Are Motorcycles Automatic? (Why Automatic bikes Are Bad)

Are Motorcycles Automatic

You might look at a motorcycle and wonder; Are motorcycles Automatic? It would make sense, no?

Are Motorcycles Automatic?

The vast majority of motorcycles operate with a manual gearbox. These days, More or less than 1% of motorcycles operate with an automatic transmission in North America.

Yet, automatic motorcycles have been around for a long time; it is not a new concept.

Bikes never followed the automatic transmission trend as North American cars did.

Why is that? Mopeds are usually automatic; why not motorcycles?

Long story short, automatic gearboxes are not an attractive feature for motorcycles for many reasons.

Why Are Motorcycles Not Automatic, What is the problem?

From the start, the demand is low for automatic motorcycles.

Also fitting a worthwhile automatic transmission in a motorcycle is challenging and expensive.

I coved the subject in more detail in another article; why are motorcycle gearboxes manual.

Yet, I’ll give you a quick recap.

Weight and Volume

An automatic transmission is heavier and needs more space than a manual gearbox.

Since there isn’t much space in a motorcycle frame to fit all the mechanical parts, a manual transmission makes more sense.

Power-loss and Throttle Lag

Motorcycles got enormous power to weight ratio for their size.

It is why it causes problems with some types of automatic transmission.

Smaller automatic transmissions don’t fare well with high torque power.

When under pressure, automatic transmissions tend to slip before they catch on to the engine’s power.

It creates an issue when trying to speed up on a bike and leaves the rider with an unresponsive throttle.

The feeling is similar to a “slipping clutch.”

The solution is to make a more robust and larger transmission to handle more power.

But this brings back the problem that bikes have limited space.

Price

There is a type of automatic transmission that is more adapted to automatic bikes.

It is called a dual-clutch automated transmission.

The way these transmission works solves the problem that bikes are too powerful for a smaller automated system that tends to slip.

But it is an expensive piece of equipment, and the clutch plates tend to wear out quickly, increasing the already steep price. 

Building a manual transmission costs less in materials than an automatic gearbox with many more components.

Preference Of The Rider

Most riders agree that managing a manual gearbox is part of riding a motorcycle’s immersive experience.

Sure, automatic transmissions are convenient in stop-and-go traffic to reduce driver fatigue.

Yet motorcycles are not meant to be stuck in gridlock due to surprising and possibly hurtful reasons unknown to car drivers.

I talked about it in this article about why motorcycles sometimes must cut-through traffic.

Since motorcycles are smaller than cars, they can lane filter by going forward between rows of stopped vehicles.

Yet, unlike the rest of the world, North American riders get the short end of the stick since lane filtering is not allowed in USA and Canada.

Automatic motorcycles also get a bad reputation among the riding crowd.

Old-school hard-ass bikers who can’t mind their own business tend to bully riders on automatic motorcycles.

The idea of these dimwits is that if you can’t ride a manual bike, you should not ride at all.

Not Enough Demand

There isn’t much demand for automatic bikes since riders prefer manual bikes.

Yet automatic bikes got their place with riders that want or need bikes that are easier to ride.

For example, an automatic motorcycle might be a blessing for people with disabilities, or prosthetics.

On a bike, The left hand operates the clutch with a lever and the right foot handles the gear selector (gear stick in cars).

Automatic motorcycles remove the need for the left arm and foot to handle some of the bike controls.

Will Automatic Motorcycles Become More Popular In The Future?

Automatic motorcycles have gained a slight rise in popularity from riders who wanted more manageable machines to ride in the last few years.

Yet, the demand for such a reason is marginal.

Managing a manual transmission on a bike is not that difficult once you get the hang of it.

The lack of automatic motorcycles is not the main reason most people don’t pick up motorcycle riding.

Yet, with the conversion of fossil fuel engines to electric motors, automatic motorcycles should be more common in the future.

Most electric motors work with a single speed and usually don’t require a transmission.

Yet will it be more frequent to come across automatic bikes in the following years?

Most likely, yes.

Can You Convert A Manual Motorcycle To Automatic?

Some manual motorcycles can receive modifications to convert to automatic or semi-automatic.

There are a couple of ways to do it, but it will require buying third-party parts and modifying the bike.

ShiftFX Automatic Conversion

It is the most expensive option to convert a bike to automatic and requires heavy modification.

In short, this is a custom “smart” transmission that is computer operated and linked to a bike ECU.

This transmission will know when to shift and downshift like an automatic car.

If you need more info, you can visit their website.

Convert to Electric

Conversion kits are available for motorcycles to convert a petrol bike to electric.

It makes it an exciting option to recycle older motorcycles.

The electric motor of most of these kits usually has only one speed and doesn’t have a clutch or gear to change.

Since there is only one speed, this automatically makes a bike automatic (pun intended)

Converting to electricity will kill two birds with one stone to transform a bike to both electric and automatic.

Yet the problem with electric motorcycles right now is the small range of travel between charges and the lack of top speed.

Automatic and Centrifical Clutch

In that case, the standard clutch of a motorcycle needs to be taken out and replaced by a centrifugal clutch.

This kind of conversion will not make the bike completely automatic per se but semi-automatic.

The rider will still need to change gear with his left foot but pulling the clutch lever is no longer necessary.

This specialized part automatically engages and disengages depending on the engine’s RPM.

  • Low rpm and idle = clutch disengage
  • Give gas = clutch will engage

Another benefit is that the centrifugal clutch is “smart” and will auto-release if the bike is close to stalling.

Mopeds are often built with centrifugal clutches but this mechanical part is often incompatible with motorcycles.

Centrifugal clutches are usually not viable for bikes because they tend to slip under moderate to fast acceleration.

Yet, these two companies are building adapted parts for bikes that address this issue.

What Kind Of Motorcycles Are Favorable to Automatic Transmissions?

Small Commuter Bikes And Mopeds

No surprise here.

Small two-wheelers make sense to get around in cramped cities.

It makes them a no-brainer to be automatic since they often come across heavy traffic.

Since moped and small bikes are underpowered, it solves the issue that automatic transmissions tend to slip under high torque.

Bigger Motorcycles

Bigger bikes got a ton more space and carrying capacity.

The solution here is to equip the bike with a larger, more sturdy automatic transmission.

A larger and more robust transmission is better for dealing with higher torque power.

It is something that Honda, one of the leading companies in automatic motorcycles, proposes as an option on some of their larger bikes model.

Trikes And Other Road Three Wheeler

Yet again, these machines got more space to accommodate bigger transmissions that can handle more power.

It makes them viable candidates as automatic or semi-automatic vehicles.

Conclusion Are Motorcycles Automatic?

They exist, but they are not the norm.

It makes more sense for motorcycles to be manual, and most riders prefer it that way anyway.

Will automatic bikes be more common over time?

Most likely, yes.

But the automatic trend for motorcycles will not happen overnight and not in massive numbers.

I hope I have satisfied your curiosity.

Take care.

Drive and ride safe.


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