Most Harley owners prefer manual transmissions and the shifting that comes with it.
However, other people, such as inexperienced riders and people living with disabilities, prefer the less-complicated automatic transmission.
Do Harleys have an automatic transmission?
Except for the new LiveWire model, Harley-Davidson doesn’t produce any bike with automatic transmissions. According to popular theory, Harley isn’t ready to deal with the added costs of fitting its bikes with gearboxes and other automatic-transmission equipment.
With its core base content with riding manual models, the odds that Harley-Davidson will produce more automatic-transmission models are low.
Which Harley-Davidson Models Have Automatic Transmission?
The only Harley-Davidson motorcycle that comes with automatic transmission is the 2020 LiveWire model.
Positioned as H-D’s flagship electric motorcycle, the LiveWire is aimed at new riders outside of the existing customer base. As such, it makes sense that the LiveWire would receive a radical feature like an automatic transmission.
However, this doesn’t mean there are no existing Harley enthusiasts who prefer an automatic-transmission model.
Riders with mobility impairment often find it hard to shift through five or six gears manually. Novice riders, too, may find learning the intricacies of the manual system challenging.
These groups of riders would probably be willing to pay for a Harley that came with gearboxes and torque converters.
The problem, however, is that these individuals are the minority in H-D’s customer base.
The die-hard enthusiasts who buy Harleys in droves don’t like automatic transmission on their bikes. Because of this, Harley-Davidson continues to manufacture their bikes with manual transmission.
Why Are Harley-Davidson Models With Manual Transmission More Popular?
Are you wondering why people prefer manual Harleys, compared to those with automatic transmissions?
Well, here are some reasons:
Automatic models are more expensive than their manual counterparts because of the extra components. Planetary gears, torque converters, transmission sensors, transmission control module [TCM], etc. all come with an automatic tranny.
Fitting bikes with this additional equipment is often costly for motorcycle companies. Hence, they transfer the extra cost of producing automatic transmission bikes to the customers.
This makes AT bikes, such as the dual-clutch transmission [DCT] types, more expensive than average. Harleys are already some of the most expensive bikes on the market, and owners don’t want prices to increase further.
Manual models, with their simple single-clutch system, are cheaper and more affordable for even new Harley riders.
Moreover, manual-transmission models consume less fuel than automatic-transmission models. An automatic model has more parts, and this increases the overall weight of the bike.
More weight means the engine has to make more power to propel the motorcycle, ultimately translating into higher fuel consumption.
As explained earlier, models with automatic transmission systems come with more parts.
Although these components serve their purposes, the idea that they can fail is a worry for most owners. More pieces in any machine mean more things that can break down and more things to repair.
No one wants to spend premium buying bikes and spend more on keeping them on the road.
Therefore, manual models remain a safer choice for most Harley owners.
With a manual model, a rider can control a bike’s speed and power delivery by using the clutch and gear selector.
On an automatic model, the transmission module does all the shifting, leaving the rider to ride. Although this is good, it can be dangerous for a rider sometimes. Let’s explain.
The TCM changes gears based on its analysis of speed or RPM data.
What this means is that the TCM may make erroneous decisions on occasions. Say you’re leaning into a curve; the computer may opt to lower the power delivery, which may likely cause you to drop your bike.
Alternatively, the computer may increase the power delivery, and such a surge may toss you off the bike. Both scenarios are not one any Harley rider would want to be involved in.
Hence, the popularity of manual models, which allow the rider to be in complete control of the bike always.
4. Riding Experience
Another side-effect of having computers control the gear-change process is that it takes the fun out of riding.
The computers on automatic bikes rarely need rider input to decide on gear selection. The result is a rider who has no connection or control over his bike.
Manual models allow for better rider engagement and control.
On a manual, actions such as engaging/disengaging the clutch and shifting through gears create a visceral connection between man and machine.
Harley owners buy bikes for fun/enjoyment more than any other reason. As such, they prefer models with manual trannies as they give a better riding experience.
Can You Modify A Harley-Davidson To Have Automatic Transmission?
Can you modify your manual Harley to use automatic transmission?
Yes, you can. At least, to an extent. Depending on how much money you’re willing to spend, you can make your Harley into a fully automatic or semi-automatic.
The difference between a fully automatic and semi-automatic is that in the latter, you still need to shift gears as you would on a manual. However, you need not pull the clutch lever when shifting through gears.
The clutch automatically engages and disengages as you increase /decrease your engine’s RPM.
You can turn your Harley into a semi-automatic by installing an auto clutch such as the Rekluse Auto Clutch. With this, you don’t need to focus on the clutch operation while riding. In addition, you don’t have to hold the clutch lever while in stop-and-go traffic.
This system is a better alternative for those who don’t want to surrender total control of their bikes. The Rekluse Auto Clutch even has an override feature that allows you to control the clutch if you wish.
Another option is to use an electric shifter that allows you to change gears without having to use the gear selector pedal. An example of this aftermarket product is the Pingel electric shifter.
With an electric shifter installed on your Harley, you can change gears via the push of a button.
The electric shifter system comprises an electric-powered shift cylinder, handlebar controls, ignition kill module, and a control module. When you push the button on the handlebar control, the kill module momentarily cuts power to the ignition coils.
Then, the control module quickly signals the shift cylinder, allowing it to shift into the selected gear immediately. All these happen in an instant, which makes electric shifters attractive for riders.
Besides the ways mentioned above, the only option is to have your manual Harley modified to run an automatic transmission. But that can be quite expensive.
However, if it’s your only chance to ride, then, by all means, do it.
There are many mod shops that will modify your Harley without compromising performance and safety. Ask other riders who have had their Harley bikes/trikes modified to recommend someone to you.
You can also ask for modification shops from online forums.
How Hard Is It To Drive A Harley-Davidson Compared To Other Motorcycle Brands?
Harleys are big, heavy bikes with an enormous weight that can prove too much for a rider, especially a novice.
However, this doesn’t mean they’re harder to ride than other motorcycles. It depends on many factors such as skill level, rider physique, and type of Harley bike you want to ride.
Large cruisers/touring models like the Road King or Street Glide often have bigger engines, which makes them hard to maneuver around corners. On the other hand, models such as the Sportster or Street 500/750 are nimbler and easy to take around turns.
Short riders may find it difficult to ride the larger Harleys because of the high seat height. However, such riders can reduce the seat height or buy smaller Harleys with lower seat designs.
Moreover, the low-end torque most Harleys have is such that most riders will find it easy to start them from a stop.
The most significant factor that determines how easy you’ll find riding a Harley is your skill level.
If you are a beginner rider, you may find a big Harley challenging to ride. As such, we don’t recommend Harleys as beginner bikes.
It’s better to learn with a small sub-400cc motorcycle, and when you feel confident, move on to heavier bikes.
Harleys aren’t hard to ride, but you may need to find one that fits your skill level and physique.
Good luck and ride safe!