Road to Nirvana | Bachelor ride with Honda’s VFR1200FD
2013 Honda VFR1200FD Review
Doesn’t every rider have his own personalized list of favorite roads? Near and far, tight curves, fast sweepers, long straights – they all lead to motorcycling nirvana.
A few weekends ago was my turn to find bliss and choose a route for myself and more than a dozen of my best riding buddies to commemorate the end of my bachelor days and celebrate my upcoming wedding. I was also fortunate enough to have a choice of several motorcycles to help transport me to this elevated state of mind.
My first 1,200 miles on the Honda VFR1200FD with the Dual Clutch Transmission has been a real eye-opener, and I’m still enjoying the newness of the relationship. I chose this machine over several other big-inch pavement scorchers for this epic weekend jaunt starting in Moorpark, Calif., and ending in San Luis Obispo.
We’ll take the back way, 220 miles of some of the best motorcycling roads on the West Coast, or anywhere else for that matter. I wanted the opportunity to let loose this gorgeous black and silver animal, and feel how the automatic DCT will fare on a long and fast ride in the company of many other amazing bikes with top notch riders, and, hopefully, avoid a one-way trip to Squidville.
We set off over sandy Grimes Canyon, down through the picturesque farming community of Santa Paula and on to fragrant orchards to Ojai – home of more trust fund beneficiaries than any other place I know. From Ojai, the real fun begins on State Highway 33 which, like The Snake on Mulholland Highway or The Tail of the Dragon, is considered by many to be their own private race track.
Not me, of course. To me, 33 is just your average 60-mile stretch of every kind of turn most riders crave. Locals can not get enough of it. The road is mostly well paved and clean this week and the sun shone with temperatures starting in the 70s and heading up by 30 degrees by the time we reached our fuel and lunch stop in Taft.
As we proceed north our group spreads out a bit, as the speed preference of each rider differs and we settle into our own rhythms. I have found a spot at the tail of the lead group and Ultimate MotorCycling President Arthur Coldwells is on the sharp end, setting a pace that is fast yet comfortable for the long haul ahead. Perfect. We rail through the canyons and the landscape opens up as we go.
I have placed the transmission selector in Sport mode, which will hold gears and seamlessly up and downshifts at probably about the same times I would be shifting gears on a manual transmission. I find that the computer that is doing the thinking for the transmission quickly adapts to my style; the faster we go, the longer it holds each gear.
I don’t know anything about the logic involved, but Sport mode reveals itself to have some kind of learning ability that evolves with the ride cadence. Moderate speeds in this mode will often see upshifts at 5-7,000 rpm, but when pushed hard will adjust upshifts points much higher on the tachometer scale near the 10,000 rpm redline. The same goes for downshifts, as they occur in a more aggressive way.
Downshifting is smooth and the revs are matched but a mid-corner change at full lean can be a bit unsettling for both the chassis and my stomach. Similarly, the occasional upshifts in corners and sweepers are less dramatic, and a rider can always hit the paddle shifters in either direction. But, since I am not trying to shave tenths off a lap time, why bother?
With gobs of torque at almost all engine speeds, I just lean a bit more on the throttle. That said, I rode the entire 435-mile round trip exclusively in Sport mode and made a point to never override its gear selection with the paddle shifters, which do allow for this, if desired. I really wanted to be fully automatic the whole way.
In the end, I was able to keep pace with the ride leaders without a single thought about gear selection and my final judgment is that I worked less, relaxed, and enjoyed the ride just that much more because I wasn’t hampered with a clutch lever. Heresy, you say? Try it yourself!
Soon the canyon walls spread wide and the road passes pastures, giant fields growing hay, pistachio nuts and stone fruit groves. We’re an hour and a half out of Los Angeles, but the sights here are pure, beautiful rural America where diesel pickup trucks rule.
Next we stop in Maricopa for fuel and a surprisingly tasty lunch at Jo’s Restaurant in Taft. I’m averaging about 37 miles per gallon, which tells me that I really haven’t been thrashing the VFR; smooth and fast has its rewards. On the last stretch of 33, we haul through Oildale and are surrounded by what appear to be thousands of dinosaur-like stripper wells dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see. If you live anywhere around here, oil and gas drilling and related services are what bring home your bacon.
For dessert, we have California Highway 58 which, between Highway 33 and US Route 101, is 80 miles of one of the most varied and technical strips of tarmac you will ever ride, all surrounded by vast lands in the back of beyond.
Immediately, the road gets extremely twisty with sweet elevation changes all wrapped by scrub and shale and the remnants of the scenery more common to Oildale, which was recently swept into our wakes. As we scurry west, 58 offers less twist and more twist-of-the-wrist. Speeds increase as does the size and beauty of the countryside. What was once scrub has morphed into sable-colored ranch land of vast proportions.
Oak trees and cattle are everywhere, and we start to sense the coastal influence, which not only beautifies the flora and fauna but drops the ambient temperature from over 100 F to the mid-80s, which is a welcome relief. As fast as the road is, there are plenty of curves to alleviate any vestiges of boredom.
We enjoy a bit more than an hour in a dance between bikes piloted by friends, carefully chasing each other in time to the unheard sound of the road curving like written musical notation. I find that I’m in no rush to end as we approach Santa Margarita and rein in the horses. We merge onto Route 101 for the last eight miles of the trip, as there is no way to get from 58 to San Luis Obispo but for the freeway.
San Luis Obispo is a charming college town with two downtown main streets chock full of shops, restaurants, bars, and people. Plus, there are more hotels and motels than one could imagine for a town of its size. This is a perfect place to take your group without worrying too much about finding rooms for a dozen snoring bikers and we headed to the hotel swimming pool upon arrival.
We had all been anticipating our cool drip so many hours and miles earlier when our thermometers were reading 104 F, and we were not disappointed. Later, we met for dinner and drinks and a barrel full of laughs and that was the perfect ending to a perfect day. My 2013 Honda VFR1200F DCT was the brilliant fire-and-forget missile that satisfied in every way. At no time during the ride did I think that I would rather be on a bike with a manual transmission, or any other bike for that matter.
Next morning after some of our group woke at 5 a.m. to watch MotoGP from Mugello on an iPad in the hotel, we split up into three groups. One headed home the fast way – down Highway 101 to family and chores. Another took Foxen Canyon through Los Olivos, and I accompanied four others back exactly the way we had traveled on the previous day.
Our group thought that the perfect road going one way can only get better when reversed–and so it was. When we stopped back at Jo’s for lunch, Coldwells said that the ride back on 58, heading east, is even better than the other direction; we all agreed. So many smooth, perfect twisties with no hidden reduced radius turns to mess with one’s ego. Personally, I like 33 southbound best, too, and we stopped at Ojai Coffee Roasting for a boost, and then the last leg home.
There were no breakdowns or performance awards for any of our group, which is always cause for celebration upon return. I’ve got to think that I saved a good deal of energy on the ride by not having to shift gears or even think about it. My take is that Honda built the 2013 Honda VFR1200F DCT as an exercise in what they could do and it worked.
I know many readers will never consider ownership of the Honda VFR1200F DCT, or any motorcycle with an automatic transmission, but after living with this bike on all sorts of roads and trips it still puts a smile on my face and calls to me often from the garage. A call I heed.