IN HONDA’S box of acronyms “DCT” stands for Dual Clutch Transmission, which means that it’s just like the ones you get in a lot of cars these days. It might go against the grain for many bikers but sales of automatic two-wheelers are booming.
Bikes equipped with DCT can be used in a relaxed full auto mode, or used as a semi-automatic with button-operated gearshifts, like on this fine VFR1200FD.
You start the bike as normal and select a drive mode (auto or manual) using a button on the right handlebar, before simply twisting the throttle and accelerating away. In full auto there’s a choice between “D” for Drive and “S” for Sport, where Sport holds on to each gear for longer and changes gear closer to the redline for a more aggressive ride. You can feel the gears moving through the ratios as the auto ’box works its magic, a lot like an automatic car.
Alternatively you can choose manual, press a button next to the natural resting position of your left index finger to select first and move up and down the box when you feel like it, with that and a second button perfectly sited for your thumb. You don’t need to shut the throttle to shift gear, which is a great feature. The DCT system is very easy to use and produces much smoother gear changes than any manual box so is great for preventing riders and pillions banging helmets. If you’re feeling lazy the bike will automatically change down the gears for you when the revs drop too low, even in manual mode.
The bike itself is comfortable for the rider – and passenger – with only modest weight placed on the rider’s wrists and with plenty of room for both parties to move around. The aerodynamics are great so it’s quiet at speed with hardly any buffeting, but it means you have to keep an eye on the speedo or you may just creep into licence-troubling territory. A 1,237cc bike may not be the obvious choice for battling through heavy traffic but with DCT it makes things so much easier, so it can do the urban scratching thing well enough despite its size.
This VFR excels in stop-start traffic. On an ordinary bike you soon start to feel the effects of using the clutch continuously, and going up and down the gears can be a pain. Using the VFR takes away that inconvenience and improves urban fuel economy massively. You can crawl very easily on this bike; it’s smooth and stable at the slowest speeds, which makes it ideal in town. It feels great on the open road, too, with creamy power coming from the 16-valve V4 engine, loads of torque, great handling and stupendous brakes.
Naturally the VFR comes equipped with Honda’s now brilliantly-executed combined ABS braking system. It’s so unobtrusive that it barely needs mentioning; never causing unexpected bike behaviour but always lurking in the background – along with the traction control system – to help you out of trouble should the need arise.
The VFR1200 is a sports tourer, rather than an out-and-out sports bike, so don’t expect it to handle quite like a Fireblade, although it will still go around corners very well. It’s more of an everyday bike that can carry a bit of luggage in its optional top box and panniers and cope with a few days away if the mood takes you.
The luggage systems are expensive though, as are the heated grips that were fitted to our test bike, but they’re worth having for all-seasons riders. If you’re buying used, be sure to buy one with luggage and you’ll save a fortune.
Almost a quarter of all big VFR sales include DCT gearboxes, despite the tech adding £600 to the price of the bike. But the conclusion I reached after a few days’ touring around Ireland is that it’s money well spent.
The VFR1200FD is built to perfection, it looks great and rides like a dream. The gearbox is a divisive principle in the notoriously independent two-wheeled community, but there’s only one way to find out whether you’ll like it as much as I did, and that’s to try it for yourself.
MODEL Honda VFR1200FD DCT
ENGINE 1,237cc, liquid cooled, four-stroke.
POWER 170bhp @ 10,000rpm
TORQUE 95lb.ft @ 8,750rpm
TRANSMISSION Six-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox