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Downshifting on a motorcycle is something that takes a lot of time and practice before you can do it perfectly every time.
Manual transmission on a motorcycle gives you a higher degree of control when compared to an automatic transmission that does all of the work for you.
When to Downshift on a Motorcycle
There are a couple of different reasons why you might be wanting to downshift on a motorcycle.
- If you’re slowing down the motorcycle and coming to a stop, you should downshift so your engine is doing the work instead of your brakes.
- Shifting a motorcycle up or down in gears brings it into its powerband. Every bike has a different power band, and if you’re trying to pass someone and need more acceleration, you’ll shift downshift to access that powerband.
If you’ve ever watched a motorcycle race, you’ll hear the racers downshifting all of the time. The same theory goes with driving a car. When you’re taking a sharp corner or simply just turning, you’ll slow the vehicle down. With a motorcycle, this is where you would downshift before making that turn.
Techniques for Downshifting a Motorcycle
Like every technique that takes time and practice to learn, there is a right way and a wrong way to downshift on a motorcycle. Downshifting is a simple technique that most people can learn within a few attempts of driving a motorcycle, but downshifting with the proper technique is a whole different story.
You never see someone trying to do a wheelie on a motorcycle in 5th gear because that isn't where the power band is. In the most straightforward sense, downshifting a motorcycle is comprised of a few things:
- Pulling the clutch lever in
- Pushing the shifter down your foot
- Releasing the clutch lever to its original position
Many new motorcycle drivers fail to recognize is the matching of the engine speed in conjunction with the road speed. This skill only comes with experience. If you release the clutch too fast, the motorcycle will chug a bit. If you release it too late, the engine will rev.
Once a motorcyclist gains experience, they'll soon begin to time the downshift to the point where it almost becomes like an automatic transmission.
Wrist Position For Downshifting
Keep your wrist in more of a lower position on the handlebar to give you more functional control of the brake and the throttle at the same time.
When you start to learn the fundamentals of your bike, you'll find that you only have to pull back the clutch lever back to a certain point. It's natural to pull the clutch lever back as far as it can go on a bike you aren't familiar with, but as you drive more and more, you'll see it doesn't need to be done.
A good indicator that the clutch lever is pulled too far is if it comes in contact with the handlebar or your fingers. Another thing to consider is how you're using your foot. If you preload the shifter by pushing on it with your foot, the transmission will engage into gear more seamlessly.
It doesn't matter the number of gears that you're shifting through. You can pop the clutch at the same speed throughout each shift. Another helpful tip is that you should typically only be downshifting a single gear as you're holding in the clutch.
Steps To Downshifting
1. Clutch Lever
Always keeping the clutch lever pulled in will lower the chances of wearing out your transmission over time.
After the clutch lever is pulled in, start applying the breaks. The front and back brakes should both be engaged at this point, and your right hand should still carefully be on the throttle as you apply the brakes at the same time. Only use your index and middle fingers for the brake lever, as it makes things much simpler.
Shifting to a different gear will be dependent on what type of driving condition you're in. If you're making a turn, you will be downshifting. If you're getting onto the freeway, you'll be upshifting.
4. Use Your Fingers
Getting used to using your fingers takes practice when you're learning how to use the brakes and throttle of the motorcycle at the same time. When you get the grasp on your finger positioning, downshifting will become much easier.
Use your thumb and your pinky finger to control the throttle while downshifting. Apply the brakes with the rest of your fingers. If you want, you can also use two for the brakes and the rest for the throttle.
5. Let Go of the Brakes and the Clutch
Let go of the brakes before you let go of the clutch. If you follow the steps correctly, the shifting should be smooth and seamless.
Blip vs Slip - What’s the Difference?
Blipping and slipping are two terms used to refer to controlling the throttle. Blipping is where you open up the throttle with a quick jolt, and at the same time, pull the clutch and the gearshift lever.
The whole point of flipping is to match the engine RPMs to what gear you're in before letting go of the clutch. Blipping only takes under a second to do. A lot of motorcycle racers will use this technique when they are approaching a corner.
Slipping the clutch is a little different from blipping so that it doesn’t give you that extra surge of acceleration. Blipping and slipping the clutch on a motorcycle is something that becomes second nature to you, even if you aren’t aware of the terms.
Slipping the clutch on downshifts eliminates the blip. Rather, the rider pushes the clutch in, downshifts, and then effortlessly releases the clutch lever to engage the new gear. The key to doing this right is to downshift as soon as possible, so the engine speed does not decrease too far.
Pros of Blipping
- Doesn’t wear out the clutch as much as slipping it
- Smoother shifting than slipping
- Maintains overall balance of the motorcycle
Cons of Slipping
- Premature wear on the transmission of the motorcycle
- Can sometimes cause a surge of acceleration that might offset the balance of the bike
Tips and Safety Considerations When Downshifting
Shifting gears is more than about allowing the motorcycle to accelerate smoothly. When downshifting, turning, or starting on hills, sloppy shifting will lead to a crash.
The gears in a motorcycle transmission balance the engine speed (measured by the tachometer) with the motorcycle's road speed (measured by the speedometer in km/h or mph).
Always want to keep your bike in neutral when standing still. As you gradually gain speed, you smoothly shift your motorcycle to the next gear, ensuring you're not turning sharply at the same time. If you refer to your motorcycle manual, there will be guidelines about what speeds to downshift and upshift.
The right gear will also give you the right amount of speed for the right purpose. If you're coming to a red light, you'll be downshifting until you reach a complete stop.
To downshift safely, you will be opening up the throttle while you're shifting down. Ensure that the bike isn't propelling forward when you're releasing the clutch. If you don't have the proper engine speed when you're shifting down, it could turn into a skid.
If you're coming to a turn up ahead, you should downshift before you get to it. Shifting up in gears shouldn't be done unless the turn is very gradual and smooth. If you exert too much power on the back wheel of the motorcycle, it could skid. Always ensure you're changing gears before you start a turn.
Downshifting your motorcycle is a skill that takes time, practice, and patience to learn. As you begin to get a good grasp of how your motorcycle operates, you can downshift and upshift without a second thought.
People Also Ask
If you still have some questions about downshifting, here are some of the most common things that people wonder about.
Is Downshifting Bad for a Motorcycle?
Every motorcycle is built for downshifting, and it’s never bad for it as long as you’re doing it properly every time.
Can You Downshift Multiple Gears on a Motorcycle?
While you can downshift many times on a motorcycle, it’s recommended to keep the speed of the motorcycle matched to what gear you’re in. Downshifting from the highest gear to the lowest gear isn’t recommended.
What Happens If You Downshift Too Soon on a Motorcycle?
Downshifting too soon on a motorcycle can cause the rear wheel to start skidding, and that can quickly turn into an accident. You should downshift in a way where the speed matches the gear you’re downshifting into.
Do You Need To Downshift When Stopping a Motorcycle?
The best way to stop a motorcycle is by downshifting through each gear until you reach the gear you started in. As you downshift, you’ll also want to apply the brakes synchronously so that the downshifting isn’t putting too much strain on the engine.