My exposure to motorcycles over the past years have been limited, but when a test ride presents itself there is nothing that can hold me back from discovering what this new two-wheeler is all about. The fact that this Honda VFR1200FD will be the first automatic bike I rode was of particular interest to me. Until now, a motorcycle was a precision instrument for me. It is one of the few machines one encounters that is totally dependable on the rider’s input, and I was wondering what implications taking away the clutch and short foot gearlever would have...
To start off with, the VFR1200F, with its standard transmission, is a sports tourer. It is more comfortable than a Fireblade, but more of a sports bike than a BMW R1200 GS. This is especially noticeable, not only from the way the bike is designed, but once you climb onto it, there is still that bit of forward lean seating position associated with a sports tourer.
The lack of a clutch lever is immediately noticeable, and I would be lying if I said that I got used to it during my first hour or two on the bike. Even on my final return journey I caught my left fingers searching for the lever at every junction and traffic light. Old habits die hard, and you can’t help but to giggle to yourself inside your helmet...
The gearbox works well though. To start off with, you can simply leave the bike in the “D” setting, and it will behave like an automatic transmission in a car. This is not only Honda’s, but the world’s first dual-clutch gearbox for a large displacement motorcycle. The gearbox employs an individual clutch for the odd-numbered gears and another for the even-numbered gears. According to Honda this provides: “fast, smooth and efficient transition that delivers extremely quick shifts”. I have to admit that it is precisely the case.
Through traffic the gearbox always hunts for sixth gear, but if you slow down it quickly drops to the best gear for the speed at which you are travelling. Even if you concentrate, it is difficult to feel when the transmission is changing up, instead, you discern it rather in revs dropping than anything else. There is, however, a pleasant mechanical sound when you swap a cog or two.
With 127 kW from its V4 engine, this 267 kg (without the rider) motorcycle is a brisk performer. It is definitely now slouch, and the gearbox gives you the impression that it isn’t draining any of the power and torque delivered. So what if you are heading for a mountain pass and you want to shift gears yourself?
On the left handle bar there is a button marked “+” and another marked “-”. Press any one of them and the transmission will switch to manual mode. You can very quickly switch it back to auto mode by simply pressing another button on the other handle bar that switches between auto and manual within a second. Otherwise press the gearbox button again and it will shift to “S”. Here the gearbox assumes you are in sporty kind of mood and it will hold onto the selected gear for longer before changing up.
In auto mode, I tried to catch out the gearbox several times, but every time it worked intuitively. When you are in sixth gear for example, cruising at say 120 km/h, and you open the throttle to the stop, the gearbox will drop into fifth and immediately into fourth with a high level of immediacy, and off you go. Depending on the level of twist you put on the throttle, the gearbox might decide to stay in the chosen gear, due to the 129 N.m of torque that is available.
After spending a couple of hundred kilometres with this bike, I realised that it makes absolute sense to have the option of an automatic sports tourer. It is just that little bit more relaxing.
I never thought I will say this, but the VFR1200FD made me realise that just maybe, one day when my pension pays out, I will consider a tourer rather than a superbike. A bit of a revelation for me...
Engine capacity: 1 237 cc
Power: 127 kW at 10 000 r/min
Torque: 129 N.m at 8 750 r/min
Gearbox: Six-speed duel clutch
Brakes: Disc brakes with ABS, front and rear
Seat height: 815 mm
Kerb weight: 267 kg
Warranty: 2 years
Service intervals: 6 000 km
Price: R169 999