Tomorrow Motorcyles. All Shiftless?

Since a few years the industry worries about how to attract young riders. In addition, due to the global recession, big cruiser motorcycle sales, like car sales are in a deep funk. Many suggestions, most revolving around price, have been made to broaden the appeal of riding a motorcycle. But one has been omitted. Making motorcycles more rider friendly. And some manufacturers think that the way to reach this objective is to eliminate the perceived obstacles of shifting gears and mastering a clutch. Think about it. I learned how to drive a car with a shift. But today the driving population includes millions of people, men & women, who have never dealt with a clutch pedal or shifted a manual transmission, yet might be interested in riding a motorcycle. Automatic gear changing is what we get for most of our cars. Why not for our bikes? Most scooters are shiftless. Will it help their owners to move to a motorcycle if it would also be shiftless? Honda, Yamaha, Aprilia & Moto Guzzi are releasing new models with automatic transmission. Should Harley-Davidson pursue this venue on some models to attract a new clientele? Let me know what you think.


31 Responses to “Tomorrow Motorcyles. All Shiftless?”

  1. 1 BERTRAND Dec 7th, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I work on this configuration since 10 years at my humble level . . . .

    check the following links :

  2. 2 Dave B. Dec 7th, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Personally, I like very much the coordination required to properly operate a motorcycle… I think it is very intuitive and allows the rider to be syncronous with the machine and the environment around them. I think that dumbing down the machine would only give rise to an ever expanding bunch of idiots already on the road.
    Yes, I think that electric start, foot shift instead of tank or jockey shifting, and even EFI are nice modern features that make riding an easier experience, but at what point does it become no different than driving a trike, or even a car?
    In my mind, part of the reason for riding is to be minimal in your goal from getting from point A to B. Being tuned into and feeling connected to your machine, shifting, throttling, turning, braking, all done seamlessly & without thinking. Are we eventually going to remove all the aspects that make a motorcycle more than just 2 wheeled transport vehicles?
    Regardless what folks want me to build for them, I shall keep my clutch, my carb, and yes… my jockey shift.

  3. 3 Howard Kelly Dec 7th, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    i disagree. The best thing that could happen to the motorcycle world is that the US regarded bikes as exactlyw hat you said, 2 wheeled transport vehicles. Then, those that customize and make a bike better will stand out. In the meantime parts can get cheaper, recognition of bikes on the road goes up and we all live a little longer..

  4. 4 Nicker Dec 7th, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    “… Making motorcycles more rider friendly….”

    Let’s see how that sentiment translates into another endeavor.

    For example:
    – Golf Balls that find their way to the cup.
    – Tennis balls that stay on the court and avoid hitting the net,
    – Computer games that you can’t loose.
    – etc. etc. etc.

    “Ease” doesn’t translate to “Proficiency.”

    In the mid 90s’ snow ski manufacturers started producing skis with such radical cuts that running a slalom course became largely an exercise of rocking your knees back and fourth.

    Participating in competitive alpine skiing became far less interesting (to me way).

    What would be the poit?


  5. 5 Mike Greenwald Dec 7th, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Harley might as well pursue it. I suppose we can expect their version of a Dyna-Flow or Powerglide to couple up to their timely technology.
    Quite frankly it is more pussification of motorcycles and will lead to more restrictions than the mandatory helmets and the neon colored vests the government wants us all to wear.
    Seems that the electric scooters don’t need an automatic transmission

  6. 6 Jeff Nicklus Dec 7th, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    I can not tell you how many times I have been asked:

    1) “Do you offer an Automatic Clutch” … yes, we do offer a “centrifugal” clutch however, shifting is still necessary….

    2) “Do you have an automatic transmission available and if not when do we expect to have one come on line ?”

    Personally, in the current economic environment we find this industry in, I wish I had an automatic transmission that I felt confident in installing in a production bike …. Pussification be damned ! I would sell the hell out of them !

    Over & Out,


  7. 7 rah Dec 7th, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    that fine for a vstar or a goldwing but not for a harley…..

  8. 8 gustian Dec 7th, 2008 at 9:36 pm


    but if you are in good health, have no phisical restrictions at all, (and thanks God for that)

    and still you can’t handle the combination of clutch – gear- throttle – brakes etc, etc,

    please, for your own sake, don’t swing your legs over a motorcycle.

    Its only my humble opinion


  9. 9 wyndryder Dec 8th, 2008 at 12:39 am

    Sounds to me like someone just wants to make more money by getting idiots on bikes that should not even be allowed to breed.

