downshifting a motorcycle

I bought my first motorcycle yesterday, a brand spankin' new '09 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 and I took it out for the first time yesterday. I have driven a stick shift car for years and I understand the whole clutch and shift thing. I can't figure out how to downshift when I slow down. The good news I only fell twice (no serious injury). I don't know anyone who owns one locally. Can someone give me a quick crash course?


need more details. like what how you fell. were you in a turn? how many gears did you downshift? did you lose traction? describe the things you do when you downshift and what you were doing during the times you fell. The only thing I can glean from your post is that you aren't rev matching which is probably most of your problems right there.

If there's anything more important than my ego
around, I want it caught and shot now...

--- AFM #998 If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now...

Megaspaz is right, can't really answer the question correctly without knowing the circumstances. But I agree that matching revs is important, and it might be easier to skip a gear on a bike, than in a car (just press twice by accident).

Other people can almost certainly describe the sequence better, but I'll give it a try. Ease off the throttle, break if necessary, clutch in, press gear level down once (for one gear), increase throttle to match revs, slowly let clutch out (the bike will let you know if the revs aren't matched).

Others, feel free to correct me.

Oooh quick question...did you go to the MSF course?

Better, in fact, than my answer. Downshifting (except for the friction zone part) is like a car---and generally you use a clutch differently on a motorcycle (it's ok, even mandatory, to "ride the clutch"). In so many ways, motorcycles behave contrary to every one of the instincts you've developed driving a car.

Sangria7 is asking the right question. Did you take the course. If you didn't take the course, perhaps you should consider it. If that doesn't appeal to you, read some books, get advice, and still reconsider taking the course. Your question suggests that you are in urgent need of information.

Also, since I am not a mechanic, if all of the foregoing advice was useless because you know what you are doing, perhaps you need an mechanic?

Or at least this is what they said in MSF class. However, while up shifting you can "drop" the clutch all you want. On a motorcycle, down shifting is a more delicate process. On a motorcycle when down shifting, the clutch needs to be eased out slooooowly. I guess from your question you know what will happen when you try dropping the clutch when down shifting. Another tip is.........2nd gear is your friend when it comes to making turns(like maybe at intersections). Even in a car the same applied when I drove the ol Mustang GT 5.0. I may get flamed for this advice, however, when I need to slow down I don't down shift (from like lets say 4th gear) to a stop. What I do is pull in the clutch kick it all the way back down to neutral(or 1st gear depending on the situation). Some real advice as well is get into a MSF class, soooon as possible. Sounds like it'll be good for you.



What helps me is slowly letting out the clutch and rolling on more throttle to match the revs.


Like smoke says, I don't downshift when slowing to a stop. And, therefore, I don't downshift much at all. There's more flexibility when accelerating and going up through the gears, but ease out the clutch if you need to downshift. Also, you might be downshifting too early. If you're in a high gear, you decelerate a lot before downshifting. Your owner's manual might even list recommended speeds on when to downshift each gear. I think mine are all lumped within 10-30mph.

I would disagree with smoke and ilnam here. Downshifting one gear at a time is better for your safety and, from what I have read, better for your clutch plates. By properly downshifting you are always in the right gear to get going again when you need to. Also smoke may be able to get away with droping the clutch on his cruiser when upshifting but I wouldn't develop this as a habit as on some bikes that will get you up on one wheel fairly easy. He may have meant that you quick shift when going up, but it should be smooth. Dropping the clutch is very abrupt.

As for down shifting. I use that and engine breaking when approaching a light or stop sign almost without breaks. Try and tap your breaks so that people don't rear end you though. Downshifting is one of the harder things to learn to do well. Don't get lazy and just hold in the clutch untill you come to a stop. In traffic, you will upshift and downshift a lot as traffic stops and goes. I can hear when I can down shift with slow release and no jerk, just a nice growl from the engine. If I don't need to front brake I can roll the throttle and release a bit quicker pretty smooth. My hands just don't let me roll on while breaking and I can't adjust the levers on my bike.

"I am the best there is at what I do, and what I do ain't nice."-Wolverine

"I am the best there is at what I do, and what I do ain't nice."-Wolverine

I agree with budd. Learn to downshift and upshift in traffic properly. I was just saying that most of the times that I slow down is when I have to come to a complete stop anyway, so I just downshift all the way to 1st. For stop signs at non busy intersections I just downshift to 2nd (sometimes still 1st) and do a rolling stop. But back to your situation, I think you might be downshifting too early.

Boy did you flip flop from 1 post to the next LOL



Even on a Nighthawk 250, you want to roll off the throttle before you let the clutch out on an upshift. Failure to do so may result in some unexpected acceleration.

With all due respect, there are enough issues on this forum without getting into politics. It is quite likely that at least half the members here have strong opinions there, as well. Could we save it, at least, for the "off topic" forum. Things get hot enough here, without inviting non motorcycle arguments. I grant anyone their right to say anything they want (I prefer truth to fraud). But do it for some reason.


