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MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2010 Honda VFR1200F DCT With Automatic Transmission

No clutch, no shift!

By Pamela Johnson
4/5/2011


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Manufacturers regularly update and improve upon motorcycles already in their lineups, but last year Honda didn’t just make an existing model better—it designed a brand-new VFR. The sleek, 167-horsepower, liquid-cooled, 76-degree V-4 VFR1200F has taken the place of the “either you love it or hate it” VTEC VFR800. The iconic V-4 engine layout and single-sided swingarm are about the only things the two have in common. What's more, Honda is also offering a model with a dual-clutch transmission (DCT), a first for large-displacement sport motorcycles, for $1,500 more than the $15,999 standard VFR1200F.  

The 2010 Honda VFR1200F DCT is ideal for riders who don’t want to deal with actuating a clutch.
The 2010 Honda VFR1200F DCT is ideal for riders who don’t want to deal with actuating a clutch.

Dual-clutch transmission? That’s another way of saying that the bike is fully automatic. There are no clutch and shift levers. The DCT electronically alternates separate clutches for odd and even gears, shifting through its 6-speed gearbox for you. There are two automatic modes, drive and sport, that you select with your right thumb. You can choose the mode you want and enjoy the ride, or let your fingers do the walking by using the trigger shifter to select the manual mode and “shift” with your left forefinger and thumb. Automatic or manual—your choice with the flick of a finger. You can also toggle back and forth, play with it and have some fun! Regardless of what mode or gear you are in, the DCT shifts down to first when you stop, and the bike won’t stall because the clutch is disengaged. You can also put the bike into neutral with the press of your right thumb, though this works only when the bike is stopped. Just don’t forget to set the parking brake so it won’t roll away. 

Riding a motorcycle with an automatic transmission takes some getting used to, but Pamela quickly adjusted to the ease of the ride.
Riding a motorcycle with an automatic transmission takes some getting used to, but Pamela quickly adjusted to the ease of the ride.

On the left handgrip, the thumb and forefinger “shift” up and down through the gears—no clutch lever or foot-shifting on this motorcycle.
On the left handgrip, the thumb and forefinger “shift” up and down through the gears—no clutch lever or foot-shifting on this motorcycle.

On the right handgrip, the thumb chooses drive or sport mode, while a lever actuated by the right forefinger allows the rider to switch between automatic and manual transmission.
On the right handgrip, the thumb chooses drive or sport mode, while a lever actuated by the right forefinger allows the rider to switch between automatic and manual transmission.

I’ve had a chance to ride both the standard and the DCT models, and have put about 1,000 miles on the latter. I admit that I was apprehensive about my first ride on the DCT model—and I wasn’t the only one. It was rather amusing on a group ride, where several of us (guys, too!) had that “go ahead, after you” mentality because no one wanted to be the first one to try it out. As it turned out, it was a piece of cake. The DCT works so well that the biggest “mistake” you can make is pulling in an imaginary clutch and moving your foot to shift. You also may end up honking the horn a lot because the button is oversized and there’s an extra thumb switch on the left handgrip that most riders won’t be used to having. First gear can kick in abruptly when setting off while the bike is cold.

The fuel-injected VFR1200F uses a throttle-by-wire system, meaning there is no mechanically linked/actuated throttle-grip cable to operate the throttle. This makes the system lighter and more compact.
The fuel-injected VFR1200F uses a throttle-by-wire system, meaning there is no mechanically linked/actuated throttle-grip cable to operate the throttle. This makes the system lighter and more compact.

The automatic drive mode is not my cup of tea for slow speeds because it can be jerky. Drive mode keeps rpm low for fuel economy and noisily shifts up to the next gear too soon. For instance, by the time the bike reaches 25 mph while I’m cruising leisurely through my residential neighborhood, it’s already in fourth gear. At 40 mph, the bike is in sixth gear. Sometimes it will shift up two gears when I round a corner, which is disconcerting. A flick of your thumb will put it into manual sport mode, which is designed for a sportier pace and keeps the bike in a lower gear and a higher rev range. For a lot of my everyday riding situations, like stop-and-go traffic, I prefer the sport mode, which allows me to control what gear the bike is in. Maybe I’m just a control freak. 

