You have to know how to change gears on a motorcycle. This is the second most important thing after being able to brake.
Because you’ll do it on your first ride ever!
Changing gears is actually referred to as shifting gears, either up or down. So without further ado, here is how to shift gears on a motorcycle.
Why shift to another gear
When you are accelerating and you reach the upper range of your engine’s RPM (Revolutions Per Minutes), it’s time to shift to a higher gear. Also, you can shift to a higher gear when you’re cruising and want your engine to run at lower RPM to save some fuel.
Obviously, the opposite is true too.
When you decelerating and reach the lower range of your engine’s RPM, or if you’re in need of more power to get you through a dangerous situation, you want to shift to a lower gear.
So there you go:
1. Release the throttle
To release the throttle, rotate your wrist away from you, back to the throttle resting position.
By releasing the throttle (right grip), you allow the engine to drop some RPM, which will make the process of changing gears much smoother.
Beware though: if you are releasing the throttle when at higher RPM (because you want to downshift or to decelerate) you will experience engine braking. Engine braking can be pretty powerful and even abrupt.
This is especially true when you are riding at higher RPM on lower gears (gears 1 to 3, with gear 1 having the most engine braking force). Also, 2-cylinders engines have a much stronger engine braking than 3- or 4-cylinders engines.
The lower the cylinder count and the gear, the slower you should release the throttle if you don’t need or want engine branking.
You don’t have to wait for the engine to be at its lowest RPM (especially when you’re downshifting), just make sure your RPM is decreasing a bit before you proceed to the next step.
2. Squeeze the clutch lever
Now it’s your left hand’s turn: squeeze the clutch lever (this is the left lever) all the way.
Doing this disengages the engine from the rest of the driveline components, effectively stopping the transmission of power to your rear wheel.
Now, timing is key. You have to squeeze this lever at the right time, and it may take some time and practice to really have the clutch disengaged smoothly.
If you squeeze it too soon after the throttle release on the previous step, your engine will start to rev up, because it has no opposing force (driving your motorcycle forward) to work against and you are still sending fuel to the engine! If you squeeze it too late, you will experience engine braking which might not be comfortable or even safe on some motorcycles! So practice, practice, practice until it’s second nature.
The speed at which you squeeze this lever can be pretty quick though. It will cut almost instantaneously any power (or lack there off, in the case of engine braking) from the engine to the rear wheel.
Don’t confuse timing and speed here! (And once again, practice.)
3. Shift the gear
This is it.
Because the clutch has disengaged the engine from the gearbox, you can safely shift gears without breaking anything. (It’s actually possible to shift gear without disengaging the clutch but it takes a lot of practice and it will wear your gearbox pretty quickly so just don’t try, you will regret it).
To shift to a higher gear, place your left foot under the gear shift lever (assuming your gear shift lever is on the left, like the vast majority of motorcycles) and pull it up once.
To shift to a lower gear, just tap on the gear shift lever (towards the ground).
Depending on a motorcycle, you should hear (and most of the time feel) a “click” here. This is normal. Some motorcycles have a very loud and hard click (my Yamaha does, for example), some are buttery smooth. With practice and experience, you will know when you have engaged the next gear of your motorcycle properly.
Don’t tap or lift the gear shift lever twice, you’ll end up shifting 2 gears at a time (unless you’re already in the 2nd or penultimate gear, of course). Some situations might need you to do that, but most of the time, YOSO (you only shift once).
This setp is actually the easiest of all!
4. Give some throttle
Now it’s time to give a some throttle by rotating the throttle towards you.
The goal here is to help re-engage the clutch by having an appropriate RPM. Having a low RPM might not be a big concern on 4-cylinders (and more) engines, but on 3-cylinders (and less) engines, the RPM will be so slow that your bike might start to shake. It might even cause your engine to stall.
If you are shifting up, you want to give just a little bit of throttle to have a nice, long acceleration, avoiding that shaky / stalling action. Beware that if you give too much throttle, you will give your clutch a hard time afterward.
If you are shifting down, you want to give quite a lot of throttle before re-engaging the clutch. If you don’t give enough throttle, you encounter the risk or having a really rough deceleration as soon as the clutch kicks in, which might be dangerous, let alone uncomfortable.
So help your engine and clutch by giving it the right RPM to cope with the next gear better. The right amount of throttle is really important and will come with practice. You’ll develop some nice muscle memory and won’t think about it in a matter of weeks.
5. Release the clutch lever
This is the critical part.
Releasing the clutch lever – effectively re-engaging the clutch – should be slower than squeezing it.
This is especially true when you are downshifting: because you gave quite a lot of throttle (making your engine rev at high RPM), you should help your clutch deal with this high RPM by releasing the clutch lever really smoothly. It can take up to 2 seconds to do so. If you did this correctly, you should feel a positive yet comfortable deceleration.
When upshifting, because your engine runs at lower RPM, your motorcycle will behave a lot like when you get going from a full stop. The only difference being that your engine might be still at a higher RPM than when it’s idle, and so the re-engaging the clutch will be that much smoother.
6. Wrapping it up
And just like that, you now know how to change gears on a motorcycle!
It’s not that complicated, really.
If you’re just starting out, it might take a few days or weeks to feel comfortable, but I can assure you that you won’t be thinking about it really quickly and will be focussing on what matters: enjoying the ride!