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Old 04-25-2010, 07:29 PM   #1
sartorius
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Default Downshifting

I'm now at the point where I'm venturing out of safe church parking lots and exploring nearby neighborhoods. Yesterday I ran outside for a little ride before the rain started. Figuring it was a Saturday morning (9am) and there'd be very little traffic, I turned into a subdivision bordering my apartment complex.

Apparently I had suddenly entered a large, organized, multistreet garage sale, complete with cars parked on both sides, "Do not enter" signs across the road, a guy handing out fliers, the works. Well, nothing like being thrust into new situations to get my learnin' on. After riding around a little and completely ignoring a "Do not enter" sign (try that, cager!). I snaked my way to the other end of the neighborhood. This put me on a road with a speed limit of 45.

Fine! It's still early and anyone crazy enough to be out and driving is already behind me, searching for the next success story on Antique Roadshow.

So I get on the road and see some headlights in the distance approaching me. Wow! All of a sudden I have significant encouragement to go kind of fast. I shift up a gear and keep revving. Do it again. And again? And again? I don't know how many times. I wanted to downshift before I turned but was afraid I'd misjudge the appropriate gear and skid the rear tire, lurch the bike, or be braking really close to the point where I'd turn. I was so focused on the intersection I wasn't sure how close the car was behind me.

After realizing I had shifted an unknown number of times, I was getting a little freaked and I was afraid to shift to too low of a gear and risk taking a dive. I ended up keeping the clutch pulled in, braking before the turn, and coasting through before I put the bike in gear again.


This is where my questions come in.

How do you know what gear to downshift to? Practice and familiarity with the bike?
Do you give it some throttle before downshifting to make it a smooth change?
Do you keep a mental note of what gear you're using? This is one of the bigger points for me. In my car, I can feel the shifter or even take a glance if I'm not sure. Yeah, maybe it'll all become second nature on the bike as well, but I'd rather not risk making a stupid mistake as part of the learning process. And maybe that's part of the process anyway.
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Old 04-26-2010, 04:44 AM   #2
Dr_Sprocket
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I'll try to keep it simple.

If you downshift when the revs are too high, the revs will jump even higher in the lower gear making it difficult for the engine to keep up with the speed of the rear wheel and chain. This can result in rear wheel lock-up. Not good. If you find this happening to you, you are downwhifting at too high a speed.

I would strongly discourage riding through into a turn without power to the rear wheel (a la pulling the clutch in while you are breaking so as to not lock up the rear wheel). You want power to the rear wheel at almost all times.

Do you have an owner's manual? Usually, the owner's manual will tell you at what speeds to shift from one gear to the next. Having said that, I have never abided by their recommendations. I listen (? feel) to the sound of the engine and feel the vibes, then downshift. My personal opinion (no facts to support this) is that it's better to let the revs drop lower, say 2000 - 3000 rpm, and then downshift. Of course, it all depends on the bike one rides.

My old Honda had a gear position indicator and I used it all the time. My new Buell doesn't have one. At first, I missed it. Now, I don't even need it. I think that not having a gear position indicator makes me more in tune with the bike, more concentrated as I now pay greater attention to the revs, vibes and speed.
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Old 04-26-2010, 05:00 AM   #3
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How do you know what gear to downshift to? Practice and familiarity with the bike?

Yes. It will become 2ond nature with "seat time." This is why the vast majority of m/c accidents occur in the 1st 90 days of ownership.

Do you give it some throttle before downshifting to make it a smooth change?
Yes. It smooths the gear transition and saves wear on the clutch. Some bikes have "slipper" clutches to help with this in extreme downshifts.

Do you keep a mental note of what gear you're using?
Not a "count" per se; but aware of what I can do with the gear I'm in.
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Old 04-26-2010, 07:46 AM   #4
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And I'll add a "+1" to both Kenmore's and Dr_Sheave's advice.
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Old 04-26-2010, 07:57 AM   #5
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People use the clutch while shifting?
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Old 04-26-2010, 08:03 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by seruzawa View Post
People use the clutch while shifting?
Well, generally it helps with the crunchy, grindy sounds if you F-Bomb-up the shift-point........
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Old 04-26-2010, 08:23 AM   #7
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"Give it throttle when downshifting" doesn't mean "blip" or "rev".

It means raise the engine speed so when you go to the lower gear, your engine is at the appropriate speed, making it a smooth transition.

And, you should go through the gears one at a time, both up and down. Skipping gears is not a very good idea.
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Old 04-26-2010, 10:32 AM   #8
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Typically, when you are at speeds lower than 45mph downshifts as low as 1st gear will not net negative results on most bikes. You should hear a serious clunk in most cases as the transmission is trying to match speed with the motor, but to do harm to the motor or yourself is usually uncommon. I can't think of a bike over 500cc that can't handle sustained 2nd gear 45mph speeds that will harm a bike, but I say shift and see. In most shaft bikes the rear will chirp like a hungry bird as the rear tire tries to match the speed of the gear selected, but once again you should hear a serious clunk when forcing the issue.
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Old 04-26-2010, 10:48 AM   #9
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All good advice above, but do not ever coast through a corner like you did, (Unless your pulling into a parking spot), common newbee reaction to your situation. Without being i gear you cant accelerate at all, and cannot decelerate as safely. The realistic fear of dragging the rear is magnified 10 fold when leaning, you can (usually) control a rear drag upright in a straight line, but in a curve you would likely have met the asphalt.
I wouldn't say I always know what gear I'm in cause it don't matter, I do maintain engine speed to upshift, but only do that in higher gears downshifting.
The corner you described you (in best case scenario), you would approach, and drop a gear, or 2 depending on curve sharpness and speed at approach, fully engage before leaning into it. Don't engage gears while turning, pick a gear adjust speed, and lean through. Always keep power to that rear wheel. Watching the bike races, although alot more exaggerated then real life road use, you can see the suspension dip, and hear the engine revs as they drop gears into corners, then accelerate through the corner. Look ahead, slower is better, judge the curve and you'll gain confidence in time, know where the shoulders are, if they are curbs, watch for gravel & roadkill & expect the unexpected. Good luck!
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Old 04-26-2010, 08:08 PM   #10
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Thanks, folks! I knew it was an F-bomb up, so I tried to minimize the damage. At least I didn't hit the rear brake. That makes me feel kind of smart. Kind of.

Not a "count" per se; but aware of what I can do with the gear I'm in.
That makes a lot of sense, and like you say, it comes with seat time.

Found the owner's manual! Yep, looks like I'll be shifting up to 6th everytime I get in a 40+ mph zone. I guess the shifter's made to handle the use.

Don't skip gears...check. It sounds like the process of turning begins well before the actual turn.

No blipping or revving before shifting, either? This stuff's hard! I'll pay attention to it.
On that subject, it seems like there's a little delay between twisting the throttle and hearing/feeling the engine rev. Maybe my imagination, or is this expected with carbureted vehicles?


I was also thinking about something on my way home from work (couldn't post a response there). I was going down a parking garage, and I wondered what I'd be doing on a motorcycle: going down the ramp placed in the center of each floor, I have to make a sharp left u-turn to continue on each level before finding the next down ramp. I'm guessing the same principles apply? It seems a bit scary. And maybe this is irrelevant because motorcycles always park on the bottom level. True everywhere? I don't know. I was wondering if you folks had any input on that type of situation. Something similar could happen on some streets, I guess, but the garage floor is smooth enough that I hear car tires screeching during normal, slow turns. It's the stuff of nightmares.
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