Dear MOby,

I really want to start riding, but it seems like learning to ride will be a tall enough mountain to climb without having to learn all about shifting gears too. Do any motorcycles offer automatic transmissions, and are they real motorcycles? I don’t want a scooter. My boyfriend tells me real motorcycles have manual transmissions, and that I’m taking the coward’s way out. My cars have always been automatics, and nobody ever looked down their nose at me about them. What do you think?

Shiftless in Seattle


Dear SiS,

I think it’s time for a new boyfriend. There are some great motorcycles with automatic transmissions, if you like Hondas. Honda offers its DCT, or Dual Clutch Transmission, in a bunch of its models: It’s effectively an automatic transmission. In fact, one of the reasons Honda gave for introducing its DCT was to get more people riding. DCT gives you the option of fully automatic shifting, or a couple of modes where you do the shifting with your left thumb and forefinger, no clutch required ever.

I’m a huge fan of the Honda NC700X, which has just been supplanted by the NC750X for 2018. Not only is it a fantastic all-around bike, it even has a big built-in storage compartment where other motorcycles store their gas.

If you seek an adventure bike, like so many lately, DCT is also available on Honda’s excellent Africa Twin, as well as on its VFR1200X (which is more big sports-tourer than real adventure bike).

If you lean more toward cruisers and masochism, Honda’s CTX700N is the cruiser variant of the NC700X, and if you’re some kind of Goth or Batman fan, the unusual but functional NM4 also offers the Dual Clutch Transmission. We hate to sound like a Honda commercial, but it’s the only manufacturer building “automatics,” so more power to them.

If you’re looking used, the Aprilia Mana 850 GT was a winner too, an exotic Italian V-Twin with a CVT (constantly variable transmission) that requires no shifting or clutch work. The CVT is what most scooters use, but the Mana’s no scooter (not that we have anything against scooters); it’s a for-real fun-to-ride, reasonably high-performance motorcycle with a big storage compartment just like the Honda’s. In fact, some might argue that the Mana is what inspired the Honda. Aprilia started building these in 2007 and discontinued them about 2014; prices are looking good on Cycle Trader for nice ones with low miles. Check out the shootout linked below for a comparison of the Mana with an NC700X and BMW C600 Sport scooter.

No-Shift Shootout

So yeah, now that you mention it I think it makes perfect sense to get your sea legs on an automatic. Once you’re comfortable with balance, braking and accelerating, sensing traction, feeling comfortable in traffic and generally finding your place in the motorcycle world, it’ll be easy to learn to shift gears later on your next bike. Or maybe your next one will be automatic too: Rumor is Honda is working on DCTs for its sport bikes, and why not? The near-zero lag time between shifts lowers lap times on the race track.

It’s pretty amazing – again now that you mention it – all the lip service the motorcycle industry pays to getting new people riding, and Honda’s the only manufacturer to offer automatics. If the auto industry suddenly went all-manual, about 99% of the driving population would be out of commission. Thanks for the question and tell your BF to clutch it.


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  • Stuki Moi

    Get the NC750/700X (the later years of the 700 have nicely upgraded seats and suspensions, the 750 is better still), or the CTX; depending on which riding position and/or seat height you are most comfortable with. The Africa Twin and VFR1200 are pretty big, tall, ungainly and expensive for a new rider’s first bike.

    The NC & CTX are bigger than most recommended “beginner bikes” as well, but have a center of gravity so low, and are generally so friendly to ride, that they allow you to bend the “rules” a little as far as what is acceptable for a beginner.

    As for automatics on a motorbike; I go out of my way to get manuals in cars, but have DCT on my Africa Twin, and on my NC750 in Europe. There’s so much more going on when riding a bike, and Honda’s DCT is so good, that I don’t miss shifting at all, from earlier adventure and other bikes. I do like banging off redline upshifts and the challenge of finessing downshifts on my sportbike, but only for brief periods of time, and for riding in a decidedly antisocial fashion. Not for general day to day use.

