Multi-tasking a motorcycle’s throttle, brake, gear shifter, and clutch can be over-whelming for new riders. And that does not even mention trying to keep the bike balanced and upright on the road let alone in heavy traffic.
Learning to ride a motorcycle is a tall order for new riders. But what if part of the difficulty was removed — the clutch and gear shifting?
Enter semi-automatic or automatic transmission motorcycles.
No clutch, eh?
Motorcycles with automatic transmissions or semi-automatics allow the rider to focus on throttle control, braking, turning, and riding safely, in my opinion.
I can see how a transmission that shifts automatically could provide less stress for a newbie.
After all, a huge obstacle for new riders is the motorcycle clutch and shifting gears.
Many don’t understand how it works or what to do. Fear is intimidating.
Even after getting a license and using applying concepts like the friction zone, up-shifting, or down-shifting can be a little too much for some people.
They just want to get riding as safe as possible.
I can also see how an aging rider — perhaps — somebody with arthritis in their left hand may not be able to ride a motorcycle with a clutch and could not ride unless he or she had a clutchless option.
For those who want more control over the bike, more of a connection to the road, the option is obvious: Stick with the manual.
4 companies that make semi-auto or fully auto transmissions in bikes
I have read about 4 companies that make / have made clutchless bikes. I list them below. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. I will add additional companies (if I come across them or become aware of them) that have made these style bikes in the future.
Back in the late 70s and early ’80s, Honda made motorcycles with automatic transmissions — they were know as Hondamatics.
According to wikipedia, applications included the 1976-1978 CB750A, 1978 CB400A Hawk Hondamatic, 1979-1981 CM400A Hondamatic, and 1982-1983 CM450A Hondamatic.
They had a two speed gearbox in which the rider had to manually select one of two gears.
Honda revisited the auto trans more than 20 years later with the DN-01, which had a Human Friendly Transmission. It was a continuously variable transmission. It allowed riders two options: semi-automatic or fully automatic shifting.
In previous years, Honda introduced Dual Clutch Transmission, which allows automatic shiting and manual shifting with thumb paddles.
Currently, they offers five models with the DCT in 2016. They are the VFR1200X, VFR1200F, Africa Twin, NM4, and NC750X.
Honda is not been the only company who has made automatic transmission motorcycles.
Founded in 1997, Ridley Motorcycles built auto trans bikes and branded their company as “America’s Automatic Motorcycle.” Two years later they produced a 3/4 scale cruiser, which had a CVT.
In 2002, they released the “first full size, fully automatic transmission street motorcycle,” according to their site.
By 2009, the company filed bankruptcy, halting motorcycle production. The bankruptcy occured due to a settlement with Harley-Davidson, who took Ridley to court over the “Auto-Glide” name, according to Wikipedia.
From 2007 through 2014, Aprilia made the Mana 850. The Mana 850 used a CVT automatic transmission.
Yamaha has produced bikes without clutch levers, as well. Started in 2006, the FJR1300 sport touring bike could come equipped with a semi-automatic transmission, which was know as Yamaha Chip Controlled-Shift (YCC-S).
It is a manual gearbox but an electronically controlled clutch. The gearbox requires shifting up and down through the gears but there is no clutch lever to pull.
In the US, the semi-automatic option was available from 2006 to 2010. After looking at the EU version of Yamaha’s website, they currently still offer 2016 FJR1300AS with the semi-auto option outside the US.
Electric motorcycles are another “no shift motorcycle” option for new riders.
They may not have the same panache as the gas counterpart, but many big-name companies are getting into the game.
From what I have recently read, Harley-Davidson Inc. and Yamaha Motor Co. have “unveiled electric concept-bikes that will likely lead to mass-produced models within a few years,” according the Wall Street Journal.
Add those companies to the growing list of “electric motorcycle manufacturers [, who] include Victory Motorcycles, Zero Motorcycles, Lightning Motorcycle, Energica Motor Company, Johammer, Quantya, Electric Motorsport, Hollywood Electrics, Yo, Lito, Gogoro Rondine Motor and Alta Motors,” according to Wikipedia.
Shiftless options abound
With five clutchless offerings in the US by Honda in 2016 and electric motorcycles on tap, it is hard for anybody to argue that they want to ride a motorcycle but don’t want to worry about shifting.
Although I think it is a good idea for riders who want to learn to ride with less stress / complexity, I am a purist / enthusiast who prefers manual gearboxes over automatics — even in automobiles.
But many current autos don’t offer the manual option — even in cars like a Ferrari.
“As of August 2013, just 3.9 percent of new cars sold for the year,” according to Edmunds.com.
One argument is that electronically controlled shifting with autos is faster than manuals.
I can’t help but wonder if the same concept will permeate motorcycles in the future.
Who is to say that maybe one day we will start to see more motorcycles with automatic transmissions that surpass the performance of the manual gearbox.
Perhaps we already have that technology with rapidly-evolving electric motorcycles. Only time will tell …