How to Change Gears on a Motorcycle: A Beginner’s Guide

Learning how to change gears on a motorcycle is one of the most important and fundamental skills to master.

If you’re based in the UK, there’s a chance you’ll do your CBT on a geared motorbike. If this is the case, a good portion of the day will cover operating the gears. 

More often than not though, your CBT will be done on an automatic, and changing gears won’t be covered. This can often leave newer riders feeling overwhelmed when it comes to riding a geared motorcycle for the first time.

In this guide, we’re going to cover all of the steps necessary to get you smoothly changing gears in no time at all!

Red Honda CBR600RR changing gear

How to Change Up Gears Whilst Accelerating

If you’re already comfortable setting off and stopping in 1st gear, skip ahead to step 7.

1. Take some time to become familiar with the position of the clutch lever, the throttle, and the gear shifter. The clutch is in front of your left hand, the throttle is your right-hand grip, and the gear shifter is the peg in front/above your left foot.

2. Before setting off for the first time, there are a few stationary techniques that you practise. We recommend starting with the motorcycle in neutral and on a level surface (to avoid rolling). Neutral is located between 1st and 2nd gear (a green ‘N’ should be highlighted on the dash).

3. With the motorbike switched on, try pulling the clutch in and pushing the gear shifter downwards with your foot. You should hear an audible ‘click’ once 1st gear has been selected. Remember NOT to release the clutch in gear when the motorcycle is switched on, as this will cause you to lurch forward.

4. Now (with the clutch still in), gently push the gear shifter upwards, and you should re-select neutral. If the green ‘N’ only flashes momentarily, you’ve likely pressed too hard, skipped neutral, and selected 2nd gear. If this does happen, gently press downwards and try to find neutral again. Once the green light reappears, you can safely release the clutch.

Once you’re comfortable with steps 3 & 4, you can try setting off for the first time.

5. Start by finding neutral and turning the ignition on. Now, pull in the clutch and click the gear shifter downwards to select 1st gear. Begin to apply a small amount of throttle (just enough to hear the revs increase slightly) and gradually release the clutch. Once you’re moving, you can fully release the clutch and begin to increase your throttle input slowly.

6. When you want to come to a stop, gently roll off the throttle and begin to press the brake. Once you’ve slowed right down, pull the clutch all the way in to ensure that the motorcycle doesn’t stall as you come to a halt. From here, you can either select neutral and switch the machine off or practise steps 5 & 6 again.

Once you’re comfortable with steps 5 & 6, you can then try selecting a higher gear.

7. Let’s assume that you’ve set off, fully released the clutch, and you’re now accelerating. When you want to select the next gear, release the throttle, pull the clutch in, and click the gear shifter upwards. You should feel the next gear engage. Then, gently release the clutch whilst gradually applying the throttle again. It really is that simple!

How to Change Down Gears Whilst Decelerating

So, you’ve learnt how to change up through the gears on a motorcycle, but what about down? Well, the process is largely the same; however, you’re pressing the gear shifter downwards this time.

  1. Start by rolling off the throttle.
  2. Gently begin to press on the brake lever (if you need to slow down more quickly).
  3. Pull the clutch all the way in.
  4. Firmly press the gear shifter downwards until you feel the lower gear engage.
  5. Gradually release the clutch (unless you’re coming to a complete stop or walking pace).
man riding cruiser motorcycle

When to Shift Gears on a Motorcycle?

This will largely depend on the motorcycle you’re riding; however, there are a few general rules.

When accelerating, you’ll want to select a higher gear once you reached the peak amount of torque. This spot usually ranges anywhere from 70-90% of the maximum rpm.

This number will vary from one motorcycle to the next, so it’s worth learning the characteristics of your machine. For instance, peak torque on an SV650 is around 7,200 rpm, whereas this number is closer to 10,500 rpm on an R6.

When decelerating, you’ll want to select a lower gear if:

  • You want to slow down more quickly (with the help of engine braking).
  • Your speed is too low for that particular gear, reducing your ability to accelerate. 

For example, slowly approaching a junction in 5th gear and trying to accelerate away will likely result in stalling the motorcycle. Instead, you’re better off selecting a lower gear on your approach, allowing you to keep the revs higher and accelerate away smoothly.

Motorbike Gear Changing Tips & Advice

  • Whilst stationary, don’t release the clutch if you’re in gear! This will cause you to lurch forward and could result in you dropping the bike.
  • When changing gear, make sure to pull the clutch in all the way and firmly select the next gear. Not applying enough force to the gear shifter could result in a false neutral.
  • Being able to rev-match is a technique that all riders should eventually learn how to do. Rev-matching not only sounds incredible, but it also reduces transmission wear and allows for much smoother downshifts!
  • It’s worth learning about auto-blippers and quick shifters as they’re rapidly becoming increasingly common on newer motorcycles.
  • Make sure your motorcycle boots fit correctly and have adequate padding on the toe box. This will ensure a good connection with the gear shifter and reduce wear from changing gears.
  • Some smaller capacity machines, typically off-road motorcycles, have a different gear pattern. Instead of 1-N-2-3-4-5-6, neutral is located beneath 1st gear, so the pattern becomes N-1-2-3-4-5.

Final Thoughts

Despite being daunting to begin with, learning how to change gears on a motorcycle isn’t difficult. With a little bit of research and plenty of practise, you’ll be flicking through the gearbox like a pro in no time at all!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide! Consider checking out our reviews and other articles for more useful tips and advice.