DISCLAIMER...(for the politically correct-ees)....THIS IS WHAT I DO. WARNING...WHAT I DO...(or even what I post)... MAY NOT BE GOOD FOR YOU TO DO AS WELL....Now... when I am riding in traffic, and know that I will be coming to a complete stop (like at a red light). I hold in the clutch and shift down all the way to neutral, then ease out the clutch to make sure the bike isn't in gear still while rolling to a stop(of course applying the brakes...with an s).

However, at MSF class, they said that coming to a stop, you should NEVER shift to neutral, but to 1st gear. This way if you need to get out of the way of something, you're 1 step ahead of yourself, out of neutral. Depending on how light or heavy traffic is determines weather I go all the way down to 1st, or not.

Now, what I meant by the 2nd gear turn thingy. Ok, lets say I'm cruising in 4th gear and a turn at an intersection is coming up for me. WHAT I DO IS.....I REPEAT.....WHAT I DO IS pull in the clutch while braking(both foot and hand sufficiently). By the time I am approaching the turn I am shifting down (twice) to second gear, then easing out the clutch for the smooth transition.

Of course there are moments where you have to stop before you turn(like at an intersection where you have a left turning lane). This is absolutely when I use the MSF suggested use of down shifting all the way to 1st. One of our exercises was for each rider, from a stop, to ride to the instructor and up shift to 2nd gear, then to a complete stop while downshifting to 1st. From 2nd to 1st is about 1 click, a half, then another click.

I ride a cruiser so I am able to drop the clutch beyond first gear while up shifting. Pardon...let me re phrase....The type of cruiser I ride allows me to drop the clutch while up shifting, past 1st gear, without raising the front tire.



Smokeizfire, I read your prior post, and I have three questions. Feel free to answer or not.

1. Do you really find that political correctness is a real presence on this site? If anything, I'd say most people lean the other way, tolerating almost any speech even when it borders on gross stereotyping or personally offensive. I don't think I'm especially PC, nor would I consider Elwood PC. The list could go on. This is a pretty diverse group that shares an interest, and in most cases mutual respect because of that interest. People on this site are also pretty patient. Newbies, like myself, have received pretty nice answers to questions which were born of ignorance, and previously answered. So I don't think you need to make disclaimers to PCees. I also notice that you use capital letters a lot. The first on this thread. Why?

2. I do not understand why you would want to be in neutral rolling into a stop. I don't agree or disagree, I just don't understand. I really only go into neutral if I need to take my left hand off the grip, while at a stop. If I want the gears not engaged, I hold the clutch in. Is there a benefit? I know cars and motorcycles are different, but (at least since the advent of synchronized manual transmissions) I wouldn't have my car in neutral unless I needed to remove my left foot from the clutch because I wouldn't me moving for a while-I'd be in first with my foot all the way in). You can easily shift from second to first, or the reverse without involving neutral. Why be there? Hell, on my bike, even trying to find neutral coming to a stop would be more distracting than finding first. So you are absolutely entitled to ride the way you want, but I'd like to know why because I'm open to other ideas.

3) Is there really a huge dispute about skipping a gear when downshifting. Budd has a point about going one gear at a time, it is probably less strain on the machine, and you are less likely to have a rev matching problem. You may also be more sure about what gear you are in. On some bikes, pushing down doesn't always work, especially in multiple shifts. Skipping increases the risk that you won't be where you think you are.

On the other hand, you have a point. I think everybody is in situations where it is desirable to get into the necessary gear quickly (not everything on the road is perfectly predictable). If you know what gear you are in, you can certainly match revs, and be where you need to be now. Just how bad it really is for the gearbox probably depends on the bike, and with modern clutches may not be harmful at all. Something unexpected may really require you to go from 4th to 2nd. As you said, somewhat differently, I don't tend to go from 5th to 1st (35mph to stop on my Nighthawk) at a stop light. I don't always know when the light will change, and I want options which are easier if I wait to gear down, and coast in a higher gear, downshifting to 1st when I'm sure I need to stop and not stay out of the way of the guy behind me still doing 20mph.

So, I see some merit in both positions. But I don't see why we need the shouting.

Aside: Do you really think that having the most toys is that important? I'd be happy to discuss that on a different forum. Meet you on the OT forum?

