I had cause to reflect back on 40-some-odd years of riding and the changes we have witnessed, with an inquiry seeking enlightenment from the MO Think Tank. The query was cause for reflection: “Will I Be Shunned if I Ride an Automatic Motorcycle?”

Ask MO: Will I Be Shunned If I Ride An Automatic Motorcycle?

The note was written by a prospective rider:


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


I pondered that for a moment. My knee-jerk reaction was the only proper one in this age of enlightenment and inclusion: shunning? Why, of course not. We are brothers and sisters on two wheels, are we not? There are many mansions in my Lord’s tech shed, but a nagging feeling persisted, a guilt, ghosts from the past, a more barbarous past when we burnt leaded fuel and bean oil. When we were savages, moto-savages, and we laughed and shunned a lot.

To wit: Scooters (see; Rockers vs. Mods), quads, cars, of course, moto-bagos, ill-tuned Harleys with drag pipes, bikes pulling trailers, and once a pack of Japanese cruisers heading to Ocean City with a cadre of exclusively bald guys piloting them which prompted the following roadside epiphany: “Nobody fucks with the Baldies.” Oh, and anyone, anywhere, who ever oiled a racetrack line.

We laughed, we pointed, and we shunned them all to varying degrees. We scoffed, we maligned, and we disparaged. It’s a shameful past, but there’s no denying it. But the worst of our scorn was reserved for slushbox motorcycles, and in our particular case, the lowly Honda CM400A, turned out in an eye-catching County Jail Coveralls Orange, piloted by our friend Brian.

That Honda we shunned unmercifully.

The CM400A, what it lacked in neck-snapping performance it made up for in ease of forward propelled boredom.

We had ample opportunity because it was not like he was going to outrun us. Every stop we’d wait for Brian and his borrowed orange thing to come trundling along wearing appropriate attire for the whole disgraceful display – a multi colored ski parka – and the guffawing would commence before the obligatory shunning resumed. That entire shameful day was pretty much filled with leaving Brian for dead, riding, stopping, guffawing, and shunning our way up the Potomac River and through three states to Summit Point. Shunning and guffawing were as natural as blipping the throttle to downshift, Brian knew it all too well and took it in stride. If any one of us had traded places with him, we would have become the object of scorn. It wasn’t Brian, it was Brian’s transmission.

But we have all evolved, of course, thank goodness. Looking back on those times with more than a little shame, it is easy now the see how insensitive we were, how loutish, how positively tribal.

I have shunned and been shunned in turn…

Shunning was not always bad if you were in the right frame of mind for it. The frame of mind that says when they are shunning me they are leaving someone else alone. I once rode a Suzuki GN125L from Scotland, Maryland, to our shop in Lexington Park to be serviced. The bike belonged to a former stripper. Former strippers can ride GN125Ls to nothing but widespread acclaim; guys in Alpinestars boots cannot. I had it pinned most the way. I also laughed the whole way.

I felt absurd and it was liberating, like walking around the paddock sans leathers in your underwear on a hot August afternoon, with a soaking-wet checkered flag bandana tied around your head, chugging Gatorade, with a breeze blowing. That gets elected officials fired these days, you know. My friends at work made fun of me, impugning my character with charges of being a circus sideshow freak. What did we know? We were troglodytes.

“Like a cool breeze through sweaty underwear on a hot August afternoon – the Suzuki GN125L” I really should have gone into marketing.

Oddball Shunning…

Remember, if you are being shunned, somebody, somewhere is underestimating you. I ran a BMW R1100GS through a Suzuki Superbike School at Mid-Ohio for a story once. What occurred there when I pulled up that morning far exceeded shunning and went straight to pointing and laughing. I had removed the saddlebags from the big GS and safety wired a camouflage pig with sergeant stripes to the luggage rack and dubbed the big Beemer “War Pig II.” And me and the Pig had the last laugh that day; fried Metzelers, scraped pegs, and scorched blue ABS front discs with the lever coming back to the bar and all. The Pig had held her own against all comers that weren’t named Chuck Graves or David Aldana, the instructors.

Brand-Marque Shunning…

The fact is that most of what passes for shunning these days is good-natured ribbing, not like the old days when I was physically lifted off the ground in an unpleasant fashion for suggesting to a chap in a jeans vest bearing colors that my Honda might be a bit quicker than his Harley. I even suggested if he was willing to throw a corner or two into his proposed street race, my oil-tight Honda would leave him and his steaming lump of Milwaukee iron like they were stapled to the asphalt. Never try to negotiate with a man named “Red Beard” who is a good 25 cans into a 30 pack, that’s what I always say. This might best be termed Shunning in Extremis. (For cross-cultural reference, see also; Australian Motorcycle News, Fred Gassit, “Biker or Bikie?” by Simon O’Leary)

Shunning is a cross-cultural phenomena. Here the Australian emissary of all things motorcycling, Fred Gassit, poses the question, “Biker or Bikie?”

