that a bike at half throttle in fourth is faster than a bike
at full throttle in third. Thus, that last upshift can make
you a tenth of a second faster—and tenths are hard to
find. Conversely, lots of riders try to stay seated as they
enter a turn, and because they are seated, they try to
get away with not downshifting. The key to entering
corners is to stand up, downshift at the proper moment,
and resist sitting until you are at the apex.
On the edge. When a rider feels as though
he is riding on the edge, he doesn’t push the
envelope any further. So, he doesn’t shift up
but instead stays in the same gear. Why?
Because he is afraid that if he goes any faster, he will
get himself in trouble; however, shifting to the next gear
can make the ragged edge move further away. A taller
gear will make the bike feel smoother. It will allow the
rear suspension to work with less chain torque on it. The
weight will transfer to the rear, making the front feel
lighter, and the engine will have more of a roller-coaster
feel. You don’t have to go faster when you shift up. You
can go the same speed but feel more comfortable.
Free-wheeling. If you have a tendency to
pull in the clutch when coming into a corner,
stop. It is a bad habit. Our guess is you are
doing this because too much engine braking
makes the rear end load up. To fix this, just shift up.
A higher gear will take some of the engine braking
away. Just make sure to make the downshift just
before the corner (preferably while standing up).
Half pull. Some bikes will shift under
a load (KTM) without the clutch and
others will not (Yamaha). Whichever
bike you own, a fast and easy way to
shift under a load is to quickly snap the clutch no
more than halfway (only one finger is needed) when
making a shift. No need to pull it all the way in, just
far enough to engage the clutch. ❏
One down, four up. Okay, maybe it is
one down, five up for you, but, either way,
if you’re a motohead, you know that first
gear is for cruising the pits or climbing the
Widow Maker, which means that for anything track-relat-
ed, you have one less gear than the spec sheet claims.
The meat. In order to get the most bang
for the buck out of your bike’s powerplant,
you need to identify where the meat of the
powerband is. Where exactly is the meat?
Each bike is different. A KTM 250SXF has to be held
wide open until your eyes start to bleed. Then, and only
then, will you find the meat you’re looking for. On a 2015
Honda CRF450, however, the meat is from low to mid.
If you rev a CRF450 past 8500 rpm, it will slow down as
the rpm climb. Lesson here: shift in the meat of the
powerband, not before or after.
Loading up. Four-stroke owners, listen up.
Engine braking, often called decompression
braking, has both positive and negative
effects. The big negative of four-stroke
decompression braking is that the shock loads up on
deceleration. A good example of this is when coming
down a rough downhill. The earlier you shift down, the
more the rear will start kicking and doing weird things.
Decompression braking makes the rear shock get
stiffer. Many riders think this feeling is caused by a
suspension tuning issue, but the easier fix is to avoid
downshifting until the last second and then use the
engine in conjunction with the brakes. If you combine
decompression braking and real brakes, you can
go in deeper than you would imagine.
Stay planted. Many riders downshift by
lifting their left foot off the footpeg. Don’t do
it. This sudden weight shift from one peg to
the other leaves you susceptible to the bike
getting away from you if you hit an unexpected bump or
rock. Keep both feet planted on the bike, and instead of
pounding down on the shifter like it’s a cockroach,
simply slide your foot forward and pivot your ankle
joint to snap off drama-free downhshifts.
Leg out. Have you ever watched where
your knee goes when you upshift? Many
riders swing their knees away from the
bike to allow the inside of their boots to get
under the shift lever. Practice upshifting while keeping
your knee close to the tank and aimed straight ahead.
This not only takes less energy but helps keep the bike
balanced under the hard acceleration soon to come.
When a rider upshifts while seated, the correct technique
is to pull up with the leg and use the ankle joint to make
the shift. This will keep the leg tight against the bike.
Captain clutch. Are you a clutch abuser?
Do you use the clutch multiple times to get
the bike in its powerband out of a corner?
Not only is this hard on the engine and
clutch, it will also lighten your pocket book. Replacing
burnt clutch plates and chewed-up baskets is not cheap.
Don’t be lazy. Many riders are just lazy
and try to get away with not upshifting if
they are getting close to a corner. They just
rev the engine and maybe even breathe it
a little to avoid shifting up; however, it should be noted