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Gear Review: 55 Collection Hard Jacket

Product: 55 Collection Hard Jacket Made in: Barcelona Cost: €480 (US $510)
It’s likely you’ve never heard of 55 Collection; the Barcelona-based leather goods company is relatively small and has only been on the scene for a few years. So, allow me to introduce you to a company that’s making some of the best-looking and unique motorcycle jackets out there at the moment.

Adopting the “non serviam” nonconformist attitude that seems to run through a lot of Spain’s motorcycling culture (check out the crazy/beautiful custom works of El Solitario MC, for example), 55 Collection’s jackets may split opinion because of the company’s willingness to make jackets that are fashionable – that is to say, jackets that have a strong fashion element. The old dudes will decry hipsterism or some such thing. And indeed, I’ll admit that when company founder Aitor Gonzalez offered me a chance to try out one of his jackets I naturally defaulted to the most conservative of his offeri…

Going clutchless

Aprilia Mana 850
"Motorcyclists are so traditional. It's almost impossible to sell them something new." –– That's a comment made by Jay Leno in a recent episode of Jay Leno's Garage. He was talking about the Aprilia Mana 850.

The Mana is one of a slowly growing number of motorcycles with automatic transmissions. Apparently it has been around since 2008 but, not surprisingly, hasn't done well enough in the UK that Aprilia is selling them here anymore. The two things the British hate most are change, and spending money; so getting them to suffer the latter for the sake of the former is always going to be an uphill battle. 

And if their attitude toward cars with automatic transmissions is anything to go by, automatic bikes may never catch on over here. A few months ago, my wife and I rented a car to drive down to visit her grandparents in Devon. When I arrived at Avis to pick up the car I was upgraded to an Audi A4 because it had an automatic transmission. The fella at the counter told me other customers had refused the car because they felt they wouldn't know how to drive it, but he reckoned I'd be OK because I'm American.

As I was recounting this story to Jenn's family her grandmother, who may have had just a bit too much wine, butted in and asked: "Yes, dear, what is it about Americans and automatic cars? Is it because you're all lazy? The only people I know with automatics are little old ladies who, quite honestly, dear, probably shouldn't be driving in the first place."

I have no doubt most British motorcyclists feel something quite similar, if not vehemently so: that if a person has an automatic motorcycle he or she shouldn't be riding in the first place.

This hasn't stopped Honda from offering the DCT version of the NC700X in her majesty's United Kingdom, but it appears that much of the automatic transmission push is toward customers in North America.

Honda's new CTX700N
For instance: according to all the press I can find, there are no plans to bring Honda's new CTX700 range to Britain. Which is a shame, I think, because it is a pretty good-looking bike. And I think an automatic transmission would be a valuable asset when navigating Britain's inanely tiny, counterintuitive and outdated (1) road network.

When I wrote my post on the NC700X a while ago I said that I'd prefer one with a manual transmission. But lately I've been thinking: why would I prefer that? Is there really anything so wrong with an automatic-transmission motorcycle? Perhaps, in fact, such a thing is a really good idea.

With the NC700 and the CTX700, Honda seems to be leading the charge on this trend. And the general consensus seems to be that the manufacturer is targeting that ever-challenging on-the-fence demographic: those riders who would like to ride but...

That's a category into which just about all my friends fall. Every time I've mentioned this whole motorcycle journey to one of them they've confessed that they, too, have often daydreamed of getting a bike.

In the UK I think one of the things that stops them from fulfilling that dream is the cost and complexity of the European licensing process. In the God-Blessed United States of America, however, things are a little easier and Honda seems to think that the phrase that comes after, "I'd like to ride a motorcycle but..." is: "I worry that motorcycles are complicated."

They are. There's no denying that. Body popping your way into and out of junctions takes a certain Jesus Take the Wheel faith that many people don't feel comfortable with. Taking some of the dancing out of the experience might be just enough to encourage more people to give it a try. Especially when combined with other safety features such as ABS and traction control.

Yeah, British bikers complain about those things, too. For my part, however, I would love to have them on my bike. I like being safe, amigos. And what appeals to me about motorcycling is that simple feeling of being on two wheels: in the open, able to glide along almost by thought rather than action. That's a feeling not necessarily tied with jiggling my left foot and cramping my left hand.

Honda NC700X
My default response to a bike with automatic transmission is to think: "Well. it's a good enough idea. And if gets more people riding I suppose that may have an overall positive effect. But, you know, it's not for me."

But why not? Why isn't it for me? The more I think about it, the less I can come up with an answer. I've already said I'd love to have an NC700X, so it's not a matter of not liking the look of a bike in which automatic transmission is offered. And if I'm honest with myself, removing the Gear Change Two-Step from the whole process of riding would probably give me a greater confidence.

