You may recall our dual bike reviews back in RoadBike‘s September 2010 issue. Evans Brasfield tested Honda’s then-new 2010 VFR1200F, while on the following pages editor Steve Lita described how the bike’s optional dualclutch transmission (DCT) worked. Steve took a few digs at all the other bike mags who used their ink to talk specs and sportbike smackdowns, when really, the high-dollar VFR is packed with high-tech features that the more sophisticated reader and rider will appreciate. The guys did a bang-up job, and in case you missed it, it’s easy to find it at RoadBikeMag.com.
But in true hardcore, I-gotta-try-it-myself style, I ordered a 2012 VFR1200F DCT from our friends at Honda to use as last year’s long-term tester. The bike’s extreme, forward-leaning riding position and reach to the clip-on bars is not my idea of a comfortable bike. So even before we agreed to reevaluate the bike, we took a look at what kinds of accessories we could install to make the VFR more comfortable. Surprisingly, there still aren’t many aftermarket options available, but we found enough items to turn the sportbike into a decent sport-tourer(see sidebar).
Before installing all the goodies, I wanted to give the VFR a fair test in stock form. First impressions proved to be true: this bike is a rocket! The liquid-cooled 1237cc V-4 doesn’t disappoint us speed junkies. In fact, you might reconsider purchasing the VFR if you have trouble practicing self-control over your throttle input. The slick DCT’s high-tech electronics and hydraulics keep one of the two different clutches continuously engaged. One clutch works first, third, and fifth gear. The other hosts second, fourth, and sixth. This keeps the tranny ready for instant, smooth engagement at any given time, speed, or gear. The automatic transmission means that there’s no lag time while rolling off the throttle or pulling in a clutch lever — in fact, there is no clutch lever or shift peg. The 2012 model gets Honda’s second generation DCT, which intelligently optimizes shift points relative to the rider’s throttle inputs for a more customized experience. In addition, engineers boosted low-end torque between 2000 rpm and 4000 rpm and added Honda’s traction control system that automatically limits rear wheelspin in a loss-of-traction situation. Honda’s combined braking system (CBS) assists in distributing front and rear braking forces, delivering a refined feel and superb stopping power. ABS activates only in the most extreme circumstances, when you need it.
While I admit to preliminarily being a curmudgeon regarding the DCT (“I like to shift, that’s part of motorcycling!”), I did immensely appreciate that the bike taught me to be a better rider. The first few times I loaded the VFR’s suspension hard into a corner and heard the sound of the automatic transmission changing gears, my heart did a double palpitation. But the buttery-smooth shifts never caused an inkling of change in the bike’s suspension. Once I began trusting the system, I found more pleasure in honing other riding skills over fiddling with clutches and gear changes.
A paddle shifter on the left grip is activated with the forefinger and thumb, satisfying that inner-primal need to choose your own shifts when you activate the manual gear transmission mode (MT). You can even use the paddle to quickly downshift if you need instant power while you’re riding in automatic transmission mode (AT). There are two options within the automatic setting, Drive and Sport. The drive mode is the default setting at each startup and will give you the best mileage overall. I recorded an average of 42 mpg riding solely in the Drive setting. The Sport setting adjusts the rpm appropriately to pack a lot more punch throughout the powerband. But fuel mileage reflects it, as I averaged 35 mpg using only this setting. Overall, riding normally, choosing Sport mode on twisty backroads and Drive setting on more relaxed roads and highways, my average fuel mileage was a decent 37 mpg, even though Honda claims only 33 mpg for this model.
Front and center, the large analog tachometer is easy to check with a glance, and the left LCD readouts include a large speedometer and fuel gauge. You can now toggle to display real-time fuel consumption, average fuel consumption and remaining range. The right LCD includes coolant temperature, ambient temperature, a clock, gear indicator, and a choice between two tripmeters or the odometer. Push one of two buttons near the display to toggle through the options. I’d prefer a grip control button, but rarely used the toggle controls anyway.
In addition to the LCD readouts, the VFR displays the usual assortment of warning lights, but for 2012 the traction control system activation (on/off) and ABS indicator are added. A parking brake light sits in the center of the tach and helps the rider remember to disengage this brake, which you need to use if you don’t want the bike to roll away while parked. The hydraulics system that engages the DCT is useless when the motorcycle is off, so the bike is always in neutral when parked. Lifting the handle on the left grip to engage the parking brake is something one needs to get used to with this bike.
The riding position is definitely sporty, with clip on, sportbike bars and high pegs. Leaning forward gets tiring on the back after some time, but I was happy that I did not have to put all my weight on my wrists, like on most superbikes. Air management is as refined as Honda will tell you it is, and even though GIVI’s taller windscreen later helped move air off my chest, the stock shield was perfectly fine. Many bikes with lower fairings will trap hot engine heat, roasting the rider on hot summer days, but the VFR is not one of these offenders. In fact, the day of our photo shoot happened to be one of the summer’s hottest, with the ambient temperature reading over 100 degrees F at times. Three RoadBike staffers rode all day to different locations in order to shoot three different bikes around Connecticut. I definitely stayed the most comfortable, while my colleagues were drenched with sweat on their bikes.
Installing a Corbin seat didn’t do anything for my comfort, as it positions the rider farther back in the saddle. I needed to scoot up in the saddle to hug the tank with my thighs. If I let my backside rest in the Corbin’s comfy scooped area, I was so far back, my chest would sit on the tank, and all my upper weight was on my wrists. But the Corbin’s passenger backrest was a nice addition for my friends who chose to ride behind me. The VFR has large grab rails, which makes the passenger feel secure, but since I was far forward in the saddle, I had no feel for any passengers that I took. Knowing that the backrest was back there gave me some peace of mind, as my passengers all appreciated the plush ride from the rear seat.
Installing a set of Heli bars lifted the grips about 1-3/4″ and brought them out and back about an inch in both directions. Kicking myself for not making the change sooner, the last few hundred miles I spent with the modified VFR were much more enjoyable, even though I still had to scoot up to the tank.
Honda’s color-matched hard saddlebags and GIVI’s tall windscreen and quick-release tankbag that clips to a ring installed on the tank finished off our modifications and allowed us to use the bike for more touring duties much more comfortably. With our add-ons and its strong chassis, power plant, smooth suspension, and refined transmission and electronics, the VFR 1200F DCT is a true sport-touring competitor. RB
Story By Tricia Szulewski, Photos By Tom Riles