How To Know When To Change Gear On A Motorcycle? (It’s Easy)

motorcycle gears

Many new riders struggle with this, especially if they have never driven a manual car before. This can lead to them looking at the tach and waiting for the RPMs to hit a certain amount before changing gears. Not the best or safest thing to be doing. There is a better way.

So, how do you know when to change gear on a motorcycle? You can tell when you need to change gears by listening to the sound of your engine. If your engine is screaming at you, it’s time to change up a gear. If your engine is bogged down, unresponsive or making a chugging type sound, you need to change down a gear.

This might seem like a somewhat vague answer, so let’s find out why it actually is not.

At what RPM should you change gears on a motorcycle?

There is no rule set in stone for when to change gears, but there are some rough guidelines that you can follow.

When up shifting, if you are more concerned about fuel efficiency and mileage, then you are generally going to want to change gears when you get to around 2000-2500 RPMs. Although you might find that shifting at 2500-3000 might be most fuel efficient for your motorcycle. You’ll have to do some tests or research for your specific motorcycle.

If you are all about the raw performance, then you are going to want to change gears at higher RPM, this usually means above 4000 RPMs. The exact number again being specific to your motorcycle.

Each motorcycle is going to have its own power band. That’s the point where the RPMs give the most power or peak performance. Some will be as high as 7000-9000 RPMs. Many times this is very close to the redline of the engine.

When downshifting, it’s more about matching the RPMs to speed you are going. The lower the gear that you are selecting, the higher the revs have to be for that speed. So, when downshifting it helps to blip the throttle which increases the RPMs before you change gears. This gets the engine ready and revs up for the gear you are about to select, it is important to do this to prevent the rear wheel from locking up or hopping.

This is done by pulling in the clutch and giving the throttle a quick blip or twist to get the RPMs up. Then you select the lower gear and let out the clutch. If done correctly you won’t have any issues with the rear tire skidding or hopping. There are ways to make this smoother, we will go over that later.

What are some tips on shifting gears while riding a motorcycle?

Ride the friction zone. Learn where the friction zone is on your motorcycle, this is absolutely key for all aspects of motorcycle riding.

If you fail to do this, you will never be able to smoothly and properly operate your motorcycle. Unlike a car, your motorcycle is perfectly fine if the clutch is not fully engaged.

It will not cause any damage, it’s designed with this in mind. The only exception is if you have a dry clutch, then it’s a different story. Get out and learn that friction zone, then apply what you learned when you are changing gears.

In an empty parking lot practice changing gears while in the friction zone. You will notice how much smoother and easier it is.

Blip the throttle or slip the clutch. There are two ways to downshift smoothly on a motorcycle. The first is to slightly blip the throttle and increase the RPMs right before you change gears. Your goal is to match the RPMs for the gear you are changing into.

The other is to change gears and slowly let the clutch out and slip it. This allows the RPMs to slowly catch up to the speed for which you are travelling.

Both work and will help to prevent the rear wheel locking up or hopping.

Pre-load the lever. When up shifting, before you pull in the clutch, start to apply upward press on the gear lever. Not enough to make it change gear but close. Then when you pull in the clutch to the friction zone apply more pressure, the gear will slip in then you can let off the clutch.

You will notice if you do this correctly, you won’t even feel that you changed gears.

Don’t chop the throttle. I’ve seen many new riders do this, they go to change gears and they completely chop the throttle. Causing the motorcycle to surge and slow down.

Instead roll off the throttle slightly and then change gears. You will be a lot smoother and have better control of your motorcycle. This is also important when turning, you don’t want to chop the throttle.

This will upset the balance of the motorcycle and can cause you to wreck. That’s why you should get in the habit of never chopping the throttle when riding. Roll on, roll off.

motorcycle clutch lever
motorcycle clutch lever

How to remember what gear you’re in on a motorcycle?

To be honest, when riding a motorcycle you don’t really need to be concerned with which gear you are in. Maybe just make sure you are in 1st at a stop and you’ll be fine.

When you start to move, you should be focused on what your motorcycle is saying to you. Is it screaming at you at the top of its lungs? Well, then you should listen to it and shift up a gear. If you notice your motorcycle is starting to get a little sluggish and bogged down, then it’s time to change down a gear. Does it really matter if you are changing from 5th to 4th or 3rd to 2nd? No it doesn’t. You just need to change gear.

When you are coming to a stop, just make sure you tap down the gears all the way and you’ll be in 1st. Easy, no need to count down the gears. Just keep tapping away until it stops changing gears.

I can tell you if you were to ask me while riding down the road what gear I was in, 10/10 times I wouldn’t have the foggiest clue. I’d probably just say “not in 1st”. That’s not to say this is correct or proper, but it’s what works for me. I’m sure there are some riders out there who say you should always know what gear you’re in. That’s fine for them, I’d rather spend my effort concentrating on the cars and hazards around me.

I guess if you really wanted to know which gear you were in, you could memorize which gears and RPMs match specific speeds. So for example if you know that in 2nd gear at 3000 RPMs, you will be going around 30km/h, then all you need to do is look at your instruments and you’ll know which gear you’re in.

For me this seems like a lot of work for very little benefit. But to each their own. You do you.

Why is neutral gear between first and second?

This purely for safety reasons. When stopping in an emergency it’s a lot easier to just keep stamping down gears until you are in first gear. Allowing you to be in gear should you need to get moving quickly. If neutral was at bottom, you’d wind up in neutral and then have to change gears to get moving in an emergency.

Also, when you start in neutral, you don’t have to worry about selecting incorrect gear. You just stamp down and you’re in first gear and ready to go. There are some older bikes that are not like this though, they will have neutral at the bottom. Which means you can easily mis-click a gear when trying to select first and end up in second or third.

One thing a lot of people forget is that neutral is actually in between first and second. So when you shift from first to second, it will feel the same as shifting from 3rd to 4th.

When to shift from 1st to 2nd gear on a motorcycle?

Lots of riders ask this. There is no hard and fast rule. You cannot simply say as soon as I reach X mph it’s time to change gears. The general rule of thumb is, once your motorcycle is moving, you are stable and both of your feet are up on the pegs you should think about changing gears to 2nd gear. However, like many things about riding a motorcycle, it is not cut and dry. Just get out there and get a feel for riding. You’ll quickly figure it out, with enough practice it will become second nature to you.

Final thought:

While I started out with a somewhat vague answer, as you can see this is not a simple question with one answer. Some things in life require require for you to just go with the flow. This includes when to change gears on a motorcycle. You can’t just say that you should always change gears 2500 RPMS. Sure this will work for more situations, but not all.

You could just as easily change gears at 4000 RPMs if you wanted. So which is correct? The answer is both. It all depends on what you want to do at the time. As long as you are not bouncing the revs off the limiter or lugging your engine, you’ll be fine. Just enjoy the ride, relax and try going with the flow a little bit.

I hope you enjoyed this article, until next time. Happy riding!

Jordan Baker

Hi, I’m Jordan. I’ve been riding motorcycles for a few years now(9+ years). Along the way I’ve learned a bunch, made mistakes and picked up a thing or two. I’ve also spent countless hours practicing and working on improving my skills, something I try to do a few times a week. That’s why I made this website. So I can share my love for riding and everything I’ve learned over the years. Hopefully you’ll stick around and check out a few articles.

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