Dear MOby,

I’ve been riding my new-to-me Ninja 300 for about six months now, loving it along with the progress I feel like I’ve made as a rider, from rank beginner to semi-proficient. And now somebody tells me I don’t need to use the clutch to shift once I’m moving? Whaaaat? Is this true? Isn’t that going to break something?

Simon Handlebar Sinistre

Dear Simon,

Yes, it’s all true. Well, it kind of depends on your bike. Some motorcycles with great big flywheels and big gears, like many Harleys and some BMW Boxers, need the clutch – or at least a little clutch – for nearly every shift. Most sportbikes only need you to use the clutch to pull away from stops and for the shift from first to second gear.

At slow, around-town speeds, we mostly use at least a little clutch to shift anyway; you don’t need to pull the lever all the way in every time you use it. But if you’re steadily accelerating, and especially at WOT (wide open throttle), you’ll find that after second gear, if you roll the throttle closed just enough to unload the driveline, for just a split second, with your toe pressing on the lever, then third gear will slip right in without using the clutch at all. Fourth, 5th and 6th will slip in even easier since the gaps between them are increasingly smaller. Done smoothly, it’s no harder on your gearbox than using the clutch.

Rolling off the gas just a smidge to “unload” the drivetrain is exactly what all quick-change electronic shifters do by cutting the ignition just long enough to allow the next gear to slip in, the best of them for an imperceptible amount of time. Naturally, the need to save every split second on the race track is what caused these to evolve. With the latest seamless gearboxes used in MotoGP, there’s no lag at all.

The barrel-shaped sensor on this BMW S1000RR’s shift linkage tells its ECU when to cut the spark for a split second and allows superquick clutchless shifts – the same thing you do by rolling off the gas.

Downshifting without the clutch is a tad trickier, but can be one of the great moto-pleasures when you get it right: Blipping the throttle just the right amount when you’re braking and the rear wheel is driving the engine instead of vice-versa (“trailing throttle”) will allow the next lower gear to slip right in. Try doing it with a little clutch at first; you’ll eventually be able to do it with no clutch at all.

Related: Motorcycle Downshifting Techniques

The clutch, like all the controls on your Ninja, is a finesse tool. Use it as much as you need to, but no more. Same goes for the actual shift lever – well, on the finesse front, at least. There’s no need to be stomping on that thing. While you do want clean and positive shifts, you shouldn’t need to be slamming anything around as long as your throttle inputs are correctly timed to your shifter inputs.

Send your moto-related questions to If we can’t answer them, we’ll at least make you feel temporarily better by thinking you’re talking to somebody who cares even if we don’t. And remember, only the Pope is infallible. But we probably know more about motorcycles.

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  • Larry Kahn

    Use your clutch. And the rear brake. And the front brake. And a helmet. And don’t dress all in black. And look over your shoulder when changing lanes or pulling out to pass. And don’t listen to everything you hear unless the speaker has been riding since the 60’s and owned dozens of motorcycles. And is still in one piece. Like me.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      I usually dress in all black leathers. Works for me and keeps cars out of my way. Weenies wear hi-vis yellow vests. Suitable for a bicycle, not a motorcycle.

      • Larry Kahn

        How does it keep cars out of your way? And why good for bicycle but not motors?

        • Sayyed Bashir

          I don’t know. They see me coming up behind them and get out of the way. I am usually on my Harley. The day-glo yellow is OK if cars need to see you because you are slower than them (like on a bicycle). If you are faster than the cars, you know where all the cars are because of your situational awareness. This mostly applies on the freeway during my daily commute.

  • Starmag

    Proper clutch finesse will maximize drivetrain life if you care about that sort of thing.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      I use full clutch on all my bikes. I want them to last as long as possible. I am not racing or trying to save seconds.

  • Gary

    The key being, “We need to save every split second on the race track.”

    The flip side of that logic is that not many of us ride on the track. So, uhhh, I use my clutch. It’s easier on the drivetrain.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    I’ve noticed my Triumph Tiger 800 shifts UP nicely enough without the clutch; so much so it makes me wonder why my other Triumph triple which comes with a quickshifter, even needs one. Still, when i’m not trying to accelerate like i’ve got a bear chasing me, I use the clutch. That’s what it’s for, after all.