    A nice side benefit of the DCT, is that effective fuel mileage, hence range and time between having to refill, is increased; since you’ll end up riding in a higher gear most of the time, once downshifting every time you need a burst of acceleration ceases to be a conscious event at all.

  • JMDGT

    I used to ride in rush hour traffic through downtown Houston. Too many lights to say the least. A DCT would have made it a lot more enjoyable. Never say never.

    • Gabriel Owens

      You still in Texas? We should go riding.

      • JMDGT

        I’m in Keller.

        • Rocky Stonepebble

          Helen?

          • JMDGT

            Texas.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            Oh. I thought you were in Helen Keller.

          • JMDGT

            It has been Hell in Keller at times. It is in the great metroplex of Comancheria.

          • Rocky Stonepebble
  • Starmag

    Sure, get your feet wet with an automatic, there is a lot to learn in a short period of time if you don’t want to get hurt, but one of the joys sporting motoring is shifting with it’s attendant clutching and matching of road and engine speed. This is why the manual version of a used sports car can sell for much more than the automatic version.

    • JMDGT

      Sadly a lot of modern sports cars have devolved to only offering a DCT version. Very few manufacturers are offering a manual shift car of any type. It is tempting and I admit I do like the quickshifter on two of my bikes but an automatic anything even if it is a DCT version doesn’t seem like much fun to me.

      • Starmag

        Recently on bringatrailer.com the last version of a Ferrari model with a manual( I think a 430?) went for $80k(!) more than a comparible auto version.

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        A car with an auto, or paddle shift, is like sex without the handcuffs …

      • Tanner

        let’s not forget a multi-geared transmission is just a work-around for the limited rev/power range of a gasoline engine.

  • SteveSweetz

    Both the NC700X and Mana have seat heights close to 33″, not very welcoming to a new rider that is statistically likely to be somewhere around 5’5″. Not to mention that used examples of both are probably hard to find in parts of the country other than CA.

    I say, why shun scooters? The stigma against them in this country is obnoxious, but at least as a women you won’t be subject to quite as much dumb ridicule as a man would be, and screw anyone who gives you crap about it anyway.

    Also not all scooters look like the dinky Vespa stereotype. Get yourself a Honda Forza and most non-riders will think you’re on a sport bike.

    • XVS650

      With motorcycling being the hyper-manly activity that it is in America, some riders will impugn the manhood of any dude on a big scooter – but I don’t think that’s the case for a woman rider.

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        So long as she is riding to the laundromat.

        • XVS650

          Or to go fetch groceries for the kitchen..?

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            You da man!

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    • Gabriel Owens

      Saw that Forza in person, shes a beauty.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      It’s the big adam’s apple that gives them away …

  • c w

    There are two main types of motorcycle: motorcycles and scooters.

    On a motorcycle, the engine is down and forward of your crotch.

    On a scooter, the engine is down/rearward of your butt.

    The rest is details.

    You can learn shifting. In fact, there a those who feel it is much easier on a bike than a car. I think everyone should take an MSF course on a manual bike regardless of the type of transmission the rest of one’s learning will take place on, assuming there are no physical conditions that would impede operation a clutch and shifter.

    There’s no shame in shiftless trans, though. There are far more genuinely ridiculous things related to motorcycling to avoid.

  • allworld

    “My boyfriend tells me real motorcycles have manual transmissions, and that I’m taking the coward’s way out. ”
    Dump him.
    You can ride with me anytime, it’s not what you ride, it’s that you do ride.
    Shifting is not the big nemesis that one might think, but if you prefer and automatic get one and enjoy the ride.

  • brunssd

    I shun people that are too lame to use a foot clutch.

    • Starmag

      LOL

  • KiwiBri

    automatic.. hmm well, its like the people that buy “sports” cars with automatics.. not really a true “sports” car. .. like having auto assist parking in your vehicle.. taking the ” fun” out of driving.. the connection to the vehicle. Now on the motorcyle, automatic.. ? might as well get a Scooter.. but scooters are not hugely popular in the US are they?

