When choosing between motorcycles, a big consideration for many motorcyclists is whether their two-wheeled machine will come in an automatic or manual transmission. Automatic transmissions require zero input from the rider when it comes to managing the gear ratios. Simply twist the throttle and your transmission takes care of making sure the engine and wheel are in sync for your desired speed, which often takes the form of Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT) or Dual Clutch Transmissions (DCT).
Manual transmissions, on the other hand, require input from the rider in order to get up to speed or slow down. Manual transmissions make use of clutch operation and a sequential gearbox, which goes up and down the gears in a particular order or sequence, unlike car transmissions which allow you to skip gears and shift to any desired gear in one swift movement.
While riders argue that one type is better, we find that both of these transmission types have their own benefits and drawbacks. Depending on your usage and desired riding experience, one type of transmission may be better suited for your ride. If you’re curious to find out which may be better for you, stick around. Here are some of the pros and cons of automatic and manual transmissions.
When choosing between an automatic or manual transmission, the largest difference in riding experience is how engaged a rider must be when engaging the gear ratios. A short gear ratio is best for stop-and-go traffic, slow speed maneuvers, and other situations alike. Long gear ratios on the other hand are desirable for long stretches on the highway where minimal gear shifting is required. The mix of both would be most desirable for spirited rides and mixed-use riding. Regardless of your use, manual transmissions will always need input from the rider in order to change gears, while automatic transmissions don’t.
This is probably why many riders swear by automatic transmissions. There’s just one less thing to think about, and riders can focus on the ride instead – a highly practical point of view. On the other hand, manual transmissions require attention and engagement from the rider, which is the main reason why riders love this type of transmission. It provides a very engaging ride with your motorcycle, and riders feel all the more connected with the machine and the road. If practicality and ease of use are on your list despite a tradeoff for engagement with the bike, you might prefer an automatic transmission. If engaged riding is your priority regardless of practicality and ease of use, a manual transmission may better suit your need.
When going on commutes through the urban jungle of dense cities, practicality often comes to mind. This is particularly where automatic transmission motorcycles shine the best. The Yamaha NMAX 155 is a crowd favorite for commuting duties for example, and many riders swear by the ease of use of just managing the throttle and brakes – nothing else. There is no need to consistently feather the clutch, manually switch between first and second gear, all while managing the ride through city traffic. Automatic transmissions are great for commuting because they allow riders to simply sit back and manage the stressful ride, minimizing the need for additional effort for operating a transmission. Automatic transmissions are the easiest to operate when going through a commute, precisely because almost zero operation is needed to begin with.
Manual transmissions, on the other hand, require a bit more attention when it comes to commuting through traffic. Riders often need to manage the clutch through stop-and-go traffic in order to prevent stalling. On top of this, switching between first and second is another task for manual transmission users. There is certainly a bit more effort when using a manual transmission motorcycle for commuting, but it hasn’t stopped riders from doing just that. Ask any manual transmission user, and you will find that operating the clutch and gear shifter is just something that comes naturally to a rider after a period of use. You may have to go through a learning curve, but eventually, it will be second nature to operate.
Thrill-seekers enjoy spirited riding because of the engagement a rider has with the machine and the road. These kinds of riders love wrestling a bike into a corner and enjoy the finesse of braking and acceleration in and out of a twisty road. Thus, manual transmissions are typically the choice of spirited riders who enjoy having as many inputs as possible in order to elevate the sense of control over the bike and the road. A lot of spirited riders often ride naked-sport motorcycles, like the Yamaha MT-07, or sportbikes, like the Honda CBR500R, because having a motorcycle with a gear lever to bang up and down elevates the experience of connectedness with the machine – how and when it sends power to the ground. Thus, manual transmissions are a great choice for thrill-seeking riders.
That is not to say, however, that automatic transmission motorcycles can’t do the same job. Many riders with automatic motorcycles still enjoy the sensation of grip through a corner and the rush of acceleration out of the corner, albeit with fewer options to choose gear for a specific road condition. Automatic transmissions do the job for you – it can select a taller gear ratio for periods of cruising or a shorter gear ratio for hard acceleration. Although, with a computer doing the job for you, some riders may feel that the sense of control and choice is robbed away. After all, it’s the sense of freedom associated with the choice that allows riders to enjoy motorcycles, to begin with.
Touring and Adventure Riding
While the pros and cons of manual transmissions vs automatic transmissions are clearer for commuting and spirited riding, touring and adventure riding is where the lines become a little more blurred. If you’re going to be getting a motorcycle for either of the two riding styles, it may boil down to your own preference as a rider, since both types of transmissions can get the job done without major sacrifices to practicality, comfort, ease of use, and rider engagement.
Tour rides often take your motorcycle through many kilometers on the road. On a tour, riders spend a lot of time on long stretches of road with few but short sections of slow areas in between. Because of this, riders often demand long gear ratios from the transmission, with minimal gear ratio shifting in between. As such, choosing between a manual transmission or an automatic transmission will have a small difference. Manual motorcycles will be spending a lot of time on 5th or 6th gear, and automatic motorcycles will be steady on a specific gear ratio and throttle input. At this point, it may be better to choose a motorcycle that has features and ergonomics that suit your preferences best.
Adventure rides are similar to touring riders but often go through sections of dirt paths in between. If the dirt paths you are going through are hard-packed and not very technical, a steady throttle input on a single gear will get you through – minimizing abrupt and jerky input is a safe technique for off-road riding. In which case, the same conclusions from tour riding will apply to adventure rides too. The only time you should consider a manual motorcycle over an automatic is if you’re looking to embark on a more technical style of adventure riding, where varied yet precise input will be required from the ride.
At the end of the day, manual and automatic transmissions will be best suited for riders that desire a specific kind of riding experience for a specific kind of riding style. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this highly-debated topic, and the motorcycle transmission that may suit you best will depend on many personal factors you will have to consider. In general, manual transmissions provide a more engaging ride but require more attention and effort from the rider. Automatic transmissions allow you to focus a bit more on the ride but can feel a bit robotic at times. While these hold true, riders may also have their own personal preferences and experiences which make them choose one over the other, despite the drawbacks of each. As such, we recommend that you try out as many kinds of motorcycles as possible to get a better understanding of what you may like and dislike and come out with a sound conclusion that will fit you best as a rider.