It was Volkswagen that first used a dual-clutch transmission in a production road car, slapping it into the high-performance 2003 Golf R32. Since then, DCTs have become commonplace in cars, either as standard equipment or an optional extra. For the last 10 years, Honda’s offered it for motorcycles and it’s now in its third generation.
There’s no clutch lever with a DCT. It’s got the advantage over conventional manual gearboxes because it shifts automatically, like a conventional automatic transmission, so there’s none of that tiresome squeezing of the left hand, or clunking of the left foot. It’s not an automatic transmission, though – it shifts quicker, is less bulky, and doesn’t lose any power through the torque converter mechanism.
Essentially, a DCT is two manual gearboxes and two electronically controlled and hydraulically-actuated clutches, combined together into one transmission. One clutch is connected to the odd numbered ratios, the second to the even. Depending on how you’re riding, the system’s brain will preselect the next gear ratio and then use both clutches simultaneously to smoothly and quickly shift from one gear ratio to the next. When your grandma rides your bike and twists the throttle gently, the brain will choose the next ratio up for her. When you ride it and whack the throttle wide open, a higher gear will be pre-selected, since that’s the next logical gear you’ll want when gunning it.
The new Honda Gold Wing was the first Wing to be offered with a DCT, as a $1,200 option over a conventional six-speed manual (which is already one gear more than every previous Gold Wing since its introduction in 1975). This third generation of Honda DCTs is a seven-speed, first offered in 2016 with the Africa Twin. None of this is cheap – you must opt for the Gold Wing Tour, with top box and back rest, et al., to get the DCT, which makes it a $5,000 upgrade over the basic bagger.
The first generation of Honda’s DCT, available in the VFR 1200F in 2009, was a six-speed unit with three modes: D (for Drive, which was fully automatic and easier on the fuel), S (for Sport, which was also fully automatic but had quicker shifts), and full manual, where the rider controlled all the shifts by pulling on a little finger lever.
The second generation DCT that came three years later with the NC700 relocated the primary drive gear to allow for smaller clutches and clutch shafts. As well, changes to the software made the brain smarter so that it could learn your driving habits; it also allowed for manual override while still in automatic mode, when it was just too smart for its own good and you wanted to show it who’s still boss.
Now the Wing’s third generation features a walking mode for very low speed operation, as well as four riding modes that adjust the throttle response, braking, and suspension. The lower gear ratios are tightly spaced for smoother transition between gears, while the higher ratios are more widely spaced for fuel efficiency. Car drivers have had these Drive mode options for years – now it’s our turn.
Honda set up a new Gold Wing to a dynamometer at the Toronto Motorcycle Show in February to allow show-goers to feel the new DCT in action. Start the motor, select “D” on the right handlebar switch, then turn the throttle to start from a stop. Don’t crank it too hard when the Honda rep is watching. There’s no clutch lever, no shift lever, just throttle to go. In automatic mode, the shifts are seamless and lightning quick. Press the trigger or thumb shifter on the left handlebar if you want to shift manually. Hit the brakes, and the DCT downshifts automatically and smoothly, and even slips itself into neutral when stopped.
There’s a button on the left handlebar for activating the walking mode. Push it (with the brake on), and then either press the upshift button to move forward, or the downshift button to move in reverse. Don’t twist the throttle – the computer will use both clutches along with electronic control of the throttle to manage the speed. The new walking mode fixes the low-speed jerkiness of Honda’s earlier DCTs, which made parking lot maneuvers a challenge. In fact, Acura (Honda’s luxury car brand) uses a torque converter attached to the DCT transmissions to help solve similar issues in its automobiles.
The lack of a clutch and shift lever may seem weird at first, but the DCT’s so easy to use that you’ll probably forget about them pretty quickly. You’ll focus on setting up for turns, or avoiding drivers on cell phones, and maybe even enjoy the scenery. And if you really want to shift for yourself, there’s always the manual option, for your itchy trigger finger.
Want to see it all working for yourself? Take a look at Honda’s explainer web page here.