Dual Clutch Transmission: Automatic For the People

Honda introduced the tantalizingly new VFR1200F in 2010 and instead of touting its raucous, big-bore V-four, the firm chose to highlight its Dual Clutch Transmission. All I could do was scratch my head and wonder. What, in the name of simplicity and efficiency and all things we hold dear as motorcyclists, could a DCT do to actually improve the VFR?

Offering an auto-shift box on a bike whose prime customer is the poster child for the Type A personality suggested several possibilities: Honda hadn't done its homework; some junior engineers wanted to play around with MotoGP technology but didn't have clearance to HRC's skunk works; or that it had once again succumbed to the need to show off what its engineering resources could accomplish. This is the same company that decided to instigate the turbo-bike mini boom of the 1980s with an already short-of-breath 500cc V-twin because, well, it could. (To which Kawasaki, in a most Kawasaki-like way, simply tossed a turbo onto its GPz750 and creamed the others.)

I’d formulated a full set conspiracy theories and had begun to think unkindly of Honda’s design and engineering departments—especially after spending 965 miles in one very long day aboard a VFR1200F DCT and concluding that I loathed the thing, verily. Until something miraculous happened: I got it. In a moment worthy of Jeff Spicoli finally grasping the thread of American history, the fog cleared and I glimpsed, for the first time, what Honda’s been trying to do. All it took was the NC700X.

Often these realizations work to reinforce something I already know. In this case that Honda, like all large manufacturing concerns, has long-range plans. What we see today is just the beginning of a big something we'll appreciate in years, or even decades, to come. The VFR DCT wasn't a fully realized moon shot of its own but the avant garde of technologies the company intends to roll out over time. Perfection was not on the list of goals, nor could it have been.

When you consider kicking off a new technology like DCT, it makes some sense, for Honda at least, to try it on a bike that can handle the inevitable weight gain and absorb the additional cost. Add the 20-something pounds to a 600-lb. bike and you’ll get less screaming from the press and consumer base than if, say, you’d done the same thing to a 410-lb. CBR600RR. There may be something in the fact that the VFR is a low-volume bike; should something go terribly wrong in the field, the remedy costs won’t be quite so breathtaking.

That brings us back to the NC700X. The NC’s torque-biased, modestly powerful engine and beginner focus are a perfect match with Honda’s DCT. In this application, the DCT works marvelously, in seamless concert with the laydown vertical-twin and its low redline. It’s quieter in the NC than in the VFR, probably because the components are smaller and dealing with much less power; shift action is better; and the shift scheduling finally makes sense. Honda has the DCT neatly leveraging the strengths of the low-revving NC engine and cleverly avoiding its shortcomings.

Example? The character of the NC’s engine suggests a sprightly V-twin but the tuning required to obtain a strong low end (among other things) caused Honda to enforce a 6500-rpm redline. I never did get the “ear” for the engine on our one-day ride; too often I found myself running it hard into the rev limiter, thinking there were still a bunch of revs left.

The NC’s DCT took care of my mental shortcomings, at least once I stopped tinkering with the Manual mode. After a few miles, I plunked the bike into Sport mode and left it there. Drive mode vigorously seeks to improve mileage but Sport keeps the revs in the heart of the powerband, downshifts promptly, and generally manages the engine exactly the way I would manually. Brilliant.

In the NC700X, the DCT makes complete sense. New riders and commuters will come to adore the thing. Me? I would gladly pay the $2000 premium to get the autobox along with the antilock brakes on this bike. Now imagine this technology on a Gold Wing or big cruiser. Hmmm.

Honda was thinking ahead when it introduced DCT on the VFR. The tech might not benefit a big sport-tourer, but it works supremely well on the proletariat NC700X.