Skip to main content

Throttle Jockey: Scared of the shifter? Honda’s DCT has you covered

One of the questions I get from readers most often is “which motorcycle is the easiest to learn on?” It’s a good question, with a lot of answers, but here’s one you might not be expecting.

Learning to ride a motorcycle, traditionally, is akin to learning to fly a helicopter: every limb and sense is involved in the process. Your hands have to modulate the throttle and front brake (both with the right hand) and clutch (left hand), your left foot changes the gear, and your right foot operates the back brake. You might also have to hit a turn signal in there too.

Meanwhile, you have to do this complex dance essentially without looking, as your eyes need to stay on the road ahead or peek in the mirrors while the engine provides audio cues for when to shift – or not. It’s an all-hands-on-deck skill, and a lot of beginning riders struggle with it, some to the point that they give up on riding after stalling out too many times, or they just never master the gearshift ballet.

And it’s no wonder, since the vast, vast majority  (more than 90 percent) of cars sold now use automatic transmissions. The venerable stick-shift is getting tough to find, and the skills and understanding surrounding its use – essential in learning to ride a motorcycle – are fading away.

In 2009, no doubt seeing the ever-growing default automatic transmission trend in cars, Honda released a new version of its seminal VFR sportbike, and a compact, high-performance 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (“DCT”) was an option. The motorcycling world was shocked, at least for a few minutes, but the new-think gearbox worked well, and also allowed the rider different shift modes as well as a push-button manual, albeit clutchless, mode of operation.

The new VFR was not a big seller (it was not helped by its new styling, earning it the derisive moniker “Shamu” in some circles) and a high price didn’t help. But it was far from the end of the line for Honda’s nifty dual-clutch transmission. In fact, it was just the beginning of the story – and Honda’s DCT gamble.

I’ve been focusing on certain bikes as the spring riding season rolls into many areas but instead of one bike, let’s look at some of Honda’s bikes that use the automatic DCT transmission. And as a side note, you can also get these bikes with a manual transmission, but you’ll typically also lose ABS brakes as well since they are part of the DCT sensor system.

CTX700

Following the high-end VFR rollout, Honda took it’s high-tech DCT toy and dropped it into about the most pedestrian, unassuming and affordable full-size motorcycle it could dream up: the CTX700. Now, you may think I’m damning the CTX with name-calling, but the truth is, I’m not: this is about the most perfect beginner bike imaginable.

The CTX series, which can be had as a bare-bones naked bike and optioned up to a light-duty tourer, is not going to win races, inspire wheelies, or peg you as a leather-clad rebel. In fact, the CTX could be described as living in that fuzzy area between motorcycle and scooter, but it definitely errs on the motorcycle side. With an engine partially sourced from the Honda Fit econocar, the CTX bikes are the Whole Enchilada of basic motorcycling: low seat height, easy to ride with the DCT option, ABS brakes (only with the DCT), phenomenal gas mileage, low maintenance, built-in storage, and with proper care, they may last nearly forever.

Honda CTX700
Honda CTX700 Image used with permission by copyright holder

I rode the first CTX models back in 2013 and while I personally prefer something with a bit more poke, the bikes acquitted themselves extremely well and were good fun to ride.

The DCT option, though, was a revelation.

Getting an automatic to work well on a motorcycle is no mean feat. The subtleties of slow-speed clutch operation must have been torture for Honda’s engineers to perfect, but perfect them they did. And riding with an automatic in city traffic? Bliss. Plus, out in the curvy stuff, dropping the tranny into manual mode allowed me to govern output from the torquey, long-stroke twin-cylinder engine as I pleased (but I should note, the onboard e-nannies will not let you stall or over-rev the engine, which are actually good things to govern).

It didn’t take long to get used to the DCT, but my foot and hand still reached for the clutch and shifter out of habit, only to find nothing. At the end of the day though, I had fun riding the CTX, and that’s the score column that has the most weight in my review book. Price brand new, out-the-door, ready to ride? $7,600 with the DCT and ABS. That’s a great deal for a bike you really can go anywhere on.

NC700X

Want something a bit more sporty but still easy to ride – and automatic? Then the next stop is the $8,100 NC700X. This founding member of Honda’s “New Concept” (“NC”) line retains the base mechanicals of the CTX in terms of engine and transmission but reworks the layout of the bike for a more sporty riding position, more ground clearance and a very cool look.

