By: CycleWorld staff
“Revolutionary” is a buzzword that gets thrown around far too often, but I have to say that after riding Honda’s brand-new 2010 VFR1200F V-Four at the Sugo Circuit outside of Sendai, Japan, as well as on public roads nearby, this bike truly defines that expression.
Only 12 months after showing its V4 Concept model at the Intermot show in Germany in 2008, Honda has brought to market this radical new machine. Among its many innovative features and designs, the most exceptional is that it offers as an option the motorcycle industry’s first automatic dual-clutch transmission. Honda gave us the opportunity to ride the DCT and standard versions on the racetrack and on the street. Despite being identical motorcycles aside from their transmissions and related components, these bikes are completely different animals. If we were only discussing the standard model, we would say that Honda made some interesting technological changes to the VFR’s V-Four powerplant; but the DCTequipped model takes innovation to an entirely new level.
First, let’s get into the basic architecture shared by both models. At the core is a brand-new, liquid-cooled, 76-degree, 1237cc V-Four engine with CRF450R-inspired Unicam four-valve heads. The two front cylinders are located wide on the ends of the crankshaft while the rear two are side-byside closer to crank center. This combination allows the engine to be very narrow between the rider’s knees. No balance shaft is necessary as the crankshaft uses 28-degree-offset throws to allow perfect primary balance. Instead of trying to figure out how to equalize exhaust-header length between the front and rear cylinders, Honda’s engineers–led by project manager Yosuke
Hasegawa–decided to allow the two banks of cylinders to make their own unique power characteristics. According to Hasegawa-san, the combined effect is that of a paired set of parallel-Twins sharing a common crankshaft, the front two cylinders and their longer exhaust headers providing ample bottom-end torque and the rear pairing with much shorter headers producing good top-end power.
Power output is excellent. In fact, on the racetrack, the bike easily spun the sport-touring-oriented Dunlop rear tire exiting slower corners. Strong acceleration is available from as low as 4000 rpm, where Honda claims 90 percent of available torque is already present, and the engine pulls hard to its 10,000-rpm redline.
After the DCT or standard six-speed trans (with slippe clutch), both lead to a new shaft-drive system and singlesided swingarm, featuring a sliding CV joint to counter the changing arc of the rear wheel through its travel.
The chassis is anchored by a twin-spar aluminum frame with a 25.5-degree rake, 4.0 inches of trail and a 60.8-inch wheelbase. These specs help make the bike feel perfectly suited to sport-touring riding. Both the 43mm Showa fork and Pro-Link shock allow preload and rebound-damping adjustment. If this were all we were to talk about, the report card would state that Honda made great evolutionary changes to the VFR. But as I said, the Dual-Clutch Transmission has truly introduced a new era to motorcycling. Similar in concept to automotive transmissions such as the one fitted to Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution, the VFR’s gearbox is fundamentally a computer-controlled manual design that through actuators provides either fully automatic or paddle-shifted operation (there is no foot lever).
I didn’t realize what an awesome technology the motorcycling world was missing out on until I got a chance to
ride the VFR1200F. After learning the Sugo circuit on the standard model and getting used to the manual-trans VFR, I ventured out on the DCT-equipped version. Lap one was spent in the fully automatic and mellow Drive mode. “Conservative and reserved” best describes this selection, as shifts come early in the rev range. An on-the-fly switch to the Sport mode is a dramatic change for the better. The shift program then interprets aggressive input and responds accordingly, providing quick, seamless .5-second shifts near redline. And what about downshifts? Never in the course of my test did the bike shift at an inopportune moment on corner entry, even approaching the right-hander at the end of Sugo’s back straight, where the bike downshifted smoothly and quickly (with automatic rev-matching) as I braked hard for the corner. My only complaint is that I preferred to make one additional downshift on the manual bike to maximize engine braking.
Ah, but Honda fully anticipated this, hence the left-barmounted finger/thumb-actuated Manual mode, which keeps you fully in charge: The VFR will not upshift until commanded and will run straight into the fairly soft rev-limiter if you don’t pull the trigger in time.
So, for very aggressive riding, I preferred Manual mode. But the auto setup is so intelligent that, on a later street ride, I preferred to allow the bike to make the decisions for me and was very impressed with DCT operation. Clutch feed from a stop was absolutely smooth, crisp and stutter-free every time. Furthermore, on road or track, minimal driveline lash, zero shaft-drive jacking and excellent fueling from the fly-by-wire fuel-injection system make this bike a great example of near-perfect execution of concept.
There is entirely too much information about this bike to communicate in this issue’s available space, but you can be assured that we will get a VFR in our hands as soon as possible for a full test. Even with our limited seat time, early indications all point to the VFR1200F fully exceeding expectations, living up to the hype and anticipation generated in the short time since it was unveiled. Honda has once again taken a chance and introduced new technology that we didn’t even realize we needed, then elevated it to such a level of refinement that it should surely hit a home run in its rookie season.
Originally published in the January 2010 issue of CycleWorld.