It’s remarkable to believe it’s been over six years since Honda introduced its somewhat revolutionary dual-clutch transmission in a production motorcycle. A common technology in sports cars, dual-clutch transmission technology hasn’t quite permeated its way into motorcycles. Honda still continues with the DCT today, and it’s a technology that we enjoy sampling, and we can thank the 2010 VFR1200F for bringing the tech to two wheels. Here, we get E-i-C Duke’s take on the bike and the transmission from its launch at the Sugo circuit in Japan. To see more pictures of the VFR1200F, be sure to visit the photo gallery.

2010 Honda VFR1200F Review – First Ride

We ride the new V-4-powered sports rig and sample a revolutionary transmission

Honda‘s big news for the 2010 model year is the new VFR1200F, a sporty sports tourer that can be had with an amazing new dual-clutch transmission – the first ever on a motorcycle. The VFR has drawn a wide-ranging variety of opinions. Is it a heavy sportbike or a lightweight super-sport-tourer?

The 2010 Honda VFR1200F is ready to blow away preconceptions and the competition.

The 2010 Honda VFR1200F is ready to blow away preconceptions and the competition.

It’s actually somewhere in the middle, as we found out after riding the VFR1200 on and around the Sugo Sportsland race circuit in Japan. Honda’s newest V-4 nestles into a spot between the smaller VFR800 and the more luxurious ST1300. The seemingly obvious competitors are the big sport-touring machines we compared in our 2009 Sport-Touring Shootout: the ST1300, Yamaha FJR1300, Kawasaki Concours 14 and BMW K1300GT. But our ride on the innovative Viffer revealed that it is sportier than that quartet, comparing most directly to the K1300S.

Compared to those bikes, the VFR has lower hand controls and the footpegs are set further back. It’s not uncomfortable, just slightly racier. An attractive seat resides 32.1 inches from the ground, and the narrower pair of rear cylinders allows legs a straight shot when stopped. A 0.6-inch lower seat is available as an option.

Dual LCD info screens flank the central analog tachometer.

Dual LCD info screens flank the central analog tachometer.

Behind the moderately high windscreen is a high-end gauge panel that includes all the info a rider could want. Front and center is an analog tachometer flanked by LCD displays for speed, fuel level, coolant and ambient temps, fuel consumption, a clock and a gear-position indicator. Reversed locations for the horn and turnsignal switches is said to be an ergonomic improvement, allowing quicker access to the horn, although you’ll be beeping instead of signaling until getting used to it. Surprising for such a technology-intensive machine, self-canceling signals aren’t part of the package.

The 1237cc V-4 emits a low-octave purr when fired up, and the 28-degree piston throw produces a sound distinct from previous Honda V-4s. From the side of the road, the exhaust note sounds not unlike a revvier BMW Boxer motor, but once at higher rpm when the exhaust valve opens up, the drone changes to a growl similar to a MotoGP bike. For more tech info, refer to our VFR preview here.

Honda’s press materials state the VFR’s engine produces 167 crankshaft horsepower at 10,000 rpm. My butt dyno estimated about 135 horses by the time they made their way through the transmission along the single-sided aluminum swingarm and shaft drive to the rear tire. Max torque of 95.1 ft-lbs arrives at 8750 revs, but just as important is that 90% of it is said to be available at just 4000 rpm. A ride-by-wire throttle – Honda’s first – helps keep the V-4 power as linear and refined as possible, and it pulls well from as low as 2500 rpm. A slight abruptness during throttle pick-up is a minor foible, but a smooth wrist keeps chassis pitching to a minimum.

Honda's new narrow-angle V-4 powerplant pumps out big power, and it also features Honda's first use of a ride-by-wire throttle.

Honda’s new narrow-angle V-4 powerplant pumps out big power, and it also features Honda’s first use of a ride-by-wire throttle.

The Big News

Notable by its absence is a clutch lever. Visible at the forward end of the switchgear is the upshift toggle. Further inboard is the parking brake lever.

Notable by its absence is a clutch lever. Visible at the forward end of the switchgear is the upshift toggle. Further inboard is the parking brake lever.

