We live in a world that isn't kind to people living with disabilities. Accessibility is frequently a problem, and often an afterthought at best.

For those of us who are lucky enough to usually have full use of all of our limbs, it may not be something you think about until you have a serious injury. (Which I guarantee you will, at some point, just by living your life.) 

But for those who live with a disability every day, it's their life. And they have to think about it every day, whether they want to or not. It's an inescapable fact.

Accessibility in powersports is an important thing to consider, and one that's too often overlooked.

The way I think about it is, generally speaking, most people want to have fun. Now, everyone's idea of what constitutes 'fun' might be a little different, but it's not like anyone stops wanting to have fun because their physical or mental abilities are different. So, if there's something that makes it more possible for more people to get out and have fun outside, regardless of their physical ability, why shouldn't we support it?

Why the big preamble? Because I want you to understand that that's how I see the new Yamaha Automated Manual Transmission.

Sure, it might have potential benefits for beginners who might not have all the intricacies of a left-foot operated gear shift and a left-hand operated clutch lever engrained in their brains and muscle memory as second nature. And I'm sure that's at least part of how it will be marketed.

That's not wrong. However, there are even more potential benefits here that we need to consider. Before we do that, though, we first need to understand what the Y-AMT is, as well as how it works. Join me as we dive in.

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Here's How The Yamaha Automated Manual Transmission Works

For the rider, the Y-AMT consists of finger-operated switchgear located on the left handlebar of the vehicle. There are two modes: Manual Shift (MT), or a fully automatic transmission (AT). The AT mode has two separate settings, which switch the automated shifting behavior based on whether you want to ride in a more sporty fashion (higher revs, more spirited acceleration), or a more eco-friendly fashion (keeping the revs low, increasing fuel economy). 

The choice of whether to use MT or either AT mode setting is completely up to the rider. And all of it is finger-operated, so there's no foot lever to worry about. There's also no separate clutch lever to coordinate, either. 

In MT mode, you position your left thumb and forefinger over the handlebar so they can comfortably flick either the + lever (forefinger) or the - lever (thumb). Use the + to upshift, and use the - to downshift, all via a single finger press in either direction. Easy peasy. 

In AT mode, as we briefly touched on above, there are two separate settings: D+ Mode or D Mode. Choose D+ Mode, and you're telling the automatic transmission to shift higher in the rev range for a more sporty feel. Choose D Mode instead, and you'll shift lower in the rev range to keep things smooth, relaxed, and efficient.

Also, even while you're in AT mode, you can choose to manually shift at any time by using the + and - levers to flick the shifter as you prefer. If you choose to engage with shifting your vehicle, it's all done by hand; your left foot is free to move about the foot peg as you like, with no need to shift.

This Kind Of Shifting Can Make A Big Difference For Disabled Folks

Earlier in 2024, I had the opportunity to check out two vehicles I'd never ridden before. The Can-Am Spyder RT uses a handlebar-mounted lever shifter that operates exactly like Yamaha says that its Y-AMT does. While I can't currently speak to how the Yamaha one works from experience, the visuals and description make the similarities obvious since I spent time riding the Spyder RT.

When I learned to drive a car, even though it was in the 2000s, I still learned on a manual transmission. Only later did I drive an automatic. And since I've been riding motorbikes, I've ridden both standard shifting bikes and twist-and-go scooters. Learning to ride e-bikes, it's been a different process again getting used to where some models stick their throttles, shifters (if they have them), and turn signals. It's all a matter of acclimation, but you get used to it pretty quickly if you do it (or at least, I do).

The Can-Am IFRD riding experience was interesting not only because I was riding things that I'd never ridden before, but also because I was riding with a group of people with a wide variety of experience levels. 

I was the most experienced motorcyclist in our group, but some of the other riders had much more track experience on four wheels than I have (I've had some track training in cars in the past, but not on bikes).

And the rider leading our group that day was the passionate disability advocate Sophie Morgan. She's paralyzed from the waist down, and describes herself as having "no core strength nor the use of [her] legs."

Yamaha AMT - Coming Soon Message Screenshot

Yamaha AMT - Coming Soon Message Screenshot

But you know who is absolutely ready to get after it through the twisties thanks to her three wheels and innovations like that hand shifter? Sophie. And she absolutely loves the feeling of freedom that it gives her.

The fact that Yamaha has developed something that appears to work in a similar way with its Y-AMT system seems like a great way to open up accessibility to a wider range of powersports vehicles. While Yamaha's initial information about this vehicle skews toward its use in motorcycles, its own language notes that the Y-AMT is "coming soon on multiple models." Not "motorcycle models," not "motorbike models," not "two-wheelers" exclusively. Multiple models. 

As you may recall, Yamaha doesn't only make two-wheelers, although it does make plenty of those. It also makes ATVs, side-by-sides, and snowmobiles. There are even a couple of three-wheelers in there, although the Niken GT and Tricity do currently require the physical capability of balancing the three-wheeler using your legs, and they're not self-balancing.

But let's not forget, Yamaha is also working on self-balancing technology as well. Even if it's not ready for anything other than a motorcycle show display, it's still something to keep an eye on for the future. I, for one, look forward to the day when everyone who wants to ride will be able to do so.

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