Motorcycle Making Hard Gear Shifts? (Explained For Beginners)

Shifting on a motorcycle is different than on any other manually operated vehicle.

For starters, instead of a clutch pedal, there’s a clutch hand lever; instead of a hand shifter, there’s a foot shifter that shifts up and down through the gears in both directions.

 The eye-hand-foot-hand-foot coordination required for riding a motorcycle can already be intimidating for new riders—not to mention the added stress and occasional vibrations of rough shifting. But what causes a bike to make hard gear shifts?

We answer this question and more in this article.

Here’s the Short Answer to Why Your Motorcycle Shifting is Hard:

 Improper shifting clutch system failures, compromised oil quality or faulty oil distribution, and worn chains, gears, sprockets, or shifters are typical forms of wear-and-tear that can make motorcycle shifting hard on any bike, especially if maintenance and storage are inadequate. 

How Do You Shift Gears More Smoothly?

Shifting gears on a motorcycle without stalling, jerking, or missing shifts is hard for most beginner riders.

That said, if your shifting is difficult every time you ride your motorcycle and only gets rougher, it may indicate a failure. Before we start troubleshooting, let’s review how to shift more smoothly:

  1. Match your RPMs to the desired gear; boost them before shifting up, and lower them before shifting down.
  2. Throttle down to decelerate in unison with the clutch lever as you pull the lever in to disengage your clutch.
  3.  Make sure you pull the clutch all the way in before you shift gears.
  4. Shift one gear at a time.
  5. Release the clutch lever slowly, easing the clutch back into engagement.
  6. Throttle up to accelerate while releasing the clutch lever.

Even expert motorcycle riders sometimes fail to pull the clutch lever all the way in before they shift or hurry through multiple gears without RPM matching when they’re riding hard. Improper shifting is the most common cause of hard gear changes.

Some of the smooth-shifting steps above involve particular techniques perfected with experience. We’ll give you more direction for each action in the following section.

How to Change Gears on a Motorcycle Smoothly

Follow these steps to change gears smoothly on a motorcycle:

1. Throttle Down to Decelerate in Unison By Pulling in the Clutch Lever to Disengage Your Clutch

Disengaging off a gear already slowing is much smoother than the rough shifting caused by the sudden disengagement from a bag that’s been cranking at the same momentum for a while.

Lowering the throttle causes deceleration, making shifting less rough on your gears and clutch and making changing gears faster and more straightforward.

As we mentioned earlier, boosting or dropping your RPMs based on whether you’re trying to shift up and down makes motorcycle moving even more accessible, as your pistons are already prepped for the shift in gear power.

2. Pull the Clutch All the Way in Before Changing Gears

Every motorcycle clutch has a different feel.

The free play of the clutch cable can be adjusted within reason, so what feels like a complete pull on one bike may only be a partial disengagement on another.

Failure to completely disengage the clutch by pulling the lever in causes partial gear engagement while the gears shift, making changing gears hard and stressing and wearing your gears, gear drive or drive chain, and clutch components. 

Engine braking is when you only pull your clutch lever in slightly to partially disengage the clutch and slow the speed of your engine.

While this can be a valuable technique for slowing and stopping as well as dropping your RPMs, you’ll want to engage the clutch at the new rotation speed and then go through the steps of dropping your throttle, slowly pulling in your clutch all the way and completely disengaging it from your engine before shifting gears.

3. Shift One Gear at a Time

Some more aggressive riders are accustomed to boosting our RPMs way up so we can shift up through two or three gears at once.

That said, the “speed shifting” technique will always make shifting harder than shifting one gear at a time, efficiently cycling through these steps as many times as required between each gear change.

4. Release the Clutch Lever Slowly, Easing the Clutch Back Into Engagement

Releasing the clutch lever with haste after shifting forces the gear engagement abruptly, not only causing hard shifting but also accelerating the rate of wear and tear on your gearbox components. 

Conversely, a gradual release of the clutch lever causes a slow and subtle gear engagement, resulting in a smooth gear change experience and prolonging the life of your motorcycle’s transmission.

5. Throttle Up to Accelerate While Releasing the Clutch Lever

After changing gears and slowly releasing the clutch lever. As your clutch lever reaches its friction, ease onto the throttle and gradually accelerate the bike in unison with your release of the clutch lever.

Adding some air and fuel power to the cylinder as the clutch engages with the engine gives the whole process a little juice, making the motorcycle shifting smooth.

Why Does My Motorcycle Shift Gears Hard?

Poor oil level or quality, poorly adjusted chains and clutch cables, damaged sprockets, gears, clutch components, and damaged foot lever and shifter linkage are the most common reasons a motorcycle shifts hard. Improper rider clutch, shifter, and throttle input can also cause rough shifts.

Motorcycle Chain Is too Tight or Too Loose

  • If your motorcycle’s chain is too tight, your bike will experience hard shifting as the chain compresses and restrains the sprockets. If the motorcycle chain is too loose, it can jump off the dog’s teeth and cause shifting failures. 
  • Worn motorcycle chains go out of adjustment more frequently than healthy chains.
  • While all motorcycle chains wear eventually, proper upkeep will extend their lifespan and stop them from going out of adjustment.

