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Basic Skills: Master your gearbox

One of the most difficult parts of riding a bike is changing gears. On a race track a bad gear change can lose you valuable seconds, on the road a botched gear change looks messy and you'll feel a bit embarrassed.

If you're planning on taking pillions with you then a smooth gear change is all the more vital for pillion-comfort.

Glyn Harper of Top Run Motorcycle Training (01226 282999) explains the perfect gear change:

  • Changing up the gears
    First you need to find the ‘biting’ point – this is the point on the clutch where as you release the lever you begin to get drive. Using the biting point when changing up the gears can make it a lot smoother. "A lot of people when they start will pull the clutch fully in and completely shut the throttle when they want to change to a higher gear, but this is unnecessary," explains Glyn, "All that is needed is for you to pull the clutch in about an inch or so, to engage the clutch and just slightly roll off the throttle so the revs are no longer rising. Don't release the clutch fast to start with, feed it out like you would when setting off to get used to it.”

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  • Changing down the gears
    Shifting back down the gears can often catch out new or less experienced riders. Changing down too many gears and releasing the clutch fast can cause the back wheel to lock and even skid. The key to a good down change is blipping the throttle and precise use of the clutch, as Glyn explains: "When you change down the gears the engine speed rises, so if you blip the throttle just before you change down the gear this will enable you to match the engine speed and allow you to engage the lower gear smoothly. Also make sure you feed the clutch out slowly - just ‘dumping’ the clutch will make the bike lurch forward and could even lock the back wheel.”


  • Clutch-less upshifts
    You’ll hear about this from more advanced riders and it’s a technique often employed by racers. But clutchless upshifts are something that you should ignore if you've never ridden a geared bike before as it is something to learn once you have mastered using the clutch. The theory is that when you are approaching the point where you want to change up put a little pressure on the gear lever. When you're ready to change up release the throttle slightly and the bike will go in to gear. "Again don't fully close the throttle, only close it slightly - just a little flick of the wrist works fine," says Glyn, "Changing up the gears without using the clutch is a lot easier on the clutch and gearbox, but it takes time to perfect it. It's not something that should be attempted until you are comfortable changing gears with the clutch."


  • Clutch Adjustment
    Most bikes now have everything set up fine for the average rider, but if you have small hands or very large hands, you’ll want to make sure the clutch lever span is adjusted so it’s comfortable for you. “If you’ve got small hands you’ll want to adjust the clutch so the biting point is closer to the lever so you don’t have to stretch to get going. Likewise if you have large hands you might want to adjust the biting point so it’s further away from the bar, to stop you getting cramp.”

If you are a new or inexperienced rider and have any questions about riding or techniques that you would like us to cover in future columns, then contact Liam Marsden at and we’ll do our best to help.

New Rider is presented in association with Just Motorcycle Insurance.

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