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“Real Men Prefer Manual Transmissions”: MD Reader Responses

We did not ask readers to respond to our recent article about the future of automatic transmissions in motorcycles, but we received several interesting responses, nonetheless. Here they are:

  • It is my theory that the sequential gearbox along with an electro hydrolic clutch and a microprocessor that has not hand controls other than a push to start button will take over all transmission duty. Conventional auto transmissions are heavy so sequential gearbox’s are the lightest and strongest. Micro processors make it possible.

  • Automatic transmissions? Heck, I’m one of the Old Guys who think everything went to heck when kickstarts were eliminated on streetbikes. All together now: “Why in my day.” LOL

  • I have a CBR1000F which I use for all purposes since I have no car. I spend a lot of time in NYC, and I would LOVE to have an automatic transmission.
    I am, however, 69 and not a burnout teenager type nitwit.
    I LIKE the idea of riding a bike using only the hands. Automatic transmission, Front brake – right lever, Rear brake, Left lever. ABS but not linked.
    I hope we see some of these concepts come to life.

  • Boy I’ll say! My brother simply said that Honda has lost its vision when I showed him the pictures of the DN-01 concept. He’s gravitated into a niche that includes a BMW RT and MV F4. To him Japanese bikes have become more pedestrian and mundane. To think that a move to an automatic transmission is even thinkable is absurd.
    I can’t wait to try one, especially one that allows me to shift manually if I so choose.

  • I agree that motorcycle riders who prefer a manual (pedal?) transmission should always have that choice. Given that, I also believe that the availability of good automatic motorcycle transmissions will be a boon for ALL motorcyclists.

    Many people shy away from motorcycles because of the perceived complexity involved in riding them. Anything that simplifies the operation of bikes will draw more motorcyclists into the fold. More motorcyclists should translate into a greater perception of motorcycles as a viable transportation mode, more political power, and even a greater awareness of motorcycles by the operators of other vehicles.

    Me…..I’m just hoping for traffic signals that recognize the presence of my bike, and maybe some dedicated motorcycle parking at work.

    Covered motorcycle parking would be an extra special bonus. I hope that other manufacturers will follow Honda’s lead.

  • I can’t tell you how many times there have been article saying “motorcycles will soon have automatic transmissions”. Sorry, but they never come true. I don’t see any reason to think they will come true now. I might believe auto clutches (see dirt bikes with rev-locks), but not street bikes.

  • I don’t want any machine or engineer making decisions for me when I’m cranked over in a corner. Granted, CVT might work for sporty riding. Otherwise, a gear shift in mid-corner can only add a spurious load to the suspension. So yeah, expect auto trans on the Goldie next year. 😉

  • Good points. The big scooters are pretty much their except for some styling ques. If you comine the automatic with great gas mileage and ABS, it could open a whole new market.

  • Although somewhat biased, I believe “real men will prefer manual transmissions with a semi-automatic clutch”. Our Rekluse z-Start semi-automatic clutch has quietly made some big in-roads into the off-road motorcycle market. In three years we’ve gone from a one-person start-up in a garage to 16 full-time employees and will ship our 10,000th clutch before the end of the year. Go to some of the on-line forums like ThumperTalk.com or KTMTalk.com and do a search on Rekluse. I believe you will find it to be one of the most talked about products on the forums. The z-Start also has a very passionate following among it’s users as well as some very passionate “automatic clutches are for kids, women and sissys” types.

    The z-Start clutch gives most of the advantages of an automatic with the control of a manual transmission. I believe most trouble people have with their manual drive line has almost everything to do with clutching from a stop or at low speeds and very little to do with shifting.

    We are just releasing the ProStart semi-automatic clutch for Harley Davidsons and we expect the ProStart to be a popular choice for street bike riders as well.

  • hardest of the hard core will have a man-u-matic when the new X comes out

  • Great insight. It seems almost high ridiculousness to add automatics to bikes.

    They tried it before on earlier bikes (80’s) and they did not sell in droves.

    The only “cool” units are those with over ride buttons such as those found
    in sport touring cars (e.g., Lexus GS430) with paddle shifters. I noticed
    that this is a feature on the new Honda.

    Nevertheless, I cannot see being drawn to automatics as they might cause chassis upsets versus the smooth action one takes in blipping the throttle on downshifts entering corners.

    Time will tell. I would like to recommend that you perform on of your reader surveys. It could be worded in a way that says that if you vote yes, you might “consider” an automatic, but only on a touring model or something like that.

    Great site…one of my daily visits….

  • I agree about the coming change, but they will have to do better than the two speed auto tranny in the Honda 750 that flopped.

  • You are correct. Remember what the “public” thought about belts on bikes? Look at the range of “sports cars” with automatics. Everything from Minis to F1 cars. Any device that will expand the joy of motorcycling and increase safety is a blessing.

  • Interesting you only touched on the street side of this. I bought an 04′ KTM 300 EXC last year that had a little over 400 miles on it. The guy installed a Rekluse Auto Clutch in the bike and my first thought was that’s coming out right now. After I rode the bike and about a 1000 miles later, I am a little confused as to what I want to do.