On its Web site, Honda classifies the VFR1200 as a sportbike, but Pamela thinks of it more as a “sporty sport tourer,” with its shaft drive, ABS, and upright seating position.
On its Web site, Honda classifies the VFR1200 as a sportbike, but Pamela thinks of it more as a “sporty sport tourer,” with its shaft drive, ABS, and upright seating position.

Saddlebag mounts come standard on the VFR. Color-matched hard saddlebags are an extra $1,399.95.
Saddlebag mounts come standard on the VFR. Color-matched hard saddlebags are an extra $1,399.95.

At 5-foot-9, Pamela is tall for a woman and has longer-than-average limbs, so reach to the handlebars has her leaning just slightly forward, putting an ever-so-slight pressure on her wrists. A shorter person would be placed in a sportier stance.
At 5-foot-9, Pamela is tall for a woman and has longer-than-average limbs, so reach to the handlebars has her leaning just slightly forward, putting an ever-so-slight pressure on her wrists. A shorter person would be placed in a sportier stance.

Seat height is 32.1 inches, and a more compact engine than on the VFR800 makes for an easier reach to the ground. Honda offers a lower, narrower seat as an accessory for $249.95, knocking 0.8 inches off the height. My thighs and knees fit perfectly below the beautifully sculptured contours of the VFR’s tank, making it feel natural to use my legs to help steer the bike. The VFR is extremely stable, has lots of legroom, and the seat is plenty comfortable for my hour-long commutes and weekends spent playing in the canyons.

The 32.1-inch seat height won’t allow the average-sized woman (5-foot-4, according to one study on Wikipedia) to stand flat-footed, but the narrow profile of the VFR1200F allows for increased leg reach, giving those with longer inseams the opportunity to tiptoe the bike.
The 32.1-inch seat height won’t allow the average-sized woman (5-foot-4, according to one study on Wikipedia) to stand flat-footed, but the narrow profile of the VFR1200F allows for increased leg reach, giving those with longer inseams the opportunity to tiptoe the bike.

Nearly every part of the new VFR has been redesigned, including the seat. The seat cover, which has a special tactile surface, is literally bonded to the foam, improving ergonomics.
Nearly every part of the new VFR has been redesigned, including the seat. The seat cover, which has a special tactile surface, is literally bonded to the foam, improving ergonomics.

The canyons near my home, where the roads twist and turn, are where I love to take the VFR. Its claimed 613-pound, ready-to-ride weight makes it about 170 pounds heavier than Honda’s true sportbike, the CBR1000RR. (Claimed curb weight on the standard VFR1200F is 21 pounds lighter than the DCT model.) The VFR runs through the corners and holds its line well, especially in long sweeping turns, where it feels lighter than its weight. When the corners really tighten up, it doesn’t feel quite as light, and it takes a little muscle to get it to transition from left to right.  
 
Good cornering clearance allows Pam to lean the VFR1200F over pretty far without the pegs scraping.
Good cornering clearance allows Pam to lean the VFR1200F over pretty far without the pegs scraping.

The suspension is dialed in to soak up all but the roughest bumps on the highway, and it keeps me smoothly on course when riding through a series of curves. The fork and single shock are preload-adjustable (the shock via remote knob), and rebound damping is adjustable out back. Brakes don’t get much better than these—dual front discs with six-piston calipers and a single disc in back with two-piston calipers. They’re strong, haul the bike down fast, and have ABS as well as Honda’s Combined Braking System (CBS).

There’s not much to complain about on either the standard or DCT VFR1200F. Twist the throttle, and instant power is right there. I can feel vibration coming through the seat and grips, though it’s not bothersome, and the mirrors stay steady and provide a clear rear view. 

The windscreen is small, so wind is directed at the rider’s chest and head at highway speeds. Turn signals are integrated into the backs of the mirrors.
The windscreen is small, so wind is directed at the rider’s chest and head at highway speeds. Turn signals are integrated into the backs of the mirrors.

The instrument panel is chock-full of information, with a clock and air temperature included.
The instrument panel is chock-full of information, with a clock and air temperature included.

My biggest gripe with the instrument panel is the fuel gauge. It’s small. Take a toothpick, break it in half, hold the two pieces together, and that’s about the size of the fuel graph when the bike is fully fueled. There’s no low-fuel indicator light. The only way to tell when it’s time to gas up is the tiny flashing black square on the graph. My test bike consistently registered full past the 60-mile mark, then the squares dropped off quickly. The tank holds 4.9 gallons, and the DCT bike averaged just over 40 mpg. Recommended octane is 91.

