First Ride: 2010 Honda VFR1200F

We ride Honda’s new V-Four sport-tourer with optional Dual-Clutch Transmission.

Photography By Kevin Wing

2010 Honda VFR1200F - First Ride

2010 Honda VFR1200F - First Ride

"Revolutionary" is a buzzword that is thrown around far too frequently, but I have to say that after riding Honda's brand-new 2010 VFR1200Faround the Sugo Circuit outside of Sendai, Japan, as well as on public roads nearby, this bike truly defines that expression. Only 12 months after showing the V4 Conceptat the Intermot show in Germany, Honda has brought to market this radical new machine with an optional, industry-first Dual-Clutch Transmission.

Honda gave select journalists the opportunity to ride both the DCT and standard models as part of the worldwide unveilingof the new premium sport-tourer at October's Tokyo Motor Show. Identical aside from their transmissions and related components, these bikes are nevertheless completely different animals. If we were discussing only the standard model, we could say that Honda made some interesting technological updates to the VFR's V-Four; but the DCT-equipped model takes innovation to an entirely new level.

First, let's get into basic architecture shared by both models: At the core is a brand-new, liquid-cooled, 76-degree, 1237cc V-Four engine with CRF450R-inspired Unicam four-valve heads. The forward cylinders are splayed wide on the ends of the crankshaft while the rear pair is located side-by-side, closer to crank center. This allows the engine to be very narrow between the rider's knees. No balance shaft is necessary as the crank uses 28-degree-offset throws for perfect primary balance.

Instead of trying to figure how to equalize exhaust-header length between the front and rear cylinders, Honda's engineers—led by project manager Yosuke Hasegawa—decided to allow each bank of cylinders to make its own unique power characteristics. According to Hasegawa-san, the combined effect is that of a paired set of parallel-Twins sharing a common crank, the front cylinders and their longer exhaust headers providing ample bottom-end torque and the rear with much shorter headers for good top-end punch. The result is torquey low-rpm delivery reminiscent of previous V-Fours combined with the rush of an inline-Four as revs rise toward redline.

The standard model features a conventional six-speed gearbox fitted with a slipper clutch. This combination, along with a new shaft drive and single-sided swingarm, the latter featuring a sliding CV joint to counter the changing arc of the suspension stroke, is supposed to provide smooth, easily managed delivery of power to the rear wheel. Basis for the chassis is a twin-spar aluminum frame. The 25.5-degree steering-head angle, 4.0 inches of trail and 60.8-inch wheelbase are well-matched to the bike's sport-touring mission. A 43mm Showa fork allows spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustments, while the Pro-link shock has the same provisions.

I learned my way around the Sugo circuit on the standard model with its conventional clutch and six-speed transmission. Power output from the big 1200 is excellent. On the track, the strong torque easily spun the sport-touring-oriented rear Dunlop as I exited slower corners. Excellent acceleration is available from as low as 4000 rpm, at which point Honda claims 90 percent of available torque is already present. If this were all there was to discuss, the report card would state that Honda made great evolutionary changes to the VFR. As previously noted, however, DCT has introduced a new era to motorcycling. Similar in concept to automotive designs, like the one fitted to Mitsubishi's hot-rod sedan, the Lancer Evolution, the Honda's gearbox is a true manual with a pair of clutches enabling either fully automatic or paddle-shift operation.

I didn't realize that motorcycling was missing out on this technology until I rode the VFR. Lap one at Sugo was spent in fully automatic D (drive) mode. "Conservative" and "reserved" are the best descriptors for this selection. Shifts come early in the rev range, and performance is uninspiring. An on-the-fly shift to S (sport) mode provided a dramatic change for the better. The program responded to my aggressive throttle inputs with seamless .5-second shifts just shy of redline. I was initially concerned that the system wouldn't downshift aggressively or would do so at a deep lean angle. But never in the course of my ride did the bike shift up or down at an inopportune moment. As I braked hard approaching the right-hander at the end of Sugo's back straightaway, the transmission moved from one gear to the next smoothly and quickly. My only criticism is that I would have preferred one more downshift than the computer felt was necessary to take full advantage of engine braking.

Of course, Honda anticipated this conundrum; hence, manual-shift mode (MT). Instead of allowing the bike to decide your shift points for you, MT allows the rider to select the gears manually via left-handlebar-mounted paddle shifters. Upshifts are executed with your index finger, while downshifts are accomplished with pressure from your thumb. Mode changes can be done, as mentioned, on the fly via a right-bar mounted index-finger-actuated switch or, if you're in auto mode already, by simply utilizing the paddle shifters. Unlike automobiles with faux paddle-shift automatic transmissions, the VFR will not upshift unless commanded to do so, even bumping into the engine's soft rev-limiter if you fail to pull the upshift trigger in time.

For very aggressive racetrack riding, I favored the manual mode for the reasons previously mentioned. But the automatic system is so intelligent that on a street ride later in the day around the perimeter roads surrounding the circuit, I preferred to allow the bike to make the decisions for me and was very impressed with its execution. On the street, I also got a much better understanding of how the bike performs in real-world conditions. Clutch take-up, for example, was crisp and stutter-free. Same goes for fueling from the fly-by-wire injection. Driveline lash and shaft-drive jacking were minimal.

Honda has once again taken a chance and introduced technology we didn't realize we needed and then elevated it to a level of refinement that should surely hit a home run in its rookie season.

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