The golden ratio? It's MCN's best automatic motorcycles of 2020
Automatic motorbikes are very rare. Or rather, they used to be. But now the swathe of 'twist 'n go' scooters have equivilents in the larger, more powerful classes of bikes too.
With changing biker demographics (older riders demand simpler controls) and improving technology and electronics, there are now more 'automatic' bikes available than ever, including adventure machines, sports tourers, full dressers and more.
This was thanks mostly to Honda, who introduced their 'Dual Clutch Transmission' (DCT) system in 2010, which has since become available on a whole family of bikes. But which automatic should you go for? Here’s our pick of the best:
Best automatic motorcycles in 2019/20
- Honda CRF1000/1100 DCT Africa Twin Adventure Sport
- Honda NC750X DCT
- Yamaha FJR1300AS
- Honda GL1800 Gold Wing DCT
- Honda X-ADV
- Zero SR/F
- Honda NM4 Vultus
- Aprilia Mana 850
- Honda VFR1200F DCT
- Honda CB400A 'Hondamatic'
Spec: 998/1084cc / 94/100bhp / 97kg / 870/850mm seat height
Price: £9000 (used) - £15,849 (new)
The bigger-tanked, better-equipped version of Honda’s reinvented Africa Twin arrived in 2018 and is a genuinely impressive and versatile adventure bike, if lacking quite the sheen and class of BMW’s class-leading GS. While the option of Honda’s DCT 'Dual Clutch Transmission', which cleverly turns it into either a full, twist 'n' go automatic or allows a push-button, up and down paddle shift system gives it an extra ace card. It’s been significantly updated for 2020, too, with a bigger engine, better TFT dash and more road-orientated, touring appeal.
Used standard versions can be found for as little as £7K, making it something of a bargain, while Adventure Sport versions start around £9000. There were some early recalls for rusty spokes and suchlike but all was remedied by the Adventure Sport. The new 1100 DCT is nudging £16K so look out for deals on the older version.
Spec: 745cc / 54bhp / 229kg / 830mm seat height
Price: £3600 (used) - £7799 (new)
The X, along with the NC750S and Integra scooter, was Honda’s 'New Concept', novice-friendly, middleweight family, based around a new, soft-tuned, low-revving twin with the option of Honda’s clever, twist 'n' go, DCT semi-automatic transmission. Friendly and non-threatening to ride, despite the adventure bike-esque styling, it’s easily manageable, has scooter/commuter practicality such as the storage space in the dummy tank and is good value and economical, too. All of this has helped make it a big hit Europe-wide.
Build quality is typically Honda good. The mechanicals are understressed and reliable and owners tend to be gentle with them, too. There’s plenty of low mileage examples out there as well. As long as the cosmetics haven’t been neglected by novice owners you should have little to fear.
Spec: 1298cc / 144bhp / 296kg / 825mm seat height
Price: £5500 (used) - £17,299 (new)
Yamaha’s big, purpose-built, shaft-drive sports-tourer dates back to 2001 so unsurprisingly is on its last legs but remains a solid performer with a grunty, smooth engine, bags of comfort, decent weather protection and solid mechanicals. The AS semi-automatic version was added in 2007. In truth, it’s not a true auto: although there’s no clutch lever you still have to change gears manually either by foot or an up/down push button. But it does add an extra unique element of relaxation to what is already a leisurely, effective mile-eater.
Further updates in 2016 (restyle, LED lights etc) make it seem less dated while the big four-cylinder engine is basically bulletproof. There’s plenty about, many with useful accessories such as luggage but cosmetics and finish aren’t as good as some, so shop around.
Spec: 1833cc / 124bhp / 365kg / 745mm seat height
Price: £24,499 (used) - £30,699 (new)
2018’s full update for Honda’s class-defining and luxurious 'full-dress' tourer was not only long overdue it was a huge leap forward. Not only was it lighter, better handling, with more performance and with electronics, equipment and sophisticated rider aids that were bang up to date, it now also had the option of Honda’s DCT semi-automatic transmission, providing either auto shifts through its seven gears or lets you do it through a paddle button up/down system. The result is a truly phenomenal magic carpet ride. Big tourers have never been so slick – at a price.
Although an all-new machine with bags of sophisticated features this is Honda’s flagship model so build quality is peerless. What’s more, Gold Wing reliability and durability is generally excellent and the powertrain remains understressed. Don’t expect a bargain, though.
Spec: 745cc / 54bhp / 238kg / 820mm seat height
Price: £7000 (used) - £9959 (new)
Only Honda build bikes as downright bonkers as the 'adventure scooter' (as if there was ever a need for such a machine) X-ADV. And only Honda could actually make it work and be so tempting. It’s based around the same twin cylinder platform as the NC750X (and NC750S and Integra) which is why it can have the same DCT, semi-automatic transmission, but the rest of it is a mix of funky scooter and off-road adventure style.
It works, too – up to a point (small wheels and limited ground clearance ultimately limit its dirt prowess) while electronics and engine tweaks in 2018 ironed out some of the wrinkles of the original. Not cheap and of dubious practicality, maybe, but a doddle to ride and one that’ll always make you smile.
