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Automatic vs. Manual Motorcycle Maintenance

Automatic vs. Manual Motorcycle Maintenance

In the United States, the number of automatic motorcycles in the market is growing significantly every year. Though 25-30 models still include manual transmissions, the number of manual motorcycles is dropping every year. Motorcycle enthusiasts can still find a new or used manual bike, but automatic motorcycles are starting to dominate the market.

Many hardcore, experienced riders do not readily accept automatic transmissions. According to them, being able to shift gears is one of the thrills of motorcycling. However, motorcycle manufacturers are trying to attract buyers who do not feel comfortable riding motorcycles with a complicated manual gear-shifting system. There is no denying that an automatic transmission ensures a smoother ride, optimal control, and steady power output without needing a clutch. Plus, it has added diversity to the motorcycle community. However, choosing one motorcycle variant over another can be extremely challenging. Even years of debate in motorcycle circles have failed to conclude which transmission system works best for all range of riders. When buying a motorcycle, buyers weigh out different aspects of the two variants, including ride quality, advanced features, specifications, price, ease of riding and maintenance, availability of aftermarket parts, and customizability, versatility, and costs. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding about the differences between two variants, including service intervals, maintenance requirements, and annual costs involved with motorcycles, so you can decide which one best suits you.

1. What is a Manual Motorcycle?

A manual motorcycle features a sequential gearbox with gears that can be shifted via a foot lever. Standard motorcycles can come with a four-speed, five-speed, or six-speed gearbox. First and second gear can be selected from neutral, but for higher gears, riders must switch in a sequential order. Five-speed or six-speed transmissions are often found on modern motorcycles. These configurations are commonly referred to as “one down, four up” or “one-down, five up.” Manual motorcycles also feature a clutch that engages and disengages power from the engine to the transmission to facilitate gear shifts.

2. What is an Automatic Motorcycle?

Automatic motorcycles feature an integrated software that changes different gears automatically after considering speed and other riding conditions. The latest technology introduced in the automatic motorcycles is a dual clutch transmission system (DCT) programmed to ensure smoother gear shifts and a comfortable ride. The DCT utilizes two clutches controlled by hydraulic, electronic, and mechanical receptors. Thanks to the DCT, riders do not need a clutch pedal to shift gear since the clutch operates independently.

3. Pros & Cons of Automatic Motorcycles

Pros

  • Offer a simple and easy riding experience by automatically shifting gears for you
  • Allows you to focus on handling, balancing, and navigating through traffic
  • Can offer a refreshing riding experience even when riding on crowded streets
  • Takes less time to learn how to ride
  • Include cruise control that helps you maintain a constant speed
  • High resale value
  • Better acceleration

Cons

  1. Low fuel economy
  2. Limited model options
  3. Electronic malfunction and software glitches are common
  4. Complex maintenance
  5. Limited rider control
  6. Initial costs are significantly higher
  7. Takes a while to learn and adapt to

4. Pros & Cons of Manual Motorcycles

Pros

  • Improves your reflexes and riding skills
  • Better fuel economy
  • Better handling and control

Cons

  • Difficult to learn how to ride
  • Lower resale value
  • Basic and unattractive styling
  • Not beginner-friendly
  • Not suited for aggressive riding styles

5. Difference Between Automatic and Manual Motorcycle Maintenance

Compared to manual motorcycles, automatic motorcycles have more complex transmission systems with multiple parts susceptible to damage or failure. Also, automatic transmission systems use automatic transmission fluid, while manual transmission systems use gear oil.

Frequency of Transmission Fluid Change

It is best to change the transmission fluid of an automatic motorcycle every 1,200 to 6,000 miles. Depending on your bike’s make and service manual, the frequency you need to provide maintenance may change.

On average, gear oil should be changed every 2,000 to 4,000 miles for optimal performance. The frequency might change depending on your motorcycle’s model and the maintenance manual.

Required Amount of Fluid

Due to the torque converter in automatic motorcycles, the automatic transmission requires almost double the amount of transmission fluid compared to the amount of gear oil a manual transmission requires.

