How to Use a Clutch on a Dirt Bike? [Answered]
If you’re familiar with dirt bikes, then you already know that nearly every single dirt bike you can purchase has a manual transmission and a clutch. This essential component allows a great measure of control over the machine and is something that any skilled rider will utilize as naturally as breathing.
How can you reach that point, though? While this part of riding a dirt bike can be intimidating for beginners, it’s actually fairly easy to understand once you understand how it works. In this article, we’ll explain a bit about the clutch and what it does, as well as techniques to take your clutch control to the next level!
Table of Contents
What is the Clutch, and How Does it Work?
The part of your dirt bike disconnects the power from the engine when shifting gears when you’re riding, so the engine’s job is to create the power, and the transmission’s role is to translate that power to the back wheel; however, these two parts cannot be in constant contact, so the clutch is used to disengage them when needed.
Let’s break this process down. Shifting your dirt bike gears is the first thing you will have to do. When you’re taking off in first gear, the transmission will be sending power to the wheel up to a certain speed. Once you reach the top of that gear range you will need to switch to second gear. This is where the clutch comes into play. When you pull down on the clutch, you disconnect the engine from the transmission, allowing you to switch gears without damaging the internal components of the transmission in the process. When you release the clutch lever, the engine will once again be connected to the transmission and sending power to the rear wheel.
As you slow down, you will need to descend back down through the gears, so that the gear your bike is in matches the speed you are going. You must do this to prevent the bike from stalling, and you will need to start it again. Just like shifting up from first to second and so on, you will need to use the clutch each time you shift gears to avoid damage to the transmission.
Steps to Ride a Dirt Bike With a Clutch
Now that we’ve gone over what a clutch is and why it’s important, it’s time to look at how exactly to use it. These steps are important, and may be somewhat challenging at first, but with time and experience, they will eventually come as naturally to you as breathing.
Method 1: The basic method
This method gets you started from the neutral gear and is particularly useful when you’re just starting out from a parked position. With this technique, you will begin in neutral and shift into first gear.
Step 1: Find Neutral and start your engine
On most motorcycles, the “shift pattern” is referred to as “One down, four (or five) up.” This means that you press down on the gear shifter for first gear, then up for second through fifth or sixth gears. The neutral gear is located between the first and second. To find it, simply press down on the gear shift until it no longer shifts into a gear while the bike isn’t running. One click up from there will have the bike in neutral. (Many bikes have a “neutral indicator” or a light on the display that lights up when you’re in neutral, which makes this process easier.)
Once you are in neutral, pull in the clutch and start your bike. As long as you remain in this gear, the bike will simply idle and not put any power to the ground.
Step 2: Engage the clutch and shift into first
With the bike running, pull in on the clutch lever to disengage the engine and transmission. Press down on the shifter to put the bike into first gear. Notice that as long as the clutch is engaged, even when you shift into gear the bike will not begin to move forward.
Step 3: Take off
Slowly release the clutch. As the clutch disengages the bike will begin to move forward, and the engine’s RPM will fall as it encounters resistance from the transmission. As the RPM falls, slowly and smoothly apply the throttle until you are moving forward with the clutch fully disengaged. At this point, you are free to ride within the range of first gear.
Step 4: Shifting and downshifting
As you ride, you will accelerate to higher speeds and need to shift up to keep the bike within the proper range of RPM to make usable power and avoid damage to the engine. When you reach the top of the bike’s RPM range (or redline), let off the throttle and engage the clutch. Press up on the gear lever to shift to a higher gear, then smoothly apply the throttle while also releasing the clutch.
Downshifting follows a similar procedure, but for slowing down instead of speeding up. As the bike slows, the RPM will fall, and if they fall too low while the bike is in gear, it will stall. To avoid this, let off the throttle and engage the clutch. Press down on the gear shifter to put the transmission into a lower gear and then smoothly apply throttle while disengaging the clutch. When in the lower gear, the RPM of the engine will climb, keeping it from stalling, as well as keeping the bike in its “power band” – the range of RPM where the bike produces the most usable torque.
There are two things to remember when downshifting. First, remember that you should be shifting into an appropriate gear for the speed you are going. If you are moving too quickly for the gear you are shifting into, the RPM will spike, potentially damaging the engine, but more critically causing the rear tire to suddenly apply too much torque and possibly slip. This is dangerous and can lead to serious injury or even death.
Second, always let out the clutch and apply the throttle smoothly. Sharply twisting the throttle or releasing the clutch too quickly can destabilize the bike, and an unstable bike is a dangerous one.
