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
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.
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 AskMOAnything@motorcycle.com. 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.