bold, vibrant colour schemes and square-edged design stand out in today’s motorcycle landscape. The square headlight and angular bodywork are distinctly retro, adding to its charm. The sporty yet comfortable seating position combined with the reasonably plush seat make it a suitable choice for longer rides.

Fabulous looking bike to my eyes

The VF500F also features a 16-inch front wheel. This was a design trend in the ’80s aimed at reducing steering inertia and improving handling. While it might give the bike a somewhat unusual look to the modern eye, it is a part of the VF500F’s unique character and contributes to its excellent manoeuvrability.

Not one dimensional

Despite being a sports bike, the VF500F offers a comfortable riding experience. The fairing provides decent wind protection, and the seating position strikes a fine balance between sporty and comfortable, which is appreciated on longer rides. The bike also comes with a dual seat, which, although a bit cramped, allows for a pillion rider, a feature not common in many modern sport bikes.

Another area where the VF500F shines is braking. The dual front disc brakes provide strong stopping power, offering reassurance to the rider. The rear disc brake complements the front system, contributing to overall confident and safe braking.

Tiddly 16′ front wheel. Whatever happened to those

So what’s the verdict?

In summary, the 1985 Honda VF500F Interceptor is a testament to the golden era of sports bikes. This middleweight carries the essence of the era with its V4 engine, unique 16-inch front wheel, and excellent handling capabilities. Its distinct 80’s aesthetic combined with its well-rounded performance make it standout in the realm of vintage motorcycles.

Yes, it has its issues, particularly when it comes to maintenance and parts availability, but for those willing to embrace those, the VF500F offers a rewarding and engaging ride. Its captivating combination of power, agility, and retro appeal has stood the test of time, cementing its place in the annals of motorcycling history. Owning and riding a VF500F is not just about getting from point A to point B; it’s about enjoying the journey and being part of a storied legacy. This motorcycle encapsulates a specific period in Honda’s history and continues to delight those who have the privilege to ride or own one.

A big thanks to Martin for his help with this article and the next one will be available after the next VJMC meeting all being well.

Words and Pictures: Stuart Holding

Based on his post in the VJMC – Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club HQ UK/International Facebook group.

Used with permission

Introduction: Tony Donnelly

An interesting take on restoring another VF500FII