2012 Honda VFR1200F DCT | Short Shift

Refined and Improved for 2012, But Enough?

By Marc Cook, Photography by Joe Neric

They say: “Better DCT action, less fussing.”
We say: “We'll take one with a clutch lever, please."

When it was launched in 2010, technophiles lauded the Honda VFR1200F as a move toward the upper end of moto sophistication and a thrilling break from constrictive same-same two-wheeled reality. Super light sportbikes? Big boats with close to 190 horsepower at the rear wheel? Bah, seen it. What’s next?

Everything from the VFR’s new V-four configuration—the front cylinders’ connecting rods straddle the rears to make the engine narrower beneath the rider—and next-generation combined/ABS-protected braking system to the paddle-shifted transmission and low-slung shaft drive had forward thinkers weak in the knees. The motorcycling community, particularly the old-school types who live in the VFR’s mission/cost demographic, largely went meh.

Honda held the VFR out of the lineup for 2011 and regrouped for ‘12, bringing a number of small improvements to both the manual and Dual Clutch Transmission-equipped models. First is a larger fuel tank, by all of 0.1 gallons, to help stretch range. Next is a recalibration of the powerful V-four’s fly-by-wire injection system for better fuel economy. Honda estimated 31 mpg average for the 2010 bike, and says the ‘12 model does 35 mpg with the manual, 33 with the DCT. We averaged 36 mpg in mixed use, meaning the new tankage adds all of 3.6 miles to the range, a still un-ST-like 145 or so before hitting reserve and bringing the range-to-empty display to life. (It’s hidden the rest of the time and, no, we don’t have a reasonable explanation for that.) A revised saddle with a less Slip’N Slide-like covering makes the bike comfortable for much longer than one tank’s inadequate endurance.

Updates to the DCT software are a similar, incremental move in the right direction. For 2012, Honda reworked the DCT’s control logic and tweaked calibrations. The ECU performs a slightly less aggressive torque cut in the lower two gears—a tactic ostensibly to reduce stress on the split-clutch DCT that is, strangely, also present in the six-speed manual VFR we sampled. The DCT model gained a second calibration in the D (drive) mode: If you ride aggressively, the VFR takes notice and uses an appropriately more aggressive shift map, holding gears longer and downshifting more readily. Even in the easy-going mode, the bike is far less willing to jump right into sixth gear, by parking lot speed, than the 2010 bike was; this change eliminates the biggest complaint of the D mode. The S (sport) mode is largely unchanged, and holds gears much longer than does the D mode. Finally, Honda’s changed the logic so that instituting a manual shift through the switches on the left cluster leaves the bike in the selected mode. Before, a forced shift would take the DCT to manual mode and leave it there.

Improvements, all, but still the VFR promises more than it delivers. Because of the transmission, it’s doggy off the line, regardless of shift mode. Once the engine clears the 5000-rpm threshold, the ECU suddenly unleashes full torqu—in first and second gears anyway—and the bike rockets away, a thrilling experience until it’s not. (The manual-trans version has the same artifact, though you can work around it with judicious use of the clutch.) The DCT is also fairly noisy, so you occasionally wonder if there’s a misplaced Crescent wrench somewhere. And it adds weight; 22 pounds for the 2010 models, bringing wet weight to 613 lbs., claimed. (Honda does not list a weight for 2012.)

Honda sells two standard-trans VFRs for every DCT, which makes sense. The bike beneath all this technology is actually pretty good—lighter steering and more responsive than the specs suggest, commendably smooth at highway speed (though not as smooth as a 90-degree V-four), and as comfortable as you’d expect in that ergonomic void between lean-over sportbike and sit-up sport-tourer. Maybe it’s the technophobes in us talking, but we’d rather shift this bike ourselves than live with the buzzkill DCT, even in this improved form.

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