How To Shift Gears On A Harley-Davidson Motorcycle: Learn To Shift Gears The Right Way


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How To Shift Gears On A Harley Davidson

Are you a novice Harley-Davidson rider learning to ride a bike? Are you looking to know how to shift gears on a Harley-Davidson bike? If yes, then you have found just what you needed.

Shifting gears on a Harley-Davidson will involve locating the controls, shifting into first, and then upshifting or downshifting. The entire process is fairly easy as long as you know the right way to do it.

Luckily for you, this article will let you know all about how to shift gears on a Harley-Davidson bike. By the time you’re finished reading the article, you’ll be raring to drive your bike and start shifting gears.

How to shift gears on a Harley-Davidson bike?

Learning how to properly shift gears on your new Harley-Davidson bike can be a challenge many new riders must overcome. Initially, it can be pretty overwhelming to coordinate all the functions when you’re learning to ride a bike. However, with the right instructions and practice, you’ll have the answers to how to shift gears on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Learn the controls

  • Clutch – The clutch is the lever that is present on the left of the handlebar. By squeezing it, it’ll be disengaged and you can then disconnect the drivetrain. 
  • Throttle – The throttle is the grip located on the right side of the handlebar. By rotating it backward, it’ll increase the throttle. Meanwhile, pushing it toward the front would decrease the throttle.
  • Shift lever – The shift lever is located towards the front of the left footrest. By pushing the shift lever completely down, you will be selecting the first gear. Half a click from here will be neutral while a full click up will be second.

Shifting into the first

Before you shift into the first gear, it would be a wise choice to learn where the clutch is engaging. You will have to squeeze the clutch lever and then put the motorcycle into neutral. Start the engine and when squeezing the clutch, then push the shift lever into first.

Slowly, release the clutch lever until your bike starts moving. This will be the engagement point. To begin riding in first gear, you should keep releasing the clutch when adding throttle in a gradual manner. If you release the clutch too fast, it could cause the engine to stall. Adding too much throttle will make the rear wheel spin and you’ll lose control of the bike.


Once your bike is in first gear, you should keep adding the throttle until it comes time to shift to second. You will have to determine when you should shift the gear as the timing will vary on the motorcycle’s model, travel speed, and road conditions. Most Harley-Davidson bikes tend to shift at 5,000 to 7,000 RPM.

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However, it would make more sense to judge depending on the feel and sound of the engine. As you’re moving faster, the pitch will gradually increase. If the pitch is high, it’ll be time to shift. In case you shift too soon, you’ll hear the engine start struggling. This will help you learn the correct way to shift.

When it comes time to upshift, you should release the throttle. Then, simply squeeze the clutch before moving the shift lever up to the next gear. Slowly, add throttle when releasing the clutch lever for a smoother shift.


As you’re stopping or slowing down, you’ll have to downshift. When the pitch of the engine and the engine starts struggling, it’ll be time to do so. 

For switching into a lower gear, simply release the throttle. Then, squeeze the clutch and slowly push the shift lever down. Then, increase the throttle and raise the engine speed before slowly releasing the clutch. When you’re downshifting, the basic idea is to match the engine speed with the bottom of the higher gear. Then, allow it to slow down before smoothing the transition and preventing the lockup of the rear wheel.

Initially, coordinating the actions will take a lot of thinking and practice. You might even feel a bit clumsy. Sometimes, Harley-Davidson riders get overzealous with the movements. You need to remember that throttle control will come from your wrist alone. Shift actions will be executed with a quick, deliberate shove from your foot. Rest assured, with enough practice with your movements, they’ll be very smooth. In time, shifting gears will be natural and you will not have to think twice about it.

The basic technique of gear shifting

The primary goal for any Harley-Davidson rider is to properly learn how to shift gears on a Harley-Davidson bike. You will need to practice it to the extent that it becomes subconscious. You will then be able to smoothly and reliable pull it off. Here is the basic technique that you should follow to shift gears on your Harley-Davidson bike.

