How to Shift Gears on a Motorcycle Effortlessly
Not many experiences are as exhilarating as riding a motorcycle, and while it seems easy to learn how to ride one, shifting gears is one thing many new riders struggle with. Though there have been a few automatic and semi-automatic motorbikes introduced into the market in recent times, generally, traditional motorcycles come with a manual transmission.
Knowing how to shift gears on a motorcycle smoothly will make your riding experience much more exciting. In this article, we’ll give you some techniques to help you improve your gear-shifting skills on manual transmission motorcycles so you can ride with confidence.
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How Do Motorcycle Gears Work?
Motorcycles with manual transmissions typically have four to six gears depending on the make and size, and low-powered motorcycles may have as few as two gears. You engage the gears with the lever on the left pedal, which moves forks inside the transmission.
To shift the gears up or down, you’ll need to press down the clutch lever with your left hand first to disengage power from the engine and transfer it to the transmission. Once the gear is selected, release the clutch to re-establish a connection with the crankshaft and for the bike to get momentum.
With practice, coordinating the clutch and gear shift will become second nature to you, and you’ll be able to shift gears on your motorcycle without stalling.
What Makes a Smooth Shift on a Motorcycle?
The technique of shifting gears smoothly on a motorcycle is a lot easier than it sounds. However, it requires a lot of practice to know how your motorcycle transmission and throttle work to make a smooth transition.
You also need to pay lots of attention to how your motorcycle behaves every time you shift gears. If your bike jerks while you’re releasing the clutch, it might be because you’re letting it go too quickly, and there’s no smooth transition between the transmission and the throttle.
On the other hand, if the motorbike slows down during shifts, you might not be revving the engine enough to keep the momentum. If you end up stalling in the process, pull up the clutch again, start up the bike, and engage the first gear to get moving.
Once you get used to riding your bike, you’ll be able to shift gears much more efficiently and with less effort. I have outlined the techniques of changing the gears on manual and semi-automatic motorbikes below, so let’s dive in.
How to Shift Gears on a Manual Transmission
Manual transmissions require the rider to shift the gears manually with the clutch, gear lever and throttle to keep the motorcycle moving. The gear pattern for manual motorcycles is to press down for the first gear and move up the gear lever for the upper gears. The technique below outlines the maneuvers you’ll need to shift gears and remember to perform each step slowly to help you get a smooth transition.
- Start your motorbike by squeezing the clutch lever and pressing the starter button. Check the meter console to ensure that you’re on neutral gear, just like you would on a manual car. Then, slowly release the clutch.
- Roll the throttle on the right-hand grip inwards to rev the bike, and then squeeze the clutch while pushing the shifter downwards to engage the first gear.
- Next, gently release the clutch while you keep feathering the throttle to prevent stalling. As the bike begins to move, release the clutch completely, then roll in the throttle for acceleration.
- To move up a gear, repeat the process above by squeezing in the clutch as you roll the throttle outwards to reduce the speed. However, instead of pressing down on the shifter, put your foot under it and bump it up as high as it will go to engage the next gear. Each bump moves you up a gear and if you accidentally skip one, make sure to match your speed with the gear you’ve shifted to as quickly as you can.
- However, if you release the clutch and nothing happens, you are probably in neutral gear, and you’ll need to squeeze it and lift the gear lever again. The neutral gear is usually between the first and second gears, and if you bump the shifter halfway while you’re on the first gear, it will engage the neutral gear.
- To downshift gears, roll off the throttle as you pull in the clutch, and press down on the shifter. When you’ve downshifted the gear slowly release the clutch as you reduce your speed.
- If you are slowing down to a stop, press and release the gear lever continuously while holding in the clutch until you get to the first gear.
Clutchless Technique for Advanced Riders
As your experience grows, you’ll develop skills that will help you shift gears faster without engaging the clutch. While you can add a quick-shifter device to your motorcycle to upshift the gears quickly, it is an expensive investment mostly ideal for race and sports bikes.
However, you can mimic the quick-shifter process with the clutchless shifting technique. To do this, you’ll need to be riding at full throttle because the general idea of clutchless shifting is to change gears at high performance without slowing down.
The next step is to pre-empt the upshift by bumping up the gear lever slightly, but not enough to engage the gear. At the same time, roll off the throttle marginally and return to full throttle in a short quick movement. This action cuts off the power temporarily and allows the lever to slip into the next gear smoothly with no loss in acceleration.
On the other hand, downshifting at full throttle is a significantly complicated technique that requires more practice to perform. It can also be a little dangerous at the beginning because if you’re unable to match the engine speed with the rear wheel speed, it could result in an accident.
Modern sports bikes typically feature a slipper clutch that prevents the rear wheel from hopping when you decelerate hard and downshift quickly. On the other hand, the auto-blipper quick-shifter device helps you downshift while reducing the risk of locking the rear wheel.
However, an experienced rider can perform a quick, clutchless downshift by rolling in the throttle slightly to increase the rpm while disengaging the clutch. At the same time, quickly downshift the gear, then release the clutch. The higher rpm blends in the engine speed to the rear wheel, which produces a smooth transition. Without it, the rear wheel will hop because it is going faster than the engine speed.
To be clear, this is an advanced rider’s technique and you would need plenty of time to practice safely before trying it out at high speed.
How to Shift Gears on a Semi-Automatic Transmission
Motorcycles with semi-automatic transmissions are significantly easier to ride because the clutch and gear shift systems are one. Semi-automatics use a dual-clutch transmission system that features two separate clutches for odd and even number gear sets housed in one unit.
The technique of shifting gears is similar to a manual transmission, only that you don’t engage the clutch. The advantage is that the system can shift gears much faster than the rider would with a manual transmission, thereby maintaining the torque to the rear wheel in between shifts.
While the DCT system is not very common in motorcycles, Honda has produced several DCT motorcycles from their first DCT motorcycle produced in 2009, the Honda VFR1200F model. They are also about the only brand that produces semi-automatic motorcycles in the market today.
To wind up, learning how to shift gears on a motorcycle takes a bit of practice when you’re starting. The exciting part of having a motorbike is perfecting the riding techniques, which gives you confidence on the road.
However, if you are not enthusiastic about shifting gears, you can consider getting a semi-automatic or automatic motorbike. They are significantly easier to ride and ideal for people who need an easier way to commute.
Overall, we hope this article has demystified shifting gears on a motorcycle and that the techniques highlighted will help you become a better rider.