My foot scrambles instinctively, looking to downshift… and the shift lever? Well it simply isn’t there, and believe it or not that is on purpose. Instead I thumb a red button sitting just below the horn button. The clutch actuates, the gear changes, and clutch releases… all in about 100 milliseconds!
Yes, “tiptronic” shifting is now a reality, and the really good news – the bike I’m on, it’s not some unobtainable MotoGP racer on the track landed with dubious press credentials; this is a Honda F4i, on the flowing serpentine of our local “test bed”, the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.
Shooting out of the apex, I dip then blip the throttle and thumb the green button… I’m rewarded with a near instant up-shift as the rev-happy 600 launches out of the corner. If the shift-lever were present I’m sure even pulling a clutchless change would never have been as fast.
At full throttle the pneumatic ShiftFX is fast, 75 milliseconds to upshift. What’s new is this… the thumb action has managed to add to the frenetic sense of fun and compressed time the F4i, or any other 600 for that matter, offers. This is the “Gold” street version of the ShiftFX and like most street riders, it uses the clutch, while the “Platinum” race version features clutchless upshifts (with ignition kill and launch control no less) – as racers are wont to do. The street version operates off a small compressor which charges a small air tank, this adds 3.95kg (8.7lbs) of cool. The race version ditches the tank for fast change out and lighter DOT CO2 Cartridges.
Before trying all this I admit I had few doubts. Would all this new technology (well actually not so new since Euro-sport coupes have suffered the likes of flappy-paddle gearboxes as long as F1 racers have reveled in them) spoil the joy and spirit of the ride? Would the bike suffer from having become a giant Nintendo controller, with more buttons than a Goldwing?
In a word… No.
The ShiftFX doesn’t do all the work for you, it doesn’t steal rev matching, bouncing off the rev limiter, and timing your shifts. I whack it open, bee-lining out of the apex, and thumb the green button. I’m all attention to the timing and as a result it’s inevitably off. The F4i’s front end lifts, and comes down with a bit of a wobble. I power thru it and hope that Dean Pick, Biperformance’s president isn’t paying too much attention as he rides behind.
Indeed the upshift on the ShiftFX still requires a bit of attention at first, and it works best in the high end of the RPMs… the screaming high RPM range, a howling 10,000 RPM plus on the F4i. This is the recipe for any smooth shifting action, but the best part of it is, you have the excuse.
“Yes, I have to rev it to the heavens, it shifts best there you know.” Of course consummately quick shifting means a bit of planning, but you’re not without the safety net of clutch. And in most cases the standard shift lever and clutch lever is still present as a manual override; the Biperformance’s test bike is one with a mission of conversion, preaching tiptronic gospel free of the foot selector. It’s not all Bi-Xenon HID light and glory.
Upshifts, if inappropriately executed, can result in small power wheelies. At first it’s a shock while you learn to blip the throttle appropriately. After the learning curve it’s a laugh, and eventually you settle down, stop laughing in your helmet and thank the deities of motorsport that the nanny-state hasn’t yet gotten it’s hands on this device. Even if it did, that couldn’t spoil it. If anything the ShiftFX might improve one’s safety, there is less attention squandered on shifting and no need to manipulate the clutch. Both of which reduce control for an instant.
The ShiftFX has attracted other attention though; recently the Camel Racing Team was technically agog, poring over the demo bike at the recent Laguna Seca MotoGP. Hopefully they return with a translator, as Dean doesn’t speak Italian… yet. Still Dean doesn’t see racing and the track as the primary market for the ShiftFX, it’s relieving to hear that ShiftFX is not aimed at changing the experience of the ride – only to augment it.
There will be no “automatic bike” in the near future, this is aimed to advance enjoyment of the sport, not automate and gentrify it. So where does Dean see ShiftFX in the future? “OEM, right from the manufacturers. But until then the system is available through the dealers.”
If you are finding the shifts too abrupt, then the ShiftFX does allow for a range of adjustment for the aggressiveness of the shift. However, the flirtation with power-wheelies (more hops really) is brief and vastly entertaining. The best approach is to simply not think about the ShiftFX, and shift as normal – save the thumb versus foot action. Same throttle pattern, except it’s a faster affair, letting you scamper the bike off in complete defiance of inertia. Suddenly, shifting has become a new, novel, and pneumatic indulgence.
When practicalities like finding neutral come in, the conveniently-dubbed “find neutral” button does the job. It’s actually slightly eerie as at a press of the offset black button (to prevent accidental neutral-ings), the bike snicks downwards through the gears to find “green” on the dash. I could really get used to this!
Toward the end of the ride I’m no longer paying attention to the ShiftFX, it’s comfortable and second nature, and I’m relaxed – other than the occasional rip through the ratios for science’s sake. My hand is never leaving the grip and no control is ever lost, then it strikes me that this is precisely why the system makes sense; valuable attention is not squandered on my imprecise size 12’s manipulating small levers through clumsy boots.
This gives me time for thought; ShiftFX may have another market, those who’ve lost lower limbs or mobility may now have the option of riding. It could represent an amazing opening, or re-opening, of the world of riding to those who previously may never had the option to move beyond pillion. The moment of depth passes and just as instantly the bike snicks down a gear and a pass is executed – it’s seamless.
It’s not often in the world of motorcycling that you run across something truly innovative and with the potential to move the nature of the motorcycle forward. In a world where moto-manufacturers like BMW are making advanced offerings like its EAS (Electronically Adjustable Suspension), and Honda is looking at ways to exit the horsepower wars and add new levels of safety to riding, Biperformance is offering a timely advancement to the tech of ride with ShiftFX.
Currently the ShiftFX is available for a variety of cable-clutched bikes, with a hydraulic clutch version in development.
MSRP: 1,249 $CDN (ShiftFX Gold)