It's a good thing the folks at Honda enjoy a challenge, because this next feat will be one of their most challenging: convincing the motorcycling public that automatics aren't evil. You see, Honda's new VFR1200F is a technological tour de force. One in which we'll cover in more detail shortly, but the single most polarizing feature of the new Honda VFR1200F lies in three little letters: D-C-T, or Dual Clutch Transmission, in which shifting of the VFR can be performed via paddles on the left handlebar or completely automatically.
And therein lies the challenge. The most taboo word in all of motorcycling, "automatic" instantly conjures up negativity from the motorcycling purists who cry for less technology. So much so that in their haste the critics sometimes revert back to primate-like tendencies, flinging certain unmentionables towards their nearest Honda dealer.
It almost seems fitting that this comes from a company like Honda, already famous for introducing technological wonders in the past that ultimately turned into sales disasters. It's important to mention, however, that the VFR also comes with a standard six-speed gearbox for all the purists out there.
With that in mind it was only natural for me to have my doubts about all this new techno-stuff when invited to attend this first ride at the Sugo circuit in Japan (which, ironically enough, is owned by Yamaha). But believe me when I tell you that this one is different. You might ask why a sport-touring bike like this is being introduced at a racetrack. The answer is simple; because we were there as part of a larger press junket in which we would tour all things Honda, including one of the factories (see sidebar) we had to stay within Japan. Not to mention the language barrier and the fact that the Japanese drive on the other side of the road meant that, in the interest of safety, us Yanks would have to play on the track (don't worry, we'll have a domestic street ride evaluation in the months to come).
A Look Into The Future
Despite being a sport-touring...
Despite being a sport-touring machine, the VFR handled the racetrack surprisingly well. The low ground clearance meant footpeg feelers were scraping the ground sooner than we'd like, however.
We've mentioned many of the technical details of the bike the last two issues ("New Bikes 2010!, Dec. '09, "Late Braking, Jan. '10), but we've since learned even more about not only the engine and transmission, but the rest of the parts as well. To refresh, at its heart is a 1237cc, 76-degree V-four with a rather oversquare 81mm x 60mm bore and stroke. Its unique cylinder layout has the rearward cylinders innermost on the crankshaft and the forward cylinders on each end of the crankshaft. This narrows the space for the rider's legs and gives the bike a more compact feel. Borrowing from its off-road side, Unicam valve actuation uses a single camshaft to operate both intake and exhaust valves, thus making for a much more compact cylinder head. A first for Honda, the new VFR adopts fly-by-wire throttle actuation, enabling the use of the Drive, Sport and Automatic drive modes used by the DCT model.
Speaking of the DCT, a quick breakdown reveals that, in its most basic form, it's just two clutches (one for odd numbered gears and the other for even) utilizing two main shafts.
Because of the lack of space on a motorcycle, the Honda system maintains the use of a rotating shift drum (like on conventional transmissions) to change gears, with the hydraulic circuits and solenoid valves hiding behind the right engine cover. When it's time to shift a computer tells valves and circuits to rotate the single shift drum between gears. The computer then signals the shift action to pre-select the next gear. When the clutch controlling the current gear disengages, the next gear is immediately engaged since the second clutch had already pre-selected it. This makes for seamless transitions and no interruption of power to the wheel. Total time for all this magic to happen: half a second.