The VFR1200F is big news on its own, boasting an interesting and satisfying motor, high-end finish quality and a wide performance envelope. But most impressive is its optional Dual-Clutch Transmission that enables riding without clutch or shift levers.

This is technology similar to that seen on many high-end sports cars, allowing the ease of an automatic transmission but with the directness of a traditional manual gearbox. As the name implies, two separate clutches are employed. While one is supplying drive to the rear wheel, the other has the next gear pre-selected and ready to transfer power in a seamless hand-off as soon as the rider or computer triggers it.

Honda’s DCT shouldn’t be seen as a crutch for riders unable to operate a clutch lever, and it’s not at all similar to the primitive auto-trans system on Yamaha’s FJR1300AE. An electronic brain controls hydraulic circuits and solenoid valves located behind the right-side engine cover. Clutch take-up is firm but smooth, pulling away from a stop as cleanly as a well-trained clutch hand – quite unlike the confidence-sapping FJR-AE setup.

A VFR rider has the choice of three ways to play the DCT:
– D mode: The one I’d use to transport my mother. Shifts are very smooth, and the computer program forces early upshifts for optimum fuel economy. Perfect for two-upping or trolling through heavy traffic.
– S mode: My favorite, holding gears much longer and deftly blipping the throttle on downshifts.
– Manual mode: Gear-changes happen only at the bequest of a rider’s left hand, upshifting with an index finger; downshifting with a thumb trigger.

We were given one session with the DCT on the Sugo circuit, and I fully expected the various demands of racetrack riding to trip up the newfangled tranny. Surely it was going to shift up or down at inopportune times, or so I thought.

The lack of a clutch lever didn't prevent a lack of speed on the Sugo racetrack.

The lack of a clutch lever didn’t prevent a lack of speed on the Sugo racetrack.

My theory had merit when exiting the pit lane in D mode. It quickly upshifted to fifth gear even at low speeds, so I decided to click the S button on the right handlebar’s switchgear. What came next was an unforgettable riding experience.

The S setting keeps the revs up for optimum response, and full-throttle upshifts occur at 9800 rpm, a bit short of the 10,200-rpm rev limiter. When hitting the brakes, the computer knows when to downshift and expertly blips the throttle to match revs, allowing engine braking to help bleed speed. Downshifts are always smooth and not jerky.

Honda's new dual-clutch gearbox is a remarkable new piece of technology.

Honda’s new dual-clutch gearbox is a remarkable new piece of technology.

My biggest concern was an unanticipated downshift when leaned over in the middle of a turn, but it never came. I thought for sure the DCT used a bank-angle sensor to prevent such a situation, but it doesn’t.

There were a few times I wished the DCT would’ve selected a lower gear so the revs could be closer to the power peak, and this ultimately hinders lap times. But the V-4 has so much power, it pulls well even if in a gear high.

The DCT has an advantage over the manual tranny by being smoother on upshifts. Sugo’s last corner dumps a rider into an increasing-radius right-hander and onto the front straight. An upshift on the manual-trans variant slightly upsets the bike. No such issue on the DCT, as I could remain hard on the throttle while the dual clutches seamlessly passed off gears two to three, etc.

How much did I like the DCT? Enough to be oblivious to the checkered flag at the end of my session – I blasted around Sugo for three extra laps. I’m very much looking forward to spending more time with this techno wonder. But, from what I know thus far, I’d pick the DCT over the standard transmission if the price was equal. It won’t be, but I couldn’t be more impressed.

Not many sport-touring bikes will ever be taken to a racetrack, but Honda’s confidence in the sporting qualities of the VFR gave us the opportunity to ride it on the 2.4-mile Sugo circuit. It only takes a few corners to realize this is no CBR – a fairly relaxed 25.5-degree rake angle and 60.8-inch wheelbase assures that, as does its 589-lb weight, full of fluids and fuel. Regardless, turn-in response is quicker than most of its competitors. A BMW K-13 probably comes closest.

The VFR1200F has reasonably comfortable ergonomics, with a slight forward lean and moderately rear-set footpegs.

