If you don’t know how to use a manual transmission before learning how to ride a motorcycle, then you soon will. No matter how many wheels you have at your disposal, a manual transmission puts you in complete control. It can seem daunting to the uninitiated, but once you get it, your world is opened up.
Just as a motorcycle’s braking system is as much (if not more) of an important speed management tool as the throttle, downshifting is just as important as (if not more important than) up-shifting. There’s a little more to it than remembering that it’s “five down.” After we take a look at it below, you’ll be able to up your downshifting game.
Downshifting demands input from all four of your extremities. Your left hand and foot control your transmission, while your right hand and foot control braking. Your right hand, however, does double duty as it controls the throttle. Downshifting, therefore, will require you to combine all of these inputs into a bit of a flowing motion.
Motorcycle Downshifting in 5 Steps
- Pull your clutch lever in – all the way in. This will ensure a smooth shift that also eliminates unnecessary wear and tear on your clutch and transmission.
- Start braking right after you’ve started pulling your clutch lever in. Use both brakes, but remember that your right hand will need to control the throttle as well as the brake lever. Use your index and middle fingers to brake.
- Shift down to your new gear. You may be downshifting only one gear, or you may be downshifting all the way down to first. Anything in between is also possible, of course. Your gear selection depends on the “future” situation (a stop sign, a turn, etc.), so make sure it is appropriate.
- As you downshift, use your thumb, ring and pinky fingers to modulate the throttle. You may also choose to modulate the throttle with your thumb and index finger while braking with their remaining three fingers. What is more comfortable is up to you. Apply some throttle, generally up to about 50% of a full turn, but again, it depends on the situation. Because your engine speed will be higher in the lower gear, as discussed, apply enough throttle to match it. If you’re slowing to a stop, you may close the throttle. If re-starting in a lower gear is possible, however, then maintain throttle until you release the clutch lever and enter the new gear.
- Release the brakes, and then release the clutch a moment later as you maintain your throttle application. The end result should be a smooth gear change without any change in attitude from your motorcycle.
Let’s take a closer look at step 4, where you blip, or rev match. This is probably the most important aspect of downshifting. In “Sport Riding Techniques,” Nick Ienatsch states that “The purpose of a downshift is to put the engine in the proper rpm range for the future.” You need to rev match in order to ensure that your rear wheel’s speed matches your engine speed in the lower gear. If you don’t, or if you do it incorrectly, then your rear tire will hop and you will hear it chirp as it locks up and struggles for traction (the aforementioned change in your motorcycle’s attitude), which could result in a crash.
Some people like to close the throttle, then give the throttle a quick blip via a wrist snap to rev match in the new gear, while others prefer to hold the throttle open as they rev match. The key to either method is maintaining your brake pressure, so practice doing so while you modulate your throttle. The gear change could be called the easy part, but once you’ve gone through the process several times, it will all seem incredibly easy.
Downshifting is just one motorcycle riding skill that should be practiced and perfected. While there are step-by-step considerations, it is one of those things that eventually becomes second nature, as the saying goes. Keep doing it, and eventually you will master it.