How to shift a motorcycle? One of the most important processes of riding a motorcycle is shifting gears. This may seem like a challenge to master, but shifting gears is really a simple process. How you shift gears, however, will depend on whether your motorcycle has a manual transmission or a semi-automatic transmission.
How to shift a motorcycle?
Shifting gears on a motorcycle can be challenging. Practice is the key ingredient in mastering this task. The more you practice, the more muscle memory you build and the smoother your shifting will become.
Shifting while at a complete stop
With the engine running and the bike in neutral, close, or let go of, the throttle. Pull the clutch lever in; use the shift lever to go into first gear; then release the clutch lever and add throttle to start moving.
Upshifting while riding
This process is like moving from a complete stop. Roll the throttle closed; use the shift lever to go into the next gear up; then release the clutch lever and add throttle to send power to the engine again.
Downshifting while riding
Roll your throttle closed, pull the clutch lever, and select your desired gear. If you’re downshifting because you’re going downhill, release the clutch lever and open the throttle to match your engine revving and the speed at which you’re traveling. If you’re downshifting to get additional acceleration, release the clutch lever and open the throttle more to get the acceleration you need.
Coming to a complete stop
When you’re downshifting because you’re coming to a complete stop, keep the clutch lever pulled in, and the throttle closed, then apply the brake. If you’re stopping temporarily, you can put your shift lever in first gear, so you’re ready to start again. If you’re stopping because you’re parking the bike, put your shift lever into neutral, then release the clutch lever and turn off the bike.
When to shift gears on a motorcycle?
Learning when to shift gears on a motorcycle is a matter of practice, but it depends on your engine’s revolutions per minute (RPMs). Each gear operates within a certain speed range (miles per hour), and as you get near the top of that range, you’ll reach higher RPMs on your bike, and the engine makes a higher-pitched noise. At that higher pitch, it’s time to shift up.
When changing gears on a motorcycle for downshifting, you’ll listen for a much lower-pitched noise. At the end, the engine may lug or stall if you aren’t going fast enough in each gear, which is a definite sign that you need to downshift.
Mastering your gear shifting is something you can learn during a motorcycle safety course. Taking an approved course has other benefits as well. Many insurance companies will give you a discount on your motorcycle insurance once you’ve passed an approved course. Check with your insurer for their requirements before exploring schools and classes near you.
What is a motorcycle gear shift pattern?
The shift lever for motorcycles is at the left foot, and you use the toe of your boot to move it up and down. They have a “first down, rest up” gear pattern. That means the first gear is at the bottom of the lever’s range.
Neutral is directly above first gear, and second gear is directly above neutral. The gears go up sequentially from there. So, for a five-speed motorcycle, the pattern from the bottom up is 1N2345, where “N” is for neutral.
This is the most common motorcycle gear shift pattern, although others are in use. Some motorcycles reverse this pattern (“first up, rest down”). Other motorcycles have a shift level controlled at both the heel and the toe (a heel-toe shifter).
One side is for shifting up a gear, and the other is for shifting down a gear. Some of these bikes put downshifting at the toe, and others put it at the heel. These bikes may also vary in the placement of neutral in the gear pattern.
Motorcycle 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.
Matching by sound and feel
Basic rule of sound
I have a simple saying: if the engine sounds high, shift higher (shift up in gears) and if the engine sounds slow and lower (low pitch), shift lower. That’s a really easy way to remember on when to shift and that’s my basic rule of sound.
High sound = shift high, low sound = shift low.
Now to do this properly, there’s a number of different methods people teach, but for beginners, I like to stick with the simplest way and once you know more mechanically about your bike, with muscle memory and riding time, experimentation with what you’ve learned won’t hurt.
When riding in first gear for example and shifting up to second, you need to give the bike a reason to shift. Optimally you will have a good throttle response while the clutch is disengaged, but the engine is not screaming at you at what they call red-line.
It’s where you’ve hit the engine limit of rotation speed and it bounces off something called a limiter so your engine doesn’t exceed its capabilities and drastically reduce its lifespan.
If you gear up too soon, and stall the bike, meaning the engine wasn’t given enough power for what you were telling it to do, just grab the clutch lever to the handlebar and shift down 7, 8 about 1000000 times (as long as it’s more than the number of gears, then you know you’re in first), press the start button, clutch in and get going again.
You can start off in higher gears, but you need substantially that much more throttle to encourage some form of acceleration.
What gear am I in?
I always ask my students, how do you know what gear you’re in? It’s a trick question – you usually don’t. You know you start in first, and you can only change one gear at a time. So it’s back to my basic rule of sound and shifting down more times than the number of gears in order to know you’re back in first gear.
