The Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) is the hottest trend in the sports car world. Now, motorcycle manufacturer Honda is the first to apply this high-end technology to the two-wheeled market as a $1500 option on its all-new VFR1200F. If you’re not familiar with Honda’s latest sport-tourer, make sure to examine the 2010 Honda VFR1200F First Ride from Japan and our follow-up article, the 2010 Honda VFR1200F Comparison. For this report we are going to focus only on the operation of the DCT.
Honda’s DCT is an automated manual transmission that allows the machine to shift gears automatically or manually based on rider input by the push of a button. The system deletes the standard manual cable-actuated clutch and shift lever and replaces these traditional motorcycling components with an electronic drive mode selection toggle and an automatic/manual transmission trigger on the right handlebar. The left handlebar houses the two triggers used for up and downshifting when manual mode is selected.
As opposed to a standard manual transmission, the DCT utilizes twin independently operated inline clutches. The first/outer clutch controls the engagement of first, third, and fifth gears, while the second/inner clutch manages second, fourth, and sixth gears. Both clutches are bathed in the engine’s oil supply and are actuated hydraulically based on information received from the ECU. Additionally the system employs an auxiliary oil filter. When you press either the up- or downshift trigger the ECU engages the clutch that operates the requested gear. It then simultaneously disengages the other clutch. This shifting exchange happens within a fraction of a second thereby achieving smooth, seamless acceleration. During downshifts the electronics automatically blip the throttle which keeps the chassis and drivetrain from jolting during deceleration. Shifting is actually faster than a conventional manual transmission but still doesn’t feel quite as fast as a race bike’s powershift-equipped gearbox, but it’s close. Both the transmission internals and the shifting mechanism are conventional in design ensuring everyday reliability as well as keeping the mechanics as simple as possible. As far as maintenance is concerned, Honda says that the clutch is no harder to replace than a conventional motorcycle. Instead of replacing one set of metal and fiber plates, there’s two.
Honda states that the system adds 22-lbs to the motorcycle which pushes its curb weight to 614 lbs with a full 4.9-gallons of fuel. Despite this added heft the VFR doesn’t feel any heavier at a standstill or in motion as compared to the standard machine. Start the motorcycle and the transmission defaults to neutral. A lever on the left handlebar actuates the mechanical parking brake which clamps on the rear brake disc. To get moving, simply press the drive mode toggle toward ‘D’ with your thumb, disengage the parking brake and you’re ready to roll. Twist the throttle and the bike lurches forward fluidly with zero clutch slippage, a typical reaction of a standard manual transmission even in the hands of an expert rider. As a side note it’s actually easier to do burn-outs as all you have to do is hold the front brake, un-weight the seat and pin the throttle. If you forgot to disengage the parking brake a warning light on the instrument display lets you know. Additionally the rear wheel won’t lock-up if you accidently engage the parking brake while riding.
By default the transmission is in ‘D’ mode which means the bike selects gears automatically and up-shifts into a higher gear as soon as possible. It also holds the gear longer during deceleration which reduces engine braking and maximizes fuel economy. While ‘D’ mode is excellent for conservative pilots or during the commute, ‘S’ mode is the preferred setting during aggressive, fast paced rides. To transition into Sport mode, simply press the drive mode toggle to ‘S.’ The transmission holds each gear longer during acceleration with up-shifts made near redline. Conversely, during deceleration the transmission will downshift early so you’re always in the meat of the engine’s powerband as you prepare to enter a corner. To my surprise, the Sport mode is very well calibrated, always selecting the correct gear regardless if you’re attacking a slow, medium, or fast corner. As you get more aggressive with downshifts you’ll really appreciate how the bike automatically blips the throttle, eliminating rear wheel chatter without employing the slipper clutch.
If the rider wants to choose gears for themselves they can do so by either pressing the AT/MT trigger on the right handlebar or by pressing the up-or downshift rigger on the left handlebar. When manual mode is selected the gear will be held until the rider selects the next cog or until ‘S’ or ‘D’ auto mode is enabled. The electronics have logic built into it so the rider can never downshift into too low of a gear to cause the engine to over-rev. It also won’t allow you to up-shift during a wheelie. Part of the thrill of motorcycling is being able to work the clutch and gear shift lever. Thus before swinging a leg over this motorcycle I had already dismissed it as being a silly gimmick. But after just a few minutes in the saddle pushing buttons instead of grabbing levers I’m now a believer. Not only is the DCT easy-to-use it actually doesn’t detract from the excitement of motorcycling, increasing the thrill factor by making acceleration faster and reducing the effort it takes to ride.