How to Shift a Dirt Bike: Read Before You Damage Your Bike

Learning how to shift a dirt bike is not the most straightforward task in the world. You could always go for an automatic bike, but how much fun would that be? There's nothing like ripping through the woods or around the track on a manual motorcycle.

There's a lot to learn, but once you get the hang of it, it's as simple as "riding a bike." Here's everything you need to know about how to shift a dirt bike.

How to Shift a Dirt Bike

Let's break everything down into easy to digest steps. The first thing you need to understand is the difference between the clutch and shift pedal. It's also crucial that you know what each of them does and why they're essential.

Understanding Your Clutch

First, repeat after me. The brake is on the right, and the clutch is on the left. You could say that 100 times, but you'll probably still pull on the break when you're looking for your clutch.

It's okay, we all do it.

If you look at the handlebars of your dirt bike, you'll see that you have two pull bars on the handles. Most sport bikes come this way, but there may be exceptions. As I said, the left is your clutch, and the right is your brake. After you nearly fly over the handles a few times, you'll start to learn which is which.

Make sure you ride slow and in a place where you have lots of room to learn. The brake will ensure your safety, and it will stop the bike while the clutch is for shifting the dirt bike. They both look the same, so it may take some patience to learn.

Now that you understand what the clutch is, you'll need to learn about the shift pedal. These two work together, but you'll always squeeze your clutch first.

Understanding Your Shift Pedal

One bit of good news is that the shift pedal is on the same side of the bike as the clutch. Wouldn't it be great if manufacturers put it on the right to screw with you?

These two components of dirt bikes go hand-in-hand, and you cannot have one without the other. When you're riding, a best practice is to keep your food on the shift pedal at all times for smooth shifting up and down.

When you're ready to shift, you'll go under the pedal and bring your foot back on top of it. This strategy is the best way to ensure you don't lose your balance or hurt your foot.

Using Them Together

You've got your clutch and your shift pedal, and now you're ready to put them into action. The first thing you want to do is take your dirt bike as far away from civilization as possible. Find an open space where you'll have plenty of room to mess up but also pick up some speed when you get going.

Think of it like teaching a small child to ride a bike. You'll want to go to a place where you will have the best chance of learning.

Once you've started to bike and let it warm up a little, you can pull the clutch and step on the shift pedal, and now you're in first gear. Give the bike some gas and release the clutch. Make sure you always hold the clutch when you are shifting up, but you do not need to when shifting down.

When you're ready to shift up to second or third, you will follow the same steps of holding in the clutch and shifting with the pedal then letting out the clutch. By this point, you should feel like a pro, so give yourself a little pat on the back.

How to Know When to Shift

Probably the hardest part about learning how to shift a dirt bike is knowing when to shift. Timing is essential because you can stall your dirt bike or cause a gear grinding sound that will wake up the neighbors five miles away.

It's as simple as listening to the bike and making sure that it's at the proper RPMs to shift. Make sure you're checking your gauges, and you know when to shift.

For shifting down, you want to follow some of the same rules. Don't shift down to early; take your time and wait for the right moment. Timing is critical.

As we said earlier, too, you don't need to use your clutch when shifting down. It won't hurt the dirt bike if you do, but there's no reason to use it. You want to get yourself in the habit of making shifting up and down more muscle memory. The best way to do this is by eliminating any extra steps.

Shifting a Motorcycle vs. Shifting a Dirt Bike

If you've ridden a motorcycle before you have an advantage when it comes to shifting a dirt bike, the process is almost entirely the same. The motorcycle has three different components to shifting, the clutch, the gear selector, and the throttle. On the motorcycle, the gear selector is the shift pedal.

You will shift your motorcycle by gripping the clutch, shifting with the gear selector to the proper gear, feathering the throttle, and slowly releasing the clutch.

Sound similar, right?

The main difference is the gear selector. With a motorcycle, it will allow you to bypass gears if you're not careful. Skipping gears won't hurt the motorcycle, but it won't provide you with a smooth ride.

The dirt bike shifts gears based on the motion of pressing on the shift pedal. You'll also follow the same process when downshifting. 

Shifting into neutral on a motorcycle is also different because you'll have to pull the clutch in hard and play around with the gear selector until you see a light pop up on your dash telling you that you're in neutral.

Buying a Motorcycle vs. Buying a Dirt Bike

Much of the time, you'll have to purchase a motorcycle from an authorized dealer. You want to make sure you understand motorcycle values, so use a motorcycle loan calculator to determine what you're monthly payment would be to see if it's in your budget.

When you're shopping around for a dirt bike, you'll likely go to a Powersports dealership to find a new or gently used one. You could always check out different online resources and marketplaces where they list sport bikes but make sure you buy from reputable dealers.

Things to Remember When Shifting a Dirt Bike

You will make mistakes if you're learning for the first time. You may not even know what a kick start is or how all these components work together on your dirt bike.

That's okay because it's simple to learn, but it takes a little time.

It's important to understand all the terminology on your dirt bike. Remember, clutch first, then shift pedal.

Another phrase you'll hear from time to time is "friction zone. "This term applies to the right and wrong way to release the clutch when you're ready to move into the next gear. If you release the clutch too fast, you'll find that the bike starts pulling away from you.

When you shift gears, the clutch is slowing things down to allow for a smooth shift, as you release the clutch you're removing that friction to allow your dirt bike to pick up speed.

The most critical thing you can do is listen to the sounds of your bike. If you hear that the bike is slower than the motor sounds, it means it's time to shift up. Knowing how to shift your dirt bike properly is an essential part of keeping your bike in good shape.

By this point, you should have a complete understanding of how and why to shift your dirt bike. Practice makes perfect, so don't get discouraged if you don't pick up on it right away. Keep trying, and you'll figure it out!