Downshifting -- Help!

by Karen
(Ottawa, ON)

I've taken the safety class and have a bike.... and insurance, all that good stuff.

I've only been out in the neighborhood a dozen times. I'm still very new at riding. But the neighborhood consists of STOP signs. I pull in the clutch and downshift to first.

What if I take it out on the main streets with traffic lights...What if I start to down shift to first and the light turns green...
What do I do?

... I have no clue how to downshift.

Any recommended books?

Any recommendations on where to practice and how to practice downshifting?

Anyone else have trouble with this?


Comments for Downshifting -- Help!

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Jun 21, 2011
Good suggestion!
by: Sandra

Martinique gave good advice! Learn the art of engine braking - however, do not be intimidated by the process - I'm half afraid to do it after reading her descriptions! LOL It is true that there is a skill to downshifting and allowing the machine to slow itself down...but don't be afraid; it is MEANT to be done. Half the fun of riding is in becoming one with your machine.

Pull in the clutch; down shift one gear. As soon as you pull in the clutch your bike begins to slow ever so slightly without any braking, just like taking your foot off the accelerator of your car. Slowly, gently begin to let your clutch back out while using just a bit of brake if you want or need to. It may be "jerky" sometimes - that's what she means by "blip"-ing the throttle (give it just a TOUCH of gas) to match RPM's. The closer your bike is to the appropriate speed for that gear, the smoother your ride will be when letting the clutch out. Work for that smoothness (and MASTER it before ever taking on a passenger!). This can be learned at very low, parking lot speeds so you can get the feel of the engine braking. As you bring your gears and RPM's down, your bike slows even if you don't use your brakes...you won't STOP, but you can greatly reduce your speed - very handy for coming into curves, too, when done in advance. By down shifting one gear at a time, and slowing long before your actual stop light, should it turn green, you can just resume accelerating and UP shifting again through the intersection. The friction zone in your clutch, that instant when the bike starts pulling forward again, gives you so much control. Learn to feel and listen for it and use it. Slow and easy...let the hotdogs pop the clutch and fly herky-jerky down the road. Practice S-M-O-O-T-H-! Any passenger you have in the future will appreciate it, and so will you when they don't slam into your back due to poor clutch technique. :)

Hard to explain, but you will KNOW when you actually get it right! Practice, practice, practice!! :)

Jun 21, 2011
Practice Engine Braking
by: Martinique


I had some problems with this when I first started. I'm used to a manual transmission in my car, but when I'm coming to a stop in my car, I just push in the clutch, and downshift all the way. That didn't work so well on my bike. I'd gone to the BF for help, and he couldn't really understand my problem. I learned through practice though, how to do this.

Since I'm not a serious speed demon, I can do this. Engine braking. They touched on it in my MSF course years ago, but basically, you're using the engine to slow the bike. Try practicing in a parking lot, or if you don't have one close enough, you can do it in your neighborhood, just be careful. If you're in third gear, and you want to slow down, pull in the clutch, drop to second, then let out. As you're letting out the clutch, "blip" the throttle, to bring the engine up enough to match RPM's. You HAVE to learn to blip. This is especially important when downshifting to first and second (at least on my bike), because you can spin out the back tire if you don't match RPMs. If that DOES happen to you, pull the clutch back in, and you'll recover. As you get more saddle time, you'll learn at what speeds and RPMs you need to downshift. You'll learn what gear you need to be in if you're going a certain speed. BUT, my biggest recommendation to you, is to try engine braking, instead of just pulling the clutch in and downshifting all the way. Because if you do that as you're coming to a red light, and it turns green, and you still have some significant speed, you can't be in first when you engage the transmission again, and you run the risk of spinning out the rear.

Another thing on spinning out the rear. I've only done this a few times, before I got confident in my downshifting abilities. One time was on wet pavement, which allowed my tire to slip. The way you do a wheelie is by dropping the clutch, so if you're at WAY too high of a speed for first gear, and you drop the clutch, especially without blipping to match RPMs, you run the risk of picking up the front. Anyways, hope this helps!! Just remember, practice, practice, practice!!!

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