Honda has been a proponent of labour-saving motorcycle transmissions for the best part of half a century – whether it’s the 1970s Hondamatic or the current DCT – and now the company has announced another development to make gearchanges easier in the form of its ride-by-wire E-Clutch.
Although the company hasn’t given a detailed technical breakdown of the system, it has released a video of it in action, showing that it’s an electric, ride-by-wire clutch actuator that opens the door to a whole range of new possibilities in terms of rider-assist systems and quickshifters.
Bolt pattern on the clutch cover and the small part of visible frame show the system is fitted to a CB650R
While Honda is currently saying only that it ‘plans to apply the Honda E-Clutch to its FUN motorcycle models over time’ the images appear to confirm it’s fitted to an updated CB650R – meaning the same setup is also likely to show up on the mechanically-similar CBR650R sports bike. The layout of the bolts around the clutch cover matches that of the CB650R, as does the small section of frame that’s visible in the video.
However, the E-Clutch is designed to be able to be fitted to most existing engines without major changes. A cutaway image in Honda’s video shows that it uses a pair of electric motors, geared together to form a powerful servo that simply acts on the existing clutch mechanism, operating it electronically at the command of the on-board computer.
Cleverly, the system doesn’t alter the normal, mechanical connection of the existing clutch lever – so you can simply deactivate it and ride conventionally or override it to pull the clutch in manually.
The ultimate success or failure of the system will depend on how seamlessly it operates – and that will be down to the computer controls.
Honda’s video demonstrates that without touching the clutch lever, the rider can put the bike into gear when stationary, pull away cleanly simply by winding on the throttle and then shift up and down through the gears – using the conventional, foot-operated lever – without touching the clutch on the bars. The bike’s ride-by-wire throttle will be harmonised with the E-Clutch to ensure perfect rev-matching on downshifts.
It’s the same when coming to a halt, you simply stop the bike and trust the electronics to disengage the clutch before the engine stalls.
Ideally, the system will be able to operate the clutch better than you can, making shifts smoother and quicker and letting you concentrate on other aspects of riding.
The video is also a clear indication that the CB650R that the clutch is fitted to is in line for some other updates. The instrument panel shows the same redline as the current model, just past 12,000rpm, but it’s a colour TFT dash rather than the existing, segmented LCD design, making for a much more modern look. There’s a standalone light to show when the E-Clutch system is active, as well as a prominent gear indicator, and the dash also appears to show phone connectivity via a menu on the right-hand side.
The bar controls are also new, with different switch blocks, but it’s clear that the engine and chassis, at least the small elements that can be seen in Honda’s video, are still related to the existing model.
Unlike the complicated DCT transmission, which requires a completely redesigned gearbox, two clutches and an electro-hydraulic control system, the E-Clutch has the potential to be fitted to almost any bike with a conventional, manual clutch. Other likely candidates to get the system in the future include the Hornet 750, the Transalp and even Honda’s CB500-based models, while high-end machines like the Africa Twin and Gold Wing retain the more complex DCT. It’s even conceivable that the CBR1000RR-R Fireblade could be suitable for the E-Clutch system as a logical next-step from the up/down quickshifter of today’s model.
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