A manual transmission in a car is getting harder and harder to find, as automatic has become the default for four-wheel vehicles worldwide.
That said, take a quick look at the used motorcycle classifieds, and you’d be forgiven for thinking all motorcycles are manual.
This article opens up the gearbox of the moto market once and for all to finally answer the question, are all motorcycle transmissions manual?
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Here’s the Short Answer to Whether All Motorcycles Are Manual:
Most motorcycles still equip manual transmissions. That said, while scooters and electric motorcycles were once the only options for riders seeking two-wheel vehicles, more and more big moto manufacturers are making automatic, gas-powered motorcycles.
Read on to find out just how many automatic motorcycles are out there, with examples. We’ll also explain how hard it is for beginners to learn to shift and why most motorcycle gearboxes still use manual transmissions.
How Many Motorcycles Are Manual and Automatic?
Most scooters, mopeds, and electric or EV motorcycles have automatic or twist-and-go transmissions. That said, out of an incalculable number of gas-powered motorcycle models designed and released yearly, it’s challenging to find a dozen that have an automatic transmission.
The sheer difference in numbers between manually operated gas-powered motorcycles and those with automatic gear systems makes it difficult to quantify a statistic or percentage.
That said, every year, more companies are experimenting with new types of automatic transmissions, including Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmissions (DCT).
Honda has made the DCT standard on more classic models than ever before, making motorcycle-riding accessible to those determined to stay on automatic vehicles.
Meanwhile, check out our article about common motorcycle transmission problems.
5 Examples of Motorcycles with Automatic Transmissions
Most Electric motorcycle brands, like Zero and Energica, utilize electric engines with twist-and-go throttle action.
That said, automatic transmissions are gaining popularity among gas-powered motorcycle manufacturers as well—we’ve listed a few of our favorites below:
1. Honda Gold Wing
The Honda Gold Wing is a highly popular, fully dressed touring motorcycle that’s always been known as the most extra bike in the game.
The focus of the Gold Wing has always been on comfort, safety, and long-distance two-wheel traveling. Its engine is built like a car, and its transmission has included reverse gear for a few generations.
Thus it was no surprise when Honda added their auto-shifting Dual Clutch Transmissions as an option on the Gold Wing starting in 2018, giving the already luxurious ride a boost in comfort. Manual transmission Gold Wing trim packages are still available.
We’ve written an article discussing how long the Honda Gold Wing lasts, if you’re interested in the bike.
2. Honda VFR 1200F
The Honda VFR 1200F is a highly refined edition of Honda’s VFR sport touring line. It’s the seventh generation of a constantly refined line of bikes and was the first place the moto market ever saw an integrated Dual Clutch Transmission allowing for shiftless riding.
The VFR 1200F comes with a shaft-driven, 6-Speed transmission that’s optional constant mesh manual, or automatic Dual-Clutch Transmission, pushing 173 horsepower for a top speed of 157 MPH without having to shift!
3. Aprilia Mana 850 GT
The Mana 850 is a practical mid-sized tourer built and tuned for efficiency on the highway or in town, featuring a chain-driven final drive and an 839cc V-Twin engine integrated into an automatic centrifugal clutch.
The Mana 850 doesn’t even have a clutch lever. Instead, its “seven-speed” gear ratio options are cycled through automatically by computer support.
Riders have the option of partially automatic or clutchless shifting via a hand button; riders can utilize an equally electronic foot-shifting option as well.
Either way, the ratio changes are achieved via an internal pulley-powered belt.
Its automatic transmission setting includes different riding modes, like Sport, Rain, or Touring, changing the tuning accordingly and assisting riders with engine braking and gear lock modes.
4. Honda CTX700N
The Honda CTX700N is a mild-mannered cruiser that provides a user-friendly, comfortable and relaxed riding experience.
It comes standard with a liquid-cooled 670CC parallel-twin engine that’s as efficient as manageable.
Furthermore, the CTX700N has an automatic-optional transmission that lets riders get as involved with their gear changes as they want.
On the CTX, comfortable cruising is king, and not just because it offers riders a full-automatic, clutchless option where they don’t even have to think about gear changes thanks to its Dual-Clutch Transmission.
Honda’s design team was also sure to give the CTX700N wide pullback bars and an upright riding position with back support, making it one of the most accessible motorcycles to ride, period.
Here are two examples of motorcycles with automatic transmissions that are electric but were made by motorcycle brands that typically specialize in gas-powered engines:
KTM Freeride E-XC
Harley-Davidson Live Wire One
How Hard Is it to Learn Gear Shifts for Beginners?
Once a beginner has mastered turning the bike on and off, familiarized themself with the control locations, and got acquainted with the friction zone between the throttle and clutch while power walking, getting used to the balance by practicing in first gear will make learning to shift a breeze.
