Would you ride a semi-automatic motorcycle?

Honda Africa Twin with DCT

Honda seems to have invested their future in semi-automatic motorcycles with the launch of a website that showcases their DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission). 

DCT is basically a clutchless shift where you can manually change gears at the flick of a button or ride in automatic format. It’s available in several Hondas including the VFR1200X, VFR1200F, NC750X, NC750S, CTX700, CTX700N, NM4 and Integra scooter plus the new and exciting Africa Twin adventure bike.

Many riders would shudder at the thought.

After all, shifting gears, blipping the throttle, and matching engine and ground speeds are all skills that add to the excitement of motorcycling, right?

Wrong! At least for some of the young generation, women, Americans and newcomers who have ditched their car for a commuter bike.

Young people have come from video games where there is no clutch; women prefer automatic cars; most cars these days don’t even have a manual option; and few Americans know how to “drive stick”. (So it’s apt that the video is shot in the USA!)

Honda engine with DCT
Honda engine with DCT

So why is the motorcycle industry so obsessed with manual gearshifts?

Maybe Honda is on to a good idea after all.

Their website preaches the benefits of DCT through videos, photos, short messages and a list of DCT models.

All to the tune of a thumping Gen Z soundtrack, so it’s obvious who they are targeting.

Here is the opening gambit:

With DTC, motorcycles have true freedom.

The unique Dual Clutch Transmission technology by Honda. A world first in motorcycles.

Automated clutch and shift operation system that retains the direct acceleration feel of a manual transmission.

DCT. A technology that brings the fundamentals of motorcycles – the joy of riding and control, to a whole new level.

Welcome to the world of DCT.

HONDA DCT MODELS

Honda claims benefits are more time to watch the scenery; it allows you to concentrate on the traffic conditions; a smoother ride, especially two-up; a “sporty” ride with instant acceleration “whenever you waste with the crack of the throttle”; and “more freedom”.

The site has launched in English and Japanese, but other languages will be added.

Maybe DCT is the way to go, but it seems strange that auto scooters are suffering a massive sales slump at the moment.

And while the new Africa Twin comes with a DCT model, Honda Australia expects it won’t be their top-selling model.

Would you ride a semi-automatic motorcycle? Have your say in the comments section below.

29 Comments

  1. It seems that some people misunderstand what a DCT is. It is not an automatic gearbox in the traditional sense, it does not use a torque converter and fluid clutches. It is effectively a manual gearbox, with two conventional clutches (one inside the other) and preselection of the next gear. The computer controls the operation of the clutches, which is extremely fast, and changing of the manual gears is computer controlled if the driver chooses, alternatively, the driver can control gearchanges themselves.

    I drive a VW group V6 DSG and have to say it is brilliant. It is lightning fast, intuitive and it is probably just as efficient as me in such circumstances. In the hills, the computer senses when you are punting along via G forces, throttle and brake inputs, and changes down on corner entry, smoothly selecting the right gear to rocket out. I also change manually at times, but on the road there just isn’t any real benefit apart from feeling the need to “do something”.

    I love manuals too, and have motoracing experience so I am a very keen driver, but given how good a decent DCT is as an alrounder, I happily own one. It took a little time to settle into it and let go of my prejudices (and that is all it is, really, because functionally the result is a faster car). I have driven a Ferrari with it too, and it was stunning. No wonder they sell so many.

    If the motorcycle versions are as good, I would seriously consider one. A couple of mates with FJRs rave about theirs, and neither are uncomfortable riding manuals, they just think it works better.

    Maybe it is time to put aside past prejudices, and give it a try. But a short ride won’t be enough to get properly used to it.

  2. In a previous life I rode a manual bike. Today, with the late effects of polio, I ride a Can-Am Spyder with a semi-auto. The rider has to change up but the system will change down automatically if needed. Changes are matched electronically with throttle response, it’s a great system! Would I go back if I could? Absolutely not!

    1. Good onya, Peter! It’s great to hear how you still ride, overcoming the challenges.

      I currently ride a manual bike with traditional clutch and don’t mind it, out on the open road. But commuting in heavy traffic makes me wonder how much simpler it would be without having to engage the clutch all the time.

      I was considering sending my clutch overseas to EFM Auto Clutch. They convert it so that riders can shift without using the clutch and the engine won’t stall when stopped at the lights in first gear. From what I’ve read, this system still needs the rider to shift up or down or engine brake depending on the circumstances, just like on a manual bike, but without having to engage the clutch.

      I can see how DCT makes sense in heavy traffic, specially in hilly areas.

