New Honda VFR1200 offers auto transmission

LOS ANGELES It's a comfortable sport-touring bike with a lot of features and technology built right in, including an optional automatic transmission.

Where most motorcycles have a clutch lever, there is none on this bike. And where other bikes have a foot-operated shift lever, here it's just empty space.

The new Honda borrows from the automotive world with what's known as a dual-clutch sequential gearbox (DSG) -- essentially the best of both automatic and manual transmissions rolled into one.

The rider can just pop the bike into "Drive," as with a car, without having to work the clutch or gearshift.

Rolling away from a stop is very smooth and easy.

Cars with these DSG transmissions almost always have paddle shifters to manually change gears. The VFR has similar controls, activated by the rider's left hand: "Plus" for upshifts, "minus" for downshifts.

Honda has come a long way since it first offered two-wheeled machines with automatic transmissions. The early Hondamatic models of the 1970s were positively archaic compared to their 21st century counterpart.

The VFR is being marketed as a premium motorcycle, beyond the optional automatic transmission. Honda went to a lot of trouble with the details. For example, the finish of the paint is at a new level for them. They also managed to put the body work on without any exposed screws or rivets. It's supposed to have an upscale look and feel, kind of like an upscale automobile would have.

So, like a premium automobile, this Honda 1200 carries a somewhat premium price tag of more than $17,000. Add the optional touring luggage and you've got a nearly $20,000 motorcycle.

But new technology is never cheap. And this big Honda offers a safety benefit too. The rider can let the bike do the shifting, and then better concentrate on the other aspects of riding.

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