Learn Your Bike's Limits When Shifting

Tip #85 from the pages of The Total Motorcycling Manual

Know Your Bike's Limits When Shifting

If your bike doesn’t have a tachometer, how do you know when to shift? Virtually all modern motorcycles feature rev limiters, so you’ll probably never over-rev your engine so long as you’re in gear. But running your bike up to redline for each shift is a bad idea.

UPSHIFTING For the best fuel economy, shift early and often, operating at small throttle openings. Pay attention to how many rpm your bike drops between each shift. As long as your next upshift doesn't drop the rpm in the next gear below idle, you'll be fine, although upshifting won't produce much power. For the most power and fastest times (and correspondingly poor economy), you'll want to upshift at your bike's horsepower peak.

DOWNSHIFTING There are two reasons to downshift—to slow your bike, or to adjust the engine's rpm to make more power. The first, slowing, is inefficient—that's why you have brakes, and brake pads are less expensive to replace than rings, bearings, and pistons. The proper technique? For an upcoming curve, use your brakes to slow in advance of the turn, anticipating what gear you'll need to use to exit the turn. As you're slowing, downshift the bike, releasing the clutch as you finish braking.

Sometimes it pays not to shift at all—like on a long uphill or downhill in the dirt. Bottom line? In the words of Cycle World’s Kevin Cameron, “When the bike quits lunging forward, it’s time to shift.”