Motorcycle Driver’s Handbook

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Shifting gears

There is more to shifting gears than simply getting the motorcycle to accelerate smoothly. Sloppy shifting can cause crashes when downshifting, turning or starting on hills.

The purpose of the gears in a motorcycle transmission is to match the engine’s speed (measured by the tachometer) with the motorcycle’s road speed (measured by the speedometer in km/h or mph).

On most bikes, neutral is located between first and second gear. Always start and shut off your bike in neutral.

When starting off from a standstill, you must shift the transmission up through the gears so that the engine is able to maintain the motorcycle’s road speed without turning too fast. Your motorcycle owner’s manual has information on the range of engine speeds at which the motorcycle was designed to be operated. The proper gear will also permit the engine to provide sufficient power for the bike to accelerate if necessary.

When slowing down in traffic, or for road conditions, you must shift down through the gears until an appropriate match is obtained between engine and road speed. Remember to shift up when the engine is turning too fast for the road speed and to shift down when the engine is turning too slowly.

Shifting down is more difficult to do smoothly than shifting up – and potentially more dangerous. You must open the throttle slightly to increase engine speed as you shift down with the clutch pulled in. If you don’t apply enough throttle, the bike will lurch when you release the clutch. Shifting down without having the engine speed up enough to match its speed with the motorcycle’s speed may cause the rear wheel to skid.

Shifting in a turn

If downshifting is required, ensure it is done prior to the turn. Do not upshift in a turn unless you can do it very smoothly. A sudden change in power to the rear wheel can cause it to lock or lose traction. The result can be a skid. It is best to change gears before entering a turn.

Starting on a hill

It is more difficult to get the motorcycle moving on an upgrade than it is on flat ground. There is always a danger of rolling backward into someone behind you.

Here is what you have to do:

  1. Use the front brake to hold the motorcycle while you start the engine and shift into first gear.
  2. Change to the foot brake to hold the cycle while you operate the throttle with your right hand.
  3. Open the throttle a little bit for more power.
  4. Release the clutch gradually. If you release it too quickly, the front wheel may come off the ground or the engine may stop – or both.
  5. Release the foot brake when the engine begins to take hold.


Rev: 2015