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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dual Clutch Transmission

DCT... Honda are offering the VFR1200 with a fantastic little piece of technology, a dual-clutch transmission. This is a first for a motorcycle. It's optional on the new Honda; the standard transmission is a conventional 6-speed manual.

I want the DCT, but I might not get one. I'm waiting to see what the option is priced at.

A dual clutch transmission is one of those devices that makes you wonder why "they" didn't think of it sooner. It's made possible by computer control, as a human operator would have a lot of difficulty operating one manually. It's brilliantly simple in the way it works: There are 2 input shafts, one with the even gears, one with the odd. In the Honda, they are arranged coaxially, with one inside the other. Each shaft has its own clutch, and the first gear (odd gear) clutch is used for starting the motorcycle from a standstill. During operation, one clutch is always open while the other is always closed. The computer predicts if the operator needs an upshift or downshift, and pre-selects the next gear in advance. Because the "next" gear is on a shaft with a disengaged clutch it can be selected simultaneously. When the gearchange happens it is seamless and instantaneous, with no interruption in the power delivery. Honda's DCT in the VFR offers 3 modes of operation: Auto, whereby the shifts are slow and conservative, for maximum smoothness and fuel efficiency. Sport, which is still fully automatic but intended for more aggressive riding, and manual, where the rider can upshift and downshift using "paddle" buttons on the left handlebar. Downshifts are rev-matched with a throttle blip in all modes for maximum smoothness. Journalists who rode the DCT version of the bike were all dubiously impressed, and dipped deep into their wells of hyperbole to offer suitable praise.

I want the DCT for the added high-tech and performance but I have another much simpler reason: When riding 2-up I can select the creamy-smooth automatic mode and make the experience more enjoyable for my wife, with no helmets bonking together.

A lot of ignorant luddite twats on internet forums have already dismissed the technology because apparently "automatics" are for pussies and real men with lots of riding skill shift gears themselves. How much skill is really required for a gearchange? I suppose that when downshifting under hard braking and trying to blip to match revs the rider needs a lot of coordination... but it's a moot point. The technology now available with DCTs improves performance in every way. That's probably why the World's fastest race cars (F1) and top supercars (Ferraris, Porsches, Bugatti Veyron) all use this technology.

I have a suggestion for those manly men that are so proud of shifting all by themselves: Why not come out with a manually-controlled DCT? You get all the performance benefits, and after a steep learning curve you'll be proud to know that you can operate the machine almost as good as the computer. You'll be the saltiest manly man on your street.

The only drawbacks to the DCT on the VFR1200FA: added cost (still unknown) and added weight (only 20lbs, BFD). I told the salesman that if the price is within $1000 of the base model I'll take the DCT. I'm excited for the technology but for any more than a grand I'll shift gears myself. It'll probablycost more, but I hope I'm wrong.

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