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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Zip, zap, zoom!

I had an early morning ahead as Honda had allotted the 7:30am slot for me to ride the VFR at the Irungattukottai racetrack in Chennai. Unlike other mornings, I was bustling with excitement, as I was to ride Honda’s cutting-edge sports tourer, the VFR1200F.

The day began with a presentation on the VFR1200F where terms like DCT, CBS, ABS and UNICAM peppered every other sentence, making me feel that I was soon to pilot a NASA rocket! I was then allowed to familiarise myself with the 3.7km circuit on various bikes, with varying gearboxes; still, riding the VFR was a whole lot different.

Honda has launched the VFR1200F in India with its automatic Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). As the name implies, there’s a dual clutch system, one operating first, third and fifth gears, while the other takes care of second, fourth and sixth. Also, the VFR uses a shaft-drive, more commonly found on large-capacity touring motorcycles.

This Honda sports tourer can operate like a manual or a full automatic. Not entirely confident of my lines and braking points on the track, I started in automatic mode. A flick of the neutral button on the right switchgear and the bike was ready to go. Gently feeding in throttle, I headed past the pits while the transmission intelligently shifted to second and then third. On my out lap, I didn’t exceed 80kph as I eased into corners. The gearbox was in ‘D’, drive mode for best fuel efficiency, so gearshifts happened at relatively low rpm. As I entered the main straight, I deliberately held only partial throttle, and was pleasantly surprised with the VFR cruising comfortably at a pedestrian 60kph in top gear.

One more lap in D, albeit faster than before and the intelligence of the system was obvious. The gearbox adapts to the rider’s inputs and will hold gears longer if you ride harder. I switched to ‘S’ or sport mode on my next lap, and the bike instantly changed character. DCT now allows the big-bore engine to spin in the meat of the powerband, shifting down a gear or two, even three when needed.

Having gotten used to the gearbox and the circuit, I zeroed in on my favourite corners. I immediately found myself focusing better on throttle and brake modulation, since the DCT allowed me to leave gearshifts and clutching chores to the VFR. All the electro-wizardry worked behind the scenes while I concentrated on braking hard into, then blasting out of corners with ease, without having to think about sticking the bike in the right gear.

Thoroughly impressed, I switched to manual transmission mode, tapping the AT/MT trigger on the right switches. Riders can also override the automatic transmission on-the-fly by selecting manual shift switches. Gamers will love the button-style shifts. The gears are crisp, and you can rely on the security of a slipper clutch taking over, in case you shift down faster than necessary.

A sports tourer it is, but with 172bhp on tap at 10000rpm from the compact 1237cc/V4, the VFR is quick enough to shame most supercars. Power delivery remains smooth throughout, with on-demand acceleration throughout the rev range.

A while later I mustered some courage and tucked behind the large windscreen as I accelerated hard onto the short main straight. The big V’s lazy drawl reverberated off the pit wall in an angry, bellowing shriek, and the speedo nudged 165kph before I clamped on the brakes.

Braking is taken care of by an ABS-enabled, combined braking system, which balances the engagement of the front and rear discs. The 267kg beast sheds speed without drama, which inspires confidence. For such a heavy bike, handling is pretty impressive — it’s easy to steer, and stays planted through medium and high-speed corners. The riding position is comfortable even for long rides and the ride quality is plush, with the big bike easily ironing out slight imperfections on the track surface.

The unique design draws mixed responses; it’s clearly a modern motorcycle, but one that can take time to get used to. The mass of the Honda is towards the front while the rear is light and athletic. The large beaky headlight and delicately contoured dual-tone fairing ensure that the VFR could never be confused with any other motorcycle. The instruments include an analogue tacho, flanked on either side by wing-like digital screens relaying all the information required when touring. The switchgear is of the highest quality and includes a useful hand-operated parking brake.

The VFR’s meaty 18.5-litre tank seamlessly blends into its fairing, while the riding saddle is supremely comfortable. Just below sits the eye-catching chrome silencer and on the other side, the single-side swingarm that provides a clear view of the seriously elegant, seven-spoke rear wheel.

At Rs 17.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the VFR1200F is certainly an expensive motorcycle. The DCT will be the bike’s calling card for mature, tech-hungry bikers considering that it’s a worthwhile system for an Indian bike. The 1200F is also from the proud VFR touring lineage. Comfortable and powerful, it is the ideal bike for covering long distances across the country. You will enjoy the VFR!

Spec Check

HONDA VFR1200F

Price: Rs 17.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Engine: Unicam, V-4, liquid-cooled, four-stroke/1237cc
Power: 172bhp at 10000rpm
Torque: 13.1kgm at 8750rpm
Gearbox: Automatic dual clutch transmission
Suspension (F/R): Telescopic forks/ monoshock, single-side alloy swingarm
Brakes (F/R): 320mm discs (ABS)/ 276mm disc (ABS)

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