Wednesday, July 29

Clutchless shifting,downshifting, and trail braking: SRTT, Part 2

Now that I've had some time to consciously apply some of the skills learned and relearned in the SRTT class, I wanted to share a few more things from the SRTT advanced strategies class. Now, these skills may be old hat to the experienced riders-readers of this blog. To me, they were not new skills per se but they were skills I either don't regularly employ or need to improve.

First, is clutchless shifting.To be perfectly honest, I've done such shifting more times than I can count. But until my SRTT class, I had never done it purposefully! No, I clutchless shifted before out of error and it was something I tried to avoid doing. I recall once when doing it badly, it freaked me a tad. Not knowing what I was doing made me think I was screwing up something.

Now, I've learned how to clutchless shift and when it is appropriate to use clutchless shifting. I am now a conscious clutchless shifter. I am judicious in my use. And, before anyone thinks clutchless shifting messes up the transmission, let me tell you, you are wrong! Proper clutchless shifting does not. Improper shifting does. You pre-load the clutch, just as you would do in ordinary shifting. There is a moment, a brief moment when the engine has a space where it is perfect for snapping the shifter up (of course, you're off the throttle for that brief time) and the gear, Voila, changes quickly, smoothly and easily.

Here's when I've used it: I enter lots of fast traveling Interstates where allowing mergers in is like asking a driver to surrender a kidney. Sometimes it takes much time to get up to speed, merge smoothly and watch out for those vehicles resistant to letting you in. Traditional shifting can consume valuable micro seconds. By having one less thing to think about, that is, pulling in the clutch, one can get on with the business of getting quickly on the expressway. I love this new skill, which I've gotten really smooth at executing since the class. I see it as my method for getting on aggressive, fast moving, Interstates.

Second, is downshifting. This is a technique I consciously have always used. I've owned my share of automobiles. I've never owned an automatic transmission. I learned to properly downshift with years of handling a stick shift. I understand this technique. Bottom line, if you simply downshifted without slowing down your engine speed, it can freak out your machine, hurl your body forward, throw the back end out of line--it could upset the bike and cause rider injury. Downshifting badly in a car is no huge deal--you've got four wheels to keep you grounded. Bad downshifting on two wheels can be ugly.

If you're in fourth gear, moving at a fast clip and you need to get to first quickly you listen to your engine revs. You want to match that. You want to give the throttle enough blip--not too much and not too little. This is learned. You will blip the throttle (blipping is by definition a quick jolt to the throttle) and then downshift. You'll know if you've given it just the right amount because the bike will smoothly change to the lower gear without pulling you forward, or yanking your body backward or disturbing the back end of your bike. Just right, means the bike continues in its forward line of travel without showing signs of being disturbed. Here's what the sport riders say about it.

Third, is trail braking. Another one of those skills that I've done because it makes sense. But I didn't remember the theory behind it. Here is the theory. All I know is, it works and it gives the rider a high level of comfort in curves or when the bike is leaned over and you need to use/keep brakes applied. To know this is to increase one's comfort level when the bike is not perfectly upright. I don't ride mountain road enough to have yet feel entirely fluid. I do well, but I don't have the skills yet to blast through. I do the speed limit, perhaps 5-10 over. Now, long sweeping curves, no problem. To me, trail braking adds to the bag of strategies one can used when traveling in less than an upright position.

So, that's it. I've had some time to practice and you know what they say about's what we should say: Practice makes improvement."


bobskoot said...


I'm going to try your trail braking the next time I am on some twisties. I usually slow down before the "turn" and power gradually out. I would imagine that you trail brake if you come in "too hot".

As for downshifting, I always rev match as it is easier on your transmission.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sharon:

I found this absolutely fascinating. How many of the bikes in the class were Beemers? And, if I may ask, is there any chance of all this clutchless shifting imparting any shock or damage to the BMW gear indicator switch?

I accidently hit the shifter with my toe after starting the K75 with the idle accelerator (choke substitute) on the first click. It blew that switch all to hell and the replacement was not cheap. That switch is also responsible for the neutral light, and some other things.

Just curious.

Very interesting post.
Fondest regards,
Jack "reep" Toad

Sojourner rides said...

Yes, Bob. Try it. You're right. Coming in too hot or finding that you have to stay on the brake in a lean for some other reason. Also, the best u-turns are also done with trail braking IMHO!

Sojourner rides said...


Bad clutchless shifting can probably mess up a lot of stuff. But done right, no. I've done it enough now that I can say it doesn't harm the gear indicator switch. Why would it if it is done at exactly the right timing. The clutch thingy is always rotating/moving and at the right time, you pre-load it and up it goes. Smoothly and easily. I wish I could speak better about this technically, but I can't. But I trust the experts in the class. They are not just instructors but motorcycle wunderkinds. I did a bit of research too. In looking at the gear switch while this is being executed, nothing is different. It's exactly as it is when I'm pulling in the clutch. The only thing I'm not doing is pulling in the clutch. Everything else is the same, same feel, saw outcome. Your accidently activation
sounds completely different than what I'm talking about.

Only one beemer was in the class. Me. But when I looked up clutchless shifting in ally motorcycle books and did some online research, the emphasis is on getting the timing accurate.

bobskoot said...


Actually when doing U-turns I often "drag" the rear brakes a bit. I saw a video with Police on Harleys doing tight maneuvers and that is how I learned about it.

It's just the terminology. I think your TRAIL braking should be renamed to "TAIL" braking, meaning that you drag your rear brakes first before applying the front (if at all).

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Sojourner rides said...


Been doing some more research on trail braking and it seems that there are those who feel trail braking can be done with the front brake as well, that it is not restricted to back brake use. Others disagree. My class emphasized the deliberate use of the rear brake when the bike is less than upright. There wasn't much said for trail braking with the front brake, which leads me to believe that the instructors fell into the camp of rear brake use for trail braking. I agree, tail is a better name.