I must really come off as a serious guy. Do I?(rhetorical) I'd like to say that the "J. McCain" post was just a joke. If you read the thread titled, "MSF:Waist of time? Waist of Mone....".etc you get it, I posted something really nasty I was only trying to "lighten" things up a little with a really dry joke.LOL I attempt to be more specific and detailed before I post so that it may encourage adequate responses. This is why I capitalize certain points because it seems a handful of our BBM brothers get things a little twisted sometimes(including me) Guess you can blame it on that "diverse" stuff you were talking about = ) I do think there is a tad bit of political correctness against nay sayers of the "one size fits all" philosophy. In other words, you really have to be extra careful about what you post, or the BBM police will cite you for offending the status quot.LOL Besides that, I love the information that you can find here. Most of the people are great, and the posts are entertaining. I think certain people( general) have a general view of how they want this forum to be. Any opposition will hear the voices of the un-silent majority.LOL

Now back to motorcycling. Today I asked my MSF coach(fMoto mechanic for 25 years he says. Fixes and maintain all the bikes for the school) a few questions on this subject today. Question was.....Not form a safety point of view, but from a general point of view. Is it OK to down shift to neutral, and would this cause significant ware and tear on the motorcycle? To make a long story short, he said it is ok to do it the way I explained in the previous post, all be it unsafe. He also said riding the clutch is a no, no.

On a bi....on my bike, if you are not rolling on the throttle, the bike seems to slow itself down at a faster rate, against the bikes "free" momentum. From my experience I've noticed that most cars I'm in traffic with accelerate slower than my bike, whereas, in gear my bike seems to decelerate faster. This means that traffic (cars 90xs out of 100) behind you will have to extend their stopping distance, which may promote cars riding my @ss (hate tailgaters). I believe it is safe to say that motorcycles need more distance to stop safely. I hold in the clutch in to neutral.....ease out the clutch and roll(like when hitting the emergency cut off engine switch) at a faster momentum.....then apply the brakes(with an s)
Note: If I'm rolling in neutral and the light suddenly turns green, usually I an rolling in a speed of around 2nd or 3rd gear. Clutch in...2nd or third gear...ease the clutch out.

I down-shift before turns and corners, and rarely down shift to 1st gear unless I'm coming to a complete stop anticipating the green light enough to not have to stop the bike. 2nd gear on my bike is way smoother(probably on most bikes) for low speed riding. As far as finding neutral. It was truly a b#$tch to find neutral. The bike was brand new, so I had to break it in. I find neutral without looking for the "green light" to come on now.

There is no dispute when a rider prefers one way to another. Whatever feels comfortable to your riding style is what you should perfect. As far as your honda goes, I heard they are pretty tough. The "he who dies..." thing is just an ole' slogan I got from a T-shirt. K[=*D)


It's all about matching your gear to your speed.

An engine can only work efficiently within a specific RPM (revolutions per minute) range; too slow and the engine will labor or stall, too high and you could blow-up the engine (taken to extremes), or at least be wasting fuel for no appreciable gain in acceleration. Your task as the rider (or at least one of them) is to make sure that you always have the appropriate gear selected to keep the engine running within it's power band (which varies from bike to bike).

1. If coming briskly to a stop (red light), just pull in the clutch and down-change, click, click, click... until just before stopping, you click it into first gear; no need to let out the clutch between downshifts. You may then want to put it in neutral (without letting out the clutch) and let the clutch out when in neutral. Alternativily, you may just want to sit there with the clutch still pulled-in (in first gear) until you get the green light.

2. If just slowing down, you should be able to tell by the engine "note" (sound), that it's reaching the bottom of its power band and needs a down-shift. If the bike slows dramatically when you (slowly) let out the clutch, you're changing down too early; let the bike slow a little more before down-changing.

You might also want to try pulling the clutch in and raising the engine revs a little as you down-change; then gently let out the clutch. If you still dramatically slow down, you have changed down too soon and/or have not given the throttle enough revs (just a little mind), or, alternatively, if you speed-up when letting out the clutch, you've given it too much revs. What you're trying to do is to match your engine speed to the power band allowed by the lower gear.

in regards to #1.

Depending on what brisk means, I'm going to define it as light turning yellow and you can't make it before it turns red and you're coming in hot. yes, you could run the soon to be red light, but if you attempt to stop and assuming you're not leaned, downshift and let out the clutch immediately to use engine braking to aid in stopping power. Lather, rinse, repeat until you're at slow enough speed to just coast it normally as rab described in #1.

Alot of these suggestions depend greatly on the situation, so again until you can provide specifics on your situation, all these suggestions are just being thrown willy nilly and don't cover all situations.

Edit: usually downshifting once is enough engine braking to significantly aid in slowing the bike down. I've done 2 downshifts one time. I'm usually in 6th gear so I tend to come into those brisk stopping situations quite a bit... but that's our little secret... ;-)

If there's anything more important than my ego
around, I want it caught and shot now...

--- AFM #998 If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now...

I have been using the downshift every approx 2 seconds when I'm coming to a complete stop from a higher gear like 4th. I think I heard it here first. it comes in useful in traffic as I have clicked down to 2nd and been able to roll back on the throttle as the traffic has started moving again.

I have gotten used to having my left hand keep the clutch engaged for long periods at lights since I want to stay in 1st when in traffic. I want to be in gear and not have to find it if something happens behind me.