Manufacturers regularly update and improve upon motorcycles already in their lineups, but last year Honda didn’t just make an existing model better—it designed a brand-new VFR. The sleek, 167-horsepower, liquid-cooled, 76-degree V-4 VFR1200F has taken the place of the “either you love it or hate it” VTEC VFR800. The iconic V-4 engine layout and single-sided swingarm are about the only things the two have in common. Whats more, Honda is also offering a model with a dual-clutch transmission (DCT), a first for large-displacement sport motorcycles, for $1,500 more than the $15,999 standard VFR1200F.
Dual-clutch transmission? That’s another way of saying that the bike is fully automatic. There are no clutch and shift levers. The DCT electronically alternates separate clutches for odd and even gears, shifting through its 6-speed gearbox for you. There are two automatic modes, drive and sport, that you select with your right thumb. You can choose the mode you want and enjoy the ride, or let your fingers do the walking by using the trigger shifter to select the manual mode and “shift” with your left forefinger and thumb. Automatic or manual—your choice with the flick of a finger. You can also toggle back and forth, play with it and have some fun! Regardless of what mode or gear you are in, the DCT shifts down to first when you stop, and the bike won’t stall because the clutch is disengaged. You can also put the bike into neutral with the press of your right thumb, though this works only when the bike is stopped. Just don’t forget to set the parking brake so it won’t roll away.
I’ve had a chance to ride both the standard and the DCT models, and have put about 1,000 miles on the latter. I admit that I was apprehensive about my first ride on the DCT model—and I wasn’t the only one. It was rather amusing on a group ride, where several of us (guys, too!) had that “go ahead, after you” mentality because no one wanted to be the first one to try it out. As it turned out, it was a piece of cake. The DCT works so well that the biggest “mistake” you can make is pulling in an imaginary clutch and moving your foot to shift. You also may end up honking the horn a lot because the button is oversized and there’s an extra thumb switch on the left handgrip that most riders won’t be used to having. First gear can kick in abruptly when setting off while the bike is cold.
The automatic drive mode is not my cup of tea for slow speeds because it can be jerky. Drive mode keeps rpm low for fuel economy and noisily shifts up to the next gear too soon. For instance, by the time the bike reaches 25 mph while I’m cruising leisurely through my residential neighborhood, it’s already in fourth gear. At 40 mph, the bike is in sixth gear. Sometimes it will shift up two gears when I round a corner, which is disconcerting. A flick of your thumb will put it into manual sport mode, which is designed for a sportier pace and keeps the bike in a lower gear and a higher rev range. For a lot of my everyday riding situations, like stop-and-go traffic, I prefer the sport mode, which allows me to control what gear the bike is in. Maybe I’m just a control freak.
Seat height is 32.1 inches, and a more compact engine than on the VFR800 makes for an easier reach to the ground. Honda offers a lower, narrower seat as an accessory for $249.95, knocking 0.8 inches off the height. My thighs and knees fit perfectly below the beautifully sculptured contours of the VFR’s tank, making it feel natural to use my legs to help steer the bike. The VFR is extremely stable, has lots of legroom, and the seat is plenty comfortable for my hour-long commutes and weekends spent playing in the canyons.
The canyons near my home, where the roads twist and turn, are where I love to take the VFR. Its claimed 613-pound, ready-to-ride weight makes it about 170 pounds heavier than Honda’s true sportbike, the CBR1000RR. (Claimed curb weight on the standard VFR1200F is 21 pounds lighter than the DCT model.) The VFR runs through the corners and holds its line well, especially in long sweeping turns, where it feels lighter than its weight. When the corners really tighten up, it doesn’t feel quite as light, and it takes a little muscle to get it to transition from left to right.
The suspension is dialed in to soak up all but the roughest bumps on the highway, and it keeps me smoothly on course when riding through a series of curves. The fork and single shock are preload-adjustable (the shock via remote knob), and rebound damping is adjustable out back. Brakes don’t get much better than these—dual front discs with six-piston calipers and a single disc in back with two-piston calipers. They’re strong, haul the bike down fast, and have ABS as well as Honda’s Combined Braking System (CBS).
There’s not much to complain about on either the standard or DCT VFR1200F. Twist the throttle, and instant power is right there. I can feel vibration coming through the seat and grips, though it’s not bothersome, and the mirrors stay steady and provide a clear rear view.
My biggest gripe with the instrument panel is the fuel gauge. It’s small. Take a toothpick, break it in half, hold the two pieces together, and that’s about the size of the fuel graph when the bike is fully fueled. There’s no low-fuel indicator light. The only way to tell when it’s time to gas up is the tiny flashing black square on the graph. My test bike consistently registered full past the 60-mile mark, then the squares dropped off quickly. The tank holds 4.9 gallons, and the DCT bike averaged just over 40 mpg. Recommended octane is 91.
Honda has done a fantastic job with the DCT—it worked very well once I got over that initial learning curve. Still, I like having a clutch. For me, it’s inherent on a motorcycle and is part of the riding experience. Of course, if money wasn’t a consideration and I could own multiple bikes, I’d buy a DCT VFR for the novelty of it. Either model of the VFR1200F is a joy to cruise down the highway on and lean over in the curves.
Specs At A Glance: 2010 Honda VFR1200F with Dual-Clutch Automatic Transmission
Mastering the art of working the clutch and throttle, plus knowing when to shift gears, are what stop many women from moving from the back seat to the front—or from getting into motorcycling altogether. Honda’s VFR1200F erases that barrier by eliminating the clutch lever and foot shifter, allowing a rider to choose between automatic or manual transmission modes. While it’d be nice to have this option on a cruiser, the preferred style of ride for the majority of female riders, a sporty upright model like the VFR offers a wide range of experiences that can be just as appealing. Because the VFR1200 is tall with a powerful 1200cc engine, we don’t recommend it for beginning riders who can’t flat-foot it. For those who don’t ever care to shift, it’s best to learn the nuances of balancing and riding a two-wheeler on an automatic-transmission scooter or maxi-scooter, then transition to this bigger bike. Existing riders who would like to have one less task to deal with (no shifting) can’t go wrong with the VFR1200F and the Honda reliability that comes with it.