Damaged Gearbox and Clutch Components

  • Damaged shifting shafts, improper gearbox assembly, interference of a foreign object lodged between gears, or gear seizure can all cause hard motorcycle shifting.
  • If left unchecked, a failing chain sprocket leads to missed shifts and difficult gear changes, eventually making your bike’s transmission jammed in gear.
  • Motorcycle clutch plates can warp from the friction of typical use. Whether your dishes need adjusting or replacing, we suggest you take the motorcycle to a mechanic before riding with a grinding clutch causes severe engine damage or even a crash.

Low Oil Level or Quality

  • Using oil past its due date, coagulated, or compromised with rust, moisture, dirt, fuel, or coolant can cause hard shifting.
  • Furthermore, if the engine oil you run through your bike’s motor is a different type or grade than the moto-manufacturer suggests, your motorcycle may stop shifting smoothly.
  • Failing to keep your oil at the marked fill level can damage your clutch and gearbox components by causing overheating and metal-on-metal grinding, resulting in rough gear changes.

Excessive Free Play or Tension in the Clutch Cable

  • If the clutch cable has recessive tension, the lack of slack can cause your clutch plates to drag when you release your clutch lever to shift and the dragging clutch can cause hard shifts.
  • Conversely, a clutch cable with too much free play doesn’t have the force needed to shift the clutch plates into position, causing the clutch to slip, resulting in difficult gear changes on your motorcycle.

You might also be interested in this article about reasons a motorcycle won’t shift up into 1st gear.

Can You Shift Gears Smoothly on a Motorcycle With a Broken Clutch Cable?

Shifting gears will become incredibly rough on a motorcycle with a broken clutch cable. While it is possible to power shift a bike at low RPMs, if the RPMs are too high, shifting with a broken clutch cable can lock up your rear bike wheel and cause a collision. 

That said, shifting a motorcycle with a worn, broken, maladjusted, or under-lubricated clutch cable will cause gear changes to be much rougher than usual—power shifting without a functional clutch cable and clutch lever can cause irreparable damage to other transmission and engine components.

Any modern motorcycles equipped with clutch sensors don’t allow the bike to start unless the clutch lever is pulled in or the motorcycle gear is in neutral. If your clutch cable breaks, a clutch or neutral sensor may prevent the motorcycle from starting until a new cable is installed.

Check out this article for information on how to fix a faulty motorcycle clutch.

How Do You Fix a Hard Shift?

Routine maintenance will ensure smooth shifting by keeping transmission and clutch components lubricated adequately with motor oil, clutch cable adjusted and lubricated, or, if you have a hydraulic clutch, clutch fluid at optimum quality.

If you’ve made it this far through the article’s troubleshooting and you’re still convinced there’s no mechanical issue on your motorcycle and the shifting is just hard, you can try pre-loading your upshifts with the following technique:

  1. Before you throttle down and pull the clutch to shift gears, put your toe into the shifting position and gently press up on your bike’s foot shifter.
  2. Don’t press hard enough to power shift, but apply sufficient upward toe pressure to pre-load the gear for the change.
  3. Now, throw the shifting steps mentioned earlier; throttle down slightly and pull in the clutch lever.
  4. With your toe already applying light pressure on the foot shifter, your gear should upshift nicely and smoothly.
  5. Continue through the proper shifting steps, gradually releasing your clutch lever in unison while throttling up.

What Should You Check First When Gear Shifting Gets Hard?

Engine oil level and quality is the first thing you should check if your shifting is more challenging than usual. Ensure your oil isn’t contaminated or expired and be sure you’re using the manufacturer-recommended type and grade of oil.

Next, inspect that your shifting linkage isn’t too loose, too tight, rusted or corroded, or damaged from road debris.

Inspect your clutch cable, hand lever, and foot shifter before troubleshooting your clutch and gearbox components.

Do Some Boots Make Gear Shifting Harder?

Rigid combat boots and steel-toed construction boots can make shifting hard if they don’t fit under your shifter foot lever. Heavy and inflexible boots also put extra weight and resistance against your ankle’s up-and-down movement.

If your boot toe doesn’t fit underneath the shifter without comfortable free play, you can raise the shifter to fit the boots by loosening the locknuts on the rod ends and adjusting the rod’s height before re-tightening the nuts.

Adjusting the shifter linkage can help your steel toe work boot toes slide under the shifter, but if your foot and ankle wear out from routine foot shifts because of the extra weight, you might need a change of shoes.

What Are the Best Shoes for Shifting a Motorcycle?

All leather boots without reinforced toes make the best riding boots, especially boots with heat-resistance soles that won’t melt in the exhaust heat. Some riders choose engineer boots because they lack laces; leather-laced shoes work well if tied tightly.

Various accessory companies make riding sneakers designed for easy shifting and reinforced against head and pavement damage.

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