Kawasaki’s auto-clutch revolution: New patent reveals tech that blurs quickshift and semi-auto transmission

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Quickshifters are standard kit among a growing number of new models, giving a taste of the track by easing clutchless changes. The tech is relatively simple, with load sensors in the linkage that tell the system you’re changing gear, in turn briefly cutting the ignition on upshifts and – on more sophisticated kit – telling the ride-by-wire throttle to auto-blip on downshifts.

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The only problem is that while quickshifters often work fantastically well when you’re really on it, using plenty of revs and big throttle openings, they can lead to jerky progress if you try to use them at more pedestrian speeds.

Of course, there’s an easy solution – just use the clutch – but Kawasaki are developing a setup to automate that process, adding an actuator to engage or disengage the clutch alongside a conventional quickshifter, and software to allow the bike to decide when to rely on the quickshifter alone and when to use the clutch.

Details are revealed in a new patent application, and it’s a logical step forward. It’s simpler than trying to create a DCT-style semi-automatic or fully-auto transmission but gives most of the same benefits in terms of ease of use.

Kawasaki semi-automatic clutch patent drawing

While Kawasaki’s new patent illustrates the system fitted to a Ninja 1000SX, the text of the document also describes how the automated clutch could be allied to a hybrid bike; a telling detail, as Kawasaki are working hard on a hybrid at the moment, combining electric power with a conventional engine and transmission.

An automated clutch would help blur the line between periods that the hybrid is operating in all-electric mode with those when it’s using the combustion engine or both powertrains simultaneously.

The patent makes no specific mention of whether the automated clutch would also be used for starting and stopping – eliminating the need to use your left hand at all – but it’s worth noting that the illustrations in the document show no conventional clutch lever.

In a hybrid application it’s likely that the complex job of juggling clutch and throttle from a standstill will become a moot point, as the torquey electric motor could be used alone to get the bike off the line before the combustion engine is brought into play.

Although a patent alone is no guarantee that an idea will reach production, Kawasaki’s design is a means to create a hybrid that keeps a conventional gearshift but ditches the manual clutch.

Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis