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✔ Article reviewed by Ethan Orenstein. Bringing motorcycles back from the dead since 2013. Learn More.

How to Shift a Motorcycle

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If you’re not used to operating a manual transmission, you may be wondering how you’re going to change gears on your motorcycle.

Most motorcycle are going to require you to manually shift gears.

It’s not too difficult to get the hang of – even if you’re new to it.

Motorcycle Shift Pattern (1 down, 4 up)

Most all modern motorcycles are going to follow the same shift pattern: one down, four up (or five up). The shift pattern goes like this:

  • 1st gear: lowest position down.
  • Neutral: click up from 1st.
  • 2nd gear: position up from neutral.
  • 3rd gear: position up from 2nd.
  • 4th gear: position up from 3rd.
  • 5th gear+: position up from 4th.

Older bikes may follow a different pattern. Sometimes you’ll see a one up, four down shift pattern.

But most bikes will follow the standard pattern of: 1, N, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

How to Change Gears on a Motorcycle

How to Shift a Motorcycle

There are a few things involved with changing gears on your motorcycle, these include:

  • The clutch lever.
  • The shift lever.
  • The throttle and engine RPMs.

You need to be thinking about these 3 items simultaneously while shifting up to a higher gear or downshifting as you slow down.

The key to a clean shift is changing gears at the appropriate engine RPMs with the appropriate clutch and throttle technique.

The basic steps to change gears on a motorcycle involve:

  • Disengaging the clutch by pulling in the clutch lever.
  • Roll off the throttle.
  • Using the shift lever to shift up or down to the next gear.
  • Smoothly roll on the throttle while you gradually release the clutch lever.
  • Continue to accelerate in the new gear.

The biggest part of this to master is your clutch and throttle technique. You’ll need to practice doing this smoothly and gradually so as not to accidentally kill the engine or jerk forward (pop a wheelie) too quickly.

Where is the clutch on a motorcycle?

The clutch lever is located on the left side of your handlebars. You operate it with your left hand.

The gear shift lever is located on the left side as well, you’ll change gears with your left foot.

The throttle is located on the right side of the handlebars. Roll your wrist backwards to open the throttle (speed up) and forward to close it (slow down).

When to Shift Gears on a Motorcycle

The key to shifting gears on your motorcycle is matching engine speed (RPM) with travel speed.

Each gear will reach a point where it’s not generating adequate power for the speed you’re traveling.

Different bikes will have different optimal RPM “targets” for each gear, but as a general rule of thumb:

  • Shift to a higher gear when RPMs are high and you need to speed up.
  • Shift to a lower gear if RPMs are low and you are slowing down.

As you gain more riding experience, you’ll be able to quickly recognize when you should shift up or down by the sound of your engine and how your bike is responding.

Being able to naturally recognize when to change gears allows you to keep your eyes on the road and keep your mind on riding instead of having to look at your tachometer.

Shifting Gears by Engine Sound

If you’re trying to learn how to change gears on your motorcycle in relation to the sound of the engine, the following tips will help:

  • If your engine is making a high pitched or fast sound, shift up.
  • If your engine is making a low pitched or slow sound, shift down.

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Content Editor: Ethan Orenstein

Ethan is not just any motorcycle enthusiast. With a decade of experience riding, maintaining, and restoring a range of motorcycles, Ethan brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. Many of the tips and tricks shared on this site are born from hours spent wrenching on personal bikes. Paired with his experience as a journalist covering DMV & insurance topics, is a must-visit site for any home-mechanic. Every article has been carefully reviewed and edited to ensure accuracy, authenticity, and simplicity - all to help bring your bike back from the dead and onto the road.

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