Some shun, some embrace…

“I painted mine pink.” That is what the man said to me in the parking lot of Mid-Ohio Suzuki Yamaha one morning as I was pulling my gloves out of my helmet. He had apparently painted the exhaust baffle of his bike pink and was grinning ear to ear. Gil and I were saddling up to continue north that morning, but this demanded further inquiry.

“Do you want to see it?” he asked.

Do I want to see it? Why yes, I must see it! Of course! Meanwhile, Gil was muttering, “No, no, no, no…”

And low and behold the man had painted his BUB pipe-baffle insert neon pink, and he launched into an extended diatribe telling me how he produced this oddity. Gil was still back there uttering, “NO, NO, NO, NO,” with greater volume and a bit more urgency. When that didn’t work, he fired up his bike and let the Yamaha tell me in no uncertain terms we were leaving. Gil chose shunning. Me? I chose a different path, a path of inclusivity, the way of the pink baffle, which really is the path of righteousness. It’s a big, weird, beautiful world out there, filled with any number of moto-wonders to admire if we only take the time to do so.

No, these days we have to look out for each other, and particularly be nothing but encouraging and helpful to any potentially new member of our two-wheeled tribe. We’re all riders, devotees of F=MA, and bending a bike – any bike – into a corner and rolling it on is what matters. But, by all means feel, free to shun cars, any miscreants who oil the line on a racetrack, and squids behaving badly. And have a happy holiday.

Ride hard, laugh more, and look where you want to go.

  • Mahatma

    If you are mechanically savvy,go for the hondamatic 750.If not,the NC 700 should do the trick.And BTW:I don’t look down on lazy shifters,neither do the motoGP boys 😉

  • Old MOron

    Hmm, very enlightened. So how do you feel about moto journos who complained to Kawasaki about MO’s scoop on the Ninja H2 SX? Shall we not shun those cry-baby sons of bitches?

    • Chris Kallfelz

      “Very enlightened,” is above my paygrade…

      • Old MOron

        Mine, too, apparently.

  • Born to Ride

    It must’ve been a glorious day to see the war pig deux pull on the Ricky racers at the track. I get similar joy from rolling up to the sport bike hangout on my pizza delivery bike, accepting the upturned noses at my sport touring tires and dirtbike handlebar, then watching their HID headlights disappear behind me after the third corner.

    • StripleStrom

      I did it once on a dl650. they would blow by me in the straight, but I’d pass them in the corners. it was a blast.

      • hipsabad

        been there done that 😉

      • Born to Ride

        Yeah, that’s probably even more satisfying. Technically under all the Dad jeans bubbly body work, my bike has the heart of an old school Ducati sport bike. Perimeter frame, top notch suspension/brakes, and sharp steering geometry is all there. She’s a real sleeper.

        • StripleStrom

          I love sleepers, of either the 2 and 4 wheel variety.
          That day at the track I was passing a lot of expensive iron… and the guy on the Harley, and the guy on the Piaggio scooter (it was an open day- run what you brung) were doing an admirable job too.

  • Starmag

    Nice accoutrements in the yard with the Honda. Oops, was that shunning?

    Happy Holiday to you too Chris.

    https://memegenerator.net/img/instances/12176764/are-you-a-mod-or-a-rocker-um-no-im-a-mocker.jpg

  • I’ve spent my whole life trying to get shunned. It’s mostly worked.

    • Old MOron

      And yet you can’t keep yourself from coming here and feeling the embrace of MOronic love. We grok you.

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      I’m not only shunning you, I’m giving you a stern glowering. Harrumph.

    • Keith T Robinson

      Well gabe, u shunned me when you were at cycle world. So I am calling BS on your post. Seemed like you at least thought you were west coast “in crowd “. (Hacksaw)

      • LOL Hacksaw! God-King of all motorcycle discussion forum trolls! David Edwards, Chris Worden (CW online producer) and I spent WAY too much time trying to keep you off the site. Oy!

  • StripleStrom

    I actively buck herd mentality. It comes with the cost of being shunned often, but the peace of mind is worth it.

  • JMDGT

    Everyone rides for a reason. My reason is that it provides an escape. One that I can do on my own. I like the fact that when I see other riders on the road almost all of them give me the wave. If I stop some where fellow riders always approach me to talk bikes whether they are riding then or not. I enjoy hearing about their rides. I like that they ask me questions about my bike and try to answer them from a perspective of personal experience. The only shunning I do is when someone tries to tell me that what they ride is superior to what I ride and I must be an idiot for riding it. It happens. If riding isn’t exclusively a brotherhood it certainly is a community. Who would want to shun that? Not me.