    • FreeDominion

      “Not really a true sports car”. That’s completely false. Whether a car is sporty or not has nothing to do with its transmission, and modern sports car transmissions shift far faster than anyone can with a manual. In fact, modern sports cars with automatics are several tenths of a second faster to 60 mph than their manual counterparts, right out of the box. When racing a road course, that time adds up very quickly due to repeated acceleration throughout the track, lap after lap. I used to race a cayman s with the pdk transmission, and that thing is a downright blast. My turbo Miata is manual, and I prefer manual in a sporty vehicle, but there’s nothing wrong with automatics. If that’s what any other of the 8 billion unique individuals on earth wants, nobody should be bashing it/them.

      Second, how does auto-assist parking take the fun out of driving? If parking is where you get all your fun, you’re driving wrong. None of my vehicles have auto-assist parking, and I’ve never felt like I’m having a more visceral, fun driving experience from having to manually parallel park.

      Third, Telling someone they might as well get a scooter, rather than an automatic motorcycle is nothing more than the childish assertion your misguided biases over another human being.. as if you have the right.

  • WPZ

    The Missus is taking up riding the front seat somewhat later in life. She also has a pathological hatred of clutches.
    A Reflex scooter started the ball rolling but a windy day on country roads discarded the scooter notion- they’re town bikes.
    An antique Hondamatic 400 pushed things to the next level. And remember, you can’t kill the engine on these things: perfect for the awful DMV slalom course. CM400As are actually sought after for just this activity- one dealer wants to buy it off her.
    Then she found the NC700X DCT and the checkbook came out. She’s still only a bit more than a thousand miles into the adventure but it was love at first sight and it’s not abating (despite the onset of wintry weather hereabouts).
    I rode it home from the Deeetroit dealer, 300 miles. Yeah, the automatic thing is very weird. But who cares? It’s still a quality motorcycle with ABS and other good safety features. It rides well and the previous owner fixed it up just how she wanted with a bigger screen and full hard luggage.
    She’s a long-legged 5-7″ but I still had to lower it an inch and a half, cheap and easy to do and gives the newer rider much greater confidence. It can go back up someday when she’s ready, too.
    The center of gravity is unbelievably low and the other comment about it being very light-feeling is correct. If I didn’t know it was some 500lbs, I would never have guessed. When I get off my ZX1100E it feels like a feather.
    And yes, my old, worn out hands do think navigating traffic without a clutch lever sounds like a sensible idea. I almost hate to admit it, but the DCT does leave spare brain cells left over for dealing with nasty urban traffic, and it probably a safety feature right there.

  • It’s not automatic, but I love the shift assist on my GS. Kinda poo-pooed it when I was buying the bike, told myself I wouldn’t use it. Use it all the time now.

  • Toldyouso

    “Taking the coward’s way out”? That’s about as dumb a statement as saying that real men ride helmetless. That riding with a helmet is the coward’s way out. How about: If you think your nogin is not worth the protection from a helmet – – you’re probably right. It’s too late now (we’re both in our mid 70’s), but I wish the clutchless option had been available some decades ago. My wife might still be riding. (I am.) I KNOW she would have made a good, safe rider, had it not been for that pesky little thing of coordinating all 4 extremities ON A MOTORCYCLE. She drove a car with 4 on the floor. Go figure. If having to go clutchless means you can go RIDE – GO FOR IT! You’ll be whooshing by tons of people every time you’re out who’ll never know your bike doesn’t have a clutch. And even if they did – so what?

  • DickRuble

    There’s plenty of used Manas on craigslist, $3000-$5000. They’re kind of heavy for a first bike. There’s nothing dinky about a Vespa. If you don’t have to ride on the highway, the Vespa is way quicker to get on/off, comfortable and fun to use to the store, or the library and back. And if you get a 300gt or an Aprilia 500, then the boyfriend (the girl should upgrade in that department first) better have something better than a Harley to challenge her.

