SR's tour of Japan at the hands of Honda first came to you from the Tokyo Motor Show, where I pointed out that attendance from the OEMs (in both two wheels and four) was the worst it's been in recent memory. Though the companies that were there seemed to all be focused on one thing: alternative fuels.
That was just an appetizer to the main course of our trip -- getting first crack at riding Honda's new 2010 VFR1200F around the Sugo circuit. You can refer to my entire first impressions in an upcoming issue of the magazine, but really, all everyone (including us journalists) wants to know is whether the dual clutch transmission works as advertised. I'm glad to report that, finally, Honda has come up with an alternative to the standard cog box that actually works. And works well.
With the standard six-speed transmission, the VFR1200 would just be another motorcycle with some clever Honda engineering, but the DCT is unlike anything we've seen since. Unlike the Yamaha FJR1300AE, Honda's DCT is true push-button shifting (or fully automatic if you'd like) that remains engaged even at a complete stop. An actual button on the bars engages neutral, Drive or Sport modes when riding in full automatic. Four sensors (front and rear wheel speed, throttle position and crank position) are amazingly accurate at determining when to shift and what the rider is intending to do and can engage a shift quicker than humanly possible. Downshifts, too, are seamless. Test riding the bike for the first time at the Sugo circuit, heavy braking zones were no match for the DCT as it executed rapid, seamless downshifts, rev-matching perfectly each time. I'm even confident in saying that I lapped the circuit quicker in full auto than I did with the standard six-speed transmission.
Of course, this is with the fully automatic in Sport mode. Standard Drive mode is rather sedate, with shifts occurring too often, leaving you at least two gears too tall in most situations. It was annoying even just cruising around as it's slow and clumsy to react.
Switch over to manual mode by way of the toggle switch on the right bar and true push-button shifting is now a reality, again executing perfect shifts in either direction each time the button is pressed. I found that this freed me to focus on other aspects of riding. DCT technology has been on cars for some time now (granted, they're high-end performance cars), so the technology is nothing new. Packaging it for motorcycle use is, and the DCT is claimed to be only 20 pounds heavier than the standard bike.
I could continue to wax poetic about what Honda's done here, but I think you get the idea. Honda has raised the bar yet again and it'll be interesting to see where this technology goes, both within Honda (possibly a DCT CBR?) and across the industry. Don't forget to stay tuned to the magazine for my full first-ride thoughts and impressions.