How To Shift Gears On A Dirt Bike: With or Without Clutch

Want to know the best way of how to shift gears on a dirt bike? Shifting is an important part of learning to ride your dirt bike, and doing it the wrong way can do damage to your engine or transmission.

It’s a common question that often causes a lot of bickering, so I want to show you every possible way to shift gears on a dirt bike, whether it’s with the clutch or without.

Do you have to use the clutch to shift on a dirt bike?

The simple answer is no. Using the clutch can make shifting smoother and easier, but it’s not absolutely required.

I usually shift without using the clutch and have never had any transmission problems over the years. You just have to unload the transmission by letting of the throttle right before you shift.

How To Shift With the Clutch

There are two ways you can shift through the gears while using the clutch. The first one, if you are conscience about the longevity of the transmission in your bike, is probably the easiest on it. To shift gears on a dirt bike with the clutch, pull in the clutch and let off the throttle simultaneously, then shift and release the clutch.

Not only are you taking load off of the transmission by letting off the throttle, but you are also reducing the load by dis-engaging the clutch. This is the most common way of shifting that is taught to new riders. If it is what you are comfortable with, by all means, continue to do so.

Wide Open With Clutch

Can I Shift Without Using The Clutch On My Dirt Bike How To Shift Gears On A Dirt Bike: With or Without Clutch
Learning how to shift a dirt bike.

A powershift with the clutch is the fastest way to shift gears on a dirt bike, and a lot of professionals do it this way. Instead of letting off the throttle when shifting, you hold it open. Sounds bad? You want to time it right so that it’s still in the power-band when shifting.

When you go to shift it up a gear, hold the throttle wide open and give the clutch a quick pull while shifting it up to the next gear at the same time. It’ll sound like it’s over-revving, but it’s only for a split second if you’re fast enough. This is why four-strokes have a rev-limiter; so it stops revving higher before something breaks.

Two-strokes don’t have a rev-limiter because they stop revving before anything would happen. Not only is this way of shifting fast, it also keeps the RPM in the meat of the power-band when you get to the next gear.

How To Shift A Dirt Bike Without The Clutch

This next way to shift is still easy on the transmission, and the way I usually do it when riding around the farm/trails for fun. It’s the same as the first one, except it is a clutchless shift. To shift a dirt bike without the clutch: let off the throttle, shift up a gear, then get back on the throttle to accelerate.


For some reason, many people think that dirt bike transmissions are like cars transmissions and say you need to use the clutch to shift, otherwise it will destroy the gears. This is not true, as dirt bikes have a constant-mesh transmission. This allows you to shift up or down through the gears without the need for the clutch.

Just remember that it’s a sequential transmission, so you can only shift up or down one gear at a time, unlike a car where you can select any gear at virtually any time.

Wide Open Without Clutch

The last way to shift through the gears is probably the hardest on your transmission. Although it is made to take the abuse, many people would not recommend using this technique. Professionals do it because it’s faster, but they are using race-bikes that are expected to have a much shorter life-span.

When going through the gears, keep the throttle wide open, and when the power starts to run out near the end of the RPM range, firmly shift it up to the next gear. This takes a little more practice, as you do not want to shift it while accelerating under a heavy load. Once you get to the end of the power-band, but before redline, is when you want to shift it. The bike will lose a little power at really high RPM, which will reduce enough load off the transmission to allow you to shift it.

Shifting Problems & FAQ

Do you have to use the clutch when downshifting a dirt bike?

No, you don’t have to pull in the clutch. To downshift, just let off the throttle, click down on the shift lever and then you can apply throttle or brake again. The clutch does make downshifting slightly smoother.

Dirt Bike Won’t Go Into Neutral

The easiest way to find neutral is with the engine off. A dirt bike that won’t go into neutral may be a sign that the clutch is dragging or there’s a transmission problem, such as a bent shift fork.

With the engine off, roll the bike back and forth until you find neutral, in between 1st and 2md gear if you dirt bike has a clutch.

In the end, I believe that it’s personal preference and what kind of riding you are doing that should determine how you shift gears on your dirt bike. I am just telling you that it’s not going to blow up your transmission if you shift without using the clutch. I would know, because I’ve been doing it for years with no problems.

This is a good illustration on what your transmission is doing when you shift.

How to become a better trail rider

Learning to properly shift is just the beginning when it comes to increasing your riding skill.

Looking to build your riding technique? Click here to get 3 free lessons to improve your control and confidence off-road.


Kelley Fager

I help newer riders learn to safely ride with confidence by teaching basic techniques in a way that's easy to understand. Learn To Ride With Control Here

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