    • Gabriel Owens

      Thats a nice looking motor scoot.

  • Bmwclay

    Check out the CB750A. A nice, 2-speed (low and high) automatic made by Honda in 1975. Never sold very well for some reason.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      Because it was shit.

      • john burns

        you’re on FIRE today, Stonepebble.

        • Rocky Stonepebble

          I should be put out with a rake.

  • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

    big difference between a fully automatic trans like on a car,and an automatic clutch- a guy i knew called his quad a “bike’ and he had an automatic trans that howled constantly-of course that was in a low gear situation,by definition

  • Uncommon Sense

    One of my frustrations has been the lack of auto options available. I’m over needing to shift. To be more specific, I don’t mind shifting, but I hate having to modulate a clutch given 90% of my riding is in urban traffic. Manufacturers can actually keep the shifting, but put out the tech so you don’t need to pull in a clutch at a stop.

    I keep hoping every year Honda finally says screw it and throws DCT on every model as an option instead of the cartoon bikes and other manufacturers finally come around and offer their version.

    I like what Honda is doing with DCT, but not a big fan of their line up. However, I’ve been given thought to that new Goldwing and the DCT option really makes it a viable choice for me now over the BMW 1600b.

  • Rocky Stonepebble

    Yes.

  • jeff benson

    Anyone who would “shun” you for riding a scooter or automatic motorcycle is not worth knowing.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    I think it basically comes down to what you use the motorcycle for and what kind of riding you do. If you ride motorcycles for pleasure and ride aggressively, manual transmission is better. If you use it for commuting and errands and don’t want to bother with shifting, a automatic transmission is better. Don’t worry about what people think. It doesn’t matter.

  • HughKayers

    Sounds like you’re not old enough to remember when “slushboxes” were sissy wimp transmissions in cars. Though I still drive a manual (6-speed; first was 3-on-the tree which some here have probably never seen) it’s just cuz I like them. Same goes for my bikes and whatever somebody else rides is fine with me. Now that Honda’s come out with an auto-shift Gold Wing soon even hardcore Iron Butts i.e. “World’s Toughest Riders” who go coast-to-cost in 2 days will be riding shift-optional bikes. The stigma, if there is any, should go away for good. Ride safe.

  • StripleStrom

    CTX700 is an interesting little bike. I wouldn’t mind having one around for friends who are interested in learning to ride, and for commuting.

  • FreeDominion

    Tell your boyfriend to stop being a narrow-minded b****. There’s nothing wrong with automatics. If that’s what you want to start with, go for it. The vast majority of riders don’t care at all what you ride, due to motorcycling being highly individualistic. The few others who do have something to say about it, usually insecure troglodytes, are easy enough to walk away from without a second thought. It sounds like your boyfriend is part of that minority, and you will probably be happier if you leave him behind too. Some guys take a loooong time to mature to the point where they can see past themselves, and start putting their partner’s happiness before their own biases.

  • Scott Rice Sr.

    My ex brother-in-law and his brother had a performance bike shop in Pensacola Fl in the mid 70’s. He rode a pan head chopper, but would drag race a Honda 750 automatic for the consistency in bracket racing.

  • BTRDAYZ

    If you shun automatic transmissions while enjoying the use of:

    Hydraulic brakes and clutches
    Antilock brakes
    Slipper clutches
    Electric start

    then you, my friend, are a hypocrite. Hell, I’m waiting for BMW to throw a dual clutch transmission in their C 650 Sport scooter!

  • Old MOron

    Will you be shunned? By some people, yes.
    Will you be shunned by anyone worth a second thought? No.

  • spiff

    Run whatcha brung. Fuckum if they can’t handle it.

  • michaelt1953

    Hope it works better than the DCT Ford put in their Focus.