Automatic Motorcycles

Automatic transmissions are a pretty interesting thing to think about.

On one hand, they let you focus all of your attention on the road and your ride. You focus on your speed, your apex, your attack angle, and you have the capability of focusing (more) on the world around you. You don’t have to worry about what gear you’re in or stalling.

And around town, not having to worry about sudden gear changes would surely be a weight off your mind.

On the other hand, maintenance would almost certainly be more difficult (if not impossible) for a home mechanic which would mean higher costs for repairs and less of a personal connection to the bike.

And fans of manual transmissions swear up and down that it eventually becomes second nature. Like breathing.

On the third, alien hand, an automatic transmission is less intimidating to new riders. Whenever I would think about learning to ride a motorcycle, it always seemed like a tall order. You’re learning to ride a bike at speeds faster than you’ve ever gone on a bicycle AND you have to learn how to drive a manual transmission? It can be a bit scary.

But let’s take a break from motorcycling and think about cars. Manual transmissions have been moving from the standard to the exotic for the last few decades and now it’s hard to find normal cars with sticks.

And wouldn’t you know it, the sales of motorcycles is also down…

Look, I know correlation isn’t causation, but I think I’m onto something with people having a hard time thinking it’s worth it to learn how to ride a dangerous vehicle AND learn how to operate a manual transmission at the same time. If you switch some stuff around in the statement – or hell, just leave it as it is – it starts to look a LOT like an unnecessary risk.

I also know that motorcycle sales probably don’t mean much to you because you probably already have a motorcycle. Or motorcycles. But motorcycle sales could indicate new or renewed interest in the sport, which would mean more riders on the road (even if they’re only out on the weekends) and isn’t that what we want as motorcyclists? Aren’t we tired of cagers and people who aren’t looking out for motorcyclists? As a motorcycle safety rep, I tell people all the time that they should take the MSF Basic RiderCourse even if they never want to ride a motorcycle, because it’s just as terrifying as it is fun and you walk away with a newfound respect for motorcyclists. Or perhaps you just get familiar with the vulnerability that motorcyclists permanently live in.

Believe me, even if that wasn’t a factor, we would still want more motorcyclists on the road. Everything that motorcyclists say they want from lane-splitting to free parking to adventure trails staying open (or re-opening) would be more easily accomplished if more people – particularly the people who write the laws – were riders.

I know motorcycling is kind of like a little club of suicidal commuters straddling the line between lone wolf mentality and hive thinking but if it was less exclusive, it would only benefit us.

And automatic transmissions are probably the biggest and easiest way to do it. You take away half the limbs you have to use, the (probably) new concept of driving a manual, and focus solely on riding and you’ll get more people throwing legs over (not through – THAT’S a scooter) bikes and joining us on the road.

If only people would stop comparing them to scooters or kids’ bikes and trying to make the riders feel bad about wanting to experience something cool in their life.

On the fourth hand – holy smokes, how many hands does one have? – only knowing how to ride an automatic transmission WILL result in a lower likelihood or being able to use any motorcycle to escape from the shadowy government agencies that are tracking you.

At the very least, it will limit the pool of used motorcycles you can choose from when you decide to add to your stable or replace your bike when you decide you’re up for a change.

Which brings me to my last point: you might get bored.

I mean, I doubt I would. I’ve driven automatics my whole life and ride a scooter – a real scooter, not a motorcycle with an automatic transmission you elitist swine – so I don’t think riding an automatic bike would be too bad. I think I would be thrilled enough working on my cornering ability, and just, you know, riding around.

But I’ve never claimed that I’m difficult to please or entertain.

And I think Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) is the best solution to this whole issue. You can choose to shift gears if you want or you can relax more in automatic mode. There’s no clutch or gear shifter so you have to use thumb and finger switches. Honestly, I think beyond the Grom, a DCT might be in my future. I could keep it in automatic when riding around town where the shifting would be constant otherwise, and then switch to manual when I want to have a more spirited ride away from the constant stop-and-go.

The DCT would also be easier to teach the kids when they become riding age.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that automatics are better than manuals or vice versa. I think that motorcycling doesn’t really have wrong answers (except for trikes – they’re just… they’re just the worst regardless of if the two wheels are on the front or the back) and we should focus on the rider instead of what the rider is riding.

Unless it’s a trike. If you’re going to take up the whole lane because you can’t balance on something, just buy a Jeep so you don’t have the same safety requirements.

In the end it’s all about what you really want. If you want motorcycling to remain an exclusive club with ever-shrinking numbers because people aren’t willing to risk life and limb on something that’s completely foreign to them until companies fold up and die, then we should keep harping on how traditional is the only way to go.

But if you want more riders and more acceptance from people – if you want their money to go into supporting the thing you also love – then maybe it’s time to stop harping on automatics and disrespecting the riders who chose that path. Because it really does come down to choice and just because other people choose a bike that you don’t like doesn’t mean you should hope on the opportunity make fun of them.

Again, unless it’s a trike.

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