  10. 10 Missy Scott Dec 8th, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Why not add automatic transmission to the options for potential buyers? It seems like good market sense, even for Harley. There was a time when folks felt the same about muscle cars and trucks, and now they’re everywhere with automatic transmission and nobody’s the worse for wear.

    If the buying public is asking for it with a loud enough voice, then savvy companies will respond. Just look at what happened to Harley back in the 60s when they didn’t respond to customer demand for bikes that would challenge the lighter weight Japanese bikes. They nearly tanked completely and ended up an AMF subsidiary, which was almost their total ruin.

  11. 11 American-V Magazine Dec 8th, 2008 at 9:26 am

    Think it will come: had a chat with Alan Hurd of Victory a couple of years ago and he cited much the same ‘accessibility for autobox car driver’ argument as Cyril. Victory’s parent company, Polaris use a lot of CVT gearboxes on their Quads with great success, so I’ll bet that Victory are kicking themselves that the unit construction of the Freedom motor means it’ll take a lot of redevelopment to capitalise on their advantage – especially with the Vision tourer: what a USP that would have been!.

    On balance it’s a great idea as an option on certain types of motorcycles: the Electras and Visions of this world, but as with a car, don’t think it would necessarily make it compulsory. It’s only the same argument again that was played out with foot shift and electric starts … and it will be a long long time before the stocks of existing bikes are exhausted for those of us who would not choose to use it: I’ll stick with my Shovel as a streetbike, but I wouldn’t be averse to a Dresser with it fitted … if it worked as it should do.

    Hell, with a CVT properly programmed, you could make it work like an auto or a manual, and change your ‘ratios’ dynamically, really adding to the experience: low geared for town, long-legged for cross-country highways. It’s another technology that’s inevitably going to come – maybe even something that some enterprising and brilliant engineer could build into a regular gearbox shell to stick behind a regular motor.

  12. 12 Mike Greenwald Dec 8th, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Missy Scott and other proponents of the AutoMatic transmission,.

    The federal government is adamantly and doggedly pursuing ITS (Intelligent Transport System). It seems that in order to integrate motorcycles into this grand scheme of roadway usage and freedom of travel and movement that it has been considered to make automatic transmissions mandatory for motorcycles or, in the alternative, to eliminate motorcycle from some roads with a progression to eliminate motorcycles from most roadways. Currently, there is no motorcycle automatic recognition system for motorcycles. Isn’t it odd that a majority of multiple vehicle crashes happen because the OV (other vehicle) driver di not see the motorcycle.

    There seems to be good reason that the Ridley Motorcycle with automatic transmission has not taken the buying public by storm. Possibly it is because that these mythical customers that everybody seemingly clamors for do not exist.. I know that many of these proposed “bikers” will find it difficult to remember to put their feet down at a stop. There is a current solution for that with the Auto-deploymemt stabilization or “training” wheels”.

    In my humble opinion, it would be easier to train these non-riders by installing a paddle shifter.that is used in the high end sports cars such as Ferrari or to modify a unit like the Pingel shifter to make it easier for these people to be motorcycle consumers.

  13. 13 Stephen Shaw Dec 8th, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    My thoughts are directed toward slow speed control issues. As motorcycles are single tract, slow speed turning depends on constant and dynamic throttle / clutch input. In tight and congested areas such as parking lots, will the automatic transmission technology be sufficient to allow a rider to have the same positve control of the bike while leaned over in a slow, tight turn. Perhaps, technology has or will resolve the stability issue, but at this point, I prefer to trust my own judgement.

  14. 14 Mike Kiwi Tomas Dec 8th, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Over the weekend I attended the Cycle World show in Long Beach Ca and Honda had their new automatic bike on display. I observed for quite some time and talked with the Honda folks and the response was huge. I feel there is a opportunity within the American m/c industry to produce an automatic tranny and expand ones market share.
    I’ve been here in the US for 26 years and I have never understood why the m/c mfrs have never pushed the issue of their m/c’s for transportation. There is a huge opportunity to expand our industry in this arena and even while gas prices were high the mfrs were still not maximizing their products.
    I don’t ride anything later than a 1953 Chief and to me a m/c has always been about transportation, even my old 1940’s and 50’s Indians get in the 40 mpg range. I never owned a 4 wheel vehicle until I was 28 and ever since then 4 wheels is my still 2nd vehicle. Mind you there were occassions that I would have loved a dry roof over my head after riding many wet wintery months on end in New Zealand. I will venture to say that it gives me a big leg up over all my competitors as I’m constantly testing, developing and doing my own real world R&D. And for the aging population, I’ll have an electric starter for the old Indians. I’ve got to think of my old age down the road too. We are fortunate in Calif to be able to ride all year round though

  15. 15 Skidrow Dec 8th, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Hey Jeff,
    Check with the Japenese for auto tranny. Bet they can help you out.