Living in the UK and working under my current budget constraints it's unlikely that I'll have the opportunity to make such a choice anytime soon, but if I had the option of riding automatic I think I might just give it a try. Perhaps, though, that's because I'm a lazy American. 


(1) Look at this map of roads that were built by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. Compare it with the major roads used in the UK now. Note that the routes are EXACTLY THE SAME.


  1. Chris:

    A few years ago I was trying to consolidate my bikes to save insurance costs. I had scooters and I had a motorcycle, of course scooters were CVT automatic machines. I thought that ONE machine would do everything so I bought a Kymco X500Ri Maxi-scooter and then I took it on a trip to Oregon. The idea was to see how I liked it and then sell my motorcycle.

    I found that most of the thrill of riding had GONE. There was no gearing down, turning the throttle to downshift and then hearing your engine rev as you snapped out of the corner. It was just an automatic and the thrill was gone. Sure it got you there but you were no longer in control.

    I love shifting the gears, gearing down for a corner and then accelerating . . . (I think you know what I mean)

    Everytime I ride my bike and shift into 1st and then 2nd, it is just the thrill of riding where I am in control of my machine. My commuter car is also 5-speed manual shift. Most of my cars have been manual shift and you are actually driving

    Riding the Wet Coast

  2. I'm all for automatic transmissions for anybody who wants them. It's not laziness, it's just preference. Some people want to get around, some people want to drive. If you don't enjoy driving a stick, why do it? (Apart from the gas mileage improvement...)

    Personally, I prefer manual, whether it's on two wheels or four. Automatics never do what I want them to do when I want them to do it. I want total control (so much as possible) over engine speed and gear. My car has a stick (I'll admit, I love the ABS and traction control. When I want to do donuts, I can just turn the TC off). I get bored and sleepy driving a car with an automatic. I did get frustrated with the power delivery on CVT scooters, as much fun as they were otherwise.

    But I like to drive. The entire experience is enjoyable to me. The more isolated I get from the physical aspects, the less fun it is for me. And I personally get less attentive when I'm not constantly engaged in the driving process. Me in a car with an automatic = me struggling to stay awake while driving. Which is really, really bad.

    That's just me though.

    Some people want to look around at scenery, smell the roses and ponder the greater meaning of it all. I think an automatic transmission is perfect for them. Others want to be one with the machine. They're probably going to prefer to do their own shifting.

    That Mana looks pretty sweet. I'd be willing to let Aprilia try to change my mind on the manual/automatic issue.

    As an aside, I think Jenn's grandmother just wanted an opportunity to bag on Americans. Been there. Yay for being an ex-pat, sometimes. ;)

  3. Riding... I get the feeling of being a connected 'Part' of the machine; Seat position, clutch, throttle, gear shift, brakes, choosing road position, just being in the wind... meshing all those things in a smooth graceful way.

    Riding is... a therapy, a freedom, a hunger.

    Automatics seem to me to be a detachment, if by degree, from that connection to the machine. I even eschew a windshield or fairing... for the same reason. They seem to isolate me from what I'm there for in the first place. I would become just freight sitting on the bike.

    For the person only wanting fuel efficient, ease of parking transportation; an automatic might fit in well. For the person wanting, needing that "connected" passion of riding... I just don't see it.

  4. I'll admit that when I drove in the United States I always insisted on driving stick. It was only after I moved to the UK that I started to see the possible advantages of an automatic (though I still don't drive one). Here, you are squirrelling through narrow and crowded roads that are never very long (I doubt there is anywhere in Wales that has even half a mile of straight). There is A LOT of start-stop and a whole lot of creeping in traffic. This means constant gear changing or balancing on the clutch. With the 8 million other things taking place on UK roads and most other drivers having the patience of a 2-year-old on crack, driving automatic takes away a tiny bit of the things one has to concentrate on.

    Obviously, on a bike one has to concentrate even more. So, this is why I can see an argument for an auto bike. In the UK I feel it kind of makes sense. If I were back on North American roads, though, I'd probably not consider such a thing.

  5. Chris:

    Interesting discussion

    Riding the Wet Coast

  6. There was a company called Ridley that tried to sell cruisers with automatic transmissions. They targeted women, and built the bikes with low seat heights. The company went under.

    Honestly, I don't think it's necessary for motorcycles to have automatic transmissions. All it does is open up motorcycling to more people, and I'm not sure I want our highways looking like Vietnam.

  7. I see a similar argument being made with ABS brakes as well. Some people do not want ABS because of the expense, the added weight and the belief that it further distances a rider from his/her motorcycle.

    Learning how to ride well is an art form. Having gadgetry to make it easier begins to dilute the experience until it becomes somebody anybody can do. Part of experience of motorcycling (for many riders) is improving your skills over the course of many years and being rewarded with the ability to better control your machine.

    But, if your only goal is to ride on two wheels than maybe automatic transmission is for you.

