Question of the Day: Coming Through in a Clutch

Dennis Chung
by Dennis Chung

The latest industry trend: electronic clutches

Last November, at EICMA, Honda became the first motorcycle maker to bring to market an electronic clutch. Debuting as an option on the CBR650R and CB650R, Honda’s E-Clutch combined elements of its Dual Clutch Transmission technology with quickshifters to allow for up and down shifting with without needing to use a clutch lever, but otherwise using a regular gearbox and foot shifter.

Fast forward several months, and now, both BMW and KTM have started teasing their own takes on the tech. First was BMW’s Automated Shift Assistant (ASA), which we have since confirmed will be offered as an option for both the R 1300 GS and the upcoming R 1300 GS Adventure, and then this week, KTM revealed its AMT Prototype, a prelude to an expected 1390 Super Adventure.

What started off as an intriguing new technology from Honda has suddenly turned into a trend, with three slightly different applications from three different brands. They all use some form of an electronic clutch, with a processor deciding how much clutch slip is required at any given time (which differentiates it from mechanical systems, like Rekluse’s centrifugal clutch).

We don’t know very much about KTM’s “automatic manual transmission” yet, but we assume it joins BMW’s and Honda’s systems in using actuators to operate the clutch, automatically opening and closing it during gear shifts. It sounds like KTM’s system will allow the rider to control when to shift gears, using either a lever with their left foot, or via paddle shifters on the left switchgear. It will also offer a fully automatic mode to change gears without rider input.

BMW’s ASA also offers both automatic or manually shifting modes, but it doesn’t use paddle shifters, leaving manual gear changes to a regular foot-controlled lever.

Honda’s version takes another approach, again using a foot shifter for rider-selected shifting, but keeping a clutch lever to let a rider have the option of fully manual clutch control.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, however, as we expect other manufacturers to join in the fun with their own electronic clutches. No matter the approach, they offer the same advantages: easy shifting without having to worry about controlling the clutch, and making it nearly impossible to stall an engine. New riders will benefit from an easier learning curve, as will those who may physically have difficulty controlling a clutch with their hands. The downside, of course, is increased complexity and additional weight. Honda, for example, claims its E-Clutch system adds about 4.4 pounds, which isn’t nothing. But it’s about a fifth of what its DCT system weighs.

So, for our Question of the Day, we ask: What do you think about electronic clutches? Do you see yourself using one in the future?

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Dennis Chung
Dennis Chung

Dennis has been a part of the team since 2008, and through his tenure, has developed a firm grasp of industry trends, and a solid sense of what's to come. A bloodhound when it comes to tracking information on new motorcycles, if there's a new model on the horizon, you'll probably hear about it from him first.

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3 of 21 comments
  • Dex77926387 Dex77926387 2 days ago

    I recently rode a Honda Rebel 1100 with the exhaust removed... automatic of course. My friend INSISTED I ride it... so I did and was absolutely shocked. It was amazing - only one problem... YOU CAN'T BLIP THE THROTTLE to rev it up and listen to the sweet sound of the engine. =0 I wanted to pull in a clutch and just rev it at another bike rider I passed, and I wanted to give it a manly ROARR when I pulled into the driveway... BUT YOU CAN'T! Cause that engine will launch forward!

    Go Ride ONE. Another very experienced friend that rode it was amazed as well and said that if Honda puts similar autos on more normal/nakid bikes - he will buy one. We've both ridden or tracked all the new "quickshift" supersport bikes - We agreed that Honda REALLY has something there with the Rebel 1100 "DCT"... it was eye opening - so don't knock it until you try it!!!

    • David K David K 2 days ago

      I am not much into shifting nowadays, and I would welcome a DCT especially for commuting.

  • Dex77926387 Dex77926387 2 days ago

    DCT is JUST the thing for commuting! I threaded traffic in town and calmly and smoothly navigated through vehicles at intersections without any problem at all. And this was a completely new type of cruiser that I had only ridden for 5 minutes. ; ] GIVE 1 A TRY - impressive!