Second year, 2018-on bikes are better, but also more expensive, plus there aren’t that many out there. Otherwise quality and reliability is good but watch out for evidence of overly-enthusiastic off-road shenanigans and potential cosmetic damage.
Spec: 14.4kW / 110bhp / 220kg / 787mm seat height
Price: N/a (used) - £17,990 (new)
All currently available electric bikes are twist 'n' go style, without gears at all (although some future machines like this Kawasaki concept are mooted to have), so the latest and best of the breed - Zero’s new SR/F - is worthy of inclusion here.
What sets it apart are its new ZR75-10 motor which gives performance and range closer than ever to that of an equivalent petrol-powered machine, plus, perhaps even more significantly, a trellis frame and cycle parts (radial brakes, adjustable inverted forks etc) the match of the latest oil-burners, too. Think slightly heavier Ducati Monster but with immediate, twist-and-go zap, and you'll be about there. Shame it’s so pricey and charging infrastructure isn’t yet quite there either – but it’s coming.
So new and niche that, as we write, only one used example was available – which, being a Premium model with extra features and a fast charger was actually more than the brand new base version. It’s also early days on reliability, but Zero have a decent reputation so far.
Spec: 745cc / 54bhp / 245kg / 650mm seat height
Price: £6995 (used) – n/a (new)
Another scooter/hybrid/oddball which, like Honda’s X-ADV, is based on 'NC' running gear, complete with DCT auto 'box. This time, however, the laid-back, 'Batbike'-styled Vultus didn’t fare so well, being withdrawn from sale after only two years, which is something of a shame. To its credit it rides well and easily, as you’d expect given its powertrain, is striking looking and, despite a too-small screen, is reasonably practical as well. Instead, the main problem was that, priced at nearly 10 grand, it was too expensive. Even so, although rare, it still has appeal for its sci-fi looks. In fact it even featured in the sci-fi flick Ghost in the Shell.
A short production life and limited appeal means used Vultuses (Vulti?) are even rarer than the X-ADV, in fact at the time of writing we could only find one – at a pricely £7K. If tempted, and not put off by the price, you should have nothing to fear: quality is excellent, the NC powertrain is proven and high mileages are very unlikely. You’ll also certainly stand out from the crowd.
Spec: 839cc / 75bhp / 181kg / 800mm seat height
Price: £3000 (used) – n/a (new)
As Aprilia has long modelled itself as 'Italy’s Honda' it should be no surprise that they, too, occasionally come out with something from left field. First we had the Philippe Starck-designed Moto 6.5 then, in 2009, they came out with the all-new, fully-automatic, twist n go Mana twin. Although not a commercial success (even with the addition of a faired 'GT' version in 2009, production was halted after four years), the Mana was actually a decent machine: easy to ride with both fully-auto and sequential modes, practical touches like a luggage compartment and more. It was a bit like an NC750X, but five years earlier and better. Unfortunately, it was also odd-looking, heavy, expensive and arrived years before the market was ready for it.
It never took off so used Manas are rare. On the plus side, however, that very unpopularity also means that, if you find one, they can be quite cheap, too. Around £3K will buy a unique, practical, reasonably behaving and well-built machine with few qualms and even featuring things like inverted forks and Brembo radial brakes. It’s still no looker, though.
Spec: 1237cc / 173bhp / 277kg / 815mm seat height
Price: £5500 (used) – n/a (new)
Another pretty decent bike unfairly blighted before its time. Honda's all-new VFR V4 sports-tourer, due to the magnificence of the original 750/800 in the ‘80s and ‘90s had been long overdue and was hugely anticipated. Unfortunately, although featuring a glorious powertrain, superb comfort and good manners, it was blighted by Honda’s reluctance to adopt the then-new electronic rider aids, was slightly heavy, had a too small tank and slightly oddball styling.
The fact a version also pioneered Honda’s brilliant DCT semi-automatic transmission was almost forgotten. All of this makes it a brilliant used buy, though and the V4 is brilliant (and lives on in Honda’s Crosstourer adventure bike), quality is top notch, the DCT works well and good used examples of the latter can be had for around £5500. Few autos are as classy.
Yes, it’s lacking a little in features and electronics but build (and especially its novel paint) is sublime, finishes are good and the stupendous V4 is unburstable. As long as it’s serviced and cosmetically looked after you’ll have no complaints.
1978-1979 Honda CB400A 'Hondamatic'
Spec: 395cc / 30bhp / 177kg / n/a seat height
Price: £1000 (used) – n/a (new)
Another typical Honda technological folly – but this time from the mid-to-late 1970s. The Hondamatic was based on the already fairly dreary 43bhp CB400N twin motor but detuned to 30bhp. This was as the much mooted 'automatic' gearbox was actually a two-speeder still with a manual change. The reasoning being just two gears, but spread wider, with a torquier engine, needed fewer gearshifts. Virtually none remain today and we only include it for history and information’s sake. A 750 version was also built which was better, but today only a curiosity.
Unless you’re a hard-core aficionado, simply don’t. And even if you then persevere, you probably won’t find a decent survivor. It was a pretty dreadful ride even back then and reliability wasn’t great, either.