Does Harley Davidson Make Automatic Motorcycles?

Harley Davidson is one of the most iconic motorcycle brands in the world known for its classic cruiser and touring styles. However, not all Harley riders want a traditional manual transmission motorcycle. Some prefer the convenience of an automatic or dual-clutch transmission.

In this in-depth article, we’ll explore whether Harley Davidson offers any automatic motorcycle options and discuss the specifics of their transmission technologies. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of Harley’s current automatic and clutchless shifting offerings.

Harley Davidson’s Manual Transmission History

Harley Davidson's Manual Transmission History

Since its founding in 1903, Harley Davidson has always equipped its motorcycles with manual transmissions. This helped cement their image as builders of rugged, no-frills cruising machines. While competitors experimented with automatics over the decades, Harley stuck with the clutch and gear-shift formula. Their motorcycle engines are produced through die manufacturing processes which allow precise tolerances for a high-performance V-twin design.

There were a few reasons for Harley’s manual-only stance:

Tradition: 

As the oldest American motorcycle brand, Harley valued honoring its rich heritage above technology trends. Manuals embodied the essence of motorcycle riding.

Performance: 

Automatic transmissions were largely unsuitable for big cruiser power at the time. Early automatics often lacked the strength and quick shifts needed.

Image: 

Manuals associated Harleys with freedom and control. Autos were seen as reducing motorcycle mystique and skills.

Loyalists: 

Die-hard Harley riders wanted the involvement of rowing through gears themselves. An automatic wasn’t a “real” Harley in their eyes.

So for nearly its entire history, if you wanted an automatic cruiser you had to look elsewhere. But times and technology have changed.

Harley’s First Automatic Offering

In 2009, the landscape started shifting when Harley rolled out their revolutionary Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 V-twin engine. With more torque and horsepower than before, the new powerplant demanded a stronger transmission.

This opened the door for Harley’s first automatic offering – the 2010 FLHTCU Ultra Classic Electra Glide. Powered by the Twin Cam 110, it introduced a brand new continuously variable transmission (CVT).

A CVT uses a steel-reinforced V-belt inside a pair of variable-diameter pulleys. As engine RPM changes, the pulleys expand or contract automatically to keep the belt at the optimal speed. This allows infinite gear ratios for smooth, seamless power delivery without fixed gears.

While not a true automatic with set “gears”, the CVT gave Ultra Classic riders an automatic experience. It was also very durable, with Helical cut gears inside for a long life. But at $30,000, the Ultra Classic CVT remained a specialty option.

Modern Harley Automatics

In more recent years, automatics have grown in both tech sophistication and market acceptance. In 2016, a key turning point arrived with the rollout of Harley’s Revolution Max V-twin engine across touring models.

The 1,250cc Revolution Max was their most advanced engine yet, packed with technological innovations like balance shafts and counterbalancers for silky smooth operation. As a blank canvas, it allowed new transmission tools to emerge:

2016-Present Touring Models

  • As standard, most 2016+ Harley touring bikes offer a conventional 6-speed cruise drive transmission with a driveline slip-clutch instead of a traditional manual clutch.
  • Riders can shift through the gears manually via foot-shift pegs or buttons on the handlebars/switches. Or leave it fully automatic.
  • Internally, it uses advanced hydraulics to perform clutchless upshifts and downshifts for convenience, without compromising control when desired.

2017-Present Softail Slim S

  • The Softail Slim S debuted as the first non-touring Harley with an automatic option, a 6-speed with the same driveline slip-clutch system.
  • Targeted at new riders, it automatically made the big V-twin accessible without compromising styling or power.
  • The Slim S proved there was appetite beyond just touring chops for effortless Harley cruising.

2019-Present Milwaukee-Eight Engines

  • Harley’s current engine platform, with improved smoothness over the Twin Cam.
  • When paired with the new 7-speed transmission introduced in 2019, both manual and automatic modes offer rev-matching downshifts for clutchless shifting control.
  • A step forward in automatic technology tailored for big Harley power delivery.