Unlike typical sportbikes with cramped passenger seating, the VFR1200F offers plenty of room along with large passenger grab rails.
Unlike typical sportbikes with cramped passenger seating, the VFR1200F offers plenty of room along with large passenger grab rails.

Honda has done a fantastic job with the DCT—it worked very well once I got over that initial learning curve. Still, I like having a clutch. For me, it’s inherent on a motorcycle and is part of the riding experience. Of course, if money wasn’t a consideration and I could own multiple bikes, I’d buy a DCT VFR for the novelty of it. Either model of the VFR1200F is a joy to cruise down the highway on and lean over in the curves. 

Specs At A Glance: 2010 Honda VFR1200F with Dual-Clutch Automatic Transmission
Displacement: 1237cc 
Seat Height: 32.1 inches (lower seat option available)
Weight: 613 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 4.9 gallons
Colors: Candy Red
Price: $17,499

WRN Recommendation 
Mastering the art of working the clutch and throttle, plus knowing when to shift gears, are what stop many women from moving from the back seat to the front—or from getting into motorcycling altogether. Honda’s VFR1200F erases that barrier by eliminating the clutch lever and foot shifter, allowing a rider to choose between automatic or manual transmission modes. While it’d be nice to have this option on a cruiser, the preferred style of ride for the majority of female riders, a sporty upright model like the VFR offers a wide range of experiences that can be just as appealing. Because the VFR1200 is tall with a powerful 1200cc engine, we don’t recommend it for beginning riders who can’t flat-foot it. For those who don’t ever care to shift, it’s best to learn the nuances of balancing and riding a two-wheeler on an automatic-transmission scooter or maxi-scooter, then transition to this bigger bike. Existing riders who would like to have one less task to deal with (no shifting) can’t go wrong with the VFR1200F and the Honda reliability that comes with it. 

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Reader Comments


I am looking for my first bike and I am set on it being automatic. I have no need to prove that I can keep up with the boys. I want to have my attention where it really counts when I'm riding. The view, and the other drivers on the road who don't pay attention to motorcycles... I'm a lady and I will ride like one! I don't think manual transmissions make you cooler than the rest. I drove a stick for years and I don't miss that truck at all. I am looking forward to having fun with a motorcycle!

Karen
Aliso Viejo, CA
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Don't assume that automatics are only for women. I am a new rider and I bought a Honda Silver Wing scooter (582cc) so I would not have to deal with shifting. Most of the riders at the Mid-Atlantic Scooter Rally were men. Frankly, it's great to simply twist the throttle and go and I can focus on lean and line and what is ahead instead of whether my left toe is above or below the shifter knob and remembering the clutch. I took demo rides on a KLR650, V-Strom and Versys and managed the shifting while chasing the sportbikes in the group but it will never be my favorite activity. I wish they made a dual purpose or a touring bike with an automatic with button override. The idea of an automatic is great.

Adam Safier
Monrovia, MD
Sunday, August 28, 2011
I actually looked at one of these in the showroom a couple of months ago. I had joint replacement surgery on both thumbs so the dealer took me over to look at this bike. Very futuristic which doesn't appeal to me. Instead, I've opted to change out my handlebars, etc in hopes of alleviating hand/thumb pain versus an automatic bike. However, if new handlebars don't do the job, it's nice to know there is another option for those of us with hand issues. The cost would still be prohibitive for me though.

Suzy
Schenectady, NY
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Don't hate! The idea of an automatic appealed to me before I purchased my first bike. I just picked up my second bike today. If they had it in an automatic I would buy it in a second. Shifting is just shifting. If you need to shift to feel cool then shift on. I think more people would enjoy motorcycle lifestyle if not for that learning curve. No need to make people feel dumb because they don't shift. It's like making someone feel like less of a biker because they ride a trike or a Spyder or whatever. Get over yourself and include these machines in the circle. We need to talk about making motorcycling more accessible to women riders. Well, besides the size and setup of the motorcycle, I think automatics would bring more women in.

Hollis
Canton, OH
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
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