  • Ed Dellis

    It’s all a question of how you time the loading on/off the gears. If you execute the shift during the dwell period — in between on/off loading — then there’s virtually ZERO difference whether or not the clutch is used…as far as the gears are concerned. This short YT video does an excellent job of explaining what happens inside a motorcycle gearbox…and what happens when you miss that timing window.

    I just put an EMCO dog box in my OneLap car, and the gears are so undercut, it snags the next gear with just the slightest nudge of the shifter…pretty awesome, really. I’ve ridden/raced bikes since the early ’70s, and whether I use the clutch is really a matter of my mood that day…never had any gearbox issues due to shifting, either.

  • Don Orton

    Totally unrelated, but the left exhaust pipe on the T250 in the opening photo looks so pristine I had to comment. I wonder how big the chicken strips are on his Avons?

    • Rick Soloway

      I did a google image search on “T250 #167” and found a bunch of images. It turns out that this is Bill Hardin, and there’s pics of him roadracing, dirt tracking, and motocrossing. He and his partner won the 1975 Ontario 6 hours race, 350 class on an RD350. Apparently, he won a lot of trophies back in the day. There’s a pic of him leaned over to the right and throwing sparks. I suspect that you wouldn’t find any chicken strips on his tires!

      • Don Orton

        Must be a new bike. Likely didn’t look that way after race day was done. Either that, or he didn’t like lefts.


    back in the day we called it “speed-shifting”

  • Steve C

    I ride a Buell and a couple of old Guzzi’s what is this finesse you speak of?

    • TC

      No kidding. That Sportster tranny was a stiff shifting S.O.B. I had to wear some stout boots whenever I rode mine.

  • Alex Lewin

    It’s actually important to know how to drive a motorcycle, or a car for that matter, entirely without a clutch, since at some point in your life, your clutch or your clutch cable will fail!

    Upshifting and downshifting have been covered here pretty well.

    But how do you start from nothing?

    With the engine off, you jiggle it into first or second, rolling it back and forth a little if needed to get the gear, and you hit the starter. Ideally, you’re pointing downhill, too. Or at least not uphilll. Many (most?) starters are powerful enough to get you moving.

    How do you stop? You just hold the brake til the thing stalls. And if you’re on a bike, you put your legs out. (Not as crucial in a car.)

    I had the clutch fail in my Honda Element while I was on the Bay Bridge in SF in heavy traffic. I managed to get it home, up a ramp, into my parking garage, and then back out the next day when I took it to the garage, all without a clutch. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      I rode my 1986 Harley Softail Custom from East Texas to Fort Worth TX (about 400 miles) without a clutch. Had to roll it downhill in neutral and slip it into second, then third. Had to time traffic signals just right in the city. Freeway was easy.

    • jlaudiofan

      This is true. I was driving a 85 Ford Ranger into town one day, and the spring that holds the hydraulic clutch line away from the header broke. The clutch line melted. I had to turn the key to get rolling in first gear, then could shift just fine at the right RPM. Luckily I had practiced clutchless shifting. It’s a good skill to have.

  • Douglas

    Doesn’t work well at all with a hydraulic clutch…..that requires perfect timing between clutch in/out and throttle in/out, especially w/shaft drive.

  • MoonandStars

    MY beemer shifts fine with 1/2 clutch AFTER it’s warmed up really well . .remember it’s got a separate transmission case.

  • Tony Whiteley

    Agreed- no clutch us necessary when done correctly. I have a 1999 YZF1000R which has around 110,000km on it. I have rarely used the clutch except for 1st and 2nd gears and it still shifts and runs like a new bike.

  • TK4

    EX300 (Ninja) has a downshift slipper clutch.

  • Kevin Patrick Allyn

    I need help with. My bike it dies every time I put it in gear 2002R1 any body help please already bypassed the kickstand switch

  • leftists suck

    I’ve been riding/racing metrics and Harley’s of all shapes and sizes for nearly 50 years and have done a lot of shifting without the clutch during that time. Never have I had a transmission or clutch failure due to this. Hell I’ve never had a transmission or clutch failure for any reason.

    If you’re tearing up transmissions and clutches you’re not properly unloading before the shift…Period!!!