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Riding Skills Series: Braking and Downshifting

Shifting gears smoothly is one of the hallmarks of a competent rider. Downshifting properly poses the greatest challenge for novices because miscues lead to an unsettled chassis at inopportune times-like entering a corner. What makes the task difficult is the right hand must manage to brake and blip the throttle to match the engine speed to the road speed. Having your hand in the proper position will make the process easier. When the throttle is completely closed, your wrist should still have a slight downward bend (right)-not choked-up drag-racer style (left). Now practice maintaining constant pressure on the brake lever, while quickly rolling the throttle on and off. This is how you'll match the engine speed to the lower gear, and prevent the front end from bobbing up and down due to uneven brake lever pressure.


While you're braking and blipping the throttle, the left side of your body is busy shifting gears and modulating the clutch. Almost simultaneously, slightly preload the shifter (to get slack out of the linkage) by lightly pressing down on it, pull in the clutch, make the downshift and release the clutch when you blip the throttle. You only need to pull in the lever far enough to disengage the clutch plates. Pulling the lever all the way in is wasted effort and makes it more difficult to shift smoothly. One way to make this slight movement easier is to only cover the lever with two fingers. Your other fingers will remind you when you pull it in too far as you become accustomed to the technique.

When combining braking and downshifting through multiple gears, follow the above steps for each gear. Let the clutch out fairly quickly between each shift. Never change more than one gear at a time. If the rpm drops and then rises as you let the clutch out, you need to give a little more throttle before each shift. If the bike surges forward, give less throttle. When downshifting while decelerating at partial throttle (instead of braking), you can use an alternate shifting method. Simply keep the throttle constant while you pull in the clutch, snick the downshift and ease the clutch out. Of course, use all four fingers to pull in the clutch at a stop.

Since mastering downshifting while braking is challenging enough, don't make it more difficult than it needs to be by having the clutch lever and shifter improperly adjusted. The clutch lever should be adjusted so that the point of full engagement is as far out from the bar as possible, while making sure that it has 2mm-3mm of free play at the end of the lever. This allows you to disengage the clutch with a minimum of finger movement. Similarly, you should not need to lift your foot off the peg to press down on the shifter. Once you have the shifter height tailored to your riding position, make sure that you haven't adversely affected your upshifts. Eliminating unnecessary movement from gear changes will help downshifts go much smoother.

This article was originally published in the December 2001 issue of Sport Rider.
 

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After reading that...I realize I automatically do it as reaction instead of thinking about it because of many years of riding. This whole left foot and hand separate from right foot and hand movements is my biggest issues with newbies. It takes a great deal of coordination to operate a motorcycle with any level of safety for the new rider. Now throw in the tweaky throttle and brakes of the SS and liter bikes with the newb and they go down. But this is what they refuse to hear or listen to. Great article Shan...maybe with some more of this type of information, Newbs will begin to understand
 

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its funny cause ive been thinking of the braking/downshifting on the bike since ive been trying to get the hang of it in the car to get ready for a track day in the vette (cant get the hang of it yet in the car :nonod: ) I dont even remember having to learn doing it on the bike , i think it sort of comes natural to you after riding for a while...I know i knew how to do it before i even started racing , just dont remember how i learned how......

good article, but ive always hated to have my clutch grab way off the bar....i always like to have my clutch grab immediatley off the bar,,,,but thats just a personal preference since your only talking a half inch or so...plus i was always afraid that the clutch was not grabbing fully if i had it adjusted too far off the bar since i did a lot of dragracing and roadracing at the same time...just a personal thing i guess.....
 

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Contest Winner, '07 Rally Veteran , November 2007
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skillz like that i think can come from the dirt :2cents:
 

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GsxrJack said:
good article, but ive always hated to have my clutch grab way off the bar....i always like to have my clutch grab immediatley off the bar,,,,but thats just a personal preference since your only talking a half inch or so...plus i was always afraid that the clutch was not grabbing fullyQUOTE]
:iagree:
 

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Thanks ShanMan
 

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Awesome post, thanks Shan! This leads into something that I was noticing on my ride this morning. I have a much easier time shifting smoothly when I've got the bike at higher RPMs. i.e It's easier to do a clean shift with no jerkiness at 7000 than it is at 5000. Is this normal for new riders until yu get control through the full range of your throttle movement?
 

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V-Twin Moddin
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I can downshift and I can't even feel it... Yep... I'm just that smooth!! :lol:
 

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Let me get this straight. Snap throttle,dowshift and release. The snap and downshift doesn't happen simutaniously (sp)? The shift will happen right after you snap it? Once you release keep on the throttle a little bit so it won't jerk forward?
 

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I did this today going up Lookout Mountain. Going uphill, I can make perfect downshifts for the tight corners. But coming downhill, I have to keep steady pressure on the brakes. I don't want to upset the braking by trying to roll the throttle.

Here's what I did on a very steep, very tight switchback. Squeeze the brakes until the bike slows down to the speed for taking the turn. Then with the rear brake still on, I can roll the throttle for the downshift. After the downshift, I can give it more front brake if it needs it, and accelerate smartly through the curve.

Actually, some of the curves are so tight and so steep, that you could just fall over if you are in the wrong gear, especially when going uphill. A 15 MPH lowside.
 

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V-Twin Moddin
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You can also just keep the throttle at the same position..pull the clutch in.. downshift and then release the clutch... this all happens in about .5 second.
 

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Good post Shan! Looks like im doing things right. Ive never read anything to tell me how, but like Bee said, after years of riding its reflex.

SPEEDWERKS:I got your newsletter and im gonna look seriously at one of those slipper clutches. :dthumb:
 

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drewpy said:
skillz like that i think can come from the dirt :2cents:
:dthumb: :iagree:
 

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JK_DILLA said:
SPEEDWERKS:I got your newsletter and im gonna look seriously at one of those slipper clutches. :dthumb:
After racing two-stroke GP bikes for the last few years, it's more of a necessity for me. As you mention ... it's reflex. Well, my reflex is to barely use the clutch at all, no blipping, and click off downshifts!

I just rode the R6 for the first time at Summit Point a couple weeks ago, and it's all fine and good when I'm thinking about it (T1, no problem ... plenty of time to think about blipping). When I started to pick up the pace and reflexes started taking over, I damn near put the thing sideways into T10 (about a 90mph corner) clicking off a couple downshifts with no blipping and little clutch!

I'm just about to go back in the shop and install the slipper clutch. I'll be trying it next weekend at Summit.

- Roach
 

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V-Twin Moddin
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Do you guys downshift coming up to the end of a highway exit ramp or do you just brake and shift into first then complete the turn after the stop sign?
 

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Gas Man said:
You can also just keep the throttle at the same position..pull the clutch in.. downshift and then release the clutch... this all happens in about .5 second.
i do this alot. :here:
 

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Gas Man said:
Do you guys downshift coming up to the end of a highway exit ramp or do you just brake and shift into first then complete the turn after the stop sign?
I downshift. The only time i dont is when i have something to do. Like adjust my helmet strap or dig in my pockets. Then i put it in N and coast to the stop sign using the rear brake to slow me down.
 
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