The automatic motorcycle. For some, it’s a novelty. For others, its outright blasphemy. Whichever side you are on, it can be cause for contention.
For as long as I can remember, the belief was “motorcycles” had manual gearboxes while “scooters” had automatic (CVT) transmissions. For whatever reason, a “motorcyclist” didn’t want to be caught dead on one of those silly scooters. “Real Riders” shifted gears, that’s just how it was.
However its 2017 and we are all about equality these days. I’ve noticed more and more manufacturers equipping their bikes with automatic or clutch-less transmission systems. This tends to bridge the gap between “motorcycle” and “scooter.” For instance, Aprilia offered the Mana 850 with its “Sportgear ” transmission. Yamaha offered its venerable FJR1300 with electric shift. Of course anything electric like a Zero doesn’t use a traditional gearbox. Then the big one, Honda. For 2017, they are all in, offering its DCT system on 11 new bikes including the popular Goldwing, Africa Twin, VFR1200, and NC700x models.
But does taking the clutch-less road less traveled, make you any less of a rider? I think not. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen automatic bikes in mass production. Open up your history books to the 1970’s. There, starting in 1976 , you’ll see bikes stamped HONDAMATIC. This was a 2-speed clutch-less transmission with a torque converter. While not completely automatic it did allow for clutch-less operation and Honda put it on a few of their bikes: CM400, CB400 and CB750. But why? The same reason manufacturers do it now: to entice new riders.
For many, learning how to balance the clutch and throttle is the most daunting task for a new rider. So, if a manufacturer can eliminate that hurdle for people, it will hopefully encourage more people to try this fun thing we call motorcycling.
Now at this point you are saying ‘That’s all well and great but no one starts on a Goldwing or an Africa Twin.” You are a clever one, but in the course of developing the technology, the manufacturers noticed some fringe benefits. In particular, the Africa Twin was made easier to ride off-road because the rider didn’t need to worry about modulating a clutch to conquer obstacles, merely point the front wheel and grab and handful of throttle. As for the Goldwing, well its basically a La-Z-boy on wheels. Not having to shift frees up a hand to chug a Big Gulp, have a smoke or wave at unsuspecting BMW riders. The options on limitless.
Do I think automatic or clutchless motorcycles make me less of rider? Absolutely not. Do I think we will see a rise in the amount of clutchless models offered? Absolutely yes.
Will I personally go out and pick up one of these clutch-less bikes for myself? Hey now, lets not get ahead of ourselves…