  16. 16 Pepper Dec 8th, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    As the saying goes, adapt or become extinct. If we can expose more people to two wheeled transportation by making it easier for them to enter the market then we should. If we sell more motorcycles and inject more funding into the industry (oh I don’t know, for R&D to continually improve the product maybe?), bravo.
    We mustn’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. If we continue in this mindset then we’ll be left behind while innovative companies press on.
    Companies offer manual and automatic transmissions in the automobile industry. Shifting isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, however I still choose a manual transmission when I purchase a car. If companies offer both manual and automatic bikes, people can choose to shift or not to shift. When has the freedom to choose ever been a bad thing?

  17. 17 Jeff Nicklus Dec 8th, 2008 at 4:49 pm


    I looked into that about a year or so ago and while they (the Japs) do have an auto trans available it will not handle the big torque numbers a stout V-Twin will produce. It is, however, a matter of time before someone does have a workable combination.

    Stephen Shaw,

    The problems you raised can be overcome simply by building the stall speed into the torque converter ……

    In addressing the performance issues raised by the use of an auto trans …. I have a drag car that runs 8:40s at 180 mph with a two speed Power Glide Trans …. If we can make it perform in a car why not in a bike?????

    No one is saying that an automatic transmission should be mandatory, it should however be an available option …. in my humble opinion.

    Over & Out,


  18. 18 burnout Dec 8th, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    I can see it happening. Won’t be cheap but hopefully not a disposable component either. peace

  19. 19 stephen Dec 8th, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    Whilst I would not buy an automatic motorcycle (nor a car for that matter) many people including my wife would (and she did buy a little 100cc Pagsta Auto). I really don’t see a problem offering it as an option after all you have the choice of auto or not in a car.

    If more people got out of their cages and on to a bike then I reckon the roads would be safer because more people would know what it is like having some dope in a 4 wheel drive (SUV) try to run you off the road.

  20. 20 Mike Greenwald Dec 9th, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Oh yeah, throw the safety thing into the mix. Based upon what could have been, should have been or would have been, People in the USA and the rest of the world have relinquished more God given rights of freedom and liberty than any other threat.

    Please accept the fact that operating a motorcycle requires a skill set that is not attainable by all nor should it be attainable by all. Additionally, motorcycling can and will kill you.

    Pay attention and quit whining. Ride your own ride as if your life depended upon it.

    If the automatic transmissions for motorcycles have a similar, proportionate weight on a motorcycle as they do on a car. plus the fact that they will need a cooler, I would venture to say that the stock weight of a motorcycle will increase significantly more than many current riders will be able to lift if their bike tips over or they lay it down for any reason.

  21. 21 Mike Greenwald Dec 9th, 2008 at 10:05 am

    There is a company in Plano, IL named Walters ( that makes an automatic for a Harley. The current price is significant.. There was a mention of it in Kneeslider in March of 2007.

  22. 22 Matt Dec 10th, 2008 at 9:26 am

    I really wish everyone would quit saying “in my humble opinion!”

  23. 23 Mike Greenwald Dec 10th, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Gee Matt,
    I n my brash and arrogant opinion., I’ll take your advice. Sit down and stay obscure ’til you have something worthwhile to say. How’s that workin’ for ya’?.

  24. 24 J Dec 10th, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Eh, I’ve had a Grandeur set up for a couple years now, and I love it- I ride in a lot of stop and go traffic, I don’t miss my forearm growing twice it’s normal size…… Once people get beyond the “macho” factor, there are a lot of reasons to have choices….

    I hear this crap debate all the time in the Corvette world, too, and guess what? I have a stick and an automatic, and the slushbox gets used WAY more- lol.