  3. DCT auto (not CVT) makes an incredible amount of sense to me. Unlike a car, where you don’t have to maintain a delicate balance, on a motorbike, being free of the extra workload (however slight that is) means extra mental faculties available to riding the bike. I’d love an automatic on my pushbike, if something effective and light were available – but it isn’t, so I’m stuck with 19th century technology to get up hills. All the ultra high performance sports cars have DCT transmission and all (100% -no exceptions) of Formula 1 racing cars are DCT – or similar. If the best of the best on earth only will use DCT, can’t we motorcyclists drag ourselves into the 21st century and get on board too?

    My Audi A5 (car) has DCT. Often I leave it in auto and sometimes I use the paddle shifters. It’s fun and it works really well. I can keep my hands where they are best utilised ie, on the steering wheel. DCT has enhanced my enjoyment, definitely not stunted it.
    I have a friend who owns a 1910 Douglas motorbike. This has no clutch. You have to bump start it, crash change the gears and when you come to a rest, it can only be done by braking and deliberately stalling the engine. Don’t you think that in 1911, when some smart-Alec came along with the idea of putting a clutch on a motorbike, people will have said “ruins the enjoyment…” Motorbikes are about acceleration, wind in the face, banking over, overtaking in tight spaces, feeling free and exhilarated. Buggering around getting your foot over and under the gear change pedal isn’t part of the fun. It’s a distraction and a nuisance. If you want to ride a Vincent Black Shadow or a Harley Panhandle, fine. It’s going to be manual but in the samevwayb that you get a bike with hydraulic disk brakes (because they are simply better and safer than cable opetated drum brakes), is the same reason you should have DCT on all modern motorbikes (and ABS and traction control and anything else that makes it more likely you’ll arrive at your destination safely). Technology does not mean “boring”. If you doubt this, take a Subaru STI WRX auto for a ten minute drive and I guarantee that you’ll be trembling with excitement when you pull up. You’ll also go round a racetrack quicker than the other man who’s driving the manual version – and that says it all.

    1. Spot on 😉

      The negativity is really about ‘it being different’, whilst completely disregarding the fact that it is ‘better’ – in every respect: faster, easier, safer, more efficient – what more do they want lol?

  4. Aprilia brought out the Mana 850 in 2008. It is a CVT transmission and I can report is an excellent bike to own and ride. Trouble free maintenance and a pannier that fits a helmet where the tank normally is. I inured my ankle and was unable to change gears very well so I purchased the Mana so I could keep riding. Frankly, after 30+ years on clutch / gearbox motorcycles I have no regrets and should have made the move years ago to CVT or DCT. The reality is you are no longer wondering what gear you are in , or which gear is best for which corner, change up, or change down; the power is there when you need it in exactly the correct gear ratio on the Mana. Of course it has a manual over ride option that allows you to pick manually through the gears with your foot, or you can use handle bar paddles to achieve the same. Eventually you work out the bikes software is faster and better at it than you and you leave it alone. 3 different engine maps and the newer versions have ABS. If it was not for a perceived notion that auto bikes are bad and clutch bikes good mentality, the Mana should have sold in bucket loads. It tours as well as it threads the traffic, truly a great bike and the transmission is a peach.
    Stop changing gears and enjoy the ride, with a bike like the Mana you have more time to assess the road and look at the scenery, its a win win!

  5. Everybody calls this system the dual clutch transmission (DCT) when it should be called a dual clutch transmission with auto clutch engagement and auto gearshift. The actual dual clutch system is a different type of mechanical action inside the gearbox and is not the contentious issue because they can be made for full manual operation. I think the seamless shift as used on some MotoGP bikes is a better system, however, the racetrack is a very ‘sterile’ environment and what works there doesn’t always work well in the real world.

    The problem when discussing technological developments (take note that I said developments, and not advancements or improvements) like this and other things, including ABS, is that many people adopt the “one size fits all” approach. They only think in terms of what type of bike they ride and what sort of riding they do.

    Would I buy a bike with an auto clutch and transmission? Maybe I would if I was buying a cruiser or heavyweight tourer (like a Goldwing). These bikes are not designed for aggressive sporty riding or tackling difficult terrain so are not disadvantaged if fitted with devices that take control away from the rider. My favourite bikes are motards and adventure bikes, and on these I want complete control of clutch engagement, and of what gear it is in and when it changes. One of the bikes mentioned here, the Africa Twin, looks like it will be the best of the large capacity adventure bikes and I would definitely buy it with the standard manual transmission.

  6. Nothing new really, Honda had an auto CB 750 back in the 70s. Can Am also have autos. There is a place for them, i would probably ride one….. one day when I get lazy.

    1. YESSSS! The Hondamatic. They also came out with a 400 version.

      I still want to be able to choose which gears I’m on and when to shift. But commuting in heavy traffic makes me wonder how much simpler it would be to shift without having to engage and feather the clutch all the time.

