Why a review of a Honda on the BMWMOA website? Two reasons really. One, many of us are the "targeted buyer" for the VFR1200, and probably the iterations to follow. Secondly, the Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) technology offered on the VFR1200 DCT is a "game changer" and will likely change the way we think about motorcycles in the future, the same as ABS did a few years ago.
Last weekend I joined a diverse group of eleven other motorcycle enthusiasts in Santa Barbara, CA as the guest of Honda to ride their new VFR1200 DCT bike that hasn't even hit the dealer's showrooms yet. The group was made up of avid VFR forum contributors, representatives from Sport-Touring.net and Motorcycle Sport Touring Association (MSTA), and current or previous owners of BMW, Ducati or other "premium brand" motorcycles. I fell into two of the categories - BMW owner and MSTA member. Over half of us did not own a Honda motorcycle.
Friday evening we were given a tech briefing on the bike along with dinner. It was suppose to last two hours from six to eight o'clock, Honda had to call it off at ten thirty to get ready for the ride Saturday! Honda management was amazed at the level of interest exhibited and the depth of the questions asked. They commented they were used to dealing with journalists that don't ask many questions and accept the press packet as the end-all of information on the bike.
The buyer profile for the VFR1200 was defined as someone over forty-five, experienced rider, previous sport bike ownership, has or currently owns a "premium brand" motorcycle, looking for a high quality, technologically advanced, performance oriented motorcycle for street use. As is common for Honda they have created a new motorcycle classification. One forum user defined it as the "Gentleman's Supersport."
The VFR1200 is offered in two models, the standard clutch / six speed known as the VFR1200F and the dual clutch "automatic" known as the VFR1200 DCT. The three techno highlights for me were the V-4 engine with the two rear cylinders placed closely together to help create a very narrow profile for rider ergonomics, Honda's version of shaft drive, and the amazing DCT. I will leave you to visit the Honda websites for the myriad of technical details on this bike, but just a comment or two on DCT. First, forget everything you have heard about automatic transmissions in motorcycles. Second, just because you don't want an automatic motorcycle today - don't pass up an opportunity to check out this new technology. It is straight out of F-1 and it works beyond your wildest imagination. I will be so bold as to say you will even be a better rider with it! (I went to this event asking myself, why would I ever want a motorcycle with an automatic?)
The two models use the same six speed transmission, the differences are in the clutch arrangement. The DCT uses two oil actuated clutches assisted by some heavy duty computer technology. The first clutch is slightly larger and handles shifting of gears 1-3-5, the second clutch handles gears 2-4-6. As the bike shifts the "next" clutch is always ready for the next gear shift. There are three shift modes for the rider to choose from. Drive (D) mode would be comparable to drive in your car, Sport (S) mode is for more aggressive riding, offering shift points at higher RPM, and manual mode lets you shift when and how you want, utilizing paddle shifters like on many high end German cars these days. You can switch between all three modes while on the move with the touch of a control switch!
The bike looks much better in person, than in pictures. Compared to earlier VFR's this is a big bike. The wheelbase is longer that my 2010 Concours 14 and it is a heavy bike at over 600 pounds. Fit and finish is first class - as good or better than any bike I have owned. I would define the ergonomics as "relaxed sport bike for the mature set". I could easily flat-foot it with the standard seat (I am 5'9" with a 29" inseam). Controls are logically placed and easy to reach. The DCT controls are obviously different. First there is a parking brake mounted on the left handlebar. The bike will roll when in neutral or in-gear at idle. The paddle shifters are on the front and rear left handlebar. A rocker switch on the right handlebar takes care of putting the bike in neutral (press to the right) and the two drive modes - Drive and Sport (press to the left once for Drive, press again for Sport). An additional lever on top of the right hand controls allows you to switch between manual or the automatic drive modes - or you can go directly between the drive modes and manual. Once on the bike it takes about five minutes to adapt to the new DCT configuration and stop reaching for the clutch lever and shift pedal.
We got to ride both models for about an hour and a half. The roads varied from congested city streets, sweeping , curvy state highways to rough, potholed mountain roads. It was a controlled demo ride with ride control front and rear. The pace could best be described as "slightly spirited". (Local LEO's interrupted the press demo rides a few days earlier!) As a result the bikes were not pressed to the limit in any way.
Common impressions of both models can be summed up quite easily: Stable, Rock Solid, Confidence Inspiring, Comfortable, Smooth and Deceptively Fast.
The VFR1200F, six speed / manual slipper clutch model was fun to ride like any other VFR. But it wasn't exciting to me in any new way. It is a quality bike that will satisfy many new buyers of the VFR.
On the other hand, the VFR1200 DCT is a revelation! This bike was designed to be run with the DCT! It shifts better than 95% of us! Shifts are fast and almost undetectable. Just a slight click. There is no chassis movement, suspension compression or jacking. All of this occurs regardless of mode you are in. In stop and go city traffic the DCT is a joy. Once out of the city, Sport mode was amazing. It seems to know what you are thinking. Aggressive canyon carving will be no problem in sport mode. Several readings, such as braking, throttle position, lean angle, RPM, etc. are fed into the computer to keep you in the gear you would have selected on your own, thus allowing normal engine braking and powering out of a corner. The big advantage with all of this is you have additional time on your hands to select the best line, when to apply more throttle, and observe what's going on around you - hence my comment earlier about the DCT making you a better rider. You no longer have to contend with shifting, chassis movement, etc. If you want to maintain control yourself, just use the paddle shifters and gain the same benefits as mentioned above. There is never a missed shift or false neutral with the DCT.
The DCT equipped VFR commands a $1500.00 premium, bringing the price in at $17,500.00.
Bags, heated grips, center stand, windscreens, huggers, etc. will be available in July of this year.
I really like how well the engine and DCT worked together. It has seamless power to redline, unlike the hit the VFR VTEC engine gives you. Honda personnel indicated we will see this engine / transmission combination in other applications. The internet is already rife with rumors on the release of a VFR1200T touring model yet this year, with an adventure model to follow. The fit and finish is very good. Handling is rock solid and confidence inspiring. The weight of this bike is not noticed once moving.
On the downside, I would like to see a bigger tank (4.9 gal.). The throttle was a little "snatchy", but nothing serious. And finally, at 63, the riding position probably would not afford me all day, cross country comfort. I am looking for a riding position similar to my BMW R1200R or Kawasaki Concours 14.
I am excited and impressed with the VFR1200 DCT. It provides me with a window on things to come. Honda is definitily offering a premium product in the VFR1200 DCT. I don't think I will run out and buy this bike tomorrow, but I feel confident that I will buy a Honda motorcycle with this V-4 engine and Dual Clutch Transmission in the future - I hope the very near future.
PS - I could get use to going to new product intros! BMW, Ducati, I'm available!
Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Honda, nor was I paid to do this review. Airfare, room, and meals associated with the demo event in Santa Barbara, CA were paid for by Honda.