Best Way To Shift Gears On a Dirt Bike: With or Without Clutch?

Should you shift without the clutch, or will that damage your bike? I’m going to show you the best way to shift gears on a dirt bike, as well as practical advice to make riding more enjoyable and safer for you.

There’s a lot of little things to learn when riding a dirt bike, and not everyone starts out knowing everything, so that’s why I’m here to help you with this article and video!

Is it hard to shift a dirt bike?

Nope, shifting the gears up or down is easy if your dirt bike is working properly. The hardest part about learning to shift a dirt bike is understanding which way to go with the shifter and when to time the shift properly.

You don’t want to be in 5th gear when you’re only going 5mph, and you certainly don’t want to shift down into 1st gear when you’re riding 45mph, or else you’ll have major safety consequences with you and your bike.

Dirt bike shifting diagram

On virtually all manually dirt bikes with a clutch, 1st gear is all the way down with the shift lever. Shifting up gives you all of the higher gears, while neutral is in between 1st and 2nd gear.

So a simple shiting diagram would be this:

  • 6
  • 5
  • 4
  • 3
  • 2
  • Neutral
  • 1

How do you shift gears?

Starting in neutral, simply press down with your foot onto the shift lever 

Don’t push too hard; you can only shift one gear at a time, and if the shift lever breaks off then you’ll be stuck in the same gear.

To shift up, simply place the toes of your boot (foot) under the shift lever, briefly let off the gas, and then push up on the shifter. 

How to put dirt bike in neutral

Neutral is in between 1st and 2nd gear, so it’s easiest if you should down into 1st gear. If the engine is running:

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  1. Simply pull in the clutch and keep shifting down until it won’t shift anymore, then you know that it’s in 1st.
  2. Then shift half a click up to get it into neutral
  3. If you can let out the clutch (slowly) and the bike doesn’t move forward, then you know it’s in neutral

If the engine is not running:

  • Shift down into 1st gear while rolling the bike back and forth just a few inches to make it easy
  • Then shift half a click up to get it into neutral

Can you start a dirt bike in gear?

Yes, although you will want to pull the clutch lever in to disengage it or else the bike will want to start moving. Some dirt bikes have a clutch safety switch so that it won’t start while in gear unless you pull in the clutch.

Should you use the clutch when shifting?

You always need the clutch for just starting out, but is it really necessary to use it while shifting? Nope. I typically shift (up or down) without using the clutch.

How to shift without using the clutch

When you go to shift gears, especially going up a gear, simply let off of the throttle a little bit just before you shift. This will unload the engine (gears) and make it easy to shift without doing any damage to the transmission.

How do you shift gears smoothly on a dirt bike?

If you’re not using the clutch, then it just takes some practice to get it down smoothly. It’s a combination of smoothly rolling off the throttle while simultaneously shifting and then immediately rolling back on the throttle.

Sometimes I’ll use the clutch to shift gears more smoothly, such as when I’m on the road or have a passenger. Using the clutch to shift just makes it a little bit easier to be smooth because you aren’t getting all of the “backlash” of the gears accelerating and decelerating.

When should I downshift my dirt bike?

Timing your downshift is all about listening to and feeling how your dirt bike is running. If you don’t care about speed and just want to casually come to a stop, simply pull in the clutch and shift down until you reach first gear. 

If you want to stay in the right gear or want to use engine braking to help slow you down, then learning when to downshift is an important technique so that you don’t over rev the engine. 

Once the rpm starts getting low enough that it would bog the engine down if you tried to accelerate; that’s when you need to downshift. 

How to become a better and safer rider on the trails

Learning how to properly shift your dirt bike is important, but that’s only the beginning when it comes to riding with confidence.

Want to quickly learn the actual techniques you need to ride with more control to prevent crashes? Tap here to get started. 

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Kelley Fager

I help riders learn to safely ride off-road with confidence by teaching basic techniques so that you don't go too fast too soon and get hurt from crashing. Learn To Ride With Control Here

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