  8. I went from a regular manual bike, to a scooter, to the NC700S with DCT. I went with a scooter (a PCX125) because I needed something economical to commute with, and I grew tired of shifting during my commute. The added comfort from not having to downshift through all the gears everytime you get to a traffic light, then back up again because you're stuck behind a car anyway and 5th or 6th gear is way more economical than 3rd was just not a lot of fun anymore after doing it every day.

    But then again, the scooter wasn't a lot of fun either, what with the disconnect between the throttle and the gear wheel.

    So when I saw that Honda was going to offer a DCT on a bike that I could actually afford, I booked a test ride. The test ride convinced me that the DCT is the way to go! It *feels* like a bike with a manual transmission feels like, with a direct connection between your right hand and the acceleration of the bike. There is no CVT belt or torque converter to mush the response! I bought the bike and I love the transmission, it can be a bit notchy when the bike is cold and the D-mode shifts a bit short for my liking, but when it's warm and I'm riding through the country it all comes together. The DCT shifts faster and more smoothly than I've ever managed, and if you don't like when it shifts you can always decide for yourself when to shift in manual mode. And when you don't want to think about it and just need to get through the traffic, you can!

    As for the argument of getting to know the bike and perfecting the art of shifting, I get it, I really do. But it's something that I could do without when commuting back home in the rain after a stressful day. The only way to find out if it's something for you is to have a test ride though, and from what I've heard even the most sceptic rider can't fault the DCT after giving it a go.

  9. I have ridden both automatics and manuals. I may be "weird" but I actually enjoy the automatic to the manual on my bike. My daily commute requires me to deal with heavy city traffic and freeway traffic, I would rather concentrate on getting through that mess in one piece without worrying about what gear I'm in.

    That being said I've owned several manual transmission cars. I would rather have them than the automatic I have now...but that's life.

  10. As I get older, I am having problems with arthritis in my left thumb joint. The clutch on my BMW is a problem, especially in heavy traffic. I would like to have the option to keep riding even as the arthritis gets worse.

  11. I used to have the same closed mind about auomatics cars until I get a second hand automatic Cherokee, it was a discovery... I drive more relaxed, I enjoy been there, after a long trip I am not that tired any more, etc. I use a scooter in my everyday life and the one thing that stop me to go for a bigger bike is that there are not automatics in the price range...

  12. I have always been against Auto transmission on an M/C but now with the onset of Arthritis in my left hand
    it will soon be the only way I can keep riding.

  13. bit late to the post but my 2 cents worth. i drive over the road. weeks at a time. grew up with a shifter in hand and when auto shift came to the big truck industry made me laugh. had all the same needing to feel in control thoughts ect that some posters have here about the bikes. then my truck was broke down in shop for several weeks. the company i was leased to let me go around the good ol usa and retrieve abandoned trucks and bring them to our shop. 2nd truck i retrieved was an automated shift and i thought this is gonna be a joke. lol. i had to drive it through the smokey mountains, the hills in pa, and other trying environments be4 i got it to its destination. although the learning curve was short, especially in the mountains, by the time i delivered the truck, i was all but begging them to keep my truck when it came out of the shop and let me trade for and take up payments on the automated shifter truck. i thought it was the cats meoow. then i drove the volvo with the automated shift by volvo and loved it more than the ultra shift plus i had drove in the freightliner. after shifting gears for 21 years in town and out a town day and night, both shoulders having torn rotator cuffs, i would give an eye and a tooth to have the newest automated shift transmission. i have no bike at present. been driving trucks so long, i lost interest in driving anything when i would take hometime but my love for biking has been creeping back on me ad, my researching modern bikes led me here. i am longing for the honda cruiser with shaft drive finals and the dct transmission. just cant hardly wait but lol, guess i have too.

  14. I was unable to ride my Moto Guzzi Norge 1200 from September 2014 due to the Arthritis in my left hand, so I have purchased a Honda NC 750X DCT.
    It is great, I am now back on a Bike and planning to go touring with my wife on pillion.
    Stop/Start traffic is no longer a problem

  15. I have a CTX700 with DCT and commute on southern California freeways everyday. The DCT is really great. I've always had motorcycles with standard clutches; however, I wouldn't go back now that I've had the DCT. I alternate between D (drive) and S (sport) modes depending on my mood and it lets you downshift even when you are in auto mode when you want to go more aggressively into and through turns. You can also use manual mode with buttons to shift but I almost never do it since you can override downshift when in auto mode. For those that claim that the auto doesn't let you have control or be able to feel the bike, I would suggest you try the DCT and would be willing to be that you will be quite surprised.

  16. Another long term biker here having to face up to the painful reality of arthritis appearing in my fingers, particularly the left hand. I took my Yam TDM900 out for the first ride of the year last week and its taken almost another week for the left hand to loosen up again. So for people like me, bikes like these are the only way forward if we want to stay riding.

  17. Waiting for a clutchless cruiser.


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