Little attention is paid to shifting. I suppose it’s understandable, since shifting quickly becomes an unconscious, mechanical procedure. But, there are many benefits related to skillful shifting technique, including control mastery and the likelihood of tapping into the illusive Zone. Think about how satisfying it is to smoothly click through the gears with a barely detectable interruption in forward drive. Your hands and foot perform flawlessly with perfect timing and minimal effort. Nirvana!
Gear shifting is the act of matching engine RPMs with speed; the faster you go, the higher gear you select. But, shifting is also a significant part of the riding “experience”.
It’s not only motorcycle riders who experience the joys of manual shifting. People who drive cars with manual transmissions know how shifting gears “involves” the driver.
Shifting is Scary to Some
Motorcyclists have not been faced with the choice of whether to purchase a manual or automatic transmission, because all motorcycles came with a clutch and gearshift lever. However, manufacturers are now offering models with automatic transmissions, such as the Honda VFR 1200.
Past examples of automatic motorcycles never sold well, but that was a long time ago, so why would manufacturers do this? The fact is that very few manual shift cars are being sold in the U.S., which means that if motorcycling is to grow (or even maintain its numbers), then manufacturers need to provide machines with automatic transmissions because manual transmissions intimidate potential new riders who see the clutch and shifter as a barrier to learning to ride.
With few new riders entering motorcycling, it is important to entice them any way possible. Which is why it makes sense to offer full-sized automatic models (not a scooter, thank you very much) to a potential new rider who is inexperienced in manual shifting. It just might encourage them to make the decision to enter the world of motorcycling.
Learning to Shift is not Hard
The fact is that of all the skills a new rider must learn, learning to shift gears is one of the least problematic. The newbie student in a MSF Basic RiderCourse learns to shift during the first couple of hours of their introductory day of riding. Sure, some people struggle with the coordination of clutching and shifting, but most get past the difficulties and go on to pass the course. The reasons students fail the course is because of more critical issues, such as braking or cornering problems, but not shifting.
Shifting is Your Least Worry
There are a ton more important aspects of riding that should deter borderline new riders from riding, such as surviving riding in traffic, being able to make a corner at speed, stopping before colliding with a Buick, or losing traction on a sandy road. But, shifting really shouldn’t be one of them.
Long live the Clutch
However, the fact that shifting can be a barrier that stops potential new riders from taking the plunge means that manual transmissions could become more and more rare. On one hand, the sport desperately needs a new generation of riders to replenish the ranks. On the other hand, I would be very sad to see the manual transmission go the way of the kick-starter. Do you think this is possible?