Honda VTR1000 Problems: 2 Known Issues (Explained)

The Honda VTR1000F, more commonly known as the Superhawk in the states and the Firestorm worldwide, was a “1-liter” (1,00CC) 90° V-twin sport bike manufactured by Honda from 1997 to 2005.

The Superhawk was a part of sports-moto history. Ducati brought the V-twin back hard in the sportbike scene, and Honda heard the call to action to deliver something similar.

Today’s sportbike standards consider date the technology on the VTR1000, but there are purists out there who believe bikes from the Superhawk are the quintessential street bikes; do they have any common problems?

Let’s find out!

1. Front Cylinder Runs Cooler than Rear (Solved)

First, this isn’t a matter of defect with the VTR1000 motor, but merely a common mishap.
Crawl through the SuperHawk forums, and you’ll find cases like this:
The front cylinder exhaust is a lot cooler than the rear one. What should I be looking at to fix it?
I forgot to mention this is with the bike stood, and the plugs are new, the plug cap is new, the K&N that’s fitted is also clean.
In my experience, the front cylinder valve clearances go larger when the valves are bent because they can’t sit fully back in their seats.
So if your clearances are too small, it seems unlikely that you have valve damage.

 This VTR1000 owner didn’t specify whether the clearances were tight on the inlet or exhaust and what measurements he was getting, which would be pertinent information were we to use their example to problem solve. 

  • The first concern would be a burned valve seat. Scorched valve seats cause the valves to sit more in-depth into the head, effectively closing up the clearances.
  • Burned seats can likewise decrease compression, giving the results mentioned by the rider above. 
  • If the exhaust side is the side that’s tightening, the common source of the problem in question, the exhaust is also the culprit. 

In these cases, it’s not that the cylinder is running cold. The exhaust is running hotter on one cylinder than on the other.

This mismatch of heat signatures is often the result of scorching combustion traveling down the pipe in addition to the spent exhausted gasses it’s intended to release. These actively combusting gasses are much hotter and transfer heat to the cylinder. 

  • If it’s the inlet side, you’ll experience pitting back through the carbs.
  • That said, pitting is a circular issue. The inlet clearances close up, and when things get hot, there is a decrease in the gap.
  • Because of the gap, the valve can’t close correctly; it burns the valve seat out further, increasing the heat and decreasing the clearance repeatedly. 

Before you rush out and replace and re-seat all your valves, how’s your carb doing?

If it’s been a minute, it might be a good call to pull the carbs apart to see if it’s fitted with the proper jets. 

Another possibility is that your valve timing is off by a fraction on one cylinder—valve timing is always a solid place to start troubleshooting on one of these motors. 

If the carbs and valve timing both pass your basic preliminary troubleshooting inspection, time to pull off the heads. If the basics are scratched off the list, inspect the affected cylinder’s:

  • head gasket
  • valves
  • rings

It doesn’t stop at an inspection; do a compression test to get a good picture of whether the culprit is rings or valves. Do a dry compression test first, then a wet one:

  • A wet compression test is where you add a tad of oil down the plughole and then twist in the gauge to help the rings seal for a few revolutions. You’ll get a different reading, wet or dry, on rings, but the valve reading should stay the same.

A compression test can also help indicate whether the culprit is carbs or compression.

It’s important to note that this isn’t indicative of a flaw in Honda’s VTR1000F engine design. In most cases I dug up, the Superhawk was purchased new and had mild valve damage, generally on the front exhaust from the challenging track, technical, or stunt riding. 

The problem is often a result of the previous owner throwing a new Cam Chain Tensioner on a beat-up engine head and calling it good to sell instead of footing the labor or bill for rebuilding the torched head.  

Like we said, always check the timing chain first.

Just for peace of mind, the case above turned out to be a bedded valve seat in need of grinding paste and adequate re-adjustment. Once the owner got into the motor, they claimed the valves and seats had never been replaced, adjusted, even touched before they’d gotten to it.  

He adjusted the valves and fixed up the seats. Both cylinders started right up. Problem solved; on to the next one.

Related: How Long Do Honda VTR 1000s Last? 5 Examples

2. Blocked Front Cylinder Drain Hole

This situation is similar in that it implies a malfunction with the front cylinder, but the cause, solution, and complexity of the problem are narrow and straightforward.

As the heading infers, another common problem with the Honda VTR1000F Superhawk Firestorm is that the front cylinder hole can get clogged from debris or dirt.

The problem is especially common when riding in dusty or wet conditions, as exemplified by the situation below:

I got a 2007 Firestorm, and on at least three occasions, now it’s cut out on me in the rain. It starts running on one cylinder and then dies within 10-15 secs after that. Usually, I can just sit there for 5-10 mins, and it will fire back up again, and I’m good to go for a short while, but the other day when I did manage to get it going again, it was running exceptionally rough, and any attempt to twist the throttle would kill it. In the end, the battery clapped out.

