I watched a YouTube video about an option on Honda’s forthcoming “VFR1200”. The option features a computer controlled double clutch gearbox, eliminating the need for a hand-operated clutch and gear selection foot pedal. I know precious little about the technology, but at face value, it seems similar to systems fitted to up-market sports cars. Jeremy Clarkson and I would probably not see eye-to-eye on a great number of things. I am a motorcycle nut, and he isn’t. (to put it mildly). However, he has a hatred of “flappy-paddle gearboxes” which I think I understand.
Watching the video, it was amazing to see the seemless nature with which the computer controlled gearbox changed gears. This was most notable if the final scenes when the video focused on the “attitude” of the bike. The degree to which the rear of the motorcycle squatted during the acceleration run barely changed through the gear shifts. This was most impressive when compared with the conventional manual transmission bike*. Despite this, I cannot help feel that Honda have solved a problem that no-one else was aware even existed.
There are times that I have made a complete hash of changing gears whilst riding a bike. Sometimes I have found a false neutral and sent the revs skyward when the engine encountered no resistance. (I find this almost as embarrassing as sneezing in your helmet when stopped at traffic lights…) Sometimes I have discovered I am already in first gear when down-shifting, or top gear when up-shifting. Occasionally, I’ve missed the gear lever altogether (although I’m still not sure how). There are also times when my arm has ached from constantly needing to pull in the clutch when riding in heavy traffic. None of these factors make me want an “automatic” transmission on a motorbike.
Part of the fun of riding a motorcycle is the connection between the rider and the machine. Just because the machine could do something better than I could, is not a reason to let it do it. I am sure that some people will appreciate not having to use a clutch in heavy traffic or the consistent smooth gear changes the system promises. But it is not the sort of marketing hype that entices me.
Technology can be enticing. A few years ago I had the opportunity to test a BMW K1200s with the Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) system fitted. The system was interesting and seemingly worthwhile. The benefits of on-the-move suspension adjustments were noticeable in the real world. Here was a new technology that gave an increased involvement with riding the motorcycle. Few people take the time to sort out their suspension of their motorcycle despite the benefits of doing so. Here was a computer-controlled system that “did the hard part for you” and left the fine-tuning up to you. At a press of a button, you could soften the suspension for “comfort” or firm it up for “sport” riding.
So, on one hand you have Honda making the process of riding easier by removing some of the tasks you need to perform. This has the impression of making you more disconnected from the experience. On the other hand you have BMW making it easier for you to become more involved with the riding experience.
How much an automatic gearbox disconnects you from the experience of riding the bike is going to be subjective. I am not above being wrong and if the opportunity arises to try the system, I shall – but it is not the sort of technology that excites me.
* I couldn’t help get the feeling that the gear changes performed on the bike with the conventional gearbox were exaggerated by the rider…