How to Get Better at Shifting Gears on a Motorcycle?

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If you’re new to riding a motorcycle, you’ll likely be in that frustrating phase where you’re familiar with shifting gears – but not perfect at it.

Shifting correctly maximises your bike’s performance and helps with smoothness. But mechanics aside, there’s something satisfying about hitting smooth and well-timed shifts as you power through the twisties!

Here are some tips for getting better at shifting gears on a motorcycle.

shifting gears motorcycle - bmw bike

Shifting Gears on a Motorcycle: Understand the Basics

Before you start shifting gears, let’s get to grips with the basics of how a motorcycle works.

In a nutshell, we use the clutch to disengage the engine from the transmission to change gears without grinding them together.

As per your riding lessons, when using the clutch for shifting gears on a motorcycle, we follow these steps:

  1. When you’re ready to shift to a higher gear, bring the bike up to the desired speed and then pull in the clutch lever with your left hand whilst rolling off the throttle.
  2. Use your left foot to shift up to the next gear by pressing on the gear shifter.
  3. Once you’ve shifted into the new gear, slowly release the clutch lever while simultaneously rolling the on the throttle with your right hand. This will smoothly engage the engine with the new gear and maintain a consistent speed.
  4. When you’re ready to shift down to a lower gear, pull in the clutch lever with your left hand, roll off the throttle, and use your left foot to shift down to the desired gear.
  5. Before you release the clutch lever, blip (or rev) the throttle with your right hand. This will help match the engine and transmission speeds for a smoother downshift.
  6. Once you’ve revved the engine, release the clutch lever slowly while simultaneously rolling off the throttle with your right hand. This will allow the engine to smoothly engage with the lower gear without providing too much torque.

If you are new to rev-matching (or blipping the throttle), it all sounds quite complicated. But it takes a split second and makes all the difference. But more on blipping later!

Either way, the timing and coordination of these steps will vary depending on the specific motorcycle you’re riding and your level of experience and riding style.

Finessing Your Technique

If you’re a newbie rider, you probably have the basic understanding of shifting gears (above) nailed. But they might not be as clean, crisp, smooth, or well-timed as you want them. So, let’s look at a few ways to refine those shifts.

Adjust Stuff

One of the first things you can do that will make an immediate change to your shifts is to adjust the clutch lever.

Adjusting the clutch lever on your motorcycle can have several benefits for your riding experience. Adjusting the lever to fit your hand size and grip preference will improve your clutch control and overall comfort on the bike. Adjusting the lever can also help reduce hand fatigue during longer rides by allowing you to maintain a comfortable grip on the lever.

This can be especially important for riders with smaller or larger hands who may find the stock clutch position too difficult to reach or hold for extended periods.

Fanning the Clutch

Fanning the clutch when shifting gears on a motorcycle is a technique used to engage the engine and transmission when shifting between gears smoothly. It involves partially engaging the clutch while shifting gears to help make gear changes quicker and more efficient.

The technique is the same as the basic instructions for shifting gears above. But once your lever is in the correct place (for you), and you know exactly where the engagement point is, fanning the clutch allows you to only partially engage the clutch.

In other words, you don’t pull the clutch lever in as you would traditionally. You pull it in just enough to engage the clutch so you can fire through the gears.

motorbike clutch lever

Shifting Gears on a Motorcycle: Taking it Further

So you know about changing gears. You know how it works, and you’ve got your timing down to a fine art. Once you’re at this point, you’ll probably take pride in your shifts. And you’ll want them to be as smooth and slick as possible! And if you’re at this point, you’ll likely be interested in clutchless shifting, too.

Clutchless Shifting

Clutchless shifting is a technique used by some experienced riders to shift gears on a motorcycle without using the clutch lever. Instead of pulling in the clutch, the rider uses a combination of throttle control and pressure on the gear shifter to engage the engine and transmission smoothly.

The main advantage of clutchless shifting is faster and smoother shifting. And it’s also satisfying! But it comes in incredibly handy when riding with a pillion, too.

By engaging/disengaging the throttle and shifting simultaneously, riders can match the engine speed with the new gear without relying on the clutch to disengage and re-engage the transmission.

This reduces time spent shifting gears and allows you to maintain momentum and acceleration easily through each gear.

However, it’s important to note that clutchless shifting requires advanced skill and precision and should only be attempted by experienced riders who are confident in their abilities and familiar with their motorcycle.

