Playground Monster - The Honda VTR Roadster

You may not have seen this bike before, but check the photos and you will pretty easily guess what it is, won't you? Of course it's Honda's VTR Firestorm, but without a fairing. Correct, there is that classic 90 degree twin cylinder engine with twin cams on top of each pot, and a pair of big carbs stuffed in the V. The alloy beam chassis has been replaced with a trellis affair, all the more to pay tribute to / cynically copy (delete as you see fit) the Ducati Monstro that it so obviously is competing with. I had seen prototypes of this before, but I had no idea that Honda was now making them, let alone selling them here. Then I remember that I am at Cupar Motorcycles who specialise in bringing in the weird and wonderful from Japan that we are denied here. I am eager to try it, all the more so when I throw a leg over it as it is really light, Honda have obviously worked miracles here, as it is a full sized bike. Let's go ask for the keys.

Certainly I can take the bike and test it says Paul, but do I know what it is? Well of course I do, it's a roadster version of the Firestorm isn't it? Er, well, yes and no comes the answer. Yes it is part of Honda's VTR series, but this is a Japan only model and it's a 250cc version! I can hardly believe my ears, never did a bike look less like a 250! I really could have believed it was 1000cc. When I look at it again I realise why, everything is in total proportion, the size of the engine, tank, wheels, tyres, everything; it all just matches so well that all you see is a handsome bike. The light weight should have been a clue, as when I sit on it again it is a feather weight. Start it up and it is unmistakably a twin, it burbles like a 600 Ducati with a more padded silencer. How nice it would sound with a better end can, but I notice that the whole system is welded into one, so bang goes that ploy. It is only whisper quiet at low revs as I am shortly to find out, as I head off through Cupar on it.

What a brilliant town bike this is. Short shift it up through the gears and it just purrs sweetly and unobtrusively through the traffic. It is so small and light and narrow that you can ride it through the sort of gaps left only for push bikes (which explains how I got some of these photos by the way). One downside would be that folk with long legs would be cramped, and if you are one who ate all the pies forget it, 'cos you would swamp this wee bike. It is however perfect for small to medium build riders, perhaps ones who have yet to build up much confidence, and as it scrapes under the 33bhp limit, it has an obvious market there. So then, nice commuter, ideal first bike, great in town, would suit girlies. Yours brand spanking for 3,500 on the road, or 2,800 for this perfect ex-demo, just apply to Cupar Motorcycles with your wedge. End of road test, simple.

Not quite. You see this is two bikes in one. All of the above is true, and what a great little bike that makes it, but look at the spec sheet before you hand it back. It makes 32 horses at 10,500 rpm, it only weighs 154kg, it has a huge front disk, small but sticky tyres, and supple but well balanced suspension. And it's a Honda. Let's get out of town.

Nail the throttle, bounce off the rev-limiter in every gear, and you have got yourself a real live baby monster, a playground hooligan, a juvenile scratcher. We are not talking Hayabusa here, but we are talking quality not quantity. The little V twin screams to its limit with a gloriously seamless power delivery, and the ripping 'zorst note and the small size of the bike make it feel faster than it is. It tops out somewhere between 90 and 100 mph which is more than fast enough to have fun, but without the jet fighter speeds of todays big bikes to get you banged up in jail. The brakes are well matched to the job, they bite hard and with lots of feel, exactly what you need. The only serious omission is a rev counter, as it is hard to read the engine without one, and you do need to give it maximum to extract every last ounce. Please Mr Honda, stick a revometer on this bike, now.

Absolutely no complaints about the handling though, which is just blissful. Everything about this little bike is balanced so well that you just yearn for one more roundabout. Get in the right gear, flick it down, hold it over and then power it out. So delightful you are likely to go back and do it again. I did. We are talking real quality stuff here, and the beauty of it is that you can practice the finer points of you bike control at sane speeds and on a machine that you are in total control of. I can think of several much larger and much faster machines which I always felt were in control of me, and that I was really only their passenger, along for the ride and perhaps to decide which road to take. Not so with this VTR. From the very first mile I felt utterly at one with this bike, and able to analyse what skills I have, and what I lack, without the bike itself being a part of the equation, so neutral is its behaviour. You will gather that I loved this little bike and would have one in my garage in a heartbeat, but that's another story.

You know that corny thing the do on telly where some cod-psychologist pretends to analyse a car and guess the owner? Yeah sure, but bear with me 'cos I am going to have a go at something similar with this bike. New bikers, commuters, lady riders and short legged folk would all get on great with this bike, and will be considered the logical target market. Maybe, and sure they would enjoy it, but they might be better off with one of the new breed of scooters. Twenty-something blokes in multi coloured leathers who dream of a Fireblade, but who can just about stump up the cost of a Fazer should give this bike a wide berth. It will disappoint you, your mates will rubbish you down the pub, and you will regret buying it.

But perhaps you are thirty-something, maybe forty-something, been into bikes for a decade or two, have had sports bikes before and now graduated to something sensible like a BMW or a Pan European. You don\'c6t want to part with your sport tourer, but you would like something a little different for a Sunday blast, or perhaps summer runs to the office. Trouble is, you know at heart that an R1 is just going to get you into big trouble. Something that comes under the 33 bhp barrier would have the advantage that you could claim you were buying it for the wife or the family to graduate to after they pass their test, but you don't want some horrid little milk toast commuter. Am I getting warmer? I thought so.

If you fit this bill, go try one of these. Don't ride it round the block, 'cos you just won't get the point. Book it for an hour or two, get familiar with it for a few miles and then paste it. Paste it rotten. Just don't expect to give it back gladly, 'cos you will want it.

You do want it, don't you Sir! And it suits you Sir!

With thanks to Paul Weinberger at Cupar Motorcycles for the test bike. Tel 01334 655707 or check their web site at