  • Disengage the engine power. This can be done by squeezing the clutch lever using your left hand.  By doing this, no power will be going to the back wheel.
  • Connect the gear by placing your left foot on the gear shift lever. Either pull up for a higher gear or tap down for a lower gear.
  • Now, rotate the throttle lever by twisting your right wrist towards you. Start with having a wrist flat position. You can then start increasing engine power.
  • Slowly release the clutch lever with your left hand and gently rotate the throttle lever. This way, you’ll start moving forward.
  • Once your motorcycle is in motion, release the clutch and then accelerate gently. Slowly increase the speed. Now, repeat the process to shift to the next gear and then go on.
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Refine your gear shifting technique

If the gear shifting method wasn’t sufficient, you can always dive in deeper and have a better understanding. Knowing the mechanics of shifting will help you perform gear shifting more efficiently.

For pushing the Harley-Davidson motorcycle down, the power will be fed from the crankshaft and into the transmission. Then, go into the final drive (which can be sprockets, chain, belt, or shaft) and then to the rear wheel. Between the transmission and crankshaft will be the clutch. The clutch serves as a progressive coupling device between the two.

When shifting gears, the term will be apt as you’re shifting which pair of gears the power is flowing through. When the bike is accelerating on the gas or decelerating because of engine braking, there’ll be a load on gear faces. The load needs to be alleviated for the gears to shift position. This is where the clutch will come in handy.

By pulling the clutch lever, you’ll be able to disengage the crankshaft from the transmission. This way, you’ll be able to unload the transmission such that the cogs can easily shift over to the next position. Then, the transmission and crankshaft will be fully engaged if the clutch lever is out. They’ll then progress to fully disengage as you’re pulling the lever in.

You can then fully disengage the clutch and shift into gear from neutral, or you can come to a halt. But once you get rolling, you’ll be able to shift gears without actually pulling the clutch lever all the way in. Fanning the clutch is the term often used to describe quickly and partially pulling the lever to unload the transmission. You will then be able to shift up or down to the next gear. It is an important technique as you’ll be able to quickly and smoothly shift gears. As it turns out, there is also a way to shift faster, and that method doesn’t require a clutch at all.

Shifting gears without using the clutch

Remember how the technique mentioned above used a clutch for disengaging the crankshaft from the transmission for unloading the gears and allowing them to shift positions. The same can be easily achieved without using a clutch, but instead quickly and briefly rolling the gas off before rolling it back on again. When you do that, right after you’ve aired the throttle, the transmission will be unloaded.

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By timing your upshift to coincide with the unloading of the transmission, the motorcycle will be shifted to the next gear. Moreover, you will not even require a clutch. By practicing, you’ll be able to have a better feel for the timing. It can help if you gently preload the shifter using your toe. This way, as soon as you’re airing the throttle, the shift lever will move up and the gear will change. Eventually, you’ll be able to perfectly coordinate the throttle and the shifter movements for executing upshifts without using the clutch. This is actually the quickest way to upshift. It will be quicker, both in terms of road speed and in terms of shifting gears.

Then there is clutchless downshifting. It will require far more precision and finesse. However, it doesn’t actually come with any major performance advantages. It’s still a fun method and a great skill to know if you break the clutch lever or clutch cable. For clutchless downshifting, you will have to use the technique called throttle blipping. By using this technique, you’re declaring with the throttle closed but quickly opening the throttle to upload the transmission before allowing for a gear change. Like clutchless upshifts, you should time the shift with the momentary window when the peak and transmission of the rev get unloaded.

Clutchless downshifting will work best when you are declaring on the brakes. This will help match the engine revs to road speed. However, it means you should blip the bottle when pulling on the brake lever, which can be tricky to master. Then again, it will add to the fun and satisfaction of driving a Harley-Davidson bike. The true enjoyment of driving a bike will come when you know the different ways of operating the machine.


Thank you for reading. Hopefully, now you know a lot more about how to shift gears on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. After reading the instructions mentioned above, you’ll be able to properly tackle the task of shifting gears. It is a necessary challenge that every Harley-Davidson driver, especially beginners have to struggle with. The key to shifting gears will be using the clutch and then upshifting and downshifting. While the clutch is very important, there is also an alternative way where you can easily upshift and downshift without actually needing the clutch.

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