Mastering Clutch Control for Smooth Starts and Stops: A Beginner’s Guide to the Motorcycle Clutch
Have you felt that your starts are jerky, or while maneuvering your motorcycle at low speeds that the motorcycle feels jumpy or jerky? This is a common problem for newer riders and this article will help you to Master Your Clutch! Let’s talk about developing your clutch control skills and make your journey into the motorcycling world a smooth and enjoyable ride. In this article, we’ll focus on the basics of the motorcycle clutch and how to master clutch control for seamless starts and stops, and also how to use the clutch to smooth out low-speed maneuvering. So let’s get started!
Understanding the Motorcycle Clutch
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of clutch control, let’s take a moment to understand the role of the motorcycle clutch and how it differs from the clutch in a car. A clutch is a vital component that connects the engine to the transmission, allowing you to control the power delivered to the wheels. In both cars and motorcycles, the clutch works by engaging and disengaging the connection between the engine and the transmission.
The most significant difference between a motorcycle clutch and a car clutch is how you operate them. In a car, in most every scenario the saying, “Don’t ride the clutch!,” applies. If you’ve ever tried it yourself, or watched a new car driver try to acclimate to using a clutch, you might notice a terrible smell of burning. This is because excessive riding of the clutch will heat it up and start to burn off the friction plate material. You can damage a car’s clutch in short order if you continue to do this.
In a motorcycle, since the clutch is such a crucial component to keeping the motorcycle smooth, balanced, and in control, the technique of purposely riding the clutch by early experts in motorcycle riding forced motorcycle engineers to ensure that their clutches could handle this technique. The solution? “Wet Clutches.” Almost every motorcycle now has a wet clutch, which is simply a clutch where the friction plates are bathed in engine oil. The oil is used as a coolant to keep the friction plate temperatures down, and so riding a motorcycle clutch at low speeds for extended periods of time will not damage the clutch!
Wet Clutches Allowed the Smooth Technique to Keep Motorcycles Stable
As those early pioneers of riding discovered, the correct procedure for motorcycles at transition from stops and keeping low-speed turns and weaves was to continue to ride the clutch with a steady throttle above idle! Jerkiness is the enemy of motorcycle stability and control. It can lead to unintended wheelies, or lead to tip-overs due to sudden jerkiness while the motorcycle is leaned over. Since motorcycles are much lighter, they also don’t have enough mass to calm jerkiness down like a car does. Also, clearly, cars don’t tip over or wheelie (in normal use!), so some level of jerkiness in a car is acceptable to save a clutch from burning up. For a motorcycle, it’s always about smooth and continuous power without any jerkiness.
This fundamental difference in operation means that the feeling and technique you use for controlling a motorcycle clutch can be quite different from that of a car clutch. But don’t worry! With practice and patience, you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Mastering Clutch Control: The Friction Zone
The key to smooth starts and stops on a motorcycle lies in mastering clutch control, particularly understanding the “friction zone.” The friction zone is the area in the clutch lever’s travel where the clutch plates are partially engaged, allowing some power from the engine to reach the transmission. This zone is critical for controlling the power delivery when starting from a stop or coming to a stop.
Here are some simple steps to help you find and navigate the friction zone:
- Sit on your motorcycle and make sure it’s in first gear.
- With the engine off, squeeze the clutch lever fully to disengage the clutch.
- Gently roll the motorcycle forward with your feet.
- Slowly release the clutch lever until you feel a slight resistance. This is the beginning of the friction zone.
- Continue releasing the clutch lever until the motorcycle will not roll any more. This is the end of the friction zone.
Practice finding the friction zone several times with the engine off, as this will help you develop muscle memory and get a feel for your motorcycle’s clutch.
Smooth Starts: Using the Friction Zone
Now that you know how to find the friction zone, let’s put it to use for smooth starts:
- With the engine running, squeeze the clutch lever and shift into first gear.
- Gradually apply a little throttle while slowly releasing the clutch lever.
- As you enter the friction zone, you’ll feel the motorcycle start to move forward. Maintain a steady throttle as you pause the clutch lever and let the motorcycle gain some speed.
- Once the motorcycle is moving forward confidently, the clutch lever is fully released, and the clutch is fully engaged, you’re on your way! You can now adjust your throttle and speed as needed.
Seamless Stops: Clutch Control in Action
To come to a smooth stop, follow these steps:
- As you approach your stopping point, gently roll off the throttle and apply both the front and rear brakes evenly.
- When your speed is low enough (usually around walking pace), squeeze the clutch lever fully to disengage the clutch.
- As you come to a complete stop, downshift into first gear (or neutral, if you prefer) while keeping the clutch lever squeezed.
Remember, practice makes perfect! It might take a bit of time and patience to get comfortable with clutch control, but with consistent practice, you’ll be able to achieve smooth starts and stops with ease.
Low-Speed Maneuvering: Using the Beginning of the Friction Zone, not the End
As you discovered in your experiment above, the friction zone has a beginning and an end. While performing low-speed maneuvering, such as U-turns, weaves, or even maneuvering in a parking lot around cars and into parking spots, the smoothest method is to continually ride the clutch while in 1st gear. The key here is to find the beginning of the friction zone, and where a subtle squeeze in will remove power completely, while a subtle release will provide more power into the friction zone. Many riders try to find the end of the friction zone, and so they are sometimes momentarily going past the end of the friction zone and putting the motorcycle into a jerky situation. I like to think of an analogy of a belt sander. If you are fine sanding an object, you gently touch the belt and release away from the belt for the most control. The beginning of the friction zone is that moment your crafted object touches the sanding belt. A quick squeeze will simply remove power and prevent the motorcycle from accelerating at a critical moment where you do not want jerkiness. I use this analogy with many students, and it helps to think of clutch control in this way.
Tips for Practicing Clutch Control
Here are some tips to help you practice and improve your clutch control skills:
- Find a safe, quiet place to practice. Look for an empty parking lot or a quiet street with minimal traffic where you can focus on mastering clutch control without distractions.
- Practice starting and stopping. Get comfortable with the friction zone and starting/stopping by repeating the process multiple times. It might take a little time to get the hang of it, but practice makes perfect!
- Work on low-speed maneuvering. Practice navigating tight turns, U-turns, and weaving through cones or other obstacles while maintaining smooth clutch control in the beginning of the friction zone.
- Stay relaxed. Remember to keep your grip on the clutch lever relaxed and avoid tensing up. A relaxed grip will give you better control and make it easier to modulate the clutch.
- Be patient. Mastering clutch control is an essential skill, but it takes time and practice to get it right. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t nail it right away; keep practicing and you’ll see improvement.
Mastering clutch control is a crucial skill for any motorcycle rider. It allows you to achieve smooth starts and stops, as well as maintain control during low-speed maneuvering. By understanding the role of the motorcycle clutch, learning how to navigate the friction zone, and practicing your technique, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a confident and skilled motorcyclist.
Keep practicing, stay safe, and enjoy the ride! If you’d like to learn how to ride a motorcycle, On The Road Again Motorcycle School offers private lessons and MSF BasicRider Course and BasicRider Course2 classes. We also offer an excellent Find Your Road package which includes two hours of 1-1 introductory motorcycle lessons followed by a Basic RiderCourse class to teach you how to ride safely and competently, all while obtaining your legal motorcycle license from the DMV. New York State DMV recognizes our classes as a substitute for the DMV road test. Once you obtain a completion card from our class, you can use this at the DMV to waive your road test and obtain a motorcycle license right away.