How to change gears on a motorbike? In the four-wheeled world, automatic transmissions are the norm. When it comes to the two-wheeled motorcycle world, however, shifting gears is usually up to you. (Unless you’re on a scooter, an electric bike, or one of Honda’s many DCT-equipped models.)
And while shifting can be a hurdle for new riders, doing it well just takes a little coordination between your clutch hand and shifter foot on the left and your throttle hand on the right.
How to change gears on a motorbike?
The process is to change gear when your speed tells you and is actioned by using the coordination of both hands (right for throttle and left for clutch) with your left foot for the gear lever and of course keeping your eyes on the road ahead instead of looking down at the controls.
Imagine you’re moving off from a standstill – you’ve clicked down to engage first gear, twisted the throttle back to build enough revs to release the clutch fully and begin your momentum. Then what? You’re going to need second gear to continue accelerating, and it’ll be needed pretty quickly too.
After a bit of practice, the following steps can all take place within a split-second but first make sure the actions are gentle to begin with until you’re familiar with the bike and its reactions:
How to change UP gears (accelerating)
- Step 1: Release the resistance from the throttle. Not necessarily rolling off completely
- Step 2: Pull the clutch lever in
- Step 3: Hooking your left foot under the gear lever so it’s resting on the top of your big toe, click it up – you’ll feel the next gear engage
- Step 4: Slowly release the clutch lever while…
- Step 5: …pulling back gently on the throttle
How to change DOWN gears (decelerating)
- Step 1: Roll off the throttle
- Step 2: If you need to slow at a greater rate, squeeze the front brake lever
- Step 3: Pull the clutch lever in
- Step 4: Placing the ball of your foot on the gear lever, push down and feel the gear engage
- Step 5: Release the clutch unless you are at walking pace or stationary while still in gear
When to shift gears on a motorcycle, at what rpm?
When accelerating, especially in a low gear, a bike will quickly reach peak torque, which is when the maximum amount of thrust from the engine is available, usually around 75 – 90% of the total revs (rpm). If you didn’t change gear and carried on accelerating, you’d reach peak revs and the bike would stop accelerating.
So, you require the next higher gear to continue the rate of acceleration. The same when decelerating; as you brake for a junction, roundabout, traffic lights, for instance, you can change down the gears to help the engine braking but also so you are then ready to accelerate away.
Motorcycle gear changing tips
- Remember, neutral (i.e. no gear) is between first and second gear either going up the gearbox or back down, so your input between these gears needs to be quite direct so as not to catch neutral.
- You don’t have to change one gear at a time, so long as the clutch lever is pulled in you can up or down-shift by as many as you want, just remember to match the revs accordingly
- The higher the gear, the longer the gap between gear changes, i.e. when continuously accelerating you won’t need first gear for long
- As a general rule, on a low capacity bike, 1st gear for up to 10mph, 2nd for up to 20mph.
- Don’t worry if you miss a gear, modern gear boxes are robust.
- When buying motorcycle boots check size of top of boot. Does it fit nicely under your gear lever? You need to be able to feel the lever.
- Quickshifters are becoming more common on modern bikes, which allow for clutchless gear changes.
Gear shifting – A deeper dive
A set of gears in the transmission transmits power from the motor to the drivetrain – usually via a chain – which is then transferred to the wheel. The size of these gears affects how the motorcycle performs.
Lower gears have a lower ratio, which delivers more power from the motor for each turn of the wheel, making it ideal for acceleration. Higher gears have a higher ratio, delivering less power for each turn of the wheel, but capable of achieving much higher speeds.
When you pull in the clutch lever, you’re temporarily disengaging the gears. This allows you to shift without damaging the transmission. While the gears are disengaged, you simply swap one gear out for another, in essence.
With this knowledge, you can begin to use more advanced techniques to improve your efficiency and performance. A simple yet effective example is pulling in the clutch and coasting downhill. This takes your engine and transmission out of the equation and lets gravity do all the work.
Similarly, you can pull the clutch lever only partially or slip it in and out very quickly. This technique is more difficult than ordinary shifting, and it takes some experience and some practice to execute. But it allows you to switch gears much faster than traditional shifting.
Highly experienced riders can even shift without clutching at all. If you know exactly how to match your engine speed to your transmission, you can briefly let off the throttle while upshifting or engage it while downshifting. This is the fastest method of all but is only performed by advanced riders, as errors in the process can cause damage to the transmission.
Is it hard to change gears on a motorcycle?
With practice, changing gear should become a fluid motion that you can do without even thinking, allowing you to focus on what’s going on around you and helping to keep you safe while out on the road. Take time to get comfortable with where the clutch, throttle and gear shifter are on your machine.
Do you have to let go of the throttle when shifting on a motorcycle?
The shifting process requires you to close off the throttle while shifting so you’re not giving gas to the engine. You pull in the clutch lever to disengage the clutch and then use the toe shifter to select the gear you want.
Why is 1st gear down on a motorcycle?
You’ll notice that first gear is located below the neutral gear, and that’s because it’s not actually used for driving. It’s for getting the motorcycle from a rest to a start. As a rule, the first gear should only be engaged between 0 km/h to 15 km/h.
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