2010 Honda VFR1200F - MR. Sophisticated

Honda builds an automatic for the sportbike people

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

Nothing offends hardcore sport riders more than automatic transmissions. They see something sacred in manipulating clutch and shift levers in perfect synchronicity, demonstrating their mastery over a high-performance machine. At the same time, MotoGP and Superbike racers-the best riders in the world-use quick-shifters to circumvent their clutches, while Formula 1 drivers employ paddle-shifters to the same effect. Clearly, automatic shifting is not just for scooters anymore.

For purists who absolutely can't imagine life sans clutch levers, Honda offers its new VFR1200F with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission and an effective slipper clutch. Anyone else will be interested in the VFR's optional Dual Clutch automatic transmission (DCT), which shifts with precision and speed reminiscent of an F1 racecar.

This is not a continuously variable transmission (CVT), or even a hopped-up version of the Human-Friendly Transmission found in Honda's DN-01. It's essentially a six-speed manual gearbox equipped with a pair of synchronized clutches, just like what's used in F1. There is no clutch or shift lever on the DCT bike. The rider chooses between fully automatic shifting (with two available drive modes), or semi-automatic, with trigger-shifting that lets him independently select shift points.

We sampled both manual and automatic versions of the VFR1200F at Japan's Sugo Circuit. We first rode the DCT VFR in full-auto D-mode, programmed to maximize fuel economy. D-mode shifts early and often and was too conservative for even moderate track riding, but it did reveal the DCT transmission's basic characteristics. Shifts in D-mode are announced with a fair amount of mechanical noise, but are otherwise imperceptible. Gear changes happen almost instantaneously (just under .5-second), and with only the slightest sensation of chassis movement.

Pushing a lever on the right switch housing to engage S-mode (drive mode can be changed on the fly) unleashes an entirely different animal. S-mode goes deeper into the rev range before engaging the next gear-how deep depends on throttle position, gear position, engine speed, wheel speed and more. At wide-open throttle, shifts come just shy of the 10,200-rpm redline, at what we assume is the engine's power peak. Increased mechanical inertia makes high-rpm shifts in S-mode smoother, quieter and quicker than D-mode, making the VFR1200F race forward with an urgent-yet-calm character unprecedented in sportbikes.

The third mode, confusingly called Manual, lets the rider select the shift points using triggers on the left switch housing. An index-finger trigger upshifts, while a thumb trigger downshifts. There is no automatic override-forget to upshift and you'll bump the rev-limiter and stay there. Trigger-shifting does provide a more satisfying level of rider interaction, but the system was occasionally clumsy to use. The tiny thumb trigger was easily confused with the horn, though that would probably be less of an issue with more saddle time.

I ultimately preferred the full-auto S-mode, because it worked so incredibly well. Not once all day did the bike shift at an inconvenient moment. Moving up or down the gearbox, at full or part throttle, the DCT was remarkably intuitive and always seemed to detect the right gear. The only discrepancy I detected was on aggressive corner entries. I downshifted earlier on the manual-transmission bike to use more engine braking-though this could say more about my dependence on modern slipper clutches than any deficiency.

The DCT makes an overwhelming impression, but it's not the only noteworthy element of the VFR1200F. The rest of this bike is all-new as well, and represents a radical departure from any earlier-generation VFR. Formerly a middle-displacement, do-it-all sportbike, this latest Viffer benefits from a 50 percent displacement increase (from 781 to 1237cc) and a full redesign that makes it bigger, faster and more comfortable than ever before.

The 76-degree V4 incorporates many MotoGP-inspired innovations to make it more compact and powerful. A carefully calculated firing interval and asymmetrical exhaust system produce a broad power profile perfectly suited to the longer-legged character of the new bike. Honda hasn't yet divulged any numbers, but output feels close enough to power-rich competitors like the BMW K1300S. Low-end thrust is especially abundant (90 percent of peak torque is said to be available at 4000 rpm), while the V4's characteristic high-rev rush is amplified with greater displacement, easily spinning the Dunlop Roadsmart rear tire away from many corners. It sounds healthy, too-even through that galactic megaphone exhaust.

Surprisingly, the new engine is shorter and narrower than the previous 781cc V4, thanks to extreme mass centralization, a unique cylinder configuration and the Unicam valvetrain. The more compact engine is mounted lower and farther forward to make for a roomier cockpit, a narrower midsection and an easier reach to the ground. The sculpted fairing routes airflow well over your shoulders. The saddle-made using a new process that bonds the cover directly to the foam to allow more complex shapes-is very supportive. There's lots of legroom, though this costs cornering clearance as the pegs touched very early at the racetrack.

While the racetrack was the best place to experience the DCT transmission's high-performance prowess, the VFR1200F was somewhat out of its element. With over 60 inches separating its axles and a 613-pound curb weight, you won't confuse it with a CBR. It was a bear to flip through Sugo's wicked-tight chicane, and it didn't respond well to being snapped into corners-problematic, since such a long and low machine demands you square-off the entries.

We left Sugo dreaming of a proper street ride that would let us better appreciate the VFR1200F's newfound strengths-as well as a DCT-equipped CBR1000RR for the racetrack! American Honda officials promised a stateside street ride soon, after which we'll be able to deliver a more adequate assessment of the VFR's aptitude.

