Honda VFR1200F: All New and Right for Vermont
Review: The 2010 Honda VFR1200F on Vermont roads The new for 2010, Honda VFR1200F is full of high-tech engineering like a 28-degree-phase crankshaft, asymmetric cylinder layout, throttle-by-wire, ABS and a layered-concept fairing. Amidst the engineering specification gobbledygook it is easy to forget the most important feature: fun. Is the bike fun to ride? For Vermont riders looking for a comfortable, all-day, Gap-Gorger, well suited to put a smile on your face while leaving your back intact, the answer is a definite yes! I got my chance to ride the VFR at a special, press-style new product launch event held by Honda at the Killington Grand Resort in Killington VT. With help from Americade, Honda selected 36 customers from the Northeast to ride the new bike and provide feedback. The new VFR comes in two models. The Standard Transmission model has a traditional clutch and a manual transmission. The Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) model is clutch-less and is essentially an automatic. The two are the same in all other aspects, including rear-brake driven ABS, shaft drive, single-sided swing arm and V4 motor. The DCT model weighs 22 pounds more at 613 pounds. The bikes are balanced and smooth – qualities used to describe every VFR since the first in 1983. Like their predecessors, these new models pack engineering advances and new designs. The layered fairing manages the rider wind envelope, providing a comfortable, quiet ride. The bike is so quiet, I removed my earplugs at the halfway stop on our test ride to enable me to hear the bike better. The fairing doesn’t just work well -- it looks great too. Honda developed a new paint process for the bike that creates a deep rich color. The process worked so well on the VFR, Honda is using it on their Acura line of luxury cars. The DCT model has three transmission modes: regular automatic, sport automatic and manual paddle-shift mode. Switching between the modes is done via a switch on the right bar. Switching between gears in manual paddle-shift mode is done with shifters on the left bar. There is one control for shifting up and one for down – similar to shifting a mountain bike. I rode the standard transmission model first. The clutch was light and the transmission was smooth. The V4 motor has plenty of usable power in the midrange RPMs, making it a perfect match for Vermont’s tight technical twisty bits. The bike turns in easily and is stable on the inevitable frost heaves and potholes. You may forget that this is a 600-pound sport bike. The rider triangle is designed for riders of varying sizes. Our test group ranged from women just over 5 feet to large, 6 foot-plus men weighing over 200 pounds. Smaller riders can order a thinner seat to lower the seat height. The tapered V4 motor (the rear cylinders are narrower than the front) should help the inseam-challenged to flat-foot the bike. At 5 feet, 9 inches, I found myself comfortably at the front of the seat. I had room enough to push myself back and fit was excellent. The seat was firm and ready for a long day of riding. The tank shape is a detail that didn’t make the PowerPoint list of features, but may be one of my favorites of the bike. I found it perfect for hooking a knee and holding on without weighting the bars. The arm cutouts fit me nicely and allowed for relaxed elbows. Passenger accommodations include solid, accessible grab rails. The optional rear trunk can be fitted with a curved backrest. Riding the DCT model requires an adjustment for experienced riders. In standard drive mode, the bike shifts up to sixth gear as soon as thirty miles an hour. When you come to a stop, the bike automatically downshifts to a first gear/neutral hybrid. The special gear allows you to sit in place without stalling, but is ready to proceed with the first throttle opening. I found myself lugging the engine in drive mode and quickly switched to paddle shift mode. The manual paddle shift mode was intuitive and an easy adjustment. Switching back to fully automatic requires a button push. In sport mode, the transmission shifts more aggressively, holding lower gears longer to rev the engine into the power band. In this mode, it selected third gear -- the same gear I did on the standard transmission model – for riding a twisty side road in Southern Vermont. This felt correct for the roads we were riding. In sport mode, I used the front brake as a pseudo-paddle shifter. A light pre-corner tap on the brake causes the bike to downshift immediately setting up a lower gear for corner entry. Opening the throttle causes the bike to up shift properly when exiting the corner. In all, I found the DCT model worked as advertised. It shifted smoothly enough and worked as expected. The model seems suited to big city traffic or for those who are unfamiliar with a clutch. It is also a serious option for riders who have a left-hand disability that makes clutch use difficult or impossible. For riders in this category, the DTC VRF is a no-compromise choice. For Vermont riding, I personally wouldn’t chose it, especially given the smoothness of the standard transmission. The power range of the V4 makes third gear suitable for most Vermont roads. Shifting is simple on the standard, making automatic shift a non-advantage for Vermont. It’s a popular bar-stool squabble to decide if the VFR is a sportbike or a sport-tourer. On the street, the argument proves its worthlessness. The bike is not as hard-core as a CBR or as cushy as an ST1300, but that is the whole point. A VFR rider with decent skills can hang with their CBR friends and feel as refreshed at day’s end as their ST buddies. The bike works as a sportbike and carries baggage well enough for a New England tour. And, most importantly, the designers and engineers managed to make the bike fun for both.