Step 5: Stopping
When you want to stop, you will slow down, shifting into first gear. If you intend to take off again, hold the clutch in while you’re in first gear before taking off again. If you are done riding, shift from first to neutral when you have come to a stop. Do not shift into neutral while you are still moving.
Method 2: Rev-Matching
When shifting with the basic method, you probably noticed that the RPM of the bike moved based on what gear it was shifting into. When shifting up, the RPM fell, and when shifting down, it climbed. Anticipating the change in RPM while shifting is an advanced technique called Rev-Matching, and can be used to translate power more smoothly, as well as reduce wear on the engine and transmission.
The basics of starting and stopping while rev-matching are the same as with the basic method, but an extra step is added when shifting. While the clutch is engaged, using the throttle will increase the RPM, but not send power to the engine. We can use this to ensure that the engine goes directly into its power band when shifting.
Say you’re in 3rd gear at about 8,000 RPM – right at the top of your bike’s power band. Using the regular method, you would let off the throttle and engage the clutch. When you get back on the throttle and disengage the clutch in 4th gear, the bike will rapidly fall to 5,000 RPM, causing a sharp decline in torque.
At this point, you know that the bike’s power band is at 5,000 RPM and that when you shift, the bike will drop 3,000 RPM. So let’s apply that information. While the clutch is engaged, simply let the RPM fall to 5,000 RPM before letting go of the clutch lever. When the clutch engages again, the RPM will already be where it needs to be for that gear and speed, meaning that the torque will not have a sharp change as the RPM falls to match the gear.
Downshifting anticipates the rise in RPM when shifting from a higher gear into a lower one while slowing down. As the bike slows, its RPM will fall, and you will downshift to keep it from stalling or losing usable power. In this example, you are in third gear, and the bike’s RPM has fallen to 3,000 RPM, outside of the power band.
Using the basic shifting method, you would engage the clutch and shift into second gear. The RPM would rise to 6,000 RPM – immediately producing an increase in torque. You can then either accelerate more quickly or allow the increased resistance to help you slow the bike down.
Let’s apply rev-matching to this. The bike is at 3,000 RPM and will rise 3,000 more when in the lower gear. While the clutch is engaged, increase the throttle to 6,000 RPM before letting go of the clutch lever. Now when the clutch disengages, the bike will already be at the RPM and torque for the speed it is moving and the gear that it is in, bypassing the sudden increase in torque you would get from the basic method.
A note on Rev-Matching
Rev-Matching is, as previously mentioned, an advanced technique that requires experience to use properly. In theory, rev-matching can even be used to shift the bike without the use of the clutch, but this increases the risk of damaging the bike or worse, destabilizing it while riding.
When riding a dirt bike, advanced techniques can lead to increased performance, but don’t forget to ride within your own experience and ability. Always prioritize safety over performance if you can’t have both.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need a clutch when downshifting?
If you are a beginner, then yes. Any time you shift, in order to avoid damage to the engine and transmission, you should use the clutch.
Shifting the bike without the clutch using rev-matching is a very advanced technique that should only be attempted by experienced riders who have completely mastered shifting while using the clutch.
What happens when you release the clutch too fast on a motorcycle?
There are two distinct answers to this question. If you release the clutch quickly when the RPM is very low or falling, the engine will stall, and you will have to restart the bike.
If the RPM is high, especially in the power band, the torque will hit the rear wheel all at once, causing the front of the bike to rise up or even flip over and possibly fall on the rider. Both of these outcomes can lead to serious injury.
The clutch should always be released smoothly to ensure that the torque is applied in a controllable manner to the wheel and thus avoid injury to the rider or damage to the bike.
How fast can you go in 2nd gear on a motorcycle?
Every motorcycle is different, so there is no definitive answer to this question. Even within similar classes of bikes, such as cruisers or sport bikes, the speed the bike can reach in 2nd gear will vary.
When shifting, remember that it is the RPM of the engine, and not the speed of the bike, that will indicate when you should shift. The point is to stay in the power band, which is the range of RPM where the engine produces usable torque.
In this article, we’ve explored one of the most critical components of a dirt bike. Almost every option on the market today uses a clutch to translate the power of the engine to the transmission, and now that you understand how it works, you’re one step closer to this wide world of makes and models. With practice and experience, the techniques detailed in this article will allow you to ride any dirt bike you choose – whether it’s a high-end KTM racing bike on the track or an old Suzuki down your local back roads!