How To Shift Gears Smoothly
Shifting gears smoothly is one of the more difficult things to do while operating a motorcycle; shifting (particularly down-shifting) without feeling the weight transfer that usually accompanies a sloppy gear change takes practice.
We've taken some flack for promoting the use of two-finger braking on modern sport bikes, but this technique is especially appropriate if the rider is braking and modulating the throttle simultaneously when down-shifting.
Engine speed and rear wheel rpm must be matched to achieve a smooth down-shift, and there are two ways to accomplish this. In the first two photos, the rider displays the throttle-blipping technique used by most racers, which is also applicable to street riding. Since braking and down-shifting often occur simultaneously, the right hand is responsible for not just slowing the motorcycle, but raising engine rpm to match the lower gear ratio as well. Make sure the brake lever is positioned so it will not contact your knuckles under hard braking.
As the throttle is closed and the brakes are applied, load the shifter slightly to pick up the slack in the lever. The next three movements are done simultaneously and quickly: pull in the clutch, blip the throttle and move the shift lever. Adjust your clutch lever so that the point of engagement/disengagement is as far from the bar as possible, always making sure to leave 2 to 3mm of free play at the end of the lever. This allows the clutch lever to be disengaged in its initial range of motion, with just a quick two- or three-finger movement. The rider in the inset photo is using four fingers and pulling the clutch all the way to the bar -- wasted movement unless you're either coming to or already at a stop.
As the shifter is notched into the lower gear, blip the throttle (rev the engine slightly and quickly). If you're braking while working the throttle, work at keeping lever pressure uniform to prevent the front of the bike from bobbing up and down. Let out the clutch fairly quickly and in between each shift, and never click more than one gear at a time. Practice until this becomes second nature. If the revs drop and then rise again as you let the clutch out, more rpm are needed prior to clutch engagement.
Here's another technique: when decelerating at a partial throttle setting, complete the downshift while keeping the throttle constant (i.e., don't modulate the throttle at all). Pull in the clutch, click the downshift and let the clutch out. Don't move the throttle. You'll be surprised at how smooth the gear change feels -- and your passenger will thank you.
Proper adjustment of all levers is important to optimize the movements it takes to correctly control the motorcycle. Notice the rider's foot in the inset photo; in order to downshift, it must be lifted off the footpeg -- the lever is adjusted too high. Make sure the shift lever, clutch and brake are all properly adjusted so minimal movement is needed to operate the motorcycle.