When To Shift Gears On A Dirt Bike For Efficiency & Endurance

Are you new to dirt biking and wondering when to shift gears so that you are more efficient and don’t blow up your bike? I’ve been riding dirt bikes and motorcycles for over 20 years and I want to show you when and how to properly shift gears.

I’m pretty picky these days when it comes to shift timing. I know how to go through the gears as fast and as safely as possible. I also know how to be efficient so that you use less energy.

How do you know when to shift?

When teaching someone that’s new to riding a motorcycle or dirt bike, I usually have to get them to understand the appropriate time to shift, or else they won’t do it properly. The most common problem is waiting too long to shift. This puts more unnecessary wear on the engine because the rider stops accelerating at a high RPM but they don’t shift up to the next gear. 

So, when is the correct time to shift each gear? My very definitive answer is: it depends…

Why? Because I change when I shift gears based on how aggressive or conservative I’m riding. 

Shift timing for efficiency & endurance

When I’m trail riding or just casual riding I typically short-shift. This is simply shifting up once it gets into the midrange of the power. I like to use the low-end torque of the engine.

It’s also better for efficiency and increasing endurance on you and your dirt bike. Keeping it in the lower RPM makes the acceleration and deceleration smoother, there’s generally less vibration, and it upsets the suspension less than whacking the throttle wide open.

All of this helps your endurance because it’s easier to hang on. It’s also easier on the engine because you’re not spinning it as high in the RPM range. Less piston & crank revolutions = less wear and tear.

Shift timing for racing

Trying to get the holeshot, running through the gears on a long straightaway, or just racing your buddies? Each bike has its own “optimal shift point” to accelerate quickest through the gears. 

The proper shift timing for racing is holding the throttle wide open and then shifting just past the peak horsepower RPM. This means that the instant the power flattens or drops off, it’s time to shift up a gear. 

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How to tell what gear you’re in

It’s almost always best to start in 1st gear from a stop, but what gear you shift into at any certain point is dependant on so many factors:

  • Your bike
  • The current gearing (sprockets)
  • Where you’re riding
  • What RPM you like to ride at
  • How much you weigh

It really doesn’t matter what gear you’re in while riding as long as the engine is spinning at an RPM that is efficient. 

What I mean is that the engine doesn’t need to be at a high RPM unless it’s under a heavy load from accelerating. If you’re just cruising and don’t need to accelerate fast, then keep it in the midrange and lower.

(Even some of the top pros – such as Alex Ray in MX – don’t even know what gear they’re in after the holeshot)

Is it okay to shift gears without the clutch?

Yes, it’s safe to shift without the clutch on a dirt bike. The clutch and transmission can handle it and be reliable. Just remember to let off the throttle a bit when shifting and you’ll be good to go!

I’ve been shifting without the clutch for decades and have never had a problem. I use the clutch when I want to be smooth, however.

What about downshifting?

No need to use the clutch when downshifting, either, unless you want it to be smoother. If I happen to have a passenger or am riding on the street, then I use the clutch for upshifting and downshifting because I can match the RPM to make it smoother – less “herky-jerky”.

How to become a confident and safer rider

Now that you understand proper shift timing, it’s time to take your riding to the next level.

The next step is to learn all of the basic riding techniques so that you can ride with better traction, balance, and control off-road.

Ready to get started? Tap here to learn how.

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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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