I was told, “but hey Jenn – this bike shows on the controls which gear I’m in”, to which I usually reply, “don’t trust electronics – as eventually, they fail” and tape it off from being seen until we’re out on the road – much to their dismay.
The feel part comes in with your clutch lever and how the bike power changes, and also with your foot on the shift lever. You should have shoes that are proper motorcycle shoes both for safety (I’m a huge believer in ATGATT or All The Gear All The Time), and they are designed so that you should be able to feel the shift lever.
I’ve had students who’ve worn steel-toed boots or thick heels with an edge on them – and they always seem to end up with the problem of not completing the shift and slipping into neutral because maybe they’re using the edge of the shoe instead of getting their foot right under the lever.
About 90% of the time from observing, that ends up being the problem if they are having any at all with shifting.
What happens when you shift gears?
So to get into the mechanics, first I’ll explain the sequence of shifting. Simply put, when you are ready to change gears, you pull in the shift lever – disengaging the engine from the rear wheel (simple terms), place your foot on top or underneath the lever (depending on the style of shifter and if you’re going up or down in the gear sequence) and either press down or pull up on that lever with your left foot.
Then at the same time, you’ll apply the throttle and release the clutch lever slowly. I emphasize slowly because of the tendency of newer riders to just let the lever go suddenly (most of the time from the fatigue of muscles that haven’t been used in a while or never) instead of easing into the change.
It is important to either have a little throttle on or “blip” the throttle as an alternative (basically raising the RPM by a little bit by quickly opening and closing the throttle and letting the RPMs drop to mesh with the gear change).
This is why you sometimes hear motorcyclists rev their engines when changing gears – and no, it’s not just to show off. That’s the sequence of movements to complete your shift.
This is in addition to looking where you are going, holding the tank with your knees and everything else that is currently going on while riding. Now, can you see why I say looking at the gauge cluster is irrelevant at first?
Back to the mechanics of the bike. What is happening while you are doing all these movements? First I’ll start with the clutch since that is the first thing you will touch when going to shift in the majority of cases unless it’s automatic or has a quick shift – we will get into that at a later article.
When the clutch is engaged – lever is out and power goes to the rear wheel – there are little springs pressing on the clutch plate that connects the primary drive to the input shaft. In other words, the part the rotates from the pistons going up and down that connects to different gears to translate that rotation power to the rear wheel.
When you pull that lever in, that plate separates, releasing the connection to the engine. This allows you to change the gears (which is near impossible without the clutch unless it’s perfectly timed – and that is something that is more advanced training).
The shift lever that your foot presses on is connected to something called a gear selector fork. This moves around a part that attaches the gears in the engine to the differential, such as parts that contain the chain, belts or drive shaft that transfers power to the rear wheel.
The gear selector fork has something called a collar with “dogs” that mesh together when the fork moves from one gear to the next. “Dogs” are the little bits that interlock the gears together to the drive shaft from the engine. It’s like if you were to put your hands together and interlace your fingers, your fingers would act like the “dogs”.
Other motorcycle gear shifting tips
For most bikes, in addition to the shift lever being at your left foot, the clutch lever is attached to the left handlebar, and the throttle is on the right handlebar post. 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.
Once you’ve selected the gear, you release the clutch lever and start to apply the throttle, which is the trickiest part of motorcycle gear shifting. If you release the clutch too quickly before you apply the throttle, the engine will lug (i.e., it feels like it’s jerking uncontrollably).
If you’re too hard on the throttle after releasing the clutch, you’ll either spin your back tire or get some unexpected acceleration. This takes practice but becomes second nature soon enough. With the throttle, it’s helpful to remember that your wrist action controls it, and not your whole arm.
Learn more tips on how to ride a motorcycle, how to choose a motorcycle helmet, and how to choose the best motorcycle protective gear before you ride.
Is it easy to shift a motorcycle?
You need to release the throttle, pull in the clutch lever, use the shift lever to change gears, release the clutch lever, and reengage the throttle. This process may seem challenging if you’re buying your first motorcycle, but it gets easier with practice.
At what speed do you shift on a motorcycle?
With some practice, shifting gears will become a natural part of your riding style. With that said, don’t expect any specific numbers. Most motorcycles will comfortably shift at 5,000 to 7,000 RPMs (revolutions per minute), but responding to the feel and sound of the engine is the best way to go about it.
What foot do you shift with on a motorcycle?
The gear shift lever is located on the lower left side of the motorcycle. We use our left foot to change gears. The gear pattern is laid out with first gear at the very bottom, followed by neutral, first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sometimes sixth gear.
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