2010 Honda VFR1200F
In this computerized day and age where smart phones rule and seemingly everyone has a computer close to hand, we tend to take motorcycle technology for granted. Indeed, our attitude towards the launch of a new motorcycle can become a little blasé, ho hum even.
Honda’s new 2010 VFR1200F probably won’t get that reaction. To start with, the new VFR1200 demands attention simply because of its futuristic styling. Some people will love it, others not so much. For me, I didn’t love the looks–until I saw it in person. In pictures the front fairing and large headlight seem to dominate the machine, but in the cold light of day the Honda VFR1200 actually looks balanced, modern, and close inspection reveals a super-high quality sports machine. If this was a car–think Acura.
The 2010 Honda VFR1200F is a traditional machine in many ways–although it’s such a quantum leap over the current VFR800 they share almost nothing in common. The VFR1200F is now equipped with radial ABS brakes (which work well), male-slider forks with rebound damping adjustment, a 1200cc V-four engine that produces incredibly useful–and user-friendly–amounts of torque from idle through to the 10,200 RPM rev-limiter; and a shaft-drive that is smooth and completely undetectable from the saddle. These things alone make new 2010 Honda VFR1200F not just a generational shift over the previous model, it’s more like two generations beyond–and almost a different species.
So the new Honda VFR1200F will delight the traditionalist who likes his sport bike to have comfortable ergonomics and yet be able to handle a fast, twisty road when called upon? Absolutely. Heck, this bike was more than capable of handling the highly technical Sugo racetrack in Japan with aplomb; make no mistake, this is not a sport-tourer; it’s a true sport bike that’s comfortable enough to go big distances, and with a passenger as well if you want it to. It’s not quite as committed as the CBR models, and apparently tipping the scales at a shade over 600 lbs (wet), it naturally doesn’t feel as supremely light and flickable, but the Honda VFR’s weight is well centralized, and the rider comfortably sits ‘in’ the bike, so it turns quickly, securely, and goes exactly where it’s pointed–and that was with stock suspension settings at the track. The Honda VFR’s single sided swing-arm is now equipped with shaft drive, although at no point on the track was I ever reminded of that; torque reaction was happily absent as I came on the throttle at corner exit.
Although the Honda VFR1200 has many traditional aspects to it, there are several sophisticated elements to the new Honda. Firstly, the new ride-by-wire fueling is exemplary, with excellent throttle connection and zero flat spots. Around Sugo’s several tight corners, the throttle could be finessed into providing exactly the amount of power I needed–no more, no less–and without any hesitation or lurch either. The final chicane on to Sugo’s straight is diabolically slow and involves a right, long left, then right that feels so like walking pace it requires untold patience from the rider. Yet the well-balanced 2010 VFR1200 handled the flip-flopping transition with ease. After several initial laps I realized that with the astonishing torque output of the engine I could carry second gear instead of first through this chicane, and despite the engine slowing to idle at one point the precision fueling and smooth torque output pulled the VFR1200F like a train through the exit and up the hill. Impressive stuff indeed.
But the smartest part of the Honda VFR1200F is without a doubt the new transmission. Dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists can stop reading here as you won’t be interested in this next bit. I can already hear you telling me how you “need to be in control” and how “automatic or clutchless trannys are a gimmick that no real motorcyclist wants”. Actually, I confess I was one of those guys–and you’ll note the past tense. My attitude wasn’t helped by Yamaha’s recent automatic clutch on their FJR, which was for me, the answer to a question no-one had asked. The gearbox was not automatic, so merely removing the manual clutch operation not only didn’t add anything to my riding experience; it unfortunately took away some control at slow speed.
The 2010 Honda VFR1200F has no such issues. At slow speed the clutch engages quickly and there’s plenty of ‘feel’. Walking pace speed in the parking lot was handled without problem, and the bike reacted intuitively without the Yamaha’s sudden loss of drive that required a panicky foot-stab to stay upright. Whether this is down to superior electronic wizardry or the 2010 Honda VFR’s new dual-clutch transmission will need further investigation, but for this initial riding impression I can testify that it truly works. The new DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) essentially divides the gearbox into two–odd and even gear ratios–so that at all times the ‘next’ gear is already selected. When that gear is needed, the switch from one to the other is accomplished so quickly (less than half a second) and so smoothly that the process is almost transparent to the rider. This is the same type of system used on the new BMW M3, and I believe also the Lamborghini Gallardo, Mitsubishi EVO and other hyper-sport cars. It’s Formula 1 derived technology and it simply makes a mockery of the old way of automatic transmission. Don’t even think of comparing it to the CVT (Constantly Variable Transmission) that you typically find on scooters and Honda’s DN-01. No, this is precise gear selection where the perfect ratio is used at all times, and engine braking is exactly the same as on a manual gearbox.
Drive is selected by using the ‘D’ button on the right handlebar. This mode was essentially useless around Sugo as the VFR chooses the tallest possible gears for optimum fuel economy and rider/passenger comfort. On the road I believe it’ll work just fine, but for hard-core sport riding around a high-speed track, pushing the button twice selects ‘S’ (Sport) mode–and that was what was needed at Sugo. Paddle-switch type shifters on the left handlebar switchgear (thumb for going down the ‘box, forefinger for going up the ‘box) shift gears manually, and the process worked impeccably. If you like, you can ride the bike in nothing but manual shift mode (whichever mode you use, the digital gear indicator will always tell you the gear number) and you simply ride like normal, shifting up and down whenever you deem appropriate. The Honda VFR1200 will hold the selected gear unless you come to a complete stop. Manual mode simply takes away having to use your left foot to click a lever, and of course you don’t have a clutch lever to worry about either.
But it’s the automatic Sport mode that’s so mind-bogglingly impressive. The Honda engineers have somehow built an automatic shifting gearbox that is so smart it always had the correct gear selected. This is an astonishing accomplishment–a technical racetrack like Sugo holds several places that could easily trip up the system. And yet, the Honda always had the right gear, at the right time. I actually reached a point where I gave up looking at the gear I was in, or even thinking about shifting; I simply rode the bike and focused on brake markers, turn-in points and exit speeds. It was an astounding display from the VFR and as mentioned earlier, it made a convert out of me.
Base model is $15,999 as listed on the Honda website. The automatic gearbox version will probably cost around $2,000 more, so for a fully loaded 2010 Honda VFR1200F with all the touring accessories (and there are lots of those available) you can probably expect prices closer to BMW’s K-series machines. But such is the quality of build and high-tech brilliance, the Honda will hold its own, I’m confident. Honda reps are cagey about how many VFRs will hit the USA, but expect the auto version to be a very limited edition until they can get a feel for demand in the marketplace.
2010 Honda VFR1200F First Review Conclusion
From what I sampled in Japan, Honda has truly worked its magic, and for the first time in over 30 years of riding I can honestly admit that I would now buy a sports motorcycle equipped with an automatic transmission. The new 2010 VFR1200F DCT is just light-years better than anything we’ve had up until now.