Telling a hardcore motorcycle enthusiast that you prefer automatic bikes might earn you a dirty look. They might think you don’t value the culture, or that you don’t deserve to be riding motorcycles at all. Harsh.
On the other hand, if you tell an ordinary person the same thing, they probably won’t care at all - or even know what you’re talking about. So, what’s the difference? In this article, we’ll explain the automatic vs manual motorcycle debate so you can decide which one might be best for you.
Automatic vs Manual Motorcycle: Definitions
In this context, manual and automatic specifically refer to how the transmission functions when shifting between gears. A manual-transmission motorcycle requires the driver to actively shift between gears based on speed, riding conditions, and terrain. With an automatic-transmission motorcycle, the transmission shifts gears without needing driver input.
Driving a manual bike is relatively easy. A motorcycle’s manual transmission is different from a car’s because you have to shift gears in sequential order. For example, you can’t shift from first gear to third gear without going through second. In a car, you can jump directly from third to first.
With an automatic bike, gear-shifting is controlled by an onboard computer that senses variations in speed and terrain, then changes gears accordingly. While they were looked down upon when first introduced, the popularity of automatic bikes has risen rapidly in recent years.
You might be tempted to think manual motorcycles are automatically better since they’re more popular, or maybe you think automatic motorcycles are better because they’re easier to ride. Both can be true, depending on several other factors. We’ll explain more in detail below.
The Perfect Bike Experience
While motorcycles are an efficient mode of transport that can help you beat traffic, most people ride bikes because they enjoy the experience. They’re thrilled by the feel of the wind on their face and the close contact to the street. Riding a motorcycle is one of the most exciting things a human can do.
However, part of the experience is in changing gears, which is exciting because it gives you complete control. Shifting from gear to gear makes you appreciate the bike more because you can feel its strength between your hands, and you can choose how far to push it. If you want to become one with the machine, a manual motorcycle is perfect for you.
Unfortunately, automatic transmissions take that control away. You don’t feel the engine’s power because the bike automatically changes gears. However, some automatic motorcycle owners say this gives them a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery. They worry less about controlling the motorcycle and more about the opportunity to enjoy the ride.
Riding Style Cost
Bikes with automatic transmissions are more expensive as the transmission is more complex, and they tend to have the latest technological innovations. Motorcycle manufacturers spend a lot of money developing the automatic gear system, and the customer pays the price. The question is whether you’re willing to fork out the funds for a more relaxing ride.
Another reason why automatic motorcycles are more expensive is that they need constant updating. The technology changes so quickly that manufacturers are constantly introducing improvements. Your bike could be slower if you don’t make adjustments, leading to severe accidents. You can avoid these extra costs if you choose a manual bike.
Bikes with manual transmissions are cheaper because they need less fuel. The fuel economy on a manual bike is much better than that of an automatic bike. Even though they require more work to ride, manual motorcycles will save you money on gas.
However, if you’re an inexperienced rider, you could still end up spending a lot of money on gas because you’re still learning how to shift gears, which means you’ll probably over-rev.
Modern Technology: Reliable or Not?
Surprisingly, manual motorcycles are more reliable than automatic motorcycles. It’s surprising because you’d expect technological innovations to make life simpler and make riding motorcycles more efficient. Unfortunately, technological innovations are the reason why automatic bikes are less reliable. There are even rare classic bikes that still work today.
The fancier the technology, the higher the likelihood of something going wrong. A minor computer glitch could be dangerous and deadly. To make it worse, it’s not something you can easily diagnose or fix yourself.
A manual bike has simple mechanics that rarely go wrong. If anything happens, you can quickly go into your toolbox and fix the problem yourself. However, automatic bikes should always be worked on by professionals. Taking the risk to fix it yourself could make the situation much worse.
