2013 Honda VFR1200F DCT Review: Automatic Transmission Motorcycle

2013 Honda VFR1200FD

I’ve always admired Honda’s spirit, resourcefulness and desire to push the envelope even in the face of breaking the mold or doing something that’s not a sure bet.

Approaching the 2013 Honda VFR1200F DCT – the one with the automatic transmission – I like the looks immediately. The only color available in 2013 is the new, glossy black with silver accent paint job. It is exquisite and has drawn many comments and gawkers.

Fit and finish is as nice as anything on the road and nicer than many. Ergonomics are very good, even for my 6-foot frame and 34-inch inseam, though if I owned the bike, I would get a peg-lowering kit and buy myself a bit more space. The fairing is protective and, even on 90-degree days, the engine and exhaust never felt hot on my legs. The reach to the bars is comfortable, and the whole package feels just right.

Before my first ride, I had to be instructed on the unique aspects of the VFR1200F DCT, including how to use the manual and automatic shift modes, and how to use the parking brake. Yes, parking brake. The last automatic transmission bike I rode was a bicycle converted to a scooter with a Briggs & Stratton 4-hp (maybe) motor and a centrifugal clutch. I was 12 or 13 and it was all I had. Yep, I liked it.

Drive mode is lovely around town, and dedicates itself to getting into top gear as soon as possible. You’ll be in high by about 45 mph. Slow at a light and turn right, and you will be in third gear by to time you straighten out the bars.

When riding, the Dual Clutch Transmission will shift down as you slow, and if you open the throttle the bike will take off in whatever gear you happen to be in. If you whack open the throttle, it will readily downshift one or two gears on its own. When I am in town mindlessly running around, it’s just throttle and brakes and nothing more than keeping my eyes open. If Honda called it C mode (for City), that might explain it better and I used it whenever I was in traffic.

Sport mode will hold gears and rev higher between shifts. It’s my favorite mode outside town, as I found Sport mode delightful in the canyons. No matter what mode you set, the left-hand up and downshift paddles are always available to override the transmission’s selection.

The AT/MT selector, with the right forefinger, converts you to full manual gear selection with the paddle shifters. This is where the demons live, and what the fastest guys will select. However, I found Sport mode easiest to ride fast and most satisfying on the 2013 Honda VFR1200F DCT.

There is an interesting aspect to riding your favorite twisty roads, and being able to focus on your line without having to make mental calculations about gear selection. On occasion, the DCT may upshift in a turn, but, even leaned over, the shifts are so gentle that a touch of the thumb puts you smoothly and instantly in a lower gear. I don’t see this as any more of a negative than needing to up or downshift a manual transmission while in a corner. One accepts certain things, and they do not diminish the experience and you can always select MT and shift with your thumb.

How does a buyer who sees him or herself as a sporty rider reconcile the choice to buy an automatic transmission? The sporty car in my driveway has a stick. If I were in the market today for, say, a Porsche I probably would only consider a manual transmission. Still, this is a decision that I might make because of what I think is the romantic notion I have about the manual tranny and its aura of speed and control.

The fact is, the automatics are faster and this ain’t your grandfather’s Torqueflite. Most of the fast guys have a quick shifter already, and there is no difference in firing off your upshifts with silky precision except that it’ much better and more elegant with two fingers. I like having my boot planted firmly on the left-side peg, rather than using the shift lever and stuttering the ignition to make the change–something that the dual clutch mode of gear change does exceedingly well. The fact that you can do this up and down on the VFR1200F DCT only enhances its fluidity.

Decker Canyon through Malibu is a fun, challenging and highly technical road–most local riders know it well. It’s a perfect place to ride every sort of turn and then compare the experience to the myriad rides on so many bikes in the past.

The 2013 Honda VFR1200F is planted and composed. The V4 Honda motor produces gobs of torque and from 6-10,000 rpm, and the powerplant thrums authoritatively–you can ride like your hair’s on fire. The VFR rails confidently through the turns and even at its weight the bike can flick from side to side and has more ability than I have talent.

In Sport mode, one focuses on the road, and the gear selection is almost always where you need it to be. A flick of the left forefinger or thumb will make any adjustments needed, though but that is rare. Sure, it’s probably not what you want for racing, but a fast canyon strafing on public roads isn’t the same. The VFR1200F DCT is the real deal.

Longer freeway rides were not as enjoyable. I rode 50 miles of freeway each way to reach the twisties, and in that distance I experienced a predictable, slightly harsh ride as befits a machine set up for the curves. Electronically adjustable suspension, anyone?

The front suspension has adjustable spring preload and the rear allows remote spring preload and rebound damping adjustability, so those intent on making more of a touring rig out of this will benefit from some suspension adjustment, a taller windscreen, and saddlebags. With suspension adjustment there is hope for touring, but a quick search of the accessories page on Honda’s website did not even list the VFR.

Don’t let the romantic notion that you must have a manual transmission interfere with your speed and enjoyment. This is one very satisfying ride and the 2013 Honda VFR1200F DCT can be whatever you want, whether a sport bike that can tour or a touring bike that can haul ass and its transmission would not affect my decision in a negative way. It’s a terrific package.

Photography by Don Williams

Riding Style:

  • Helmet: Shoei RF-1100 Diabolic Feud TC-5
  • Jacket, gloves and pants: Cortech Adrenaline
  • Boots: Cortech Latigo WP Road Race

2013 Honda VFR1200F DTC Specs:

  • Engine Type: 1237cc liquid-cooled 76° V-4
  • Bore and Stroke 81.0mm x 60.0mm
  • Compression ratio: 12.0:1
  • Valve Train: SOHC; four valves per cylinder
  • Induction: PGM-FI with automatic enrichment circuit, 44mm throttle bodies and 12-hole injectors
  • Ignition: Digital transistorized with electronic advance
  • Transmission: Six-speed with two automatic modes and manual mode (VFR1200FD)
  • Final Drive: Shaft
  • Suspension Front: 43mm inverted cartridge fork with spring preload and rebound damping adjustability; 4.3 inches travel

    Suspension Rear: Pro Arm single-side swingarm with Pro-Link® single gas-charged shock with remote spring preload and rebound damping adjustability; 5.1 inches travel
  • Brakes Front: Dual full-floating 320mm discs with CBS six-piston calipers with ABS

    Brakes Rear: Single 276mm disc with CBS twin-piston caliper with ABS
  • Tires: Front 120/70ZR17 radial; Rear 190/55ZR17 radial
  • Wheelbase: 60.8 inches
  • Rake (Caster angle): 25.3°
  • Trail: 101.0mm (4.0 inches)
  • Seat Height: 32.1 inches
  • Fuel Capacity: 5.02 gallons
  • Estimated Fuel Economy: 33 MPG (VFR1200FD)
  • Color: Metallic Black
  • Curb Weight: 613 pounds (VFR1200FD)