Uplifting Push-Button Shifting-Clutch Optional
Alternative transmissions-Honda's 1976 Hondamatic, Suzuki's 1982 Suzukimatic, Moto Guzzi's 1975 Convert and Yamaha's Chip Control Shifting in its '07 FJR1300AE-haven't exactly been among motorcycling's success stories. And it's not hard to figure out why: Each one ended up trampling performance and rider control in the headlong rush toward convenience.
The ShiftFX system from Dean Pick's Biperformance Development Corp. (www.biper formance.ca) is different. Perhaps the closest analogies to the ShiftFX system are Porsche and Audi's Tiptronic transmission, BMW's SMG and a host of other so-called "manumatics" used in cars. ShiftFX offers the same kind of convenient push-button gear selection-in this case, with a three-button panel (green for upshifts, red for downshifts and black for neutral) mounted on the left clip-on of Biperformance's Honda CBR600F4i test mule I rode. But there's a big difference-ShiftFX still allows manual control of the clutch and shift lever.
ShiftFX (the street-based Gold version kit, which was on the CBR600F4i, retails for $1295; there are three other ShiftFX kits, but the Gold is most appropriate for sporting street riding and track days) functions via an on-board air compressor and tank that operate an in-line pneumatic clutch actuator (cable-only for now; Pick's working on one for hydraulic clutches) and a drag-racing-style air shifter. The clutch actuator and air shifter are controlled by means of a separate ECU spliced into the bike's electrical system. Combined additional weight adds up to a claimed seven pounds.
The ShiftFX system operates via a three-button panel on the left handlebar; green is for upshifts, red is for downshifts and the black button is to engage neutral. Note, however, that the clutch lever is still present; the rider can use the clutch and shift lever (in fact, he must in order to take off from a stop) to accomplish gear-shifting manually.
It takes a few minutes to get at least slightly accustomed to using your left thumb to select gears rather than your left toe. But once you make that hurdle, the ShiftFX works surprisingly well, exhibiting a precision that speaks of endless hours of testing and development. This is no crude attempt at push-button shifting-you can't help being impressed with how smooth and refined the ShiftFX system operates.
Shift action is handled by this pneumatic shifter unit, which actually alters its shift speed according to engine and gear selection. At slower speeds, lower gears and light throttle settings, the shift action is slightly slower to avoid snatchy gearshifts that could upset the bike's handling. The gearshift lever can be provided and operated manually if desired.
An on-board compressor and air tank supply pressure to operate the ShiftFX system. This air pressure gauge allows quick monitoring at a glance.
This inline pneumatic actuator controls clutch function via a piggyback ECU that reads wheel and engine speed to determine proper activation. For instance, if the wheel speed is below a certain threshold compared to engine speed, the ECU tells the actuator to release the clutch slower than usual, basically mimicking a slipper clutch. If the rider pulls the clutch lever, however, the unit releases all clutch function to manual control.
Push the upshift button, and the system completes the action for you in as quick as 75 milliseconds, quicker than most any human could do-and actually adjusts to how you ride. For instance, "ShiftFX will shift smoother and slower at lower rpm, lower road speeds and smaller throttle-openings," says Pick. And for downshifts, if the control unit senses that rear-wheel speed exceeds a specific figure compared to engine rpm, it signals the pneumatic clutch actuator to engage the clutch slower than usual, thus emulating the function of a conventional slipper clutch. Note that the unit only performs this function when using the downshift button; the rider can still use and operate the clutch and shift lever for downshifts (and upshifts) whenever and however he wants. The ShiftFX unit detects that the rider has manually pulled in the clutch and does not interfere with clutch control.
Likewise, it's when you have to pull away from a stop-or slip the clutch when making a particularly tight U-turn in a crowded parking lot-that the ShiftFX system sidesteps the shortcomings of every other two-wheel auto/manumatic transmission by retaining manual clutch control. In that respect, the ShiftFX is normal. It functions just like every other clutch-equipped motor-cycle you've ever ridden (unlike, for instance, Yamaha's YCC-S system on the FJR1300AE, which has difficulty maneuvering in tight spots due to the automatic clutch engaging neutral when you don't want it to). The rider-meaning you-remains in fundamental control, instead of forcing annoying adaptation to some sort of programming quirk that can leave you powerless at exactly the wrong time.
By allowing the rider to keep control of the clutch, ShiftFX actually manages to enhance both convenience and performance, rather than trampling the latter in the pursuit of the former. Instead of forcing you to become prisoner to electronic convenience and any idiosyncrasies that may come along with it, the ShiftFX system is there as an option to help if desired-not required. And that was the idea all along, according to Pick: "We wanted to give the rider more control-not less." Ultimately, Pick wants an OE motorcycle manufacturer to license his invention; and based on our experience with his well-designed system, it may be only a matter of time.-Charles Everitt