Honda NC700X
Honda NC700X Image used with permission by copyright holder

See the gas tank? It’s not a gas tank. Your helmet, bag or groceries go in there, the gas is under the seat. It’ll only hold a tick over three gallons, but since you’re getting 60mpg or better, range isn’t a problem. ABS is part of the DCT package as well, upping the safety factor. The NC700X will work well for a beginner to intermediate rider, or perhaps a rider who’s been off a bike for some time and is looking for a capable, high-tech rig with the novelty of no shifting when desired. If you want a bike to “grow up on,” the NC700X is probably the best call in this bunch.

VFR1200 and Africa Twin

What would happen if Honda took the performance levels of the CTX and NC bikes – and doubled it? Tripled it? Then you’d have the VFR1200F sport bike and Africa Twin dual-sport machine. That’s right, both these models can be had with the DCT transmission.

The VFR with DCT is Honda’s latest iteration of their V4-powered land missile, and while it’s probably not the best choice for a beginning rider, you could make worse choices. Full-sized and with a fair amount of heft along with big power, the VFR is the answer for sport riders looking for a bit more comfort in their mount. You’re looking at nearly 18 grand out the door, but besides the DCT box, you get pretty much every other tech trick in Honda’s book along with the motive power of a VTEC V4 engine that can put you in legal trouble right quick.

Honda VFR1200F
Honda VFR1200F Image used with permission by copyright holder

The other side of the big-bike coin is the new Africa Twin dual-sport bike (below), and it’s perhaps here that Honda expresses its ultimate design prowess for their automatic gearbox. The $13,699 Africa Twin uses a 1,000cc P-Twin engine like it’s CTX and NC cousins, but it’s much more powerful and the DCT is also hooked up to more sensors, including leaning angle and inclination, for better performance in dirt or on the slick surfaces most Africa Twins will likely encounter in their travels. Wanna get away? Like, to Siberia? This is the bike that gets you there.

Honda Africa Twin
Honda Africa Twin Image used with permission by copyright holder

Beginning riders stymied by the shifter now have automatic options outside of the scooter universe, and as Honda grows its DCT lineup, count on other motorcycle makers to get in on the action with their own shiftless solutions.

Bill Roberson
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Please reach out to The Manual editorial staff with any questions or comments about Bill’s work.
The best movies on Max you can stream in March
New to Max? Here are the top movies to start with
Scene from The Hobbit

Now that HBO Max has rebranded as Max, it's the right time to get acquainted with all of the great movies to watch on the streaming service. In addition to large portions of the Warner Bros. catalog, it also has tons of seminal, classic films, as well as plenty of foreign releases. Because the catalog is so big and rich, there are about 250 titles that could go on this list. There's a wealth of options to choose from whether you're into action movies or comedies, and you shouldn't feel limited by the selection below.
Instead, you should treat it as a jumping-off point of HBO Max movies, one that will hopefully allow you to explore many of the titles that didn't quite make the cut. Max has great movies in every genre and from every period of film history. This is just a sampling of the best movies on Max. And if you're looking for more Max content, we've rounded up the best shows on Max to watch right now.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Read more
F1 live stream: How to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix for free
Formula 1 race cars rounding a corner.

Starting with the first weekend of March, the 2024 F1 season begins, stretching all the way to December 8th. That's a lot of ground to cover if you want to watch every race. As a result, we're covering where you can watch the F1 races via live TV streaming services but also showing you how to get the international streams free and get free trials to cover a key race or two you're interested in. Each service is a little different, covering different total amounts of races, and giving its own mix of extra entertainment options, but the races will all be cast through a mixture of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN+, and ABC. So, it is worth doing some research to see which one is for you. We'll also provide a schedule so you can see when the races are going to be.
Watch the F1 Live Stream Now

The following services and avenues remain the best to see F1 races in 2024. For each option, we'll discuss pricing, free trials, channel availability, and bonus features that come with the service so you can make the most educated choice for your wallet and lifestyle.
Watch the F1 free live stream

Read more
The best shows on Starz to watch in March
From Outlander to Party Down, these are the best shows you can stream on Starz
Outlanders

Starz has proven since its inception that it can hang with larger competitors like Max. Although it's now making television in an incredibly crowded landscape, Starz has managed to regularly launch shows that make an impact, and it speaks to the enduring quality of these shows that they've also stood the test of time.
These shows have also spanned a wide array of genres, making viewers laugh and weep, often in equal measure. Through it all, though, these Starz shows have proven that it can reliably make shows that touch viewers, and endure for years after its time on the air has concluded.

Party Down (2009)

Read more