Honda certainly stirred the pot with its new VFR1200F. With tabloid-fed rumors swirling on the Internet about a new V-engined MotoGP race replica or big horsepower successor to the CBR1100XX to appear from Honda for '10, the debut of the big VFR certainly confused those who were expecting another sportbike milestone from Big Red.
Actually, the VFR1200F has turned out to be another landmark sportbike, with its innovative and groundbreaking Dual Clutch Transmission option possibly setting the stage to usher in a new era of gearbox operation. Utilizing a setup similar in function to the transmissions on many high-end sports cars (covered in detail in our December '09 issue), the DCT's compact design has the potential to be retrofitted to many conventional transmissions without requiring extensive redesign of major components such as the engine cases.
Of course, the key word is "option". Nonetheless, the number of standard transmission VFRs produced will be far smaller than the DCT version, as Honda is banking on the allure of the DCT technology.
So when American Honda reps informed us that VFR1200F DCT test units weren't expected until sometime in the late spring-but that they had a standard transmission version available for a few weeks-we jumped at the chance to test it. After all, the bike is basically the same except the transmission, and the standard version is not only lighter by some 22 pounds, but it will also be substantially cheaper (coming in at $15,999, while the DCT version will surely be at least $3000 higher).
How The Other Half Lives
At 595 pounds wet with a full tank of fuel ready to ride, the base version VFR obviously isn't among the lightest sportbikes in the market, and you can definitely feel its heft pushing it around. There's little impression of bulk when you climb aboard, however; the front portion of the Honda's nicely sculpted saddle is narrow enough to make the 32.1-inch seat height seem lower than it is, and the V-four engine's inboard positioning of the rear cylinders' crankpins permits the bike's midsection to be thinner than would normally be possible. The end result is a bike that feels more like an oversize 600 between the knees than a big 1237cc V-four.
Hit the starter button and the VFR springs to life with the easily recognizable growl of a V-four. Snicking the bike into first gear doesn't reveal much driveline lash, yet a distinct clunk can be heard as the gearbox and driveshaft play gets taken up. Getting underway is ridiculously easy, as the Honda's engine has gobs of torque that make clutch finesse practically unnecessary. You do have to open the throttle a bit more than usual to begin accessing that power, probably a by-product of the ride-by-wire throttle system's method of reducing any abrupt off-idle response.
The spacing between first and second gear is a bit wide on the VFR, resulting in a noticeably clunky shift that can only be avoided by shifting quickly at near-full throttle/high rpm (which is outside this bike's intended riding scenario)-here's hoping that the DCT model's transmission shifting is a bit smoother in this regard. We also noticed while slowly winding our way through traffic below 3000 rpm at light throttle settings that the engine would surge enough to cause the driveline lash to lightly slap against itself; granted, it only occurred in this specific situation, and the driveline damping system seems to take care of most of it, but it was noticeable nonetheless.