After drying it out for a day, it’s now not running right. It sounds Ok (a bit different) and gives it a big twist of the throttle away; it goes like normal, but when you are running along coasting just off the throttle, it feels like it’s lumpy and being held back slightly.

The rider goes on to specify that they have already inspected the basics, things like:

  • Inspected the tank vent pipe to ensure it’s not blocked and adequately draining.
  • Inspected the plugs to make sure nothing is damp, so plug leads must be sealing adequately.
  • Inspected the side stand switch, though a side stand sensor malfunction wouldn’t cause the bike to run roughly in neutral, only when in gear
  • Inspected the kill switch and ignition switches to ensure there’s no electronic moisture interference. 
  • Lifted the tank to locate the ignition coils to check for exposed/cracked/damp components. 

This rider was as sumped as I was upon reading it until I found a little ost that went something like this:

Always take a little bottle of WD40 or 3in1 etc with a straw under the seat (you need the straw without it its not much cop)

All the salt on the road being flung at my front head had blocked my front cylinder drain hole, it wasn’t too long since I last cleared it out

It’s not so much a problem if you are a dry weather rider but if your bike goes through a storm and the front head gets water flung at it and some will get past the plug cap, it has nowhere to go.

It boils in the head steams up and then causes the front cylinder to fire intermittently making it impossible to ride.

There you heard it. A clog’s the culprit, a disaster if you’re a long way from home in the middle of nowhere and don’t have access to oil that’ll clean out your clog. 

Consider this your sign; be like the Superhawk rider above and roll with the tools you need to blow that blockage free on the side of the road through the Mojave desert if you have to. 

The drain hole that gets clogged by moisture or debris is just behind the front head’s exhaust outlet. To get to it:

  1. Take the plug cap off.
  2. Jam your oil spray’s straw into the drain hole.
  3. Rotate the straw around in the hole rapidly (if the bike’s been running, any moisture in the hole is scolding hot).
  4. Spray the oil through the straw and into the drain hole.
  5. Spray down the spark plug.
  6. Lightly spray the inside of the plug gap.
  7. Put your plug cap back on, crank her up, and your intermittent firing will be an annoyance of the past.

If your Superhawk doesn’t have electrical problems, you’ve probably been scratching your head about this weird intermittent behavior. Once you go through it a few times, you’ll be able to identify the culprit as soon as you notice it’s raining or dusty. Carry a can of spray oil and keep the drain hole clear, and you won’t suffer from this common VTR1000 problem anymore.

Related: 4 Most-Common Problems With Honda VT800

General Pros and Cons for Honda VTR1000 Superhawk

Here are the pros and cons of the Honda VTR1000 Superhawk:

Pros

  • Collectors’ item/vintage sport bike
  • Comfortable riding position
  • Exceptional handling
  • On-demand power delivery 
  • Sounds rad
  • Vintage V-twin-powered 1-liter track bike vs a cookie cutter 4-cylinder

Cons

  • Front Cylinder Runs Cooler than Rear (Solved)
  • Blocked Front Cylinder Drain Hole
  • Worn Wiring Harness

Related: 3 Most-Common Problems With Honda VTR250

What Do the Reviews Say?

Despite the similarity in name with the four-cylinder FireBlade, the ‘F’ designation most certainly pointed less to the big 900cc sportster and more to the do-it-all CBR600.

Still, it had plenty of punch with around 100 horses coming from the 996cc 90¡, liquid-cooled V-Twin engine, which used side-mounted radiators to help keep the front cross-section as small and as ‘V-twin’-like as possible. The chassis was pretty standard fare, using an aluminium beam frame with a bit of aesthetic ‘lattice’ effect as a styling nod to the Italian machines’ steel trellis frame. One thing that was kinda new was the semi-pivotless connection between the swingarm, motor and mainframe. Suspension was ‘normal’, so where the Suzuki TL1000S used a separate spring and a rotary damper, the Honda had a tried-and-tested rising-rate Showa shock at the rear with Showa forks at the front.

https://www.visordown.com/reviews/used-bike/used-review-honda-vtr-firestorm

Plenty of low-down go compared to a four-cylinder motor, before that emissions dip at 5000rpm. It then takes off again, making max torque at 7000 and peak power at around nine. 70mph is seen in top at only 3750rpm, 120mph at 6250rpm and redline is at 9500rpm. All-in-all a pretty robust motor.

Standard exhausts (too quiet and very heavy, but desirable for the all-important MoT) are often junked. Dynojet kits and filters are also prevalent, while some

owners drill the carb slides for swifter and crisper throttle response. Expect around 110bhp at the rear wheel with Stage 1 mods.

https://www.visordown.com/reviews/used-bike/used-review-honda-vtr-firestorm

What’s the Resale Value of a Honda VTR1000 Firestorm?

Year Mileage Price
1998 36,419 $3,900
1999 2,993 $5,495
2004 28,334 $4,899
2005 38,387 $3,999
2005 61,357 $3,500

Sources

USED REVIEW: HONDA VTR FIRESTORM | visordown.com

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