February 04, 2022 9 min read
Most beginner dirt bike riders will be starting out by learning to ride a bike with a manual transmission. This means you will need to learn how to operate the clutch on the bike in order to pull off, change gears, and bring the motorcycle to a stop. This guide to operating a dirt bike with a clutch will get you started on your journey to mastering this skill.
Follow these steps to ride a dirt bike with a clutch.
Learning to operate a manual clutch on a dirt bike can seem like a daunting prospect for many beginner dirt bike riders. With a little time and practice, however, you can easily learn this skill in under an hour if you stick with it and keep trying. It is also a skill like riding a bicycle, once you learn how to do it, you never forget!
There are some steps that you need to follow to ride a dirt bike with a clutch, and they need to be performed in the right sequence and with some finesse. Operating the clutch and the throttle in combination using a delicate touch will be your key to success in learning how to ride a dirt bike with a manual transmission.
The steps to riding a dirt bike with a clutch can be divided into sections, with the first part of the operation involving setting the bike up to get it started. The second section will be to get the bike ready for pull-off.
The third will be the pull-off from a stationary position. The fourth section is learning to change gears while riding, and the final section is stopping the bike.
There are two main ways to get the dirt bike ready to be started; you can put the bike in neutral and then release the clutch before starting the bike, or you can put the dirt bike in first gear and keep the clutch held in while you start the bike. You can only do this after you've been riding awhile because the clutch heats up and expands allowing it to spin freely. When it's cold the plates stick a little bit, making it hard to start in gear.
We will concentrate on the first method, which will make the process simplest for most beginners. The second option of putting the bike in first gear and then starting the engine is only really appropriate if you have an electronic ignition on the bike rather than a kickstart.
While you are sitting astride the bike, pull in the clutch lever on the left handlebar of the bike. Make sure to pull in towards the handlebar as far as possible.
This will disengage the clutch and allow the gear lever to be moved easily to find the neutral position.
While the clutch lever is pulled in, your will need to move the gear lever to locate neutral. The gear lever is usually a foot-operated lever that is in front of the left footpeg.
The most common gearing configuration is with the first gear being achieved by pushing the gear lever down. If the bike is in one of the higher gears, you will need to tap-tap the gear lever down with your foot till it has reached first gear.
Neutral is usually positioned between first and second gear, so with the bike in first gear, you gently lift the lever with your foot until you feel the bike slip into neutral. If you go too far, the transmission will go into second gear.
It is sometimes a little tricky to get this gentle movement into neutral right but take your time and practice a little till you get a feel for it. Each bike will have a different feel, and some bikes have their gear positions in a different configuration, so you will need to know which direction the first gear is on your bike.
Bikes with an electronic ignition may have a light near the ignition switch where you insert the key that will illuminate when you have found the neutral position. This is not the case on all bikes, and on most bikes, you will have to find neutral by feel.
Once the bike is in neutral, it is time to start the engine of the dirt bike. Depending on your type of bike, you will either have to kickstart the bike or use the electric starter to start the bike’s engine.
One aspect of starting the bike that you need to consider is that your bike may have a kick-stand sensor, which may prevent the bike from being started when the stand is in the down position.
With the bike in neutral, the engine will start without any issues. Once you have the bike running, you are ready to move to the next step in riding your dirt bike.
The next few steps to riding your dirt bike with a clutch will involve engaging first gear, releasing the clutch while controlling the throttle to pull away on the bike. Once you complete the steps in this section, you will be riding the bike in first gear.
With the engine now running, you need to prepare to get the bike moving. Get comfortable on the bike with both feet on the ground and the bike well balanced. Pull in the clutch in preparation for putting the bike in gear.
It is now time to put the dirt bike in first gear to start pulling off and getting the bike moving. Keep the clutch lever pulled in all through the process of putting the bike in gear.
If you do not pull the clutch in hard enough, the bike will lurch forward when you put it in gear, and it will stall the motor.
With the clutch pulled in, use your left foot to step on the gear lever in front of the left footpeg and push the lever down.
You will hear the transmission thud into position. The bike is now in first gear, and you are ready to pull off and start riding.
