Honda's new motorcycle E-Clutch makes the left lever entirely optional
The idea of a clutchless motorcycle just feels wrong to some riders. After many years trying to sell fully automatic motorcycles, Honda has come up with a "best of both worlds" E-Clutch system that lets you use or ignore the left lever as you please.
Honda is the only motorcycle manufacturer still pushing the option of fully automatic dual-clutch "DCT" transmissions for two-wheelers, but according to ADV Pulse, it's had some success; in 2019, customers took the DCT option on 45% of Africa Twins, 52% of NC750Xs and 67% of Gold Wings sold in Europe.
The DCT, as frequently seen in the automotive world, is a six- or seven-speed gearbox with two separate electronically-controlled clutches. It can do near-seamless gearshifts with very little interruption of the power delivery, since, for example, second gear can be disengaging at the same time that third gear is engaging. You can run it in fully automatic twist-n-go mode, or hit little thumb buttons to take a bit more control, like paddle-shifting a sports car.
But it takes away the clutch lever from the left handlebar, as well as the gear lever from the left foot. And while that's just fine and dandy for some riders, others (myself included) bristle a little at the idea.
We're a conservative lot, bikers, when it comes to new ideas. To many folk, if a bike doesn't have a clutch lever, well it's a stinkin' scooter and we don't want nothin' to do with it. To others, the left lever serves as a one-finger trigger for clutch-up wheelies, so to remove it is to cripple a key capability of our vehicles.
On the other hand, I don't think many of us would argue that we're desperate to keep hanging on to clutch levers in stop-start traffic. And that might be the genius of Honda's latest attempt, the E-Clutch, which it describes as "the world's first automatic clutch control system for a multi-gear manual motorcycle transmission."
Essentially, you keep your regular manual gearbox and clutch lever, and you should be able to ride exactly as per normal if you use the clutch lever. But if you don't, the bike will electronically control the clutch for you, handling starts, stops, upshifts and downshifts in a way Honda describes as "more natural than a rider's manual clutch operation."
So presumably, any time you touch the lever, you're overriding the automatic clutch. But you can easily stop at the lights in first, and take off again like a twist-n-go if you feel like it, and you've effectively got a bidirectional quickshifter once you're on the move.
Honda says the E-Clutch system is lightweight and compact, and it can be installed "without major changes to existing engine layouts." It'll obviously need to talk to the bike's ECU a lot, so I doubt it'll become a retrofit accessory, but Honda says it'll start building this tech into its "FUN motorcycle models over time." So, presumably things like the Grom.
I reckon it sounds like a great idea, a more relaxing way to get around, without any real penalty. Beginners can hop on, zoom about without fear of stalling, and still develop a feel for the clutch lever that they'll need if they move to another bike. And hooligans can merrily hoist their front wheels skyward by flicking the clutch when inspiration strikes – not that Honda's the kind of company that would encourage such shenanigans.
There's no word yet on when it'll hit the road. Check out a video below.