Do You Need To Downshift When Stopping A Motorcycle?

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If you are learning how to ride a motorcycle the right way, one of the questions you need to ask is “Do you need to downshift when stopping a motorcycle?”

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” The correct way to stop a motorcycle is by downshifting one gear at a time until you reach the first gear and come to a complete stop. This method is important for your own safety and it also allows you to accelerate rapidly as well in case of a road emergency.

Although downshifting a motorcycle seems like a simple process, it has various small steps that need to be executed properly. This will prevent your motorcycle from stalling and skidding on the road, causing a serious accident and will also prevent engine, clutch, and brake damage.

When it comes to motorcycle riding, I am big on safety since motorcycle accidents are more serious than car accidents.  As such, I have taken — and passed — both basic and advanced courses from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and can help you figure out how to stop a motorcycle safely. In addition, I also strongly recommend the MSF courses for you.

In this article...


Why Do You Need to Downshift When Stopping a Motorcycle?

Downshifting your motorcycle when stopping is essential for your own safety and the safety of your motorcycle.  I have heard a lot of novice motorcycle riders ask what all the fuss is about and it has all to do with your motorcycle mechanics.

If you do not downshift gear by gear when slowing down, your speed becomes too slow for your currently high gear. This means that if you need to accelerate quickly and you let go of the clutch for a second, the rear tires will lock up and your motorcycle will stall, causing you to skid and fall in potentially heavy traffic. This can be very dangerous.

Although downshifting gear by gear may seem a bit tedious since it does require some practice, trust me that is very important and worth knowing. So how do you downshift the right way?

How to Downshift the Right Way When Stopping YourMotorcycle?

If you drive a manual transmission car, you can simply push the brakes, press the clutch down, coast to a stop, and then shift directly from fifth to first gear. However,with a motorcycle, things are not so simple. A motorcycle consists of a sequential gearbox and to stop it right or even slow it down, you need to follow the steps below:

Step # 1: Roll off the Throttle

When you plan to come to a stop, use your righthand to roll the throttle away from you. Your motorcycle will immediately slow down as your engine brakes. If the road is clear and you have to stop your motorcycle far away, you can just coast slowly to a stop without even applying any brake. In fact, you can even slow down to the extent that the traffic signal switches to green again and you can get rolling again in a low gear.

However, if there is a car behind you and you have to come to a stop quickly, here is what you need.

Step # 2: Press Both the Front and Rear Brakes

Once you have rolled off the throttle, you need to apply even pressure to the front and the rear brake at the same time. At this point, the clutch is still up and the reason for that is to first allow the engine to  help slow down the motorcycle. If you push in the clutch in a panic without waiting for your motorcycle to be slowed down by the engine, you will only have to depend on your brakes to bring your motorcycle to a stop.

Beginner riders may have heard horror stories of how a rider was thrown up and away when they grabbed the front brake in a panic, so they may be hesitant to use it. However, if you are going in a straight line, the motorcycle’s  front wheel will have enough grip on the asphalt and your front brake will stop most of the bike’s momentum. On the other hand, your rear brake is there to make sure that your motorcycle remains balanced and straight.

When applying the brakes, do not clutch them tightly.  Instead, use gentle pressure of just two fingers to apply the front brake. This way you won’t apply too much brake too suddenly that can make your motorcycle stop abruptly and you will still have a good hold on the handlebar so that you can roll the throttle in case you need to speed up.

Step # 3: Press theClutch to Downshift

As your motorcycle slows down, its engine’s speed or the RPM (rotations per minutes) slows down also. If you are riding on a high gear like a fourth or fifth gear, you will have to apply the clutch and downshift to a third or fourth gear (depending on what gear you are riding) so that your motorcycle does not jerk or stall.

Some novice bikers immediately grab the clutch and apply the brake, so they cannot take advantage of the engine braking.

Step # 4: Match the Engine’s RPM with the Rear Wheel

To avoid the lurch that comes from shifting to a lower gear, you need to match the engine’s RPM with your rear wheel’s speed. This step may require some learning curve but with enough practice, it will become muscle memory..

As you start to downshift, just roll the throttle slightly using three fingers while applying the clutch. Then slowly release the clutch to engage the drivetrain.

Some motorcycles come with a back-torque limiter or a slipper clutch. This clutch eliminates the need to match the engine and wheel speed. All you need to do is to downshift to a lower gear and dump the clutch. The mechanics of the motorcycle handle the throttle by themselves.

Step # 5: Release the Clutch to Apply the Engine Brake

This will require a learning curve but once you have mastered this, you will be able to make a smooth and seamless downshift without your bike leaping forward due to too much acceleration  or lurching to a stop because of too little. Initially, you should release the clutch slowly without matching the speed of the engine.

Try to shift gears quickly so that the revs do not drop too much while the clutch is engaged.This will allow your motorcycle to slow down quickly and will require a lesser amount of  braking force because of the help from the engine.

Step # 6: Downshift Through the Rest of the Gears

Depending on how fast you were traveling and how quickly you need to stop, you will need to downshift to a lower gear until your motorcycle almost stops. Many motorcycles are equipped with a tall first gear and the higher gears clustered together. You will find that you initially decrease the speed by quite a bit and then repeatedly downshift  until you reach the second gear.

Although this process seems quite lengthy in writing, it actually takes you no more than two to three seconds to downshift four gears. Every time you want to select a lower gear, you downshift, release the clutch and then downshift again. The reason why you do not want to keep the clutch engaged and downshift three or more gears in one go is because this is an easy way to lose count and downshift to a lower gear than you want. If you do this and the motorcycle is still moving too fast, it will lock up your rear wheel that will cause your motorcycle to skid.

Step # 7: Press The Clutch Fully and Downshift to the First Gear

Try to come down to second gear as your motorcycle is about to stop; some motorcycles may work scratchily if you downshift to first gear while still moving. As you are about to come to a stop, pull the clutch in all the way, and downshift to the first gear, keeping the clutch pulled in.

Ease off the front brake slightly just before your motorcycle stops completely to prevent your front wheel from losing the grip on the ground and dragging forward.


You have stopped your motorcycle safely without putting too much pressure on your clutch and brakes.

Step # 8: Practice, Practice, Practice

Now all you need to do is practice. Do not overthink it and miss the enjoyment of riding your motