clutch handling

by Margaret Little
(Homer NY )

What does it mean to "ride the clutch"? I am a novice rider and struggle mightily with down shifting at curves and corners when I have to stop. First gear is a b**** to find sometimes. There has to be an easier way. And I can't follow the more experienced riders I see in my car๐Ÿ˜‹. They'd think I was stalking 'em! Thanks for any explanation/encouragement out there!

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Feb 09, 2015
re: Clutch handling
by: DarShadow

@Margaret, all great comments given here. You can also look at hundreds of videos on YouTube that answers your question, from professional trainers and riders and those of us who ride just for the pure enjoyment. This way you can see how they're doing it, while explaining it as well. Thanks to this website and YouTube videos, I've gotten a ton of knowledge about riding techniques.


Oct 15, 2014
Parking lot practic
by: Anonymous

Go to a parking lot or place with no traffic and, going in a straight line, practice going forward in first gear, letting out the clutch, then pulling it back in, over and over, so you know exactly where that point is when the bike starts moving forward and when it disengages. You'll be going forward/almost stopping in spurts. Try doing this for about a quarter to half mile or whatever length you need to really know that shift point. If you do that until you really get it, starting out at lights, starting on a hill etc won't throw you. And you'll know when you get it. It's an "aha" moment. Also, when riding, keep your eyes on where you want to go because that's where your bike will travel.

Always scan the road ahead, right up to the horizon, and get used to using your peripheral vision as well. It amazing how many riders (and car drivers) only look at the back end of what's directly in front of them. If you don't scan, you won't be prepared for what's up ahead such as upcoming corners etc. so get in the habit of scanning. If you get to a point where you start going on long rides, it also helps prevent eye fatigue. Also check you rear views periodically for people overtaking, tailgating etc. In other words, learn to be aware of what's happening all around you so you'll be ready if you need to make a quick decision.

More parking lot maneuvers: Learn how to use your brakes, fronts only, rears only then front/back together, at various speeds, so you know exactly how your bike responds under breaking, how each of your brakes affects the bike's handling. When you learn these, then try a high speed stop with both brakes so you know how much distance you need for a very fast emergency stop. There's seldom a reason to "lay the bike down". That's usually a sign of someone who didn't learn to ride well, usually due to starting out on a bike that was too big for proper learning.

More parking lot maneuvers: Make lots of circles, without putting your feet down at all, clockwise, counterclockwise, large, smaller, tighter and tipping at some point until a bike part touches, then hold it like that through the circle. This will tell you how low your bike can go in a corner and how comfortable you feel/don't feel when your bike is that low. Some bikes won't touch a part at all. You'll find out when you practice these. When you know these things about the bike and yourself, you'll be much better at cornering-and more confident and competent.

On the road, for corners, anticipate the corner and start downshifting, bringing your speed down as you go down through the gears, one at a time, until you're at a speed that feels comfortable to you for going through the corner. Don't try to ride past your abilities. They will grow with experience.

When downshifting, give the engine a little rev for each downshift so the inner gears can mesh rather than crunching together, go down a gear, let the clutch out. Repeat until you're in a gear that's feels right for that particular corner. As you improve, you'll be able to go through the corners a little faster, a little more comfortably, a little smoother. I like to stay away from the curb side when cornering on certain types of roads in case there's a bicycle, a pedestrian, a parked car etc where I can't see them until I'm in the corner and it's too late.

You would "ride the clutch", that is, keep it held in, if you were doing a very rapid downshifting through a lot of gears in a situation for example where say a corner turned out to be more radical than you anticipated, or you wanted to go into a corner with a lot of speed. You'd hold in the clutch and start cramming through the gears without letting the clutch out until you reached the gear you wanted. You'll have a lot of miles under your belt before you start doing that.

Another time when some people ride the clutch is at stop lights or stop signs when they stay in first gear and hold the clutch in. This is hard on your clutch, not to mention fatiguing on your hand, especially if you're gong through a lot of stop and go traffic. You're better off learning to shift into neutral as you come to a stop,before your feet even touch down, then, when you're stopped, very gently let out the clutch to make sure you actually reached neutral. If you missed neutral, and you'll know if the bike tries to surge forward, quickly pull the clutch back in and fiddle the gear shift until you think you're in neutral. Again, slowly let the clutch out. If you don't surge forward, roll the bike slightly back and forth to see if it rolls freely. If it does, you're in neutral. Sometimes a neutral light will come on, but you might not really be in neutral, so this double checks it. When you're ready to roll, pull in the clutch and slip it into first and you're off. (And doing it perfectly from all that parking lot practice.) Learning to go into neutral as you come to a stop is another thing you can learn in a parking lot until you really learn your bike's neutral.

Hope that helps.

Jul 27, 2014
Clutch during stopping
by: MySpirit


It sounds like you are doing it right. When I go to stop, I pull my clutch in and leave it as I downshift through each gear to first. I know some people say this s hard on a clutch but I do not think that is true since motorcycle clutches are wet clutches on almost all brands which makes tem very forgiving.

Anyway doing it this way for me is much easier as there is no stalling. Pull the clutch in and down shift one gear at a time. Once to does not do anythong aftrt downshifting you know you are in first. I also count when shifting to help me know which gear I am in.

Hope this is helpful to you for finding first.

Jul 26, 2014
Clutch handling clarified thanks!
by: Margaret

So I think I have been doing it correctly all along, but just not realizing it. I took the MSF course 1.2 times (counseled out first time -too nervous), but passed in may '14. I now ride a Suzuki 250gz but have only put 200+/- miles on it. I am an impatient perfectionist, I guess.๐Ÿ˜ณ Seat time and empty parking lot practice sounds like a good idea. Thanks ladies! Cannot wait to upgrade to bigger bike to handle these CNY hills.

Jul 26, 2014
clutch is your friend
by: mySpirit

I believe it is when you pull the clutch partially in to reduce the power to the back wheel to help control speed in turns and slow maneuvers. For example when I make a turn from the pavement onto my gravel driveway which is also a downhill sloped drive, I want to go at a slower speed and not use any brake (the front brake will make you take a fall on gravel - guess how I know this!), so I already have my speed reduced as I begin the turn. I pull the clutch about halfway back but not all the way in. All the way in would give me zero power to my back tire which is not what I want this time. Halfway in reduces the power to the back tire allowing me to make the turn slowly Into the gravel slope without using my brake but still controlling my speed. Once I am straight on the gravel I let out the clutch so the tire now had complete power. I then use the clutch and my back brake to come to a complete stop once I reach the garage.

The friction zone if you are not familiar is when you pull the clutch about halfway back and you feel the bike wants to go but it does not go until you slowly let the clutch out while easing on the throttle. The clutch is your friend and once you master it you will be much better at controlling your bike.

If you have not taken the riders course please do it. It is very good at helping you learn the clutch, throttle, and friction zone.

Jul 24, 2014
Slow & Easy
by: Gypsy Spirit

Go slow and breathe! Slow down and downshift BEFORE you begin the turn! The way it was taught to me was "Slow in, Faster out" of turns.

When downshifting, remember your gears work in a ratchet motion. Release the shift pedal between EACH gear so it can move to the next one.

I"m not sure what you are riding, but you may want also want to have your bike checked for an mechanical issues (clutch adjustment, gear oil, etc) that may make it difficult to shift into first.

Work that clutch. Know where the friction point is. That is the "slow handling" for things like figure 8s and u-turns. Pulling in the clutch (COASTING, NOT SHIFTING) in a turn helps slow the bike without breaking traction like backing off the throttle and using the brakes do. Sometimes it cab be just enough. Ease the clutch back out after you are through the turn and upright again.

Go slow. Ride how you feel comfortable. IMO the biggest mistake new riders make is trying to "keep up". Let them go. They'll wait up the road until you catch up. Take the MSF course if you haven't already.

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