Before the early 70’s, motorcycle controls varied from model to model. Indians had left foot clutches, British bikes had shifters on the right hand side gears, and until the 50’s some Harleys had suicide shifters, with a left-foot clutch and a hand-operated shift lever by the tank.
Motorcycle controls were standardized in the early 70’s, when a law Ralph Nader pushed through congress mandated that motorcycle controls follow a standard arrangement. Nader opined that controls scattered according to manufacturers’ whims might not make for safe motorcycling.
And so it was that motorcycles got the controls we have today. Now everything from Harleys to the Desmosedici are federally mandated to have standard controls, with a left-side foot shifter and a right-side foot brake for the rear wheel.
Now that’s changing slowly. In the past few years, a few bikes have come with automatic transmissions, like Honda’s wacky DN-01, and Aprilia’s CVT Mana 850 (top pic), which can be shifted with a foot lever, buttons on the handlebars, or left in full-automatic mode.
Dirtbikes are even stranger. Rekluse has been making autoclutches for a few years. Autoclutches let you ride a bike without operating the clutch—it acts as a centrifugal clutch in every gear. You can’t stall it since it’s a centrifugal clutch, and any throttle with make the clutch bite.
It is so effective that it’s even possible to remove the clutch lever entirely and run both brake levers on the bars, mountain-bike style. Nader would flip out.
An autoclutch probably the fastest setup going for most riders, though Metzeler ride Taddy Blazusiak still kicks it old school with a traditional clutch and lever, even during his Erzberg and Enduro X wins. He’s that good.