Guest Writer: If in doubt, UPshift

Chuck Boucher ripping around turn 9 at NHMS.
Chuck Boucher ripping around turn 9 at NHMS.

Chuck Boucher is the latest RITZ guest blog contributor. Chuck is an expert level roadracer with the Loudon Roadracing Series and is an instructor for Tony’s Track Days.
You can read Chuck’s biography here.

Chuck recently had a racing mishap that landed him in the hospital with a fractured pelvis and a few other less serious, yet painful injuries. Chuck knows exactly what he did wrong and wanted to share his cautionary tale with you to hopefully prevent you from experiencing the same agony.  Let’s see what Chuck has to say.

If in doubt, UPshift!

by Chuck Boucher

As I sit here, recovering from a recent racing incident, I reflect on the reason I’m in need of crutches and pain killers. My little mishap occurred on the first lap of the first practice session during a Loudon Road Race Series (LRRS) event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The lap was typical of any other I had run during the past six years as an LRRS roadracer. Unfortunately, this time around, I found a false neutral and the absence of any engine braking.

This is what can happen if you miss a shift and then downshift instead of upshift.
This is what can happen if you miss a shift and then downshift instead of upshift.

A False What?

In case you don’t know, a false neutral is when the motorcycle fails to completely engage a gear. This results in zero engine braking and an unexpected sense of coasting that actually feels more like acceleration, just when you want to be slowing down. Yikes!

Downshifting at this time is usually a bad idea, because you risk momentarily skidding the rear tire if the gear is too low for the bike’s speed when the gears finally do engage. Instead, the best way to handle this situation is to shift UP into the next higher gear so you don’t end up in too low a gear for the speed you are traveling. A too low gear can easily cause the rear tire to lose traction. Do this while leaned and you have a bad result.

Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned.
Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned.

My Downfall

Unfortunately, with the turn one apex fast approaching, my mind said click the shifter up (my race bike is GP shift, which means clicking the lever upward causes a downshift). I knew my mistake the moment I let the clutch lever out. The rear wheel skipped a few times then locked, sliding the rear end of the bike sideways. Then the tires regained grip and catapulted me over the high-side.

Understand that there are times on the street or track when you have fractions of a second to make decisions that could cost you dearly. These decisions can go well, or not, based on previous experience. My false neutral took me completely by surprise and I acted wrong. You can be sure it won’t happen again.

If you’ve never experienced a missed downshift and a false neutral, count yourself lucky. However, if it does happen to you, take my advise and always shift UP! You may not have the engine braking you desire and you’ll be in too high of a gear, but at least you won’t likely high side.

More Good Advise

Stuff can happen to anyone, at any time. Whether it is a car at an intersection, a missed downshift or a too fast corner entry. How you react and what you do in that brief moment can be the difference between a close call and taking a ride in an ambulance strapped to a back board. My message to you is to always keep your skills sharp to avoid a worst-case scenario.

Consider taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Experienced Rider Course (BRC 2) and participating in a track day to acquire advanced braking and cornering skills.

Thanks for sharing what you learned, Chuck. Heal up fast!

Editor: Someone asked about whether a slipper clutch would have saved the day. I do believe a slipper would have re-engaged the power gradually enough to perhaps prevent the severe loss of grip. While a slipper clutch can do wonders, the actual clutch design and how sensitive it’s adjusted will affect whether or not the slipper re-engages the power slowly enough. This will still cause the rear to slide, just not nearly as much.

Do you have a similar experience to share? Make a comment below.

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3 Replies to “Guest Writer: If in doubt, UPshift”

  1. The other day while driving my r9t home on a road with three lanes of traffic heading east (six lanes total) and a turn lane, I was stopped at a traffic light with cars behind me and on all sides. I was first at the light and stopped at the stop line of the middle lane admiring a young attractive lady in a fast camaro on my right. So obsessed with said young lady was I that I had forgotten to drop to first or neutral at the light and I was clutched-in in third gear. When the light turned green everyone moved ahead including me until I stalled at five miles per hour. The mind crunch at that moment is to identify what just happened, after that I’ve had enough experience to automatically fix the problem. Still barely rolling I clutched-in, hit the starter, dropped gears and clutched out. Problem solved, but I was lucky I did not get run over by a car behind me still finishing a text message and not looking up. Automatic response, muscle memory and crisis practice are really very important for survival because the situations that get us in trouble are usually the ones that are a surprise i.e. we have not anticipated for the given situation. In my case I had to downshift, but if I had blown the sequence I could have had a real problem. I never would have considered the up shift solution to resolve a false neutral while fully leaned into a curve. Thank you for sharing your experience and thank you helping to solve a counter intuitive problem. Kind regards jdb.

  2. At my first track day I somehow accidentally downshifted into first while starting to brake for turn 9 at NHMS. Thankfully I was on a Ninja 300 and only going 45 or so, with the bike straight up and down. The rear tire locked and slid out to the right. All I remember doing was putting my left foot down for an instant, steering into the skid, and thinking “well, this is it”.

    It wasn’t “it”, I got lucky.

    I hope I’m as philosophical about it as you are when I’m in your place!

  3. Ken & Chuck,
    I hit false neutral in a corner some time back and was coasting for a second, by sheer luck I shifted UP, felt a strong jolt but the gear engaged. Until now I had no idea how I survived it. Thank you for this ‘epiphany’.

    Wish you the very best and a speedy recovery

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