Want a super bargain? Here’s Snag’s first in a series of retrospectives on iconic bikes. We’ll save you a bunch of heartache…
When Honda released the VTR1000F Firestorm in 1997, it couldn’t have known the level of global acceptance for which the bike was destined.
Built as a type of ‘rearguard action’ to stem some of the sportsbike market flow that was flooding to Ducati and its 916, mainly based around World Superbike success that the Bolognese brand enjoyed throughout the nineties, the Firestorm configuration represented a massive shift away from Honda’s tried and true four-cylinder sports offerings, and one it probably would have preferred not to have had to make at the time.
The bike also allowed Honda the opportunity to take advantage of World Superbike rules that allowed twins to run to a capacity of 1000cc and in 2000 it released the RC51 (SP-1), in the process 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, “whoops”. Let’s leave it at that.
The Firestorm’s powerplant was a totally new design and the bike in fact introduced more than a few new design concepts including 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.
From 2001, the tank capacity was upped from 16 litres to 19. This went some way to addressing the VTR’s biggest bugbear – a limited touring range (it is a thirsty beast into the bargain, compounding the problem). Why the bike was originally built with such a small tank remains a mystery, there seems no good reason.
Right up until the bike’s discontinuation in 2005 here in Australia, market perception was that the bike’s range was an issue, and this reputation dogged it unfairly. One can only wonder how a bike that sold as well as did the Firestorm would have fared at the showroom had this silly design foible not occurred.
Further changes for the 2001 model year included fork internal improvements, a more forgiving riding position delivered via less steeply raked clip-on bars (raised 15mm and angled upward seven degrees) and an LCD display for fuel level, engine temperature, dual trip meters, odometer and clock. The Honda Ignition Security System (HISS) immobiliser also became standard.
Interestingly, the bike was known as the ‘Superhawk’ in the USA – perhaps the designation of ‘Firestorm’ was a little close to the first Gulf War’s ‘Desert Storm’ references for that market – and the bike strangely retained the original 16 litre tank in the home of the brave.
NOT ALL BEER AND SKITTLES
While the VTR is well put together and solid, cam chain 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 besets the VFR800), which are said to be more reliable that the Honda unit. We’d recommend going this way.
Brakes are twin 296mm discs with Nissin four-piston calipers at the front and a 220mm single hydraulic disc with single-piston caliper at the rear.
Those stoppers are not 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 2002 GSX-R1000 six-pot calipers, which are claimed to be a straight changeover (the forums are alive with this sort of thing, but check the info carefully). An easier improvement is to fit braided lines, with owners that have carried out the mod reporting very reasonable improvement in feel and power.
Pillion accommodation is good, but there is no grab rail at 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 easily purchased on the web for around $120AUD.
Forks are a little soft with no compression damping. Different fork 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 as a consequence.
The Firestorm represents all that’s good about Honda, especially when purchasing used. Longevity is proven, but the big payoff is to be found in the bike’s handling. It is simply rock-solid, with great fat dollops of midrange grunt available from that silky V-twin.
It’s plenty fast enough 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 stature.
There are plenty of good used examples around and older ones can be had for as little as four grand. 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 are not going to stand out on your Firestorm, that’s certain. If none of that bothers you, well there’s a hell of a lot to like about the VTR1000F.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.