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How to Shift a Dirt Bike (Clutch Guide)


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Shifting gears and using the clutch is one of the most important things you’ll need to master when learning how to ride a dirt bike.

This page will provide you with a step by step process on how to use the dirt bike’s clutch and shift gears. 

You’ll also find some tips on adjusting the clutch and the clutch cable to get the bike to shift better.  

How to Change Gears on a Dirt Bike

Once you get the hang of it, working the clutch and shifting gears on a dirt bike becomes second nature. 

It’s a multi-step process that involves both hands and your left foot moving at once. 

Your left hand will operate the clutch lever on the left side of the handlebars.

Your right hand will operate the throttle. 

Your left foot will shift the shift lever located in front of the left foot peg. 

To shift gears on a dirt bike:

  • Pull in the clutch lever to disengage the transmission. 
  • Use your left foot to move the shift lever up or down (down to shift to a lower gear, up to shift to a higher gear).
  • Gentle release the clutch lever while giving the throttle some gas. 

And that’s really all there is to it. 

The main thing you’ll need to get used to is how much throttle to give it as you release the clutch lever. 

Just like anything on a motorcycle, you should operate the controls smoothly without jamming, grabbing, or stomping them

How Many Gears Does a Dirt Bike Have?

The number of gears your dirt bike has will depend on the size and design of the engine.

Most dirt bikes have 5 gears.

Others may have 4, and some larger bikes may even have 6 gears.

How to Use a Clutch on a Dirt Bike

To use the clutch, you’ll operate the clutch lever with your left hand. 

You’ll need to get to know the clutch’s friction zone, which is the area on the clutch lever where the clutch plates will just begin to engage. 

When starting from a stop, you’ll need to get used to moving the clutch into the friction zone to fully engaged while simultaneously giving the engine enough throttle. 

Where is the Clutch on a Dirt Bike?

The clutch lever is located on the left side of your handlebars. 

The gear shifter is located in front of your left foot.

The clutch basket and plates are located on the right side of your engine. 

How Does a Dirt Bike Clutch Work?

A dirt bike clutch works just like any other motorcycle clutch. 

When the clutch is engaged, power is transferred from the engine to the transmission and the final drive, which powers the rear wheel.

When the clutch is disengaged, the engine is allowed to spin freely while the transmission, final drive, and rear wheel remain stationary

Dirt Bike Shift Pattern

Most dirt bikes will follow the same shift pattern as a street motorcycle. 

The gear shift lever is configured in a 1 down, 4 up pattern. 

Which goes, from bottom to top:

  1. 1st gear
    1. Neutral
  2. 2nd gear.
  3. 3rd gear.
  4. 4th gear.
  5. 5th gear.

All the way at the bottom when pressing down on the lever is 1st gear. 

Half a shift up from first is where you’ll find neutral. 

Pressing up on the lever gets you into the higher gears from 2nd to 5th (or however many gears exist in your dirt bike’s transmission).

How to Adjust the Clutch & Clutch Cable

In order for your dirt bike to shift properly, the clutch and clutch cable will need to be adjusted. 

If you cannot get your clutch to work correctly after making the necessary adjustments, it may indicate that it is time to replace the clutch cable or the plates.

In order to work properly, the clutch lever needs to have about a ½” of free play at the end. This is achieved by making adjustments at the cable’s ends and the clutch basket. 

To start, you’ll need to confirm that the clutch actuator nut is set to the proper position. This nut is typically located on the outside of the clutch cover on your engine. Most bikes will call for the nut to be set about a half turn out from when you start to feel resistance. 

After that, there are 2 adjustments on the clutch cable – one near where the cable enters the engine case and the other near the clutch lever. 

Make the first adjustments at the cable adjuster bolt near the engine. 

Finish up with minor adjustments by setting the adjuster screw that secures the cable to the clutch lever. 

Set the lock nuts in places once you’ve achieved the proper amount of free play in the clutch lever. 

Refer to your dirt bike’s service manual for specifics. 

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