List of Common Transmission Problems

Common problems with the automatic transmission include:

  • Fluid leaks
  • Delayed gear shifts
  • Unresponsive transmission
  • Gear slipping
  • Worn-out rotors or bearings
  • Overheated transmission
  • Engine stalls

Common problems with the manual transmission include:

  • Missing gears
  • Difficulty shifting gears
  • Gear oil leaks
  • Loose or broken transmission mount
  • Misaligned transmission
  • Worn-out gear
  • Being stuck on a single gear
  • Transmission jumps to neutral

Automatic and manual motorcycles have different problems due to using different technology. The cost and time to conduct repairs will vary greatly between the two transmission systems. It is more challenging to fix an automatic transmission. Often, riders are advised to replace the automatic transmission system completely since replacement parts are not readily available, especially if it is a dual-clutch transmission (DCT) or continuous variable transmission (CVT). Manual transmission systems are easier to repair and you can easily find a skilled mechanic for the task. Manual transmissions also cost you less time and money to maintain. 

6. Similarities Between Automatic and Manual Motorcycle Maintenance

Engine Oil

For both motorcycles, engine oil should be changed every 500 to 3,000 miles unless mentioned otherwise in the manual. Motorcycle engines without oil filters will require frequent service, while engines with advanced oil systems require a more relaxed maintenance schedule. 

Oil Filters

While changing engine oil, make sure to inspect and replace the oil filters if necessary. Make sure the replacement oil filter matches the one in your motorcycle’s manual.

Electronic Fuel Injection System

Modern motorcycles are equipped with electronic fuel injection systems. This system has a network of electronic components to ensure an optimal fuel supply to the engine. Regularly replacing the fuel filter and cleaning the fuel injector ensure fuel efficiency and optimal engine performance. The fuel pump might also need to be repaired, or replaced depending on its condition.

Coolant

Coolant should be changed every year or at least once every two years. Cololant degrades in quality over time, but only requires a more relaxed maintenance schedule. Coolant helps reduce the engine’s, so you should not neglect it for long.

Spark Plugs 

Motorcycle spark plugs must be replaced every 3,000 to 9,000 miles. However, it is best to follow the manual for instructions on how to replace a spark plug. You may need to change the spark plug earlier than what it says in the manual if you own a used bike. Your riding style and the conditions of the fuel system and engine may also increase the frequency of replacing the spark plug.

Brake System

Brake system maintenance requires inspecting the brake pads for wear and tear, replacing the brake pads or brake discs, checking the rotors for stress fractures, and refilling or changing brake fluid. 

Suspension System

Front fork oil must be replaced every 12,000 to 18,000 miles or as recommended by the manufacturer. The fork seals must be inspected for damage and faulty operation. If your bike’s front forks leak oil, they must be replaced.
Unlike the front suspension, the rear suspension, or the mono shock, can last a lifetime. However, they can become worn down and should be inspected for damage.

Wheels & Tires

Cast wheels should be inspected every three to six months. Compared to spoke wheels, they are less susceptible to damage and require a relaxed service schedule. Examples of serious issues include structural damage, misalignment, hairline cracks, bent wheels, and flat tires. It is best to replace the wheels if they suffer from any of these issues.

7. Maintenance Schedule of Honda 1100 Rebel and 1100 Rebel DCT

To help provide you a comparison between manual and automatic motorcycle maintenance schedules, here is a complete service schedule for the automatic and manual Honda motorcycles: Rebel 1100 DCT and Rebel 1100.