Considerations for Beginner Riders
If you’re reading this article as a novice looking for a way to get into the game, we suggest buying an automatic transmission bike. Learning how to ride on an automatic motorcycle is so much easier compared to a manual bike. You don’t have to worry about changing gears, and you can focus on learning to handle the bike.
Also, the chances of having an accident and seriously injuring yourself on an automatic bike are much lower because you have one less thing to potentially distract you.
However, some people argue you’re better off starting with a manual motorcycle. It will teach you the essentials, just in case you change your mind in the future. It’s better to be well-rounded than to limit yourself to one bike type. After all, a manual rider can easily ride an automatic, but an automatic rider will find it challenging to ride a manual.
At the end of the day, your choice depends on your riding preference. If you don’t think you’ll ever want to ride a manual motorcycle, then there is no need to put a lot of pressure on yourself to learn how. There is no shame in taking the easy way out.
Weight, Speed, and Clutch Control
Once again, the convenience comes at a high price when you purchase an automatic transmission. The bike might be easier and more efficient to ride, but it’s heavier. The technology takes up a lot of space, which will slow you down and make the bike more difficult to handle.
A heavy bike is generally harder to control. It might take you the distance, but you’ll feel the weight underneath your body. You won’t take turns as smoothly as other riders, nor can you brake as quickly. Unfortunately, some reports suggest automatic motorcycles are also slower.
Manual bikes are easier to control because they are lighter. Even though you have to put in the work with the gears, you can relish every other part of the ride. Your turns will be smoother and your acceleration faster. If you want to enjoy a bike’s smooth movements fully, you should look into buying a manual motorcycle.
Traffic Conditions While Riding
If you’re planning on riding a bike through dense traffic conditions, an automatic motorcycle is better suited for your needs.
An automatic motorcycle gives you a smoother ride because you don’t have to change gears at every stop. You can move through traffic without worrying about changing gears. Having to use gears when you’re in traffic only slows you down and might even cause leg cramps. An automatic bike allows you to enjoy a relaxing ride, even when you’re stuck in traffic.
Unfortunately, manual motorcycles have a high chance of stalling. A break between balancing the clutch and shifting gears could occur, forcing the bike to switch off. Once it’s off, it will come to a sudden stop, and this can be embarrassing and even dangerous if you’re in traffic.
A Safe and Comfortable Ride
The question of safety on a bike is as important as it is controversial. It’s essential because falling off a motorcycle almost always leads to injury. If you don’t correctly wear your helmet, these statistics go up. Also, there is a debate about whether the bike itself determines safety or if the rider should take responsibility.
Personal responsibility aside, a manual bike is safer than an automatic. There are a lot of cases where human judgment is better than computer judgment.
For example, when taking a corner, only a human can see what’s happening on the ground and what gear they should be in. An automatic motorcycle will adjust to the road, but it doesn’t have the complete picture. In such cases, it would be better for a human to take control.
We’re not saying humans have perfect judgment, but they can react better in emergency situations. They can see when they approach danger and quickly adjust. Sometimes an automatic motorcycle will only work when it’s too late. Hopefully, bike manufacturers can improve the technology so riders are safer.
Automatic and Manual Clutch Maintenance
A manual motorcycle is cheaper to maintain. If you have enough knowledge, or if you’re at least willing to learn, you could do most of it yourself. A well-equipped toolbox and thorough research will go a long way.
If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can approach nearby mechanics who can take care of it for you. On the other hand, an automatic motorcycle needs specialized care, which often comes at a high price.
Deciding on a clear favorite in the automatic vs manual motorcycle debate isn’t easy. Basically, if you have money to spare, are interested in relaxing through scenic rides, and don’t care what others think, an automatic bike is probably best for you.
If you’re a beginner on a budget, a manual bike is probably the right one for you. Whatever you choose, you can be happy to know you took your first step toward becoming a real biker.
We hope this article helped answer some questions you might have had about automatic and manual bikes. If you’re interested in checking out review articles about bikes and other vehicles, please take a look at some of the other content on our site.