So in summary – while always manual-centric, modern Harleys now offer advanced automatics and clutchless manuals tailored for large displacement comfort cruising. Let’s dive deeper into the specifics.

Harley’s Automatic Transmission Technologies

Understanding the workings of Harley’s various automatic offerings sheds light on how they maximize both convenience and control:

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

  • As used on the 2010-present Harley Ultra Classic Electra Glide CVT models.
  • Provides infinite gear ratios through a steel reinforced belt inside expanding/contracting pulleys.
  • The CVT computer constantly monitors engine load, throttle position, and vehicle speed to adjust pulley diameters 100+ times per minute for seamless acceleration.
  • Output is sent directly to the rear wheel via the primary drive belt, so no traditional gear shifts occur.
  • Overall an advanced automatic that adapts perfectly to varying conditions with no clutch. However, less engaging than discrete gear options.

6-Speed Cruise Drive Transmission

  • Standard on 2016+ Harley touring models except the CVT Ultra Classic.
  • Works as either a traditional manual or automatic via rider-selectable modes.
  • Internally uses hydraulics to perform clutchless up/downshifts that are much quicker than a floor-mounted clutch.
  • In automatic mode, onboard computers control shifting based on diagnostics like throttle position, RPMs, and vehicle speed for smooth operation.
  • Manual mode allows snicking through the gears using foot or hand controls like a regular manual but without the clutch engagement effort.
  • Offers advantages of both worlds – automatic convenience with manual control options when touring or during spirited riding.

7-Speed Transmission

  • Introduced as an option on certain 2019+ Big Twin models paired to the upgraded Milwaukee-Eight engine platform.
  • Works similarly to the 6-speed cruise drive but with an extra gear for improved low-end flexibility and fuel efficiency.
  • Features rev-matching downshifts in both automatic and manual modes that “blip” the throttle for perfectly timed down changes.
  • Rev-matching and the extra gear have enhanced both the performance and rider enjoyment of Harley’s latest automatics.

So in summary – Harley’s automatic offerings span true CVTs to advanced clutchless manuals, with technologies evolving for both control and convenience on big V-twin power.

Benefits of Harley Automatics

While some purists may argue automatics take something away from the riding experience, there are also clear advantages that appeal to many riders:

  • Convenience: Eliminates the effort of clutch pulls in traffic or shifting during long hauls. Let the rider relax and enjoy the cruise.
  • Accessibility: Automatics welcomes less experienced riders into the Harley world who want the style without the technical learning curve of a manual.
  • Comfort: Clutchless shifting in automatics provides smoother take-offs and gear transitions than even the smoothest of clutch hands.
  • Performance: On-board computers combined with hydraulic actuation result in faster, more precise shifting than humanly possible on a big cruiser.
  • Fuel Economy: Especially on 6+ speed transmissions, automatics optimize power delivery in each gear for improved mileage vs. a typical rider’s manual shifts.
  • Tech Appeal: Some riders simply appreciate the tech innovations that keep evolving automatic performance beyond a simple “on-off” switch like in cars.

So while manuals offer the ultimate connection, automatics expand accessibility to Harley ownership while addressing modern demands around convenience and optimizing big V-twin power. Options for every taste.

Cost Comparison of Harley Manuals vs Automatics

While some assume automatics command a high premium, the reality isn’t always so cut and dry:

  • CVT Ultra Classics carry a $2,000-$3,000 automatic upcharge over comparable touring models. However, they also have premium standard features.
  • 6-speed Cruise Drive models are automatically equipped on many touring bikes at no additional cost versus the manual option.
  • The 7-speed automatic transmission carries a $1,000 surcharge when available as an option rather than standard equipment.

So price differences vary. Many riders find the automatic convenience well worth any minimal additional outlay, if there is one at all. Automatics also tend to hold their resale value comparably.

Who Are Harley Automatics Best For?