Motorcycle Parts Maintenance Frequency in Miles Manual Honda Rebel 1100 Automatic Honda Rebel 1100 DCT
Throttle Operation Inspect after every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Crankcase Breather Clean after every 4,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Air Cleaner Replace after every 12,000 miles
*Service more frequently after riding under wet or dusty conditions
✔️ ✔️
Fuel Line Inspect after every 8000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Valve Clearance Inspect after every 16,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Cooling System Inspect after every 8000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Radiator Coolant Inspect after every 8000 miles
Replace regularly every three years
✔️ ✔️
Spark Plug Inspect after every 16,000 miles
Replace after every 32,000 miles
✔️ ✔️
Engine Oil Initially replace after 600 miles
Then replace after 7,400 miles
Replace after every 8,000 miles
Replace regularly every year
✔️ ✔️
Engine Oil Filter Replace after 600 miles
Then replace after 15,400 miles
✔️ ✔️
Clutch Oil Filter Replace after 600 miles
Then replace after 15,400 miles
✔️
Engine Idle Speed Inspect every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Secondary Air Supply System Inspect after 16,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Drive Chain Inspect and Lubricate every 600 miles ✔️ ✔️
Evaporative Emission Control System Inspect every 16,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Brake Pad Wear Inspect every 4,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Brake System Inspect every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Brake Fluid Inspect every 4,000 miles
Regularly replace after two years
✔️ ✔️
Brake Lock Operation Inspect after every 4,000 miles ✔️
Brake Light Switch Inspect after every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Suspension Inspect after every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Side Stand Inspect after every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Clutch System Inspect after every 4,000 miles ✔️
Headlight Inspect after every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Steering Head Bearings Inspect after every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Bolt, Nuts, & Fasteners Inspect after every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️
Wheels & Tires Inspect after every 8,000 miles ✔️ ✔️

If you look closely at the chart, you will see that both vehicles share the same maintenance requirements, except the brake lock operation, clutch system, and clutch oil filter.

8. Cost of Automatic vs Manual Motorcycle Maintenance

It is difficult to provide exact cost estimation for automatic or manual motorcycle maintenance as it depends on a motorcycle’s model and make, repairs required, the mechanic’s skills and experience, your location, and the frequency of performed maintenance tasks. It is frequently claimed that maintenance costs of manual motorcycles is typically a lot less than automatic motorcycles due to simple technology and design. However, this is not necessarily true in all cases.

In fact, if wwe analyze the maintenance work involved, manual motorcycles tend to cost slightly higher than automatic motorcycles. Here are some reasons to help you understand the maintenance cost differences and to decide which motorcycle variant is cheaper:

Manual Motorcycles

  1. Manual motorcycles feature a clutch system that requires regular inspections and adjustments. Many riders are not skilled to perform these inspections and end up hiring a mechanic for the task. Moreover, clutch plates tend to wear out over time and require replacements. Both these factors add to the annual maintenance costs.

Related: How Long Should a Motorcycle Clutch Last? - Viking Bags

  1. Manual motorcycle transmission systems require fluid intervals after a certain mileage is reached. Furthermore, gasket failure can cause transmission fluid leaks. In this situation, it is important to replace the damaged gasket. This increases maintenance costs.
  2. Manual motorcycles offer greater control to the rider and are dependent on the rider’s skill to change gears effectively. Novice riders are not apt at shifting gears smoothly. This leads to premature and increased damage to the transmission parts.

Automatic Motorcycles

  1. Automatic motorcycles have a high-tech yet simplified transmission that does not feature a clutch lever. Hence, there is no need for the rider to shift gears himself. This way automatic transmission design not only reduces the number of moving components but also decreases the number of potential failure points and replacements, leading to lower maintenance costs.
  2. In an automatic motorcycle, riders are not in charge of gear changes. The automatic transmission system ensures smooth and consistent gear shifts, reducing wear on the transmission parts and need for frequent replacements.
  3. Since automatic motorcycles are programmed to handle gear shifts themselves, there is less impact of rider error and aggressive riding styles, leading to fewer problems and failures.

9. Takeaway

Many motorcycle enthusiasts have different opinions on automatic and manual motorcycles, especially when it comes to maintenance costs.

Manual motorcycles require more frequent service than automatic ones, with the cost of these maintenance checks adding up over time. If maintenance is the primary criteria you use to determine the best type of motorcycle for you, it is best to opt for a manual bike. It is easier to find a mechanic who can help and you can also perform some of the repairs yourself.

Meanwhile, automatic motorcycles do not require frequent maintenance, but it costs more and take more time to repair or replace broken parts. Many riders find it hard to find a competent mechanic who possesses the skills to fix an automatic transmission. Choose an automatic motorcycle if you are a beginner living in a crowded area. These bikes work best when stuck in stop-and-go traffic due to being able to change gears automatically.

Related: What Motorcycle Maintenance Tools Do You Need In Your Garage - Viking Bags

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