If you're new to motorcycles, particularly performance-oriented big bikes, then chances are you're beginning to hear and learn about loads of new techie jargon, as well as tips and tricks in maximizing the performance of your new toy. Today, we're going to discuss one such technique which is used by veteran motorcyclists, especially in sport riding scenarios such as on the track or drag strip. Clutchless shifting is a term that's commonly used in the motorcycle world. But what exactly is it, and is it safe for you to shift your motorcycle without operating the clutch? Read on to find out if clutchless shifting is something you would be comfortable with.
What is clutchless shifting?
Clutchless shifiting is a technique used by intermediate and veteran motorcycle riders. When shifting gears on a motorcycle that doesn't come equipped with a quickshifter, one would normally pull the clutch lever prior to engaging the shift lever. Once the gear has been selected, the clutch lever would then be released, and throttle applied immediately thereafter. Clutchless shifting, however, eliminates the use of the clutch lever, and instead relies on the momentarily unloading of the transmission upon deceleration to slip into the next gear.
Sounds scary, right? Well, that's because it is. You see, clutchless shifting requires quite a bit of finesse, and screwing up a clutchless shift is a very gut-wrenching feeling. Worse, it could leave you stranded on the side of the road with a hefty repair bill requiring the pull-down and rebuild of your bike's transmission. So, ho do you do it? First of all, clutchless shifiting is easier on up-shifts, however it can also be done on downshifts, albeit with way more finesse. Basically, just as you chop the throttle, you're going to want to shift up the moment you release the accelerator, then once the gear has engaged, get back on the throttle. After you do this, hopefully, your transmission has successfully engaged the next gear. Otherwise, you'll hear a loud bang, or worse, a loud and painful grinding noise.
How does it work?
So how does it work, and why do so many people still do it? Well, the first order of business would be understanding how a motorcycle transmission works. Unlike a car's transmission, which allows you to select a gear out of sequnce, nearly all motorcycles are equipped with a sequential gear box. This means that you can only shift in a sequential manner, from first, to second, to third, so on and so forth. Additionally, motorcycle transmissions usually incorporate straight-cut gears, with selector forks connected to teeth which engage onto each other, commonly referred to as dogs.
Now, the clutch plays a vital role in all of this, as it's responsible for transferring the engine power to the transmission, which thereby transfers power to the rear wheel. So where does clutchless shifting come into play? When the engine is spinning and the clutch is engaged with power transferring to the rear wheel, the entire transmission is loaded. Once you let go of the throttle, and the revs stop rising momentarily, the entire system is unloaded for a split second. This is the sweet spot for clutchless shifitng, as no pressure is currently applied on the dogs. This means that, within that fraction of a second, you can shift gears without having to actuate the clutch lever.
Should you do it?
The answer to whether or not you should or shouldn't practice clutchless shifting is entirely up to you. As is the case with most things, there are pros and cons when it comes to employing this technique. Some motorcyclists are so well acquainted with their machines, that they can hit up and down clutchless shifts flawlessly, one-hundred-percent of the time with zero issues. This is particularly useful in racing, especially with older motorcycles not yet equipped with electronic quickshifters. The logic behind it is simple, really. The faster you shift, the less downtime there is in transferring power to the rear wheel.
However, there are some hefty drawbacks should you screw up this technique. At the very least, missing a clutchless shift could have your transmission land at a false neutral, meaning the selector is hovering in limbo between two gears. If this happens, the best thing you can do is to immediately pull in the clutch, as you certianly wouldn't want your gears engaging from a false neutral with the engine RPM at redline. If this happens, chances are you're going to hear a loud bang, or worse, a gut-wrenching grinding noise which indicates your transmission has decided to say goodbye. At the very least, messing up a clutchless shift can cause accelerated wear and tear; at worst, it could cause catastrophic transmission failure.
Perhaps the point of it all is as simple as this. Motorcycle manufacturers put the clutch lever there for a reason. So if you aren't racing on the track, or aren't at a telepathic level when it comes to operating your motorcycle, then it may be best to use the clutch when changing gears. Your transmission, and ultimately your wallet will thank you for it.