Learning to shift on a motorcycle isn’t tricky on its own. The challenge comes from attempting to learn to balance the bike and locate the controls on the fly while you’re also learning the mechanics and physical movements inherent in shifting gears.
Once you’ve mastered the art of balancing the motorcycle in motion without your feet touching the ground, it becomes second nature.
If you memorize the locations and functions of the primary hand and foot controls before you even start balancing, you’ll be able to focus on mastering the gear-shifting process.
In short, learning to shift is only difficult for beginners who try to know all the fundamentals simultaneously. Most motorcycle courses are set up to ease riders into the process step by step, allowing them to master one aspect of motorcycle riding at a time.
Here’s how to shift a motorcycle in seven quick steps:
- Accelerate/decelerate to the speed/RPM range required for the particular gear you aim to change into—most owner’s manuals include the specs for each gear and instructions on shifting.
- With a firm grip, pull the clutch lever all the way to disengage the clutch from the bike’s engine. Note: Popping the lever out early will cause the bike to lurch forward and stall out.
- Once you’ve disengaged the clutch via the hand lever, slowly release the throttle.
- Shift up to higher gears by pushing your foot up against the bottom of the foot shifter, and downshift to lower gears by pushing down on the shifter with the bottom of your foot until you feel a click.
- Release the clutch lever slowly, rolling the throttle back up to speed simultaneously—again, avoid popping the clutch lever out all at once before the throttle is engaged, or the bike’s engine will die.
- Downshift when your speed increases/upshift as you increase your speed, minding the bike’s RPM range to keep it out of the redline (if you’ve mastered balancing in first gear and walking in the friction zone, you should already be familiar with neutral).
- Shift into neutral (between first and second) when you stop, whether idling parking, to avoid sudden jumps or stall outs.
Please also read our article about reasons a motorcycle jumps out of gear.
Why Are Manual Transmissions So Popular on Motorcycles?
Manual transmissions are popular on motorcycles due to the lighter, more compact design. Manual transmissions give riders more control over the power band, immediate throttle response, and instant torque access; motorcycles are typically recreational, and shifting adds to the fun factor.
Here are five specific reasons most motorcycles use manual transmissions:
1. Torque, Throttle, and Power Management
Manually operating your gearbox gives you an immediate acceleration response.
- Automatic transmissions tend to drag or delay when you hit the gas.
- Conversely, a manual transmission is constantly standing by for rider input, ready at any point you RPM-boosting throttle input.
- Furthermore, a manual transmission allows riders to drop down into a lower gear, instantly boosting their RPMs.
- And while dual-clutch automatic transmissions offer a quicker torque than the traditional automatic transmissions used on scooters or even cars, riding them hard wears the clutch plates out way faster than pushing a simple, manual gearbox.
2. Resilient and Straightforward Design
Manual transmissions are much more simple in their configuration than complex automatic transmissions, which typically include a slew of components that can fail or brake.
- Manual transmissions are minimal in design, making them easier to maintain and service.
- Its simple design makes it more resilient to hard riding and harsh weather.
- The clutch in a manual gearbox is more durable as well—riders can ride manual gearboxes harder for longer without incurring damage.
- Finally, manual transmissions and clutch systems are cheaper and easier to repair if something goes wrong.
3. Manual Transmissions Bring Down the Price
The simplistic design and ease of maintenance associated with a manual transmission make them cheaper to repair and upgrade and manufacture in the first place.
- Using a simple manual gearbox design allows big bike companies to focus on developing other aspects of motorcycle technology without driving the market price up to unrealistic numbers.
- This also allows the brands to supply developing countries with commuter bikes at an affordable price.
- Manual transmissions also make upgrading, repairing, rebuilding, and customizing motorcycles cheaper in both parts and labor than it would be if they were equipped with automatic transmissions.
4. Lower Bike Weight
Automatic transmissions require a suite of computers, sensors, and communication networks to adjust and optimize their gear ratio according to the present riding condition.
- In a manual transmission, the rider acts as the sensor, the computer, calculator, and the primary shifting mechanism.
- And while many modern motorcycles utilize Electronic Computer Units in their fuel injection or cooling systems, an automatic transmission would multiply the bike’s weight even more.
- Finally, while cars have entire engine bays under their hoods with the sole purpose of housing their motor and transmission, a motorcycle’s machinery is mounted right to the frame; more equipment adds weight and tension to the part of the frame on which it’s mounted.
5. Manual Transmissions Are More Compact
The primary gearbox of a motorcycle is typically shorter than a foot long, depending on the type of primary drivetrain the bike uses.
- The compact gearbox manual transmission allows the transmission, drivetrain, and engine to be cased together.
- Sharing the same compartment means that the engine and the transmissions can be cooled and lubricated by the same oil reservoir or coolant supply.
- This reduces the weight, bulkiness, and clutter of a bike’s equipment, the measure of the frame’s dimensions, and the overall size of the motorcycle.