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 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.
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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