The Automatic Motorcycle: Convenient, Fast, and Simple

automatic motorcycle

So, you’ve wanted to enjoy the freedom of riding on two wheels, of lane-splitting that rush hour traffic and getting home 45 minutes before everyone does, of enjoying the open air rushing all around you, no A/C needed, no stifling heat in a suffocating cabin. But what about that whole transmission-clutch-shift deal?

In today’s automotive world, most vehicles come with automatic transmissions. They’re more efficient, they make driving simpler, they make commutes more comfortable (especially in stop-and-go), and they generally last longer because there is no human error causing early wear and tear. Even commercial trucks are beginning to make an industry-wide shift to automatic transmissions – yet motorcycles seem to be one of the view wheeled vehicles sticking to the old-school standard transmissions. For many of us, that’s no Bueno.

Learning to drive a standard trans is time-consuming, and on a motorcycle, it can even be dangerous. Twisting the throttle in the wrong gear could quickly put you in a ditch, and getting in the wrong gear and the wrong time can leave you stalled, not moving, in the flow of traffic – very bad. So, what is a motorcycle lover with no set of two wheels to do? What if you want that convenience and modern comfort of the venerable automatic transmission, but you want a bike even more?

The Automatic Motorcycle

In to save your day is the automatic motorcycle. It’s been around only a few years, but it’s quickly becoming a popular and more available drivetrain, thanks to its more efficient power band and much simpler mode of function. Even certain manufacturers are rolling out automatic transmission kits for the tough, lonesome riding Harley-Davidsons. Currently, Honda is the leader in Auto Trans Land with their Dual Clutch Transmission line of bikes. Before we get into the top models, however, let’s look at the different automatic drivetrains that are available to would-be buyers:

“No-shift”, Continuously Variable Transmissions:

Called a CVT in simple terms, the continuously variable transmission is truly a remarkable creation. As the name implies, this method of power transfer uses a nearly infinite set of “gear” ratios, depending on the engine’s power output and the speed desired. A CVT works by using two conically shaped clutch discs that squeeze together as speed increases, reducing the size of the output gear. In effect, the more “squeeze” the clutch discs provide, the higher the gear ratio. CVTs are amazingly reliable and are simple in their mechanics – the only issue until recently, was making one small enough to fit inside a motorcycle. That’s not the case today, however – you can now purchase an auto bike with a CVT trans!

Dual-Clutch Manumatics:

Again, representative of the name, the DCM transmission uses a dual-clutch design to provide plenty of bite and clamping force in order to transfer power from the motor to the rear wheel. The “manumatic” piece refers to the automatic/simulated manual function a DCM offers: You can choose to let the transmission shift on its own by selecting “drive”, or you can switch over to a clutch-free manual method of shifting gears. Usually, two simple handlebar finger levers provide the up and down shifts. Plenty of modern sedans offer a “manumatic” function in their automatic drivetrains for the fun and sporty feel of controlling one’s own shifts, so it’s no surprise this technology has moved into the bike world.

Centrifugal Clutch:

This is as close as one can get to riding a conventional manual-transmission motorcycle without dealing with a clutch and handlebar clutch controls. The centrifugal automatic still requires rider input when it comes to changing gears, but the clutch and power transfer functions stay with the bike itself. This was hugely popular on the Honda Cub, so the technology’s been around for some time. Today, many smaller-cc motors, dirt bikes, and scooters use centrifugal clutches.

Why an Automatic Transmission, Really?

So we’ve gone over why these automatic transmissions are oh-so-cool, but what does that mean for you? They’re hugely beneficial for more than one or two reasons.

1. Safety:

If you’re a newer rider and you want to get your feet wet without trying to learn to balance, turn, accelerate, ride safely all while dealing with a clutch and a gearbox, the auto bike is the way to go.

2. Convenience:

Auto bikes are just simple to ride: Put in the key, turn ‘em over, flick the gear to Drive, and go. There’s no dealing with the clutch controls on the handlebar, no gearbox to smack around with your feet, no quick shifts between gears to get going. We’re not saying that’s all fun and exciting, but if you want a bike that’s just more practical and convenient, the auto bike is the key.

3. Comfort:

If you’re looking at picking up an automatic motorcycle then you’re likely a new rider, or you’re a daily rider. Face it, even in a manual car, the clutch and gear changes can get annoying – especially if you’re chilling in traffic for an hour or two. You can even burn up your clutch with all that stop-and-go, and replacing a clutch means taking a vacation day at the office and spending a couple hundred bucks at a shop. That’s no fun.

An automatic motorcycle is more comfortable in these critical senses. Hanging out on the highway during the rush home or to the office in the morning will be a helluva lot more enjoyable and comfortable on your hands and feet if you’re not dealing with a clutch and gearbox every 10 seconds. Plus, there’s no risk of wasting your clutch by burning it up – the bike handles everything for you using the ECU and a torque converter, which is designed just for that kind of abuse.

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