(Non DC VFR shown at left)
A Champ With No Belt
By Steve Lita
Man! Talk about slammin’ the competition!
I just rode the 2010 Honda VFR1200F with dual-clutch transmission (DCT). Honda has grabbed the competition by the throat, smacked it around, given it a black eye, and made it cry. In short, Honda has, with this bike, made the other manufacturers its bitches.
Now, its my turn to do a bit of competition slammin’ of my own. All the so-called moto-mag experts out there have featured the new VFR1200F up to now as the great white hope of the sportbike battle royale smackdown. It’s an imaginary battle they fuel on their pages and covers in a lame attempt to hype sportbikes and sell magazines. I’ve heard catchy phrases like “Open Class Scalpel” thrown around way too much over the years by the journalists pigeon-holing the VFR as an all-out sportbike. (Scalpel? Oh really?). Then there’s the “trickle-down technology from MotoGP.” MotoGP bikes? Who cares? I don’t ride one. And neither does the real world. (Take that!)
Instead, let’s talk about engineering developments that help real motorcyclists enjoy the daily ride. Let me show you some real-world, practical, truly usable technology, which trickled down from ATVs. While the VFR1200F with dual-clutch transmission has been in development for five years now, Honda first introduced the dual-clutch system employed here on its 420cc Rancher AT-utility ATV in 2009. The VFR’s DCT is the first application of the theory on a streetbike. The DCT is not a traditional automatic transmission. It’s a different way to change gears: an electronically shifted manual trans. Electric servos control hydraulics that release and engage the dual wet clutches. The two clutches control different sets of gears; one works first, third, and fifth , while the other caters to second, fourth, and sixth .
Who would want such a thing? Well, aside from me, it appeals to riders who are looking for a flexible all-rounder, or a long-distance, sport-tour riding machine, and want the very best tech. Riders are maturing; most have driven exciting cars, and the target audience for the VFR DC has a median age of 45. Some riders in this demographic are moving away from super sportbikes, some are replacing aging sport-touring rides, but all will probably be early adopters of high-tech equipment. The VFR DC owner has a focus on fun and comfort.
How It Works
Since there is no mechanical means of engaging the clutch, no matter what gear you end your ride in on the VFR DC, when you shut off the engine, hydraulic pressure is lost and the clutch free-wheels. So the bike will always roll when the engine is off, hence the handy lever-actuated parking brake on the left handlebar. As soon as you start the VFR DC, the ECU sends the bike into neutral. Blip the throttle all you want here, but the bike won’t move. To get going, simply depress the grey D-S button on the right grip with your thumb, and click, you’re in first gear of the standard D-Full Auto Drive mode. No more throttle blipping now. The bike will lunge. Click the grey D-S button again and you’ve switched over to S-Full Auto Sport mode. Need to find neutral? It’s on that same right side grey button as well.
Both of these Full Auto modes will do the shifting for you, up and down through the gears. Shifts are performed lightning fast; faster than a human could squeeze the clutch lever in, lift a foot shift pedal with his toe, and release the clutch. Incidentally, the VFR has no foot shift pedal, and I didn’t miss it. There is no ignition interrupt between shifts. The ECU has control of shifting and it directs the shift points on algorithms based on extensive test rider input. By the way, testing was performed and data was collected in Europe, the US, and Japan, with a variety of test riders for a broad sampling of shift habits.
The difference between D and S modes is the shift points. I found that the Sport mode always kept the VFR in a lower gear for most particular speeds. It kept the engine in a higher rev range and the bike was always quicker to respond to sudden throttle inputs. For example, I found that the VFR DC in Sport mode stayed in fifth gear during normal highway operation, while a quick switch over to Drive mode immediately clicked the bike up to sixth gear. I’m sure the Sport mode will engage sixth eventually, but the VFR will be revving high and going fast.
Shifts between gears in the Full Auto mode were fast, precise, smooth, and noticeable. There’s no scooter-like CVT linear acceleration with the VFR. You hear the rpm rise in each gear, and you hear a sharp click as the transmission shifts and the rpm falls to the lower range of the next higher gear. No worries when a slow moving tractor-trailer gets in the way. Simply twist the throttle and the DCT kicks down a gear, or two, immediately and you’re passing the roadblock in an instant. When decelerating, routine downshifts are spot-on at the right point and produce a little engine breaking, but at no point caused the front end to nosedive. You always end up in first gear when you come to a stop, and the bike is ready to go as soon as you roll on the throttle. Low speed maneuvering or rolling slowly in traffic does cause the lower gears to click in and out. I like this, as it adds motorcycle character to the ride dynamic, and again, it reminds you that you’re not riding a scooter.
Now for some real fun, let’s switch over to MT Manual Gear Select mode. You can put your macho, manual paddle-shifting game face on and engage MT by one of two methods: either tap the black AT-MT button on the front of the right grip, or, at any time, you can tap either the upshift or downshift paddle over on the left grip (even on the fly). The upshift plus (+) and downshift (-) paddles are located in the perfect place for left index finger and thumb actuation, respectively. I would like to take a moment here and thank Honda for putting the paddles in the appropriate orientation. When I’m accelerating I would expect to pull back on the grips and the index finger should be the one for upshifts. When decelerating, conversely, my thumb is thrust forward, and therefore my finger should do the downshifting. Not all other motorcycle manufacturers who offer versions of trigger-shifting agree. But Honda did it right, in my opinion.
Now the rider makes the shifting decisions. Hold a gear for as long as you want, wring it out, and bang the next one. Let your inner Pro-Stock Bike drag racer come out. For convenience sake, Honda has built in an automatic downshift to first gear in the MT mode. So even if you roll off throttle and coast to a stop, the VFR DC will be in first gear and ready for you to paddle up through the shift pattern again. There’s never a missed shift, never a false neutral. I like it.
Nuts And Bolts
The dual clutch transmission is small, light, and the mere 22 pounds of added weight is evenly distributed on the motorcycle. The DCT shares its oil with the rest of the VFR’s engine, and the DCT bikes contain 0.6 liter more oil than a standard VFR1200F. A DCT-equipped VFR has a second small oil filter which needs to be serviced at every other oil change interval. The clutch engagement is a product of oil pressure, which is electronically controlled and directed by servos, so the oil needs to be extra clean. The reason for the seamless and near-instantaneous gear changing is this: no matter what gear you are in, the next gear is already engaged at time of clutch-switching. The shifting you are doing is actually shifting from one clutch to the other.
Some visual differences between a common VFR1200F and the VFR DC are rear caliper location; the MT rear caliper is below the rear axle and the DCT rear caliper is above. The rear parking brake hardware is barely visible beneath the rear wheel differential housing. The DCT’s first, second, and third gears are slightly lower ratio than a base VFR. The right side engine cover has a three-bar design on the DCT bikes, and of course, the lack of a clutch lever, gearshift pedal, and some additional handlebar switches.
Now for the main difference: the MSRP for the VFR DC is $17,499. That’s $1,500 more than the base VFR1200F. If I were spending my own cash (and I’m seriously thinking about it), I would opt for the dual-clutch VFR. Either version is a wonderful, powerful, comfortable sport-touring machine; Honda has outdone themselves and the competition. If you want to buy a VFR1200F sport tourer and do track days wearing full leathers, you have every right to. And you’ll probably embarrass some racer boys on a regular basis. But as for me, I’ll hang the factory hard bags on, take it on trips, shift with my fingers, and embarrass some racer boys on a regular basis.
Try as I might, I could not get the Honda factory folks to say if the dual-clutch transmission technology is scheduled to be fitted to any other Honda streetbike models. Though a technical representative did say it physically could be adapted to other engine platforms, provided any weight balance issues could be addressed successfully.
So let’s just say — hypothetically speaking, of course — we wanted a large, full-bagger touring bike powered by a transverse, six-cylinder 1800cc engine with the convenience of dual-clutch technology. Or maybe a certain 1300cc V-4 shift-free, touring bike is more your style. Then again, maybe an easy-to-ride, comfortable, low-slung V-twin power cruiser with clean handlebars is what you crave. Hmm … I’ll just leave it at that.
I noticed some things during my time with the VFR1200F with DCT. I’m a big fan of full instrumentation, and the VFR has a full complement of digital and analog readouts, but the on-dash air temperature gauge was a big hit with me. The rear view mirrors are wide set and offer great visibility. For adding all the obligatory, sport-touring electro-gear I found out the VFR’s alternator output is a healthy 570 watts. Under the seat, you’ll find a little bit of storage, an accessory wire tap in the bikes harness, and a helmet lock consisting of a cable loop in a small pouch. And engine valve adjustment service intervals are scheduled for every 16,000 miles.
For more info about the Honda VFR1200F click here.