Back in 2006, Yamaha changed the riding experience for good as it introduced ride-by-wire technology on it’s YZF R-6 sports bike, a feature that’s now adopted by pretty much every motorcycle manufacturer.
In 2021, Honda is looking to disrupt the market again. Honda’s latest patent filings give a good insight in the company’s plan to re-design the clutch.
The patent drawings show a clutch lever linked up to a hydraulic pressure control unit which gives the rider the authentic clutch feeling of operating the clutch, but the direct link between the lever and clutch are eliminated. Honda is also looking to introduce a “reactive force generation device”, basically an electronic pump, which goes to act against the clutch lever, simulating the feedback you usually get from a hydraulic clutch when you release the lever.
Riding the bike with the clutch lever released, the clutch-by-wire unit continuously gauges the pressure in the clutch’s hydraulic system to make sure the clutch can be engaged at any moment. The system is also designed to prevent the stalling of the engine by accident as it slowly engages or disengages the clutch when departing or pulling over.
So what’s the upside of all these additional electronics, which some motorcycle enthusiasts are already blasting as unneeded innovation?
Being such an important element of the driving experience and driver input, the clutch-by-wire system could open a whole new world of possibilities. Cycle-world’s Ben Purvis names completely automatic clutch control, which in combination with the quick-shifter would make for an almost seamless gear changing experience, along with additional launch control, wheelie control and traction control strategies. The extra data input form the clutch combined with the input from throttle, injection and ignition systems could be used to improve traction control systems even further, offering the rider a safer and more controlled driving experience.
How important will this innovation be for motorcycling and do we really need it?
For now, there’s a lot of speculation going on about the functionality and durability of the system, with many asking themselves if Honda is taking the electrification and computerization of motorcycles too far. Just like with autonomous vehicles, this innovation may end up reducing the driver’s control of the bike, and no matter how smart and well programmed, a “robo-clutch” may never be able to exactly mirror the same experience as a good old hydraulic clutch.