Now comes the part of the process that needs some finesse and fine control on the part of the rider. It is this section that most beginner riders need some practice to get right.
The most important part of the process to control is the clutch; even if you give the bike too much gas, you can control the speed of the pull-off by controlling the clutch.
You will need to have all your senses and coordination working together on this step. You will need to give the bike a little gas with the throttle in your right hand while slowly releasing the clutch with your left hand. While you are doing this, you need to listen to the engine.
If you hear the revs of the engine dropping too much, you need to give a little more gas to prevent the engine from stalling. You also don’t want to do the opposite and get the revs too high and have the bike pull off too fast. As a beginner, this may catch you by surprise, and the dirt bike can get out of control.
This is why it is always of utmost importance to remain in control of the clutch; even if the revs are too high and the bike starts to pull off too fast, you can simply pull in the clutch to disengage the transmission, and the bike will not pull off out of control.
It is worthwhile to practice this step over and over a few times by releasing the clutch slowly, giving a little gas and moving the bike forward a few feet, and then pulling in the clutch again to stop the bike. This will give you the practice that you need to get the feel of the balance and timing between the control of the clutch and the throttle.
Once you have the confidence to get the dirt bike going in first gear, you need to learn how to shift up through the gears as you build up speed.
Getting the dirt bike going in first gear is a major achievement, but you are going to have to learn how to change up into the higher gears as you pick up speed on the bike.
Once you travel a little way in first gear, your bike will start revving high, telling you it is time to shift the transmission up into second gear and then move up through the rest of the gears in the same way.
Shifting the dirt bike into higher gears once it is moving is a much simpler and easier process than pulling off from a stationary start.
As you hear the motor starting to rev high in first gear, you need to pull in the clutch, and while you are pulling in the clutch, ease off the throttle and simultaneously lift the gear lever up into second gear with your left foot.
Then release the clutch as you open up the throttle a little more to keep the speed up. This process takes a little timing and coordination, but it is a lot easier than the pull-off and with less likelihood of stalling the bike.
Once you are in second gear and accelerate some more, the bike will start to rev high again, indicating that it is time to change into third gear.
The process to change into third gear is exactly the same as changing to second gear. The third gear is achieved by lifting the gear lever up another click after pulling in the clutch. As you accelerate, you will need to move up the gears, and you will know when to do so by listening to the tone of the engine.
Learning to ride a dirt bike with a clutch does take some time and practice, but it is honestly not too difficult, and you will be riding with confidence pretty soon. The skills that you learn will be something that you will never lose and will come naturally to you when you ride in the future.
A manual dirt bike has a clutch for a reason. The clutch is to disengage the transmission while you change gears so that the transmission is not damaged.
It is possible to shift gears without using the clutch on a manual transmission dirt bike, but this technique takes a lot of practice to get right without damaging the transmission. Shifting without the clutch is, therefore, a technique that is for advanced riders and not recommended for beginners.
If this technique is not executed correctly, shifting gears without using the clutch can result in serious and expensive damage to the transmission.
If you really struggle with a manual transmission, you can get dirt bikes with automatic transmissions, which takes the complexity out of learning how to ride a dirt bike.
This will enable you to learn the controls of the bike and how to negotiate the rough terrain without having to worry about learning manual gear changes at the same time.
If you have never ridden a bike before, then an automatic dirt bike is a good alternative dirt bike to start with if you have trouble with shifting gears on a manual dirt bike.
There are also semi-automatic dirt bikes that have a gear change lever, but you do not have to operate the clutch; the bike takes care of that for you.
So, if you are a little more confident, you could try a semi-automatic dirt bike rather than a full automatic dirt bike.
Riding a dirt bike with a clutch may seem to be quite a challenge when you first climb on the bike and kick it into life. Once you have stalled the bike 5 or 6 times trying to pull off in first gear, you may be tempted to call it a day and trade your manual dirt bike in on an automatic transmission dirt bike.
A little time and persistence will go a long way to get you riding and shifting gears smoothly on your dirt bike. The key to your smooth shifting technique is practice, and you can easily begin your mastery of this skill and be well on your way to making good progress in the space of an afternoon!
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