TOTW: Smooth out your downshifts with a throttle blip

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

What’s the problem?

Do you find downshifting while riding awkward? When you downshift while moving, you are suddenly changing the speed your engine needs to be running to match your ground speed. This causes a sudden load on the engine, and can cause the bike to lurch. Worse, the braking effect can cause the front end to dive, giving you steering problems, or causing the rear wheel to lock or chatter.

If you find you’re reluctant to downshift or that it’s an unpleasant experience, this tip is for you.

Solution

The solution to the lurching problem is to adjust your throttle, matching the engine speed to the new level it needs, while the clutch is in for your downshift. The easiest way to do this is by timing a little burst of gas (called a “blip”) to coincide with your shifting manoeuvre. Once you have the technique straight, it will be so easy to do and so automatic that you will have trouble shifting any other way. Learn this technique in two steps.

First, let’s learn to blip while standing still. Sit on the bike with the engine running, in neutral so you can play with the throttle safely. Practice blipping the throttle — snap it open about a quarter-turn then immediately let go. You get a “brmmmmm!” note from the engine that quickly rises then falls in pitch. Practice doing this blip as quickly as possible, so the entire technique takes less than 1/2 second.

This is very important. We are not talking about accelerating. The blip should last a fraction of a second, and if you were moving you would travel only {{hovertext|about 3 feet|a metre or so}} at the higher engine speed. We don’t mean you hear “bwaaaaaaaAAAH” and accelerate down the road.

Next, ride at a moderate constant speed in a safe place (not a busy street). Practice downshifting from 3rd to 2nd, or from 4th to 3rd. (2nd to 1st is a bigger jump on most bikes — practice that later, not now.) Downshift with the following sequence of events:

  1. Clutch in and blip the throttle slightly so the engine speeds up to the revs needed for the lower gear.
  2. Downshift to the lower gear.
  3. While the engine speed is still coasting back down from the blip, smoothly let the clutch out.

You’re trying to blip the engine speed to slightly higher than the new speed it will need after the downshift, then let the clutch out as the engine coasts down from that speed. When you get this right, the downshift will be silky-smooth with no lurching at all because you did the required engine speed change while the clutch was in. The mark of a good technique is that, once learned, it’s hard to do it any other way. Practice your blipped downshifts for a week or two and you’ll find you are unable to make yourself downshift the old lurchy way.

This technique is easy to learn and will improve your riding. You’ll love it.

Technology Update

That article was written around 2000. Now, over a decade later, some bikes — usually high-performance sport bikes — are fitted with a slipper clutch. If you have one of these, you don’t need to blip. Just let out the clutch smoothly and the bike will automatically handle re-engaging the engine at a smooth pace to avoid a lurch. We aren’t yet seeing slipper clutches on beginner-style bikes, so you probably won’t encounter this. If you are an experienced rider, learning not to blip, after years of doing so, is hard.


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