I guess I was pretty busy in my forties, because I forgot to have my midlife crisis. Now, 20 years later, I’m finally getting around to it with a 2003 Honda VFR800. While I still enjoy the performance and handling of sportbikes, the ergonomics are another matter—the years and a couple of crashes have robbed me of the flexibility I need to conform to the VFR’s sporty seating position. I’m not the only one with this dilemma, though, because the aftermarket offers several simple and inexpensive ways to mellow the VFR’s—and many other sportbikes’—pilot-to-bike interfaces.
When I bought the VFR it already had the one accessory just about everyone looking to make a sportbike more comfortable starts with—HeliBars. They’re 11⁄4 inches taller and 11⁄2 inches more rearward, and the difference they make is bigger than those small changes would indicate. I rode a friend’s VFR800 with stock bars for comparison and knew right away the Helis were the right choice.
Installation is simple, and retains the stock cables, hydraulic lines and bar ends. You can adjust the angles of the bars by loosening the bolt that clamps them to the fork tubes and swinging them forward or back—just be sure they don’t trap your hands against the gas tank at full lock.
Also on the bike when I got it was a Zero Gravity windscreen. It’s taller than stock, but because the Helis let me sit up a bit straighter there’s no significant improvement in wind protection.
The stock grips were small and hard, and made my hands and wrists ache after a short ride. While leafing through an aftermarket catalog I spotted Grab On grip covers. I’ve used Grab On’s foam grips before, but they were too soft and reduced feel too much. The grip covers, however, are thinner, and slip over the stock grips. It was a struggle to install them, but it helped to wet them inside with water first. The difference between the grip covers and the stock grips isn’t huge, but like the HeliBars, they make a noticeable difference
in comfort. The larger overall diameter of the covered grip is easier on my hands, and the tight fit means there’s no slipping or turning on the throttle side.
My knees started aching the first time I climbed aboard the VFR and assumed the heels-on-hips riding position mandated by the stock footpegs. There are lots of rearset kits that raise the footpegs for track riding, but MFW Vario pegs offer a range of positions by using a link called a displacement arm that rotates on its mount and can be set in eight positions. Displacement arms come in three lengths. I got a set of the 30mm arms (the middle size), and pegs with a strip of rubber on them for better grip in the wet. The arms and pegs are universal, but the mounts are bike-specific.
I removed the stock footpegs, put on the mounts for the VFR, and adjusted the arms to the six-o’clock position. This took some of the strain off my knees, but lowered the pegs so much that I had to readjust the shift lever and brake pedal. The shift pedal was an easy fix; I rotated it one spline on the shaft. The brake pedal required getting a wrench into a tight space and turning a nut one flat at a time. It sounds like more work than it was, though. Five minutes later I was done.
The one drawback to the MFW Vario pegs is that they can be repositioned only in a circle around the pivot point. Rotating them either way from bottom dead center raises them, which limits the useful range of adjustment. I’d like them at their lowest and also more forward, but that’s not in the cards. Still, they’re better than the stock pegs, which can’t be moved at all.
Hands and feet dealt with, the final contact point was the seat. The stock one was a brick, thin and hard and sharp-edged—in other words, normal for a sportbike. None of the pads, sheepskins, or blow-up devices in my gear closet made it any more bearable, so I shelved it and got a Sargent World Sport Performance seat. The Sargent is a straight swap, and comes with a neat underseat storage bin. The padding isn’t what I’d call thick, but it’s made of something Sargent calls Super Cell Atomic Foam, which gets points for the name alone. It feels better, too, eliminating the angles and pressure points created by the stock seat. As a bonus, it even accepts the VFR’s optional seat cowl over the passenger section.
I haven’t turned my VFR into an all-day sport tourer, but I’ve made it more comfortable to ride for several hours at a time, long enough to enjoy the power and handling of a modern sportbike and get home without having to stop by my chiropractor’s office on the way. Barring the invention of a time machine so I can get a do-over on the last 20 years, that’ll do just fine.
(This Riding Around article appeared in the April 2012 issue.)