      I was considering sending my clutch overseas to EFM Auto Clutch. They convert it so that riders can shift without using the clutch and the engine won’t stall when stopped at the lights in first gear. From what I’ve read, this system still needs the rider to shift up or down or engine brake depending on the circumstances, just like on a manual bike, but without having to engage the clutch.

      But I can see how DCT makes sense in heavy traffic, specially going up hilly areas.

  7. Like most promotional videos, this one is completely useless. It is designed to create an emotional response in weak-minded people and gives no useful information at all. It is just a waste of time.

  8. Can’t see it being a great thing on an adventure bike, unless it still has a manual clutch that can be fanned. I find I need to fan the clutch occasionally on my 800GS to get through slow terrain. It might be a good thing if it had a torque converter like on an automatic 4WD, but that would add a lot of weight.

  9. Wait till these DCT transmissions break down and see how much they cost to repair if car transmissions are anything to go by people will be in for one hell of a shock.

  10. Well it’s not for me, but I’m sure there’s a market for it. Personally I ride a bike because it’s not a car, which are totally boring, bikes are exciting and changing gears is part of the experience.

    1. That’s why I got the VFR1200x DCT – I ride it manually all the time (with the gear paddles) – except changing them faster than with clutch and gear lever. The full auto (with Drive and Sport modes) doesn’t do it for me – Drive hits top gear way too soon (30 mph) and Sport revs are still not quite set high enough (and it’s a shame that they aren’t adjustable).
      A nice feature is that it’s impossible to stall it.

      I have (on 3 occasions) hit gravel / mud on the road, at full tilt, at an angle and just knew I was going down (you ‘KNOW’ when you ain’t going to recover right – that ‘Oh shit’ moment?) – but I didn’t go down, the bike ‘twitched’ and suddenly – I wasn’t down, I was riding along safe and sound.
      I don’t know how the auto system saved me, I just know that I didn’t and couldn’t have saved myself (I’d gone ‘too far’).
      Maybe the manual (with traction control) would also have done this, but, I have 100% faith in this bike now, and if I go down – nothing (but nothing) will have been able to have stopped it.

  11. DCT auto is totally different to the old torque converter autos. DCT is totally mechanical, no slip, and modern electronics allow all sorts of combinations. I suspect that this is where the future lies. Its a migration from the common electronic suspension controls we now see, to the transmission area. BMW is already well down this road.

  12. I would try it out. I wonder how it handles low speed manoeuvring.
    Looking at their see-through picture, I see extra weight, complexity and engine case length.
    It’s funny how with all the tech that bike engines are getting now (and catching up to cars in that regard), we still accept chain final drive which needs regular lubrication and still wears out anyway, and develops tight spots and needs adjustment.

    1. The VFR1200x DCT has shaft-drive, one of the main reasons I got one.
      You also sit very high (another reason I liked it – you can see everything), but the engine design enables a lowered centre of gravity (it’s still ‘top-heavy’, but allegedly an improvement on other bikes).
      It’s extremely slim (due to the engine design / orientation) and filtering in heavy traffic is a breeze.
      At virtual stop speeds – yep, you need plenty of handle-bar movement, but I am talking virtual stop – isn’t that the case for all bikes?
      Horses-for-courses / bike style choice I suppose.
      http://www.hondaprokevin.com/2016-vfr1200x-review-specs-adventure-motorcycle-bike-crosstourer-news-vfr1200-vfr/

  13. Yes. I commute in Sydney traffic and automatics have the same advantages in congested traffic on bikes that they do on cars.

    I wonder how many people who say they would never ride an automatic bike, drive an automatic car? (I drive a manual car).

  14. Absolutely! Yes! I went looking for one last time i purchased a new bike (2015) and could not find one from BMW. Its not a race, its a ride, and I would love it to be a little easier as I age.

    1. You want less performance / less speed – you got it!
      The difference is; where you have to co-ordinate hand and foot – I co-ordinate forefinger and thumb for the paddles (and don’t need a scuff section on my boots); where you have to maintain yet another cable and 2 levers on the bike – I don’t.

      I’m being unfair though – that’s for semi-automatic (with automatic option): http://www.hondaprokevin.com/2016-vfr1200x-review-specs-adventure-motorcycle-bike-crosstourer-news-vfr1200-vfr/

      Now, would I drive an automatic car? ….. hell no (but I’d drive a paddle gear changer).

  15. Oh lord yes!
    I note that Honda doesn’t make DCT for any bikes under 700cc if they made one with a DCT around 600cc would it be Learner approved?

    1. I wish they would do that, my wife just cant get the hang of smooth clutch action no matter how much she tries (dyslexia) and would love to have a lams DCT. Now she just pillions until she can get a NC750 in 6 months.

  16. Need the 1200vfr to demo ride to Darwin maybe Paul Free can arrange . Happy to give daily reports. I do drag the back brake and use the clutch if heading into a turn to hard or riding on gravel or dirt.

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