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.


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