Will Twist-And-Go Take Over The Market?

Auto, self-shifting hydraulic transmission. Wimpshift. Just plain “automatic.” No matter what you call them, they’re finding their way onto more and more two-wheel machines, and our friends over at Honda are definitely all about the exploration and exploitation of this resource. With a growing number of choices to chose from, riders can pick their poison in the twist-it-and-go market. Let’s see what Honda has on the table now.

Continue reading for more on Honda’s automatic transmissions.

How Does It Work?

Honda's Triple-Threat Automatic Transmission Program
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Shows DCT

Transmissions allow us to get a broad range of vehicle speeds from an internal-combustion engine that has a very narrow band of usable power.

The Red Rider engineers have no less than three different types of automatics from which to choose: the Continuously-Variable Transmission that is so ubiquitous in the scooter sector the world over, the Human-Friendly Transmission normally reserved for industrial power, and the Dual Clutch Transmission. These self-shifting gearboxes do the same job, but go about them in very different ways.

Across the board, transmissions allow us to get a broad range of vehicle speeds from an internal-combustion engine that, inherently, has a very narrow band of usable power and high rotational speeds with very little torque to be had at lower rpm. In order to keep the engine in that powerband when accelerating, pulling a load, going up a hill, or to keep it at an economical speed, the transmission allows the output speed to be varied according to demand, engine speed and vehicle speed. This is true of all transmissions, and automatics, as their ingeniously clever name suggests, do it automatically without the encumbrance of a clutch and shifter. No matter how they get it done, they all deliver a rather smooth riding experience.

Who Benefits?

2013 Honda Silver Wing ABS
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A motorcycle purist might say it's for the lazy and uninspired, while to scooter fans, it's the only game in town.

What kind of people do they attract? Well, it depends on whom you ask. A motorcycle purist might say it’s for the lazy and uninspired, while to scooter fans, it’s the only game in town. People looking for a raw riding experience or some proper knee-dragging fun will certainly prefer a manual shift in much the same way as a sports car fan and for much the same reasons, so the automatic is a definite no-no for that crowd.

Riders who are a bit longer in the tooth will appreciate the convenience, as will folks who are unable to work the left-side controls for whatever reason. Unfortunately, I find myself slowly drifting into that latter category as the arthritis in my left hand makes it more and more difficult to manage my Harley’s not-so-subtle clutch.

Perhaps another group could be added to that; those who prescribe to the “better living through technology” philosophy. That sort of rider may buy into anything that makes their lives easier or safer, and I can’t necessarily fault them on any particular point. No matter which category you fall into, if you’re thinking about grabbing a ride with an automatic tranny, you may benefit from a little schooling on the subject in order to make a more informed decision, this is for you.

Honda V-Matic

Honda's Triple-Threat Automatic Transmission Program
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Honda Ruckus

It provides absolutely seamless “gear changes” since there are no actual gears in the system.

First off, let’s take a look at the Honda V-Matic. This CVT does entirely without gears, but instead varies the diameter of the drive pulley that turns with the engine and the driven pulley that turns the rear wheel in order to change and control the overall drive ratio. A centrifugal clutch couples the V-Matic to engine power so there is no backtorque in the system when you roll off the power, and all speed-scrubbage must come via the brakes as there is no compression-braking to be had. It provides absolutely seamless “gear changes” since there are no actual gears in the system and it depends entirely upon the variable-diameter pulleys and their friction with the drive belt.

The belt itself is made up of metallic links that form something that is more of a flat chain than what you would usually call a belt, and while it’s fairly durable, it is definitely a wear point. Honda uses this drive on its scooter lineup, and so isn’t exactly something you’d seek out; closer to the truth to say it’s just an accepted fact that if you buy a scooter, this is what you get.

Human-Friendly Transmission

Honda's Triple-Threat Automatic Transmission Program
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It can deliver an aggressive riding experience by providing later upshifts and earlier downshifts to deliver a decidedly-sportier ride.

Next, there’s the HFT unit that has seen the light of day on the DN-01 and the EVO6 concept as well as the FourTrax Rubicon ATV. In other words, we don’t get to see much of it, but it’s still worth a mention. Those of you used to heavy equipment and the machinery on the decks of workboats will recognize this as a simple hydrostatic drive unit. It uses a variable-pitch swashplate — a.k.a. wobble-plate, Z-crank or nutator drive — to control an axial hydraulic pump which in turn powers the drive wheel.

Like the V-Matic, the HFT delivers seamless “gear shifts” without the benefit of any actual gears but with the added benefit of being able to use engine braking because the plant technically remains coupled to engine power at all times. Additionally, Honda offers you a choice between operating in a twist-and-forget fashion similar to scooters, or switching to a manual mode with six discreet gears that come with intervals like you would expect from a standard gearbox.

The push-button shifter delivers a ride not unlike that you would get from a “normal” motorcycle, and for this reason, the HFT makes a good choice as an automatic transmission that can hold up to the power of a full-size motorcycle. If you aren’t feeling the whole electro-shift action, put it in “D” mode for max fuel economy and a somewhat measured ride, or put it in “S” mode for a more aggressive riding profile that provides later upshifts and earlier downshifts to deliver a decidedly-sportier ride.

Dual Clutch Transmission

Honda's Triple-Threat Automatic Transmission Program
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Honda Gold Wing Tour

Honda puts the DCT on seven 2018 models including its flagship Gold Wing.

Last up is a gearbox that actually has some gears in it, but manages to deliver a ride that is similar to the other two in terms of convenience and smoothness of operation. Inside the gearbox, the DCT looks much like nearly every other constant-mesh transmixxer out there. We find gear clusters and sliders with dogs and pockets that engage to make the connections in the power flow, and all seems fairly normal all the way up until we look at the clutch(es). The feature that gives the DCT its name, and makes all the magic happen, is the twin clutch pack that powers two separate input (main) shafts that run in a concentric arrangement with one inside the other.

Power flows through one clutch at a time, and its respective shaft and gear clusters, while the idle input shaft gets lined up for the next shift. When the shift occurs, the previously-powered shaft’s clutch is disengaged at the same time the newly-powered shaft is engaged for seamless gear shifts with actual gears involved. What a novelty, eh?

Honda sweetens the deal with an inclinometer that compensates for uphill/downhill travel as well as the same “D” mode, “S” mode and “manual” mode features that came with the HFT. This is the latest automatic transmission type from Honda, and it is filtering through the ranks as it finds a home in the NC700 family, the VFR1200 clan and the Gold Wing ’dingers. That last is especially telling; the Gold Wing is a heck of a chunk of machinery. By the time you fuel it, add a passenger and chuck some swag in the bags you’re looking at over half-a-ton of bike with a serious engine to boot; not the place for a gearbox you aren’t absolutely sure about, yet here we are with a seven-speed DCT on the 2018 models. If Honda trusts it on its flagship, I reckon the rest of us mortals can too.

There it is folks. Hope you learned something that may help you with your next (automatic) bike purchase. As always, be safe and keep it dirty-side down.

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Honda NC700X

2015 - 2017 Honda NC700X
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See our review of the Honda NC700X.

Honda Gold Wing

2018 Honda Gold Wing / Gold Wing Tour
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See our review of the Honda Gold Wing.

Honda VFR1200X

2016 - 2017 Honda VFR1200X
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See our review of the Honda VFR1200X.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: honda.com

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