For many people learning to ride a motorcycle shifting can be one of the most challenging aspects of learning to ride, especially if one hasn’t already had experience driving stick shift in a car.
It can be frustrating learning the concept of shifting because when you ask friends or family or other experienced riders to explain how and when to shift to you; the answer you will usually get is “you’ll feel when you need to shift.”
After riding for years I definitely agree with that statement and once you get the hang of shifting you’ll completely know what all those people were talking about, however to the beginner rider who has no experience riding motorcycles or shifting you absolutely won’t know when to shift because you don’t know what to listen for or feel for so this makes learning the concept of shifting very confusing.
Biggest Hang-up – Shifting On A Bike Slightly Different Than A Car
When I was first learning to ride a motorcycle I had some limited experience trying to drive stick in a car and I think this actually made the experience even more confusing for me. I’ll explain why.
In a car each gear has its own place; you’ll see what I mean in the diagram below. For example when your in first gear not only will you move the stick to a certain position, up and to the left, the stick will also be in it’s own gear or it’s own place. Same with reverse, 2nd gear, 3rd gear, and so on.
On a motorcycle it’s not quite like this however. Assuming your starting in neutral first gear will be a click down and this gear has its own place. Neutral will be a half click up from first gear and neutral will have its own place so to speak. For 2nd gear through 5th gear however you’re going to click up but the shifter or in this case foot peg won’t have its own position for each gear. It was best explained to me to think of this like a ratchet, even though you’re clicking up the actual shifter or foot peg is still going to be sitting in the same place or at the same level on the bike as opposed to 1st gear and neutral which will have their own place so to speak.
I hope this makes sense but I may later make a video to embed in this article to better explain the concept.
Another Hang-up – When Do I Shift
Aside from having a hard time wrapping my head around the position of each gear knowing when to shift into each gear at various speeds and when you should be in different gears can also be very confusing.
Some people will tell you to look at the RPMs when learning to shift and the RPMs will tell you when to shift. My bike was a classic which was very simple and only had a speedometer, no RPM gauge so I learned to ride without one and would encourage others to do so as well as like veteran riders will tell you, for only a short period of time will you need that, soon enough you’ll know by the feel. Also constantly taking your eyes off the road and looking at an RPM gauge isn’t exactly a safe riding practice.
I’ll explain the way I learned to ride which may not be the 100% correct or ideal way but it’s a simple way to get started and once you get the hang of how to shift you will begin to feel when you need to shift and can adjust from this practice of shifting based on your speed alone.
Here is how I taught myself how to shift. This will work on a cruiser, not sure it’s applicable to a sport bike, others maybe can comment no this but I have limited experience riding sport bikes.
I generally stay in first gear from 0-20 M.P.H. Once I hit 20 M.P.H. I shift up to second gear and stay in second gear from 20 M.P.H to 30 M.P.H. Once I hit 30 M.P.H I’ll shift up to third gear and stay in third until I hit 40 M.P.H. I’ll then click to 4rth gear and stay in fourth up till 50 M.P.H. From 50 M.P.H. I’ll stay in fifth for all higher speeds. This is very easy to learn and remember as 20 M.P.H is 2nd gear 30 M.P.H. is 3rd gear, etc.
This isn’t the ideal way to ride but it is safe, it won’t hurt your bike, and it’s a simple easy way to get started and learn how to shift and what your bike will feel like. Once you start to get the hang of it and get more comfortable you’ll begin to understand what people mean when they say you can feel when you need to shift and can adjust your riding style.
What Should I Feel When I Need To Shift?
To a beginner rider this section may go over your head but if you take my advice above and start shifting based on speeds and get a little comfortable you’ll begin to understand this more. When you need to upshift you’ll feel and also hear that your bike is having to work harder to gain speed, you’ll then shift into the next highest gear and you’ll feel the bike has a much easier time maintaining that speed.
As for downshifting it’s essentially the same thing. If you’re in a gear that is too high for the speed you’re going you will feel and hear it in the engine. I don’t know how to describe this sound or feeling as well as the feeling when you need to upshift but once you start getting the hang of things you’ll know what I’m talking about.
I know when I was learning to ride shifting was one of the toughest parts and it was frustrating when people tried to explain it to me and just told me I should feel when I need to upshift and downshift because as a beginner that made no sense to me.