Motorcycle Gears Explained: When Should You Shift Gears On A Motorcycle?

Beast Riders is reader-supported. This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

When traveling from one place to another, you simply cannot expect to go at the same speed. There were be hurdles, turns, traffic, and various other obstacles which would force you to reduce your speed.

You select the appropriate gear to match your speed and the power you want to go at. Each gear has its task, which it must carry out, starting from the first gear, which gives your bike the power it needs to start moving to the final gear, which provides you the fastest speed and mobility.

While these gears can perform their function flawlessly, it is your task as the rider to make sure that you are riding your motorcycle at the appropriate gear. So that you can follow the rules and safety limits of the road and so that your bike does not get strained from operating at the wrong gear.

You can shift the gears whenever but there are certain timeframes where you should shift to another gear. The speed can determine this you are going at or by the feel and sounds your bike gives out.

So if you are wondering when to shift gears on a motorcycle at what speed? Then, you should shift the gears at these speeds:

  • First to second at 10 mph
  • Second to Third at 20 mph
  • Third to fourth at 30 mph
  • Fourth to fifth at 40 mph
  • Fifth to sixth at anything beyond 40 mph

In this article, I will explain when you should shift to new gear and how you can figure out when to do it.

What Speed Should Each Gear Be Used At?

Before you can start shifting gears up and down, you must first be aware of what gear is optimal for what speed.

Since each gear has its job, it makes sense that it be used accordingly, so to make sure you are using the right gear for the right job, you must know which gear excels at what so that you can switch the right gear at a moment’s notice when the time comes.

First & Second Gears

Typically, the first gear of the bike is the one you should use when starting the bike off from motion. This gear provides the most power and grip to the motorcycle’s wheels so that you can ascend hills and inclines easier. This gear is also useful to make slow and sharp turns without preventing your engine from stalling.

Once you are done with the incline or have your bike in motion, it is time to shift to second gear, which you typically use for moderate speed where you know a turn is coming or when you pass the 9 mph mark.

Anything below 9mph can be covered by first gear alone. However, it is not recommended to drive on the first gear for very long.

Third & Fourth Gears

The 3rd gear is typically the most common gear you should be using as it provides the best balance of mobility and speed, making it ideal for most of your travels. It allows for good turning and fast traveling.

However, it is recommended that you assess the turn before pulling it off at 3rd gear. It is better and safer to take turns or cross speedbumps at the 2nd gear as it has a better grip. The 4th gear is where things get more fun as this gear is where your bike starts to pick up the pace and dish out a lot more speed.

Fifth & Sixth Gears

Assuming you are using a 6 gear motorcycle, these final two gears are the fastest and most dangerous gears you can ride your motorcycle in.

The speed sent out by these gears is absurd, and you should not even think about taking turns at these speeds, nor can you slow down quickly enough without improper downshifting, which will undoubtedly hurt your bike.

Before shifting to either of these gears, you should ensure minimal traffic on the road, and there are no immediate turns. Otherwise, you can easily find yourself in a dangerous situation. These gears are also very good for descending hills and slopes.

When Should You Shift Gears?

As mentioned above, each gear is best served at a specific speed that you should try to maintain to avoid straining your engine by driving at the wrong gear. Similarly, you should understand when you must shift the gear and which gear you must shift to, depending on the situation.

1. When Upshifting Gears

Once you have gotten your bike moving from rest, you should not linger in first gear for long, which is why you should rev up to 2nd gear as soon as you can, with the max speed being 10mph.

Riding a motorcycle in the first gear is quite rough as the main movement starts at the second gear. If you are riding on a busy road, stick to this gear.

However, if you can speed up, you can shift to the 3rd gear before crossing 20mph. The rest of the gears act similarly where once you reach the max speed listed above, you should upshift. Just make sure to switch to higher gears while being aware of your environment.

2. When Downshifting Gears

Once you start to near your destination or want to slow down, it is time to downshift the gear one at a time until you smoothly come to a stop.

Downshifting gears can be a bit harder to justify as if you want to start taking turns, especially sharp turns, you have to travel at the first 2 gears, which can be difficult when coming off of the 5th gear. Other times you want to downshift is when you are approaching obstacles such as:

  • Turns
  • Speed bumps
  • Traffic lights

Grinding to a halt does not look and makes you look like a novice driver, which is why you should learn to smoothly downshift if you want to stop your bike, especially since you will have to put your bike in motion with the first gear unless you want to damage your engine.

3. When Shifting Based On Feel

Based on what gear you are currently in and what speed you are going, your bike will start to tell you when it is time for you to shift, and depending on your speed, it will tell you to rather do an upshift or a downshift—understanding this feeling and knowing what to do when it is integral for proper shifting.

If the bike starts to stall and shake, you are probably going too slow for the gear you are in, which means that you should downshift unless you want the motorcycle to stop.

If your motorcycle feels like it is strained and is giving out a whirring sound, you should upshift to relieve the engine’s stress and not cause any damage. Understanding these signs takes practice which you should do a lot of when riding a bike.

3 Tips To Help You Shift Better

Now that you know when you should shift and at what speed, here’s how you can further tell what the best time to use a certain gear is and when to shift it.

By the way, I highly recommend you to read this article on How To Shift Motorcycle Gears so that you can understand this topic better!

1. Know The Road

Knowing what route you are taking and when you can expect a turn or a speed bump is integral if you want to drive efficiently and not get caught off guard at high gears when you see a sudden turn. If you know that a turn is coming, you can easily downshift smoothly and take the turn at a lower gear.

If you are on a highway that has no turns, then you can easily go the highest gear and keep driving until you eventually see a turn far off. Just make sure to avoid any obstacles on the road. This shouldn’t be a problem in the city streets since you probably will not be crossing the third gear.

2. Gauge Traffic

Speeding during traffic is a recipe for disaster, so instead of shifting to high gear and going for a joyride in the middle of traffic, you should adopt a slower and steady approach. This will involve you abstaining from gears above three and making sure that you properly shift according to the traffic in front of you.

If the traffic is bumper to bumper, you should stick to the first gear. If there is no traffic, you are free to shift to higher gears. However, make sure to do so safely.

3. Zones And Speed Limits

Depending on where you are riding your motorcycle, you could be required to follow a set speed limit, in which case you should shift your gear accordingly and follow the rules of the road unless you want to get pulled over.

When moving from, let’s say, a normal road to a school zone, you should downshift your gear so that you can avoid speeding in a school zone and not accidentally hit an innocent child.

Similarly, if you are moving towards a fast and busy road, you should try to match the speed of the cars, meaning you should upshift so that you don’t stall traffic or get hit by a speed vehicle.

Conclusion

Each bike is unique, and depending on the engine and the model, shifting the bike will take practice and dedication to perfect. Now that you know when to shift gears on a motorcycle at what speed, you can easily improve how you ride your motorcycle and ensure that you are not driving your motorcycle in the wrong gear.

You should also do so on any bike now that you know how the motorcycle tells you when to shift. You should be able to do this without looking at the speedometer either, which will keep your attention on the road where it should be and prevent any distractions.