  25. 25 Nicker Dec 11th, 2008 at 12:10 am

    “… there are a lot of reasons to have choices…. ”

    Ya, absolutely.
    But i don’t think that was the issue some of us were trying to make.
    I suspect that if ya ask any one who’s been dismissive of “more user friendly” motorcycles concept they still feel that …… It’s Not About What Ya Ride…. It’s About Why and How ya ride…

    However, the point is simply this:
    Whatever the activity, when it is “engineered” to become more “inclusive” in its participant demographics, that activity goes into decline.

    For example, when the Romans took over the Olympics, one of the Emperors thought himself an athlete. In order to become a competitor he downgraded the competition to the point that it destroyed the Olympics, till they were resurrected in modern times.

    So, it’s the “slippery slope” of social engineering that we’re complaining about. Not the automatic transmission, ABF….. etc, etc, etc…

    It’s true of every endeavor in our society (which is based on competition).
    And so, home ownership was once based upon your ability to manage your finances and establish a credit rating that supported your ability to pay back a debt.

    But in the interests of “social engineering” the Carter Administration decided to downgrade the”degree of difficulty” to attain that standing. As a result, every clown & crook “gamed” the process to the point where the entire free market system is now being compromised.

    Oh ya, i almost forgot ….. I My fucking Humble Opinion….


  26. 26 burnout Dec 11th, 2008 at 12:20 am

    well said Nicker……………………and True! peace

  27. 27 Jeff Nicklus Dec 11th, 2008 at 1:18 pm


    After reading both your comments as well as Mikes’ I must say that I totally agree with Mike ….. at least I do ….. in my humble opinion.

    Over & Out,


  28. 28 c Dec 12th, 2008 at 4:05 am

    whatever keeps us moving forward and in business is whats best for all of us. Whether some of us stay doing the same old thing and others continue to innovate, breed fresh ideas, and don’t allow us to stagnate into extinction. New ideas, new products, and new demographics keep us in business industry wide. Lets do it all; shift, don’t shift, knucklehead, quad cam water cooled hondadavidson, who cares. All of it helps all of us.

    just my opinion, but im not very humble these days

  29. 29 J Dec 13th, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Understood, Nicker, and you make interesting points;

    I just disagree that advancement in technology necessarily eqates to a “slippery slope”, whether you’re talking heath care or automatic transmissions. What ever happened to the debate over kicker verses electric start? Oh yeah…. It died out because it’s absurd to imagine the point of kicking over a 120″ Merch anymore- lol.

    As far as the home ownership point, that’s a pretty cool point. Except that- as history clearly demonstrates- what we’re going thru now is nothing new. Too much easy credit leads to abuse, which leads to overinflated asset prices, which leads to a painful delevering process. We’ve had at least four cycles of this magnitude or more since 1832 (and we’re no where near done correcting yet), and we’ll continue to have boom/bust cycles in the future, because- ironically- social engineering enables this phenomenon;

    Otherwise, politicians would be obsolete- lol.

    As for me, I’ll continue working on a Pingel setup to compliment my Grandeur auto- maybe a pistol grip jockey with microswitches for actuation; Not really worried that my general laziness may lead to the downfall of Western civilization; I just dig cool shit- lol.

  30. 30 Nicker Dec 13th, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    “… I just dig cool shit- lol…”

    There’s nothing wrong with cool stuff…. provided that it’s not bing crammed down our throats.

    Freedom is about choice.

    Work-around solutions for a sometimes not so efficient clutch hand could be an automatic trans.
    It could also be an “old technology” EL with a foot clutch.

    Many of us prefer the latter. It should be a choice (like ABS brakes).

    “… slippery slope…”
    It’s not about the advances in technology, its about their implementation.

    Le-me give ya an example.
    Safeway Foods implemented their “Customer Card” to enhance your shopping experience by gathering data about you. And swore that this info was not gonna be used for anything else.

    Couple-a months later some guy falls in a store and starts legal action. The next thing ya hear is a report about how much booze this guy has been buying….. (coincidence..???).

    How about Micro Chips for pets…. that also work on your Kids (“in case they get stolen”)?
    Why not universal chipping, Sounds like a great idea…. NOT!

    How about Gun registration… ??? etc. etc. etc…..

    In the old paper system Nixon could only manage one FBI file (got him booted form office).
    With the aid of a PC Bill & Hillary managed 900 FBI files…. no charges.

    Was in the IT tech business over 35 years,
    Trust me, there are lots of other slippery slopes out there…. open your eyes.


  31. 31 Rick Dec 15th, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    J, why do you sound like the arrogant son that works at the Ridley Factory? Hmmmm.

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