While every rider’s preferences differ, here are some general guidelines on who typically benefits most from Harley’s various automatic offerings:

  • New riders – eliminates learning curves and stress of stalling/clutch control.
  • Long-distance cruisers – reduce fatigue on multi-hour slogs.
  • City commuters – convenient for navigating traffic without clutch work.
  • For those with physical limitations – automatics expand access to motorcycle fun.
  • Cruiser purists – models like the CVT give the classic Harley look without manual inputs.
  • Performance enthusiasts – auto features like rev-matching boost on-road performance abilities.

So in many ways, automatics broaden the accessible Harley rider demographic beyond traditionalist manual riders. Options exist for all tastes.

Can You Add an Aftermarket Automatic to a Harley?

While Harley only offers automatics from the factory on select models nowadays, the determined do-it-yourselfer has aftermarket options:

  • Companies like V-Twin Manufacturing and American Truck and Supply sell custom-built automatic kits starting at around $5,000 installed.
  • They replace the stock transmission with a beefier automatic unit capable of handling Harley V-twin power output.
  • Installation requires extensive mechanical work beyond a casual wrencher’s abilities, however.
  • Warranty would no longer apply either since it modifies the motorcycle.

So a factory automatic from Harley is generally preferable if the option exists. But an aftermarket route remains for the rare specialty build. Extensive expertise is required though.

Test Riding a Harley Automatic

Before investing in an automatic Harley, most dealers encourage a test ride to experience the shifting characteristics firsthand:

  • On softer cruisers like the Slim S, the automatic enhances the relaxed ergonomics.
  • On faster touring bikes, instantaneous passing power comes from auto upshifts that slash 0-60 times.
  • Manual mode engages the sporty side with rev-matched downshifts delivered seamlessly.
  • The automatic can be disengaged completely via a “clutch switch” for old-school shifting too.

Proper sizing is also critical as automatics behave differently when weight-shifted compared to a neutral idle. Seeing how the transmission complements or changes the intended riding style up close helps decide.

Modifying Harley Automatics

Modifying Harley Automatics

While not requiring frequent mechanical adjustments, some aftermarket parts can enhance automatic performance:

  • Baffled oil tanks reduce foaming to keep hydraulics properly lubricated longer between fluid changes.
  • Custom tuners remap electronics to alter shift points for sportier sensibilities or towing/laden riding needs.
  • Lighter flywheels quicken shifts but reduce low-end torque, so only advised if not heavily loaded.
  • Exhausts liberate more power, so ECU adjustments may then optimize auto-tuning for extra horses.
  • Cosmetic parts like oil coolers, and derby covers add flair without affecting functionality.

But in stock form, Hydra-Glide automatics need little beyond basic fluid/filter services. Quality components engineered for longevity.

Frequently Ask Questions

Who makes fully automatic motorcycles?

Several cruiser brands offer full automatics like Honda, Yamaha, and Victory. Honda Gold Wing is a popular large fully automatic touring bike.

Do Harley-Davidson trikes come in automatic?  

Yes, Harley offers automatic options on certain trike models like the Tri Glide Ultra for easier riding.

Are there fully automatic motorcycles?

Yes, many cruisers feature true automatics with no clutch and no manual shifting required. Honda Gold Wing is a famous example.

Does Harley make automatic?

Yes, while Harley was once solely manual, they now offer automatics across models like Touring, Softail, and trikes using CVT, 6 or 7-speed options.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while Harley Davidson spent over a century solely producing manual transmission motorcycles, they now offer several automatic options tailored for large cruiser power and touring applications. Technologies like CVTs, six-speed, and seven-speed transmissions allow for both convenience and control depending on rider preference. As motorcycle technology advances, Harley continues expanding accessibility with automatics while honoring their history of manual V-twin thrills.

Whether choosing a traditional manual or the newer clutchless and automated transmissions, Harley owners can discover iconic American cruiser style and spirited performance. Automatics especially appeal to new riders, long-haul tourers, and those seeking maximum involvement-free cruise comfort. With reliable engineering and optional control, Harley Automatics expands the ranks of riders experiencing the Open Road aboard these legendary motorcycles.

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