Column: Finger-flicking good
Early in 2010, when Honda showcased its 2010 VFR1200F here in South Africa, it was intimated that a unique version of the bike was “just around the corner.” Now the secret's out … there’s an automatic 1200cc motorcycle to be found in the mix!
I suppose it was only a matter of time. Most sporty cars manufactured these days give you the option of paddle-shift gears - to be found on the multi-function steering wheel - but for a similar automatic set-up to be incorporated on two wheels has to be a first, even for a company as go-ahead as the Honda Motorcycle Corporation.
Yet the concept is not exactly new. Back in the mid 1970s Honda built a two-speed automatic motorcycle into its CB750 range. Alas, it didn’t catch on; it was sold only in Canada in very small numbers and died a natural death, only to resurface in smaller capacity models in the CB range.
This time around they’ve really done their homework, offering dual-clutch transmission technology along with a conventional-looking gearbox and shaft final drive. Honda, however, insists this isn’t an automatic motorcycle but rather one that has electronic gear changes achieved by “merely toggling buttons between left forefinger and left thumb on the handlebar”.
The bike, obviously, doesn't have a clutch lever and that takes a couple of kilometres to get used to (think auto scooter) but then the fun starts. With the right forefinger you select from three modes: two are full auto - D for a relaxed ride, S for sports riding (hanging on to each gear to maximum revs), or switch to the six-speed gear-select setup using the left hand (as mentioned above) to go up and down the box in double-quick time and seamless fashion.
Riding the bike through the busy northern suburbs of Johannesburg recently on a test run proved a little intimidating at first but I soon became used to the idea. Bear in mind that blokes arguably can’t master multi-tasking as quickly as the girls out there but, once done, there’s no stopping us!
Seriously, though, as enjoyable as the bike was, I began to wonder how quickly I’d get bored with the system; if perhaps that was why the two-speed CB750 failed all those years ago. As you probably know, shifting up through the box on any motorcycle can be done without bothering to pull in the clutch anyway; downshifts do create a problem unless the revs are just right…
At the end of the day I think the jury may well be out over the advantages and otherwise of Honda’s radical VFR1200F DCT.
Honda VFR1200F DCT
Motor: Vee-four 1237cc, liquid-cooled
Power: 83kW @ 9500 r/min
Torque: 115Nm @ 4000 r/min
0-100km/h: 3 sec (est.)
Top speed: 290km/h (est.)
Tank capacity: 18.5 litres
Seat height: 815mm
Kerb weight: 232kg
Wheelbase: 1545 mm
Brakes: (F) discs (R) disc
Final drive: Shaft
Price: about R180 000