Honda’s dual clutch transmission (DCT), as fitted to this VFR1200, ditches the clutch and gearshift levers in favor of “+” and “-” paddles and the option of fully-automatic operation. That’s a neat bit of technology, but why do you need it? Well, it makes burnouts super easy — just grab some front brake and roll open the throttle — but it’s going to have real advantages for driving in congested cities and in stop/start traffic too.
Photos: Grant Ray
The thing that makes this transmission so brilliant is that it actually, honestly, really improves control over the bike at low speed. Yes, some hydraulic pumps, two clutches and an electronic brain are better than my left hand at smoothly, predictably modulating power. Tight u-turns become a cinch, barely requiring your concentration. Pulling away at a crawl is as easy as twisting your right wrist. Coming to a halt, you just stop, the transmission simply cuts the power unobtrusively and instantly. If you regularly ride through heavy traffic at low speed, your aching clutch hand will thank you and because there’s now no need to focus at all on modulating power, your entire brain becomes free to concentrate on whatever the moron car driver in front of you is doing with their latte and cell phone.
Dual clutch transmissions get their name because they have two clutches. One operates 2nd, 4th and 6th gears, the other 1st, 3rd and 5th. Shift from neutral into 1st and 2nd gear is pre-selected, making its engagement seamless and instant. All you feel is a slight clink from the transmission, just like bikes that require you to shift gears yourself. Acceleration between gears is seamless. The transmission adds 22lbs of weight and a couple inches of width to the VFR’s V4, while the hydraullic pumps which operate the transmission sap a little bit of power. Honda hasn’t said how much. All that’s largely insignificant on a bike which already weighs 591lbs (wet) and makes 172bhp. You can’t detect the extra weight or tiny power loss, but you will see the price. DCT adds $1,500 to the VFR’s already lofty $15,999 sticker.
Operating the transmission is totally intuitive. If you didn’t know it was there you’d look down wondering why you foot was missing the gear lever, shrug, twist the throttle and ride off. Standard auto mode is good for cruising and low-speed work, but it’s eager to select a higher gear to boost fuel economy. Select Sport and gears are held to close to the redline and downshifts become more eager. It’s not until you’re in manual mode (selectable on the right handlebar or by clicking the paddles on the left) that you’re going to have complete control over shift points though. Manual also returns engine braking. It’s not that the transmission creeps like the torque converter auto in a car, but that above a crawling pace the rear wheel is connected to the engine as it runs.
Once you’re flying along at reasonable speeds, DCT doesn’t really offer much advantage over a bike’s already slick sequential gearbox. Sure, full-auto is nice if you’re being lazy, but you’ll be in manual mode if you’re actually trying to ride. The thing is, there’s no disadvantages. The bike is just as engaging with DCT and you gain the ability to relax and let it shift gears for you.
No, the main advantage is while lane splitting or creeping around at a walking pace where faultless fueling and utterly linear throttle response deliver control that’s astoundingly better than what you could achieve yourself, even when you’re really trying hard to be smooth. It’s this ability that’s going to be super relevant to legions of commuters and city riders. Riding a fast bike in traffic is a nerve-wracking experience. I’m not ashamed to admit that crawling along trying to modulate a heavy clutch often wears out my left hand. The constant need to focus on that rather than on avoiding an unintentional game of bumper cars can wear you out. You don’t realize how much mental energy you’re expending until you ride the VFR1200 DCT and are free to think about such things.
Attempting a drag-style start is going to be a little disappointing, but super easy. Just whack the throttle wide open and the bike gets going. Acceleration is initially less than you’d achieve by holding the revs high and modulating the clutch to achieve a clean launch, but it’s not all that far behind. This is a sport tourer, not a race bike.
The VFR isn’t the first bike to go without a clutch lever or gear lever or both. Notably, Yamaha’s FJR1300AE attempts something similar. But where that bike jerks and clunks along at a walking pace, the Honda is beautifully smooth.
If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am. Hopping back on a bike I’ve stated I don’t like didn’t exactly have my expectations soaring. Not only was I surprised to discover how well the technology works, but that I’d actually enjoy riding a bike with it. The need for masculine chest thumping aside, Honda DCT could really add something to the kind of riding I find myself doing the most. Really, DCT is awesome.