Do Dirt Bikes Have Gears?

Many people who have never ridden a dirt bike wonder if they have gears, which is really important if you plan on getting one a dirt bike in the near future!

Almost all full-size dirt bikes have gears – typically 4-6 – and a clutch. Shifting gears on a dirt bike is similar to shifting gears on a car with a manual transmission. Shifting is done with a pedal by your left foot and the clutch on the left handlebar.

Even if you don’t have a dirt bike, it’s useful to know why vehicles have gears. And if you are looking into getting your first bike, it is so important to know how your bike will work!

Why Dirt Bikes Have Gears

Basically, any vehicle with an engine uses gears. Gears are used to transfer power from the engine to the wheels, and different gears change the way the power of the engine is used.

A dirt bike typically has five gears, though as few as four or as many as six gears are also common. The higher the gear on a bike, the faster the wheels rotate, and the lower the gear, the more torque, or force, will be behind the wheels’ rotations. So, if a rider wants a lot of speed and is on a relatively smooth, level surface, a high gear – usually fifth – is ideal. If, however, a rider is trying to get through a muddy area or climbing a steep hill, he or she will sacrifice some speed and use a lower gear to give the bike enough force to power through rougher terrain or up a slope.

In addition to gears, a dirt bike has a clutch. Vehicles need a clutch to connect the engine to the gears. It’s possible to connect the engine and gears directly, but doing this while the engine is already running can damage both the engine and transmission. The clutch is used to smooth out the connection and reduce wear and tear as much as possible.

Are There Any Automatic Dirt Bikes?

If you’ve never driven a stick shift or used a regular bicycle with a gear shift, the idea of having to manually shift gears on a dirt bike might be intimidating. Wouldn’t it be easier to just get an automatic dirt bike?

First of all, there aren’t a whole lot of automatic dirt bikes out there. Almost all of them are mini bikes for kids, and the few that are designed for adults have pretty weak engines. Plus, they’re actually harder to handle.

This is because dirt bikes are supposed to be used on rough, constantly changing terrain. Automatic gear shifts simply aren’t designed for that, especially in a smaller vehicle. Even in bigger vehicles like pick-up trucks, a lot of people prefer manual transmissions if they’re planning to drive on rougher roads.

Basically, even though it is possible to find the rare automatic dirt bike, you’d be much better off learning how to shift gears on a standard bike. I promise it sounds far more intimidating than it actually is!

How To Use The Clutch

The first thing you’ll need to learn to do is use the clutch. If you have driven stick shift before, you might be used to doing this with your foot by pressing on a clutch pedal. On a bike, you use your hand, instead.

The right handlebar has the throttle and brake lever, and the left handlebar has the clutch lever. Again, if you’re used to driving a car with a manual transmission, you’re probably wondering where the stick shift is. You’ll find it down by your left foot and just in front of the foot peg – instead of a stick, it’s a pedal.

Every time you want to shift gears, you’ll first want to engage the clutch. Just squeeze it all the way in like you would the brake lever. The most important thing to remember is that you can’t let go of the clutch too rapidly, or “pop” it. When you’ve shifted gears and are ready to let go of the clutch, let go of it slowly while simultaneously giving your bike gas. This might take some getting used to, but with a little practice, you’ll find yourself operating the clutch properly without even having to think about it.

How To Shift Gears

Shifting down is pretty simple. Just press in the clutch lever with your left hand and use the front of your left foot to push down on the gear shifter until you feel it click. This will shift your bike from fifth to fourth gear, or from fourth to third, or – well, you get the point. And, of course, you can shift down multiple gears by pushing on the shifter more than once in a row; just make sure to press the clutch each time.

Shifting up works the same way, though it’s not quite as intuitive. Instead of pressing down on the gear shifter, you’ll want to hook the front of your foot under it and push up. Again, you’ll know you’ve shifted properly when you feel it click.

Probably the trickiest part about shifting gears on a dirt bike is changing to neutral. Neutral lies between the first and second gears, so at first, it’s easy to accidentally select neutral if you’re trying to shift from first to second. It’s helpful to remember that the click when you change to neutral feels different – almost softer – than other gears. This is something you’ll learn to recognize pretty quickly, so don’t worry if you select neutral by mistake when you first start riding.

Is It Possible To Shift Gears Without Using The Clutch?

This might seem like an odd thing to talk about – didn’t we just learn how important the clutch is when shifting gears? Doesn’t it hurt a bike’s transmission and engine to shift without engaging the clutch?

Actually, even though it’s a good idea to learn how to use the clutch when you first start riding, you don’t necessarily have to use it. In fact, most serious riders don’t use their clutches when shifting down, and sometimes not even when shifting up.

Why is this? Well, even though it takes a bit more practice to shift gears without using the clutch, and it’s undeniably easier on your engine to use it while shifting up, it’s much faster and less complicated. It’s also not nearly as hard on a bike’s engine to shift without using the clutch as it is on that of a car. Dirt bike engines are better lubricated and multi-plated, so they can put up with a little rougher treatment.

Remember, the increased force and pressure that is used when shifting up causes much more wear and tear on an engine than when shifting down, so it’s almost always better to use the clutch to shift up.

Jim Harmer

I'm the co-owner of DBP. I live in Star, Idaho and enjoy dirt biking with my wife and two boys throughout the Idaho mountains.

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