TOTW: Use your brake to start on a hill

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?

Many riders dread having to stop their bikes when facing uphill, especially at traffic lights. They know that, when the light turns green, they will be under pressure to move off. Yet, as a vehicle with a standard transmission, a bike is hard to control under these circumstances. When you pull in the clutch to shift, or let the brake off to begin moving, the bike wants to roll backward. This makes smoothly engaging the clutch difficult, and is a particular problem if another driver is stopped inches from your rear.


Starting your bike while facing uphill is not difficult once you practice a special technique. In fact, we’ll review two different techniques you can use in these circumstances. One, generally preferred, is easier to use and safer, but may not work for certain combinations of bikes & riders. The second will always work, but is harder to learn.

Solution 1: rear brake

The solution I recommend for most riders is to use your rear brake to hold the bike against rolling while operating the clutch and throttle. Assuming you are sitting, stopped on a hill, with the bike in neutral and the brake on, the sequence to get moving is as follows:

  1. Pull in the clutch and shift into first gear.
  2. Press the rear brake pedal with your right foot. This allows you to release the front brake lever.
  3. Slightly increase the throttle and let the clutch out slowly, until you feel the friction point where the engine begins to engage. Pause at the friction point.
  4. Add a little more gas than you would normally use for starting from a level stop. You should feel the bike straining to move forward, but being held in position by the rear brake.
  5. Gently lift your foot off the rear brake, while rolling on some more gas and releasing the clutch smoothly. As you release the rear brake, the bike will move off without rolling backward.

This technique is easy to learn and is the recommended method. However, it may be hard to use on cruisers with feet-forward controls, or if your bike is too big for you to the point where you need both feet to maintain your balance when stopped. In these cases, you can try the second technique, below.

Solution 2: front brake

The second technique, which will work for any bike, involves using the front brake and throttle at the same time. This technique requires considerably more practice to execute smoothly and safely. Because of the possibility of confusion, and of forming bad habits, I don’t recommend this technique unless #1 won’t work for you. Here is the sequence:

  1. Keep your feet on the ground.
  2. Learn to operate the front brake and throttle at the same time. Your first and second fingers can reach forward for the brake lever, while your third and fourth fingers wrap around and hold the throttle grip. By carefully rotating your hand at the wrist, you can change the throttle setting without releasing the brake.
  3. With the front brake held on by two fingers, pull in the clutch and shift into first gear.
  4. Let the clutch out to the friction point.
  5. Without releasing the front brake, roll on some more gas so you feel the engine trying to move the bike forward, but being held in place by the front brake.
  6. Smoothly release the front brake, add some gas, and slowly release the clutch, all at the same time. The bike will move off without rolling backward.

The danger with this technique is that you will fall into the habit of using the front brake with the throttle still open while stopping, especially in hard emergency stop situations. Don’t let this habit develop. This technique is also harder than the rear-brake technique on very steep hills.


Try the foot-brake technique, and give it a good chance before you decide that it won’t work for you. Try the hand technique later after your confidence and clutch smoothness have developed, or sooner if the foot technique will not work for you.

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