  • Andrew Capone

    Great work, Chris. And the composition of the CM400A photo is stunning….should be hung up next to the dogs playing pool.

    • RMP52

      Love the ratty old couch, and the big dog on a log chain –symbolic?? ;- )

  • Kevin Polito

    The motorcycle industry and its advertising, marketing, and moto publishing cohorts have tried to create a fictional “two-wheeled brotherhood” in which outlaw bikers, mom’n’pop Gold Wing clubs, sportbike riders, stunters, and off-road riders are all good buddies who hang out together. The reality is that these different groups have nothing in common EXCEPT for riding on two wheels. Not only are their cultures different, they ride different types of motorcycles. Virtually every large motorcycle event is an attempt to capitalize on this fiction.

    • JMDGT

      Creating a false identity is part and parcel of most marketing campaigns not just motorcycling.

    • StripleStrom

      Absolutely true… but mixed in to many of those groups are great people, and if you are able to find them you can have a great time riding together. Of course, 98% of the hardcore adherents are A-holes, but there are some good people mixed in.

  • Allison Sullivan

    When I had my first bike and hung around with my all-sportbike friends, a friend of ours bought a GN250. We’d mock him unmercifully about how GN stood for “going nowhere”. He was incredibly good natured about it, though.

    Seriously, kids are dicks 🙂

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      Silly priest; dicks are for kids!

      (Old joke punchline)

  • Joe Bar

    The only motorcycles that should be shunned are Honda PC800s and Suzuki Maduras.

    • Keith T Robinson

      There are others but those are top of the list!

  • Roger

    Thanks for the geat Holiday post. I’ve been Harley to Vespa, Triumph to Ducati. Get friendly waves even from the cruizers these days.

  • Bill Bailey

    The honda Hawk in the photp appears to be a 1978 cb400t2 not a cm400. The t2 was as a result of the optional comstar wheels. Also note the clutch lever.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      I feel a little dirty even speaking of this, but you leave me little choice, Bill. That is not, in fact, a clutch lever.

      It is an, *ahem*, parking brake. There, I said it. Parking brake.

      • Rocky Stonepebble

        That’s why he asked you to note it. The clutch lever is back on the shelves of the parts department.

        • Chris Kallfelz

          That’s why I’m here Rocky. Should any of you gentleman find yourselves wondering in the future, “Huh, am I gazing at a garden variety CB400 or could that possibly be the groundbreaking CM400A Hondamatic 400?” Look no further than that right side engine cover.

          Notice its pleasingly plump, nicely rounded profile. Positively Rubenesque, eh? Two little horizontal do-dads protruding ahead suggestively. That’s where all that automatic goodness hides.

          A regular old CB has the smaller more triangulated sidecover as depicted on the following page: http://seacoastmotonight.com/2016/03/30/ross-and-his-honda-hawk/

          The “Hondamatic” on the sidecover is something of a dead giveaway as well. It reassures anyone fortunate enough to swing a leg over that engineering marvel that Honda has taken care of all that shifting drudgery so you can focus your full attention on your friends’ tailights disappearing over the horizon.

          • Rocky Stonepebble

            With all of that “Rubenesque” crap, I thought you were describing me. Then I read the ‘Hondamatic’ stuff and checked my birth certificate. Turns out I’m not Japanese, so that can’t be me. I must still be thin.

            Yours in RZ coolness, Rocky Aggregate Stonepebble the only.

      • Born to Ride

        The shame of it all…

  • My clutch wrist no longer works without pain. After 50 years I’m thinking Guzzi Convert if I can find one.

  • JG

    After my wife got pregnant and decided not to ride anymore, I inherited her Buddy 125 scooter. I used to think scooters were lame, but when I started riding the Buddy I totally changed my mind. That thing is a blast to ride around the city!
    You get no street cred on a scooter and nobody will wave to you. I don’t care, though. It has 2 wheels, I can park it ANYWHERE, and has a rack on the front for a whole case of beer!
    Can’t do that on your bad Moto Guzzi.

  • Jon Jones

    Interesting to note that the GN125 had an actual center stand and a tachometer.

  • RyYYZ

    I only shun idiots whose bikes or riding habits give the rest of us even more of a black eye than we already have in the eyes of non-riders. So, the extremely loud, and the extremely squidly (like the “Ride of the Century” goofs). And even on the noise front I’m willing to make allowances, although I’ll certainly express my opinion about it.