2010 Honda VFR1200F
Hard Parts

Honda's high-tech hypersport, exposed

The heart of the VFR1200F is an all-new, 1237cc, 76-degree V4 with architecture inspired by Honda's RC212V MotoGP racer. The rear cylinder connecting rods ride side-by-side near the center of the crank, with the front con-rods mounted at either end. This makes the back of the motor narrower, to keep the bike as slim as possible between the rider's knees. A symmetrically coupled phase-shift crankshaft built with 28 degrees of crankpin offset negates primary engine vibration, eliminating the need for a balance shaft. A 104-256-104-256 firing order enhances the V4's distinctive cadence, and an asymmetrical exhaust system-the front headers are substantially longer than the rear-amplifies the traditional V4 torque while providing a more aggressive top-end rush. There is no VTEC or other valve or cylinder deactivation, as was rumored. Instead, the top end benefits from the first street application of Honda's compact, lightweight Unicam valve train developed for the CRF450R motocrosser. Instead of separate intake and exhaust cams, a single overhead camshaft directly actuates the intake valves, while roller rocker arms actuate the exhaust valves. For the first time on any Honda motorcycle, an all-electric, throttle-by-wire system controls the PGM-FI (Programmed Fuel Injection). Driven by an ECU processing throttle control input, engine speed, gear position, vehicle speed, engine temperature and more, throttle-by-wire meters fuel to the 44mm injectors more accurately than a manual system, with even greater sensitivity to rider inputs.

Honda is offering the VFR with either a traditional six-speed manual transmission and conventional slipper clutch or its innovative, automatic Dual Clutch Transmission. Based on auto-shifting technology that has revolutionized Formula 1 racing, DCT employs two separate, computer-controlled, hydraulically actuated clutch units that operate in coordination to provide automatic shifts in either direction. A lever on the right switchgear toggles between three operating modes: fully automatic D-mode (regular operation), fully automatic S-Mode (sport riding) or a six-speed Manual mode. Semi-automatic is a more accurate description of the Manual mode, since there are no clutch and shift levers and clutch action remains computer-controlled. Manual mode simply allows the rider to choose shift points independently, utilizing forefinger and thumb triggers on the left switch cluster. DCT employs independent clutches for the odd gears (first, third and fifth) and the even gears (second, fourth and sixth). When the computer detects an upshift, it engages second gear and releases the first-gear clutch while simultaneously engaging the second-gear clutch to achieve a seamless, .5-second gear change. In addition to faster, smoother gear changes, Honda says DCT also improves fuel economy and reduces emissions. The company has 100 patents pending related to this design, including dual concentric input shafts (one runs inside the other hollow shaft), the exclusive inline clutch design and advanced hydraulic circuitry.

Honda's Combined Anti-Lock Braking System (C-ABS) provides an added measure of safety and performance. The combined brakes use a novel combination of different-sized pistons engaging at different times to optimally balance front and rear braking forces. Squeezing the front lever activates all six pistons in the right front caliper and four pistons in the left front; the two remaining pistons in the left front are linked to the rear brake. Asymmetrical piston sizes maintain equal braking force when the front brake is applied-the right-side pistons measure 25mm, while the pistons in the left measure 27 and 30mm. It's not the latest electronic ABS like on the CBRs, because that would have raised the price another grand.

Like all Honda sportbikes, the VFR features a Pro-Link rear suspension fitted with a single Showa gas-charged shock delivering 5.1 inches of plush rear-wheel travel. A remote spring-preload adjuster makes it easy to dial-in more or less spring pressure as passenger/luggage loads or riding conditions dictate. A 43mm Showa inverted cartridge fork provides 4.7 inches of front wheel travel. Only rebound damping is adjustable on both the fork and shock.

A massive aluminum diamond frame, constructed from four separate pressed and welded sections, forms the rigid skeleton of this big, powerful bike. Like every VFR since 1990, the 1200 also features Honda's signature single-sided Pro-Arm swingarm, now for the first time utilizing shaft drive. Look closely and you'll see the output shaft is located below the transmission countershaft, allowing for a longer swingarm without further extending what is already a 60.8-inch wheelbase. The swingarm pivot is offset above the driveshaft, which accommodates a wider pivot for greater strength and rigidity. A sliding CV joint compensates for variations in driveshaft length as the rear wheel arcs through its travel. A braced subframe is built to support passengers and luggage, and integrated mounts allow saddlebags to install without any unsightly brackets.

Honda's versatile VFR is reinvented with MotoGP engine technology, Formula 1 transmission trickery and Gold Wing-like long-distance attributes.

Luxury hypersports like the BMW K1300S, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 and Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa.

Price na
Engine type l-c V4
Valve train SOHC, 16v
Displacement 1237cc
Bore x stroke 81.0 x 60.0mm
Compression 12.0:1
Fuel system PGM-FI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper or dual-clutch automatic
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower na
Claimed torque na
Frame Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension 43mm Showa inverted fork with adjustable rebound damping
Rear suspension Single Showa shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Nissin six-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake Single Nissin two-piston caliper, 276mm disc
Front tire 120/70-ZR17 Dunlop Roadsmart
Rear tire 190/55-ZR17 Dunlop Roadsmart
Rake/trail 25.3 deg./4.0 in.
Seat height 32.1 in.
Wheelbase 60.8 in.
Fuel capacity 4.9 gal.
Claimed wet weight 591 lbs. standard, 613 lbs. automatic
Color Candy Red
Available March
Warranty 12 mo., unlimited mi.

American Honda Motor Co.
1919 Torrance Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90501

Verdict 4 stars out of 5
A better long-distance hauler, and the automatic transmission is a revelation.

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