One of the most challenging aspects of motorcycling is learning how to shift gears on a motorcycle. While most modern-day cars come equipped with automatic gearboxes, the majority of motorcycles still function on a manual transmission. This means you cannot rely on your vehicle’s mechanics to shift gears for you while you ride.
Shifting gears on a motorcycle requires good hand, eye, and foot coordination. This takes practice on your side to build up adequate muscle memory. The right technique is crucial for a smooth transition and a healthy engine. To help you grasp the right technique, we will be dissecting the art of shifting gears using a clutch and gear shift in this article.
The Controls and Mechanics of Shifting Gears
There are three motorcycle controls you must familiarize yourself with in order to shift gears smoothly -namely the clutch lever, the throttle, and the gear shift lever.
1. The Clutch
The clutch lever is located in front of the left handlebar. It is responsible for engaging and disengaging the power generated by your engine. Basically, it temporarily disconnects the engine from the drivetrain system and transmission.
When you pull back on the clutch lever, it disengages the transmission and disconnects the power generated by the engine from the rear wheels. This prevents the motorcycle from moving forward regardless of the amount of throttle you apply.
While releasing the clutch you will encounter a stage that is often referred to as the “friction zone”. The friction zone is the point when the clutch re-engages the engine and power begins to be transferred to the rear wheel. The motorcycle finally begins to move during this phase.
2. The Throttle
The throttle is located on the right handlebar. It manipulates engine speed and is responsible for accelerating and decelerating your motorcycle.
Rotating the throttle towards you, revs up the engine and feeds more power, propelling your bike forward. Conversely, rotating the throttle away from you decelerates your vehicle by regulating the amount of fuel flowing into the engine and reducing the power output.
3. The Gearshift Lever
The gear shift lever is located on the left side of the bike and is controlled by your left foot. Motorcycle manual transmission utilizes a sequential gearbox.
This means the gear pattern is linear with the first gear situated at the bottom, followed by neutral gear, then second gear, then third gear, and so on. A gear shift is accomplished by lifting the gear shift lever upwards with your left foot. Each upward click equates to one gear shift.
Follow these steps to learn how to change gears on a motorcycle.
1. Start in the Neutral Position
Begin by squeezing the clutch lever to disengage the clutch and then press the starter button. Make sure your bike is resting in the neutral position. Most modern bikes have a green light on the meter console indicating a neutral position.
2. Shifting Into First Gear
Now you need to get your bike moving. Start by closing the throttle, and completely disengaging the clutch. While you do this you need to push down on the gear shift lever to get into the first gear. Now, gradually pull back on the throttle to accelerate, while releasing the clutch gently. Coordinate the clutch and throttle until your motorcycle starts moving.
3. Shifting Into Higher Gears
As your bike gains momentum and picks up speed you will need to shift into higher gears. To do this you will need to close the throttle while disengaging the clutch. As you do this, place your left foot under the shift lever, and lift the lever up using your big toe. One-click of the shift lever indicates a single gear shift. To engage higher gears you need to repeat this procedure each time.
4. Down-shifting Into Lower Gears
To decelerate and shift into lower gears, once again begin by closing the throttle and disengaging the clutch. Now press down on your gear shift lever as far as it will go, and then release it. One down click on the gear shift lever indicates a single down-shift in gears. To come to a complete stop, close the throttle and squeeze the clutch as you continue to press down and release the gear shift until it reaches the first gear. Once you’ve come to a standstill, remember to keep the bike in the neutral position.
When to Shift Gears on a Motorcycle
While learning the technique of how to shift on a motorcycle is important, it is also critical to know when to shift gears. With more experience, riders develop a solid intuition as to when they need to shift gears. While there is no mathematical equation for the optimum time to shift gears, as a beginner there are a few signs and signals you can keep in mind.
1. When accelerating in low gears, you can rapidly reach peak torque, which is usually around 75% to 90% of the total RPM available. Not shifting gears, will result in your engine not being able to provide sufficient thrust in order to accelerate further. The general rule of thumb is, the higher the gear the longer the gap between gear changes.
2. There are also simple sound cues to keep in mind. Listen to your motorcycle, if the engine sounds high pitched, shift gears up. Similarly, if the engine low pitched and slow, down-shift the gears.
3. It is not necessary to shift one gear at a time. As long as the clutch lever is disengaged you can up-shift or down-shift as many times as you like.
4. The most important tip is to practice, familiarize yourself with the controls, and sharpen your instincts. Practice in a safe environment with abundant open spaces and no traffic or obstacles. Safety is crucial. Also, invest in the right motorcycle insurance to protect yourself in case of any unforeseen circumstances.
Smooth-shifting is all about orchestrating the three controls, the clutch, the gear shift, and the throttle in perfect harmony. This comes with a lot of practice as shifting gears is one of the most complicated aspects of riding a motorcycle. To become an elegant and effortless rider, you must focus on your shifting technique.
However, this does not need to be daunting as even new riders with zero experience with manual transmission can learn how to shift gears on a motorcycle in no time. We hope this article helped you grasp the nuances of shifting gears and will help you become a better motorcyclist overall.
Kenneth Campbell is our writer at Motorcycle Larry and he is one of the most efficient individuals in the office. He is a graduate of Wisconsin University where he studied engineering. His love for motorbikes encouraged him to take up the course. Kenneth is highly knowledgeable and up-to-date when it comes to bikes.