ATK semi-auto prototype: the ultimate learner cruiser

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If there’s one thing Americans fear more than universal healthcare, it’s the dreaded clutch mechanism. That’s a problem when it comes to learning to ride; not only are motorcycles not nice, safe SUVs, but they’re equipped with the devil’s-own manual gearbox. Enter ATK, in addition to providing Harley dealers with a new range of small and mid-capacity, affordable entry-level bikes, the Utah-based company is developing this semi-automatic, 250cc learner bike that should help new riders overcome their initial fears.

Ignore the lame baby cruiser form factor for the time being and concentrate instead on the mechanical function. As you can see, this prototype is actually equipped with a clutch lever, you just don’t need to use it if you don’t want to. Hitting a button on the handlebars can disable or enable that clutch, but when disabled you can go so far as to shift from neutral to first gear, then pull away all without touching the lever and of course you don’t need to use it to change gears. Once you’re comfortable riding the bike without using the clutch, you can begin to learn how to use that too.

The actual function here isn’t new, it’s old hat on children’s dirt bikes, but the application is; targeting adult learners with the same easy-to-use functionality. Bikes like this are about equipping dealers with a bike that can overcome people’s fears and turn them into customers. It’s about turning “I always wanted to ride a bike, but…” into “I always wanted to ride a bike and now I do.”

This prototype will form part of a range of American-assembled bikes made using 60-70 percent Korean components sourced from S&T Motors (formerly Hyosung) that ATK plans to sell though Harley dealers crying out for entry-level products. American assembly begins in 2012 and a range of products is planned, including standards and sportsbikes. Here’s hoping this semi-auto powertrain will find its way into one of those standards too.

ATK

  • CG

    Anything to get new riders is fine by me, the more there are of us the better stuff we will get from the mfrs, and the less hassle from the do-gooders worried about our “safety”. Oh, the Bonneville Salt Flats picture obviously not from a late spring evening when the wind blows at 40mph from N to S. Wonderful being in full lean at 85mph crossing that puppy on the interstate ….which is dead straight for 55 miles.

    • pplassm

      I disagree. All the “new riders” I see are either gay pirates, or wheelie riding punks. All with LOUD PIPES.

      Fewer riders, not more.

      I am invisible, and I like it that way.

  • pauljones

    That’s, actually, pretty damn cool.

    You can laugh if you want, but when I first learned how to ride, changing gears was the one thing that took me the longest to figure out. It’s not that I don’t know how to operate a manual or use a clutch; that’s the easy part. The hardest part was getting used to being able to tell when you got positive gear engagement while trying to figure out how to balance the bike, lean into the curve and selecting a the right gear coming out.

    It took me a while to get a hang of that. If there was something like this around on a 250 street bike earlier, I can see that it might have been useful.

  • slowestGSXRever

    Looks like hopefully they’re bringing over that Hyosung 250 sport bike too ( see hideous press release: http://atkusa.com/atk/(S(prbak0bl1sooh0buhpfdsf45))/documents/PressRelease-ATKSnTMay272010.pdf ). Which is gonna be great ’cause I’m sick and tired of people asking for >3k for their ninja 250′s on craigslist. Maybe these things will be on there for less in a few years.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Yeah, if you check out the other ATK article linked heavily in the article above, you’ll be able to read all about that.

  • http://www.davidfolch.com david folch

    there’s Ridley doing a line of 750cc cruisers with automatic transmission… (if riding a cruiser wasn’t lame enough…)
    warning… link below
    http://www.ridleymotorcycles.com

    • pplassm

      Have you seen the prices they want for those mon sters, though?

  • ernie

    another latte drinking power ranger-type dork airing his personal prejudices. got nothing against power rangers in general, just the dorks. your lily white fingers probably couldn’t squeeze a clutch that took some strength, bubba

  • ernie

    sorry, previous comment was directed at david folch. as for the ATK thing, why the hell not. anything that encourages new riders and offers a lower cost alternative to the established brands for those riders, and those who can’t afford a more expensive brand, is a good thing. just as long as they don’t have to contend with the “my brand is better than your brand” bullshit that seems to pervade motorcycling. if this sounds hypocritical considering my previous comment, i can be as childish as anyone when somebody feels they have to flaunt their attitude. i have seen some hyosungs here and their owners seem to be pretty happy with them, citing decent power and excellent customer service. i suspect that as long as their quality is good and motorcycling continues to be popular, hyosung and ATK will probably be like hyundai, achieving credibility after a length of time. at least they’ll provide a low cost alternative.

  • RandyS

    I was a MSF instructor for about 15 years. In all that time, I never had a single student who was unable to quickly learn how to use a clutch or learn how to shift. It’s easy when you have quality instruction.

    Since getting proper instruction to learn how to ride is a ridiculously good idea anyway, it may be that taking a MSF course is a better idea than trying to teach yourself how to ride on a motorcycle with an automatic transmission.

    Though I agree that for those who would never have even considered trying motorcycling at all, an unintimidating automatic transmissioned motorcycle sounds like a good idea. But I wonder how many riders of these bikes will ever step up to “normal” motorcycles and stick with the sport? I recall that Honda’s Hondamatics of the late 70′s and early 80′s weren’t huge hits.

    • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

      With all due respect, not all MSF instructors offer quality instruction. When I started riding, I passed my course with the highest score in the class and I didn’t grasp how to properly pull away from a stop. As a result, I had a thankfully minor incident on the road that nearly scared me off from riding.

      Would an automatic transmission been the answer? I don’t know. I imagine that it’d be tempting to never bother learning to do it manually – particularly on a cruiser.

      • RandyS

        Where (city and state) was your MSF course given? I used to teach in Southern California, and the quality of instruction was always first rate. The course itself is brilliantly conceived.

        However, as with the other post in this thread, it *is* only a two day course, and students are supposed to be told several times that the course doesn’t make them experts. Students need to go practice the skills that they have learned in the course until they are comfortable with them on the street.

        • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

          Randy – this was several years back in central Wisconsin. The class could have been overbooked or the instructor simply distracted, I can’t say exactly what the problem was. I was completely new to motorcycling and I knew I wasn’t doing it right. I asked for help several times and he repeatedly said, “Just let the clutch out more slowly!” I assure you, the clutch could not physically be released any more slowly.

          I had reasonable expectations for the course and I spent hours practicing in a parking lot. It wasn’t until after dropping the bike three or so times on a hill with stop signs that I resigned to the fact that I genuinely didn’t have a clue what I was doing and should never have passed the course with flying colors.

          Months later, I did a lot of reading from various sources and wheeled the bike out of the garage and back to the parking lot. The problem was that I had been completely separating clutch and throttle. Wouldn’t you know it – using throttle along with the clutch makes life a ton easier.

          I took the BRC again when I moved to Texas to be positive that I was good to go. No problems at all. I just wish that first instructor had taken a moment to concentrate on me and say, “Give it some gas, son.”

          • RandyS

            I don’t mean to make excuses for your instructor, or deprecate your view of your personal experience with the course, however, both the written materials and the video materials in the course are very clear as to how to use the clutch to pull away from a stop, even if your instructor wasn’t. (There is quite a bit of repetitiveness intentionally built into the course.)

            The commands that instructors are taught to give (and they should give them more or less by rote) during that exercise on the rage are “give the bike some gas, ease out the clutch, when you have moved forward and you are flat on your feet (having moved about a foot or two), pull in the clutch and close the throttle.”

            In my experience that exercise is one of the easiest to teach, and I’ve never had a student who failed to master it quickly.

    • pplassm

      I agree, however, I don’t believe the basic MSF course offers enough time on these fundamentals for many neophytes.

      I attended one two years ago as part of a required training program at my workplace, and about one-half the class failed because they had no prior clutch experience.

      It was not the quality of instruction that was bad, just the lack of time, and the lack of prior experience of the participants.

      Full disclosure: Some of the participants had never touched a motorcycle in their, lives, it was just a free two days off from work.

      • RandyS

        The MSF course is designed to accommodate complete novices. Complete novices should do just as well in the MSF course as anyone else. If anyone experiences a MSF course where half the course fails, then the failure with the organization that administers the course locally and you should contact the MSF to report their failure. I’m sure that they would be interested to hear that the course is being so poorly administered in your city, and that they would take action to remedy the situation.

        I’ve taught thousands of riders, and I can’t remember a class that I was involved with where more than one or two students failed. (Of course, even then they were invited back to re-take the course again for free.) Most of the time no one failed, and everyone left happy with what they had learned.

        • pplassm

          Why would I? I do not care that those people did not pass. In fact, I like the fact that these people are not riding motorcycles on the street.

          It’s time to make licensing tougher, not easier.

  • pplassm

    The auto-clutch for “regular” motorcycles has been around for a while. Rekluse makes tham or many dirt bikes, and I had one one my KTM almost 10 years ago. In the dirt, it is a veru effective tool for difficult, technical conditions.

    They also make the device for many cruisers, including most HD’s.

    However, I feel that a rider should be able to master this basic technique before being allowed to ride on the street.

    Dumbing down requirements, and “lowering the bar” is not the answer.

  • slowtire

    I think this type of set up definitely will put more riders on the road. Look at the boom in the scooter market. The more the merrier. Gives us a bigger voice. The more the cage loving public sees two wheelers, the better!

  • jaybe

    my honda z50 had no clutch and i turned out okay. http://www.davesmotorcycles.com/1985%20HONDA%2050R/85%20left%20side.htm

    maybe harley should carry these?

  • http://www.atkusa.com Frank White

    Some of our dealers have directed me to this site. I like the candid discussion. From time to time I will be in a postion to respond.

    Regarding the Semi Auto bike, our objective is to take some scooter market share with the twist and go. We want people to ride motorcycles over scooters because that is our business and they are safer IMO.

    We think this will eliminate some of the initial fear and then once they get the basics down then learn the clutch. Many Echo Boomers dont even know what a clutch is.

    I’m 100% behind all MSF and other Saftey courses and think we in the industry need to be more supportive of this. As Honda says “Stupid Hurts” so let’s be smart and learn the correct way.

    Ive heard that nearly 45% of people in these riders training courses are women so things are changing.

    Frank White
    ATK CEO