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Honda developing new semi-automatic gearbox with automated clutch?

Written by Nizam Shaikh

Honda has been striving to improve the comfort and convenience of their motorcycle riders through innovative technologies and the brand’s latest-generation DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) technology found on the Honda Goldwing and the Honda Africa Twin have gained popularity. Honda introduced its first DCT gearbox as an option on the VFR1200 but the brand has been offering automatic transmission technology since the 1970s when it launched the Honda CB750 with a 2-speed torque converter type automatic transmission called ‘Hondamatic’ / H2. 

Patents of a new automatic gearbox have surfaced the internet leading us to believe that the brand will be introducing a new type of automatic transmission for its production motorcycles. According to the patent images, the new transmission eliminates the clutch lever but makes use of a foot-mounted shifter similar to the Hondamatic technology. The Hondamatic transmission which had a torque converter similar to technology on cars caused significant power loss during the transmission stage. 

The new system although similar in terms of operation is likely to feature a 6-speed transmission unit along with a foot-operated lever with a load sensor similar to modern-day quick shifters. The transmission unit also employs a computer-controlled hydraulic valve that engages and disengages the clutch. 

One of the images show, which appears to be the clutch actuator, that builds oil-pressure but the similarities end here as the actuator engages the clutch instead of disengaging it, as done in manual hand-lever operation which acts as a safety feature that leaves the motorcycle with the clutch disengaged in case the system fails due to electrical or hydraulic failure. The clutch actuator is required when the bike is pulling away from a standstill and coming back to a stop. 

The patented unit makes use of a combination of sensors such as throttle position sensor, load sensor on the shift pedal, gear position sensor, speed sensor, engine speed sensor etc working in unison to effectively change gears smoothly. The load sensor which is effectively a bi-directional quickshifter can sense the rider’s foot movement and cuts power to the engine momentarily unloading the gearbox. It is also equipped with a throttle blipper that automatically matches the engine speed during downshifts.

The background art used on the patent design appears to be the Honda CB1100, a modern-retro motorcycle that carries the silhouette of the Honda CB750 which is its predecessor and that debuted with the Hondamatic automatic gearbox. 

The new gearbox is also speculated to be less complicated than the DCT units and less cumbersome than the old Hondamatic that used the torque converter system and it is likely to able to be retrofitted on a number of Honda motorcycles, unlike the DCT and H2 which needs the engine to be built around them.

But would you want an automatic gearbox motorcycle?