How To Clutchless Shift

  • Accelerate until you reach the desired speed for the next gear.
  • Roll off the throttle slightly to reduce the engine load.
  • Apply upward pressure on the gear shifter with your toe to shift up.
  • Release the pressure on the gear shifter and smoothly roll the throttle back on to engage the new gear.
  • Once the gear is engaged, you can smoothly roll on the throttle to continue accelerating.

However, things change a little when shifting down, and more finesse is required. Clutchless downshifting provides few advantages over regular downshifting, so using the clutch is generally easier. But if you’re going to do it, here’s what you need to do.

  • Roll off the throttle as you approach the desired downshifting speed.
  • Apply downward pressure on the gear shifter with your toe to shift down.
  • Simultaneously, blip the throttle to raise the engine RPM to match that of the lower gear.
  • Release the pressure on the gear shifter and re-apply the throttle to engage the new gear.
  • Once the gear is engaged, you can smoothly roll the throttle back on.

A Note on Blipping the Throttle

Throttle blipping brings the engine RPM up to the appropriate level to match the lower gear. By blipping the throttle, you’re able to downshift far more smoothly.

It should be noted, however, that throttle blipping requires advanced skill and should only be attempted by experienced riders. Improperly executed downshifts can cause damage to the motorcycle and be dangerous for the rider.

shifting gears motorcycle - motorbike throttle blip

Shifting Gears on a Motorcycle: Quick-shifters

I never thought a quick-shifter would be something I’d need – until I rode a bike with one! My current bike also has a QS, and I honestly can’t see myself going back.

So, how do quick-shifters work, and why would you want one?

Quick shifters are a relatively new technology that allows motorcycles to shift gears quickly and efficiently without using the clutch lever.

They use sensors and electronic controls to cut the throttle and adjust the ignition timing during gear changes, allowing the gears to shift smoothly and with minimal interruption to engine power.

Some advanced quick-shifters can even sense the rider’s shift timing and adjust the gears accordingly, making every shift faster and smoother. This technology has primarily been used in high-performance racing motorcycles but is becoming increasingly available in production models

Quick shifters can significantly improve the riding experience by reducing the time and effort required to shift gears – and they’re just so satisfying!

How to Quick-shift

Upshifting

  • Accelerate to the desired speed for the next gear.
  • Keep the throttle open and apply slight upward pressure on the gear shifter to activate the quick-shifter.
  • Within milliseconds, the quick-shifter will cut the throttle momentarily and adjust the ignition timing to disengage the current gear and engage the next gear smoothly.
  • Release the pressure on the gear shifter and maintain the roll-on of the throttle.
  • Once the gear is engaged, the quick-shifter will adjust the ignition timing and throttle settings to maximise the power output for the new gear.

Downshifting

  • Reduce your speed until you reach the desired speed for the lower gear.
  • Apply slight downward pressure to the gear shifter to activate the QS.
  • The quick-shifter will momentarily cut the throttle and adjust ignition timing to disengage the current gear and engage the next one smoothly.
  • As soon as you feel the shift, release your foot from the shifter.
kawasaki quick shifter

A Few Notes on Quick-shifting

One thing I see (a lot) with people using a QS is throttle roll-off when shifting UP through the gears. You don’t need to roll off the throttle when shifting up with a QS! 

The other thing to note with quick shifters is that they work better at speed. Using the QS as you accelerate through the gears gives clean, crisp changes – much less agricultural than shifts performed at slower speeds.

This is also true when downshifting. You’ll find you downshift much earlier with a QS than a clutch. This will force you to use engine braking to slow down as you approach bends.

Downshifting at higher revs keeps the change smooth. And whilst it may take a few goes to get it right, the result is immense.

Another reason to downshift early is that if you leave it too late and end up trying to downshift mid-bend (when you’ve lost speed), you’ll find yourself stomping down on the gear pedal whilst nothing happens.

Shifting Gears on a Motorcycle: Conclusion

Effective gear shifting on a motorcycle requires precise timing and control to ensure smooth transitions.

Clutchless shifting and quick-shifters provide several advantages over traditional shifting methods, such as smoother shifts, reduced time shifting, minimal power drops when downshifting at higher speeds, and general efficiency.

But like all things, they take practice to get right! Keep practising, and you’ll reap the rewards!

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