The VFR1200F has reasonably comfortable ergonomics, with a slight forward lean and moderately rear-set footpegs.

We also had the opportunity to take the two versions of VFRs on the perimeter road around Sugo where we could sample the bike at street speeds. It was more at home in this environment, feeling less ponderous and exhibiting neutral steering – it’s more agile than a Concours or FJR.

Grip from the VFR’s Dunlop Roadsmart tires was better than expected for a sport-touring tire on a racetrack. There is plenty of available lean angle before the Honda’s footpeg feelers touch down, and all but the most insane riders won’t have any clearance issues on the street.

The standard transmission has a pleasingly light shift action, and it has an advantage over the DCT option with its utilization of a slipper clutch that eases high-rev downshifts. But it’s not perfect, as out on the track it once popped out of third gear on me. Other riders had more frequent issues, although I’m guessing it had something to do with max-rpm shifting on low-mile pre-production bikes.

The VFR1200F wasn't designed for racetrack use, but it nevertheless performs quite well in that environment.

The VFR1200F wasn’t designed for racetrack use, but it nevertheless performs quite well in that environment.

Blasting around a racetrack in full attack mode also revealed the effects of the shaft drive subtly jacking the rear suspension. The shaftie also has the side effect of making the rear tire suffer for traction in the same way as the Star Vmax. Dumping the clutch to do a wheelie out of the pits instead smoked the rear tire.

Paint appears rich and deep, just another example of the VFR's top-quality finish and details.

Paint appears rich and deep, just another example of the VFR’s top-quality finish and details.

Although Sugo’s front straight isn’t very long, the VFR’s gutsy motor accelerated up to 150 mph before having to nail the brakes. The Combined ABS system feels quite powerful, using dual 6-piston calipers biting on 320mm discs up front and a 276mm/2-pot combo out back. Actuating the rear brake also applies two pistons on the front-left caliper. Stomping on the rear brake pedal slows the bike as quick as you’d like in most street situations, but really hard stops require the front lever. The anti-locking system is pleasantly unobtrusive.

Although Honda doesn't like to call the VFR a sport-touring bike, optional hard luggage certainly offers that capability.

Although Honda doesn’t like to call the VFR a sport-touring bike, optional hard luggage certainly offers that capability.

Honda’s concept for the VFR1200 was “sport and touring with premium quality,” and within those terms it has certainly succeeded. Honda haters may deride its appearance, but seeing the Viffer in person brings into focus its high level of fit and finish and its graceful design. That said, its droopy headlight and layered fairing require some acclimatization.

The VFR’s biggest hurdle to success might be the MSRP Honda will soon be announcing. We’ll guess the standard version will start at around $15,000. Add options like the DCT, hard luggage, heated grips and centerstand, it might be nudging the $20K mark.

Overall, it’s too large to be a sportbike, and it’s too sporty to be a luxurious sport-tourer. But for some, it might just be perfect combination of both. In about two months, we’ll get another chance to ride the appealing new V-4 so we can provide a more comprehensive street report in January.

  • Craig Hoffman

    A friend has one of these with a DAM can on it. One of the best sounding bikes around and it pulls like a train. These are excellent but under appreciated motorcycles.

    • VForce

      “These are excellent but under appreciated motorcycles”.

      Which pretty much sums up the VFR line for many years now.

      Fine with me, I don’t care if the masses or media give my VFRs their blessing or not. I love them and don’t need anyone else to validate that for me.

  • Y.A.

    Man that is one big motorcycle. Still hoping and praying Honda brings back the V4 for the working man. No more CBRxRRs. Please bring back the RCs! Nicky Hayden deserves one.

    • Tinwoods

      Big!?! It looks tiny to me, and I’m only 6′ tall. Everything else, however, I agree with.

  • Uncommon Sense

    I wish Honda would update this bike and offer a smaller version with the DCT.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    It’s a love-hate bike. Love and hate it simultaneously. Nuff said.

  • Born to Ride

    I almost bought one of these when I was shopping for my commuter. I ended up finding a triumph sprint ST for an unpassable deal instead, but this is the bike I really wanted. The one simple difference that honda should have made to make the DCT more widely accepted is glaring in my opinion.