    It’s fantastic in the nasty off road stuff like mud, rocks, roots, logs, etc. Not as fun in the wide open stuff that we have out here in Colorado. Who knows, maybe one day these will be available as an option from the factory. On something like a KTM 525 EXC, they’d be fantastic.

  • The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I remember reading in the motorcycling press how automatics would eventually take over a significant percentage of the marketplace. That was at least 25 years ago, after Honda had introduced the automatics based on the CB750a fours and CB400a twins.

    If its true that every idea has its time, then now may finally be that time. Honda realizes that in order to grow the overall market, you have to make motorcycles more appealing to the masses, and one way to do that is make them more car-like. With CAD/CAM used in design and manufacturing, advanced metallurgy and materials common place in production parts, and digitally controlled systems now used throughout modern bikes, advanced automatic transmissions are the logical extension.

    Personally, I prefer power-oriented motorcycles, whether it be sportbikes or power cruisers. But Japanese companies, who will most likely lead this evolution, roll net profits right back into engineering and design at a furious pace, whether that money comes from sport bikes, cruisers, or scooters.

    So I love the fact that Harley sells a million cruisers a year to every day folks. And that people buy scooters and standards and tourers around the world for basic transportation. It increases pushes the sport forward. It specifically moves the art and science of motorcycle design forward, increases the affordability of the technology that we are presented with, and increases the acceptance of motorcycling by the general population.

    There may very well be a market for upscale, beemer/lexus type motorcycles that the non-motorcycling male will not be too intimidated to throw a leg over, er, through. One with CVT, seamless mode-specific suspension, electric seats, NAV systems, and dare I say it, AC.

    This is all good as far as I am concerned. I don’t need to be a bad boy in my own mind. I just need a bad boy motorcycle. One that goes, stops, handles, and is more flexible and comfortable than anything I could have imagined when I started out on this love affair.

    So I say, bring on the CVT, 70 inch wheelbase, feet forward ergos, and the glove box. Sure, there will always be Hyundais and Hondas, but there will also be Ferraris and Maseratis.

    And if the Ferraris come with ‘automatic’ transmissions and paddle shifters, so much the better.

  • I would rathed think “pedual” then manual….

  • Real men may prefer stick shifts…. but the fastest growing population segment for motorcyclists is.. women.

    Without preconceived notions, and with no “testosterone poisoning,” increasing numbers of women may not only have an impact on motorcycle design and marketing, at some point they may dominate those fields!

    What percentage of the interior design of most cars is aimed to please men vs. women, would you say? How about 50 years ago?

    Ain’t life interesting?

  • “Posers like the image of manual transmissions” would be more accurate.

    Just like guys driving Hummers to the office, there are a lot of “bikers”
    for whom image is more important than substance.

    For motorcyclists who live and breathe riding, and who ride day in and day out in a variety of conditions including rush-hour traffic, and automatic transmission would be welcomed.

    And motorcyclists who aren’t posers are more likely to realize that a state-of-the-art electronically controlled automatic can be designed to optimize shifting.

    Ferraris, Porsches, and other high-end sportscars (along with Formula 1 and other racecars) use automatics with paddle shifters that do the double-clutching, throttle-blipping routine better than most drivers are capable of — good enough that the best racers in the world use them instead of shifting manually.

    Yamaha’s FJR will be only the first in a long line of motorcycles with automatics. My bet is that they will start with the high-end sportbikes and luxury tourers and trickle down to less-exotic machinery. Cruisers will be the last bastion of gearbox neanderthalism.

  • I have a friend here in Europe who lost part of his left leg due to an auto driver turning left in front of him. It was the usual “I didn’t see him” excuse.
    He now walks with an artificial leg from just below the left knee on down, and he cannot upshift a normal motorcycle transmission as a result. Downshift is OK, but when he tried upshifting his artificial leg came off. It got a bit exciting that first time and we all had a good laugh.

    He spent a lot of time and money tracking down an electric shifter used in racing cars, and adapting it to his new Yamaha R-1. The R-1 now has upshift and downshift buttons operated by his left thumb. He uses his left hand to pull in the clutch, and his left thumb to shift. Works like a champ!

    He could have avoided a lot of expense and grief if automatic transmissions were already available.

    I have often thought that if anything ever happens to me, it would be nice to have a few “automatic options” available, because to paraphrase former NRA President Charlton Heston: “you will pry the handlebars out of my cold dead hands…”

  • While I agree with the points of your 24 October 2005 posting, I would like to remind you that in the automotive industry, clutchless transmissions and paddle-shifters are becoming standard fare for high-end sports cars. Both of these technologies easily allow for full automatic mode. I would not be surprised to see full automatic and semi-automatic technology filter into motorcycles, allowing both ends of the usage spectrum to shift they way they want.

  • Odd. I mention nothing about “real men” when I wrote you an e-mail. My entire family prefer manual transmissions; my mother, father and sister all drive a manual transmission car.

    BTW: Touring cars, like BMW and Mercedes, are manual all offered with transmissions. Unless your idea of a “touring” car is different than mine…

    Try and find an automatic transmission thru Europe. It’s really only the American motor companies who bring vehicles to market without the manual transmission option.

    Manuals are about control; to ride a motorcycle is a full-time experience that you need the utmost control at all times with predictable results.