    Motorcyclists shift gears with their feet.

    When marketing a new technology to the massively Luddite motorcycle community, why make it as foreign as possible? A simple electronic gear shifter in place of the mechanical one usually found by the left foot would have assuaged all “paddle shifter” apprehensions I hear about this bike all the time. I would have actively sought one out instead of settling for my #2 choice.

    • Mahatma

      I can’t see a reson for it not to have both solutions…To me it just does not look desireable.Kind of like their CBR1000F back in the day.Superb motorcycle,but dull as unbuttered toast.

      • Born to Ride

        Well, dull isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you want a bike that you need to just work. Though I wouldn’t typically associate 150 rwhp V4 motorcycles with the word. The shaft drive, sssa with lug nuts in the rear, and the lack of clutch slipping at low speeds combine to make this bike a massive win for commuting in LA traffic. She’s not a show horse for sure, but I think she’d make one hell of a work horse.

        • Mahatma

          Dull does not equal bad.It just doesn’t excite me.In other words,I agree with you on that condition;)

    • Uncommon Sense

      I believe I read somewhere that is an option, but they definitely missed the boat trying to be different. It is already hard enough to convince motorcyclist that automatics have advantages, so they should have made it closer to what people already know. I also think the emphasis should have been on making DCT perform better instead of MPG to convince the naysayers.

      I wanted this bike but it simply too big for me, but I want the DCT option. BMW is getting 75% of the way there with their Gear Shift Pro which is available on most of their bikes (Up and down shifts w/o clutch), but unfortunately, you still need to use the clutch when stopped.

      • Born to Ride

        I don’t mind clutch and gearbox. As a matter of fact I prefer it in cars. However, when you spend hours each week splitting lanes down the 15 and 91 freeways, a lotta bit less clutch work would be appreciated. I wouldnt want DCT on my Ducatis; It’d spoil all the fun.

  • Max Frisson

    I am currently selling my Kawi ZRX1200 to get a VFR1200DCT – In sport mode the roll-on acceleration is just massive and there’s so much torque that the DCT makes it more fun than having to wiggle my foot about for casual back roads riding. It’s always in the right gear.

  • TalonMech

    I always liked the looks and sound of the big VFR, but was put off by the thirsty V4 combined with a smallish tank. For me any bike with touring aspirations should have at least a 200 mile range.

    • Born to Ride

      This point was exactly the reason I was able to justify passing the bike up. I read somewhere that the fuel light often comes on at 120 miles. The Sprint ST gets 40MPG like clockwork and has a 5.5 gallon tank. The range is fantastic and it already had the color/key matched hard bags.

  • JMDonald

    I was a little too critical when this bike came out. I like it a lot more now.

    • Fat Owens Fat

      The design grew on me a year or two down the line. The fit and finish and the quality far outranks anything I’ve seen on the roads. Has a good road presence too and is still fast enough to keep up with the liter bikes on the canyon.

  • octodad

    have 16k on a CTX700/ DCT-ABS. best ride, transmission is very smooth and peppy. like the paddles, as you can manually shift in D or S mode. 700cc is nice, 1200cc would be awesome. dig the CTX because ergonomics fit me well…

  • Chief47

    I bought a 2012 model in June (not DCT) and so far have put
    on Helibars, a Givi screen, a Honda option lowered seat and 7,000+ miles. Best
    bike I have ever owned.

    It’s not too big – I’m 5’5” & 145lbs (used to be taller
    but I’m 68 and shrinking) handles easily at low speeds and just rips in the
    canyons & mountain passes.

    It has great range – I average 45 mpg and easily outlast all
    of my riding buddies.

    It’s not too expensive – well under 10K for a new bike that
    was still in a crate.

    I keep looking at (and test riding new bikes) just for fun,
    but I’m keeping the VFR for the long haul.

    • Mark Bolton

      Where did you buy it for under 10K??? Been looking for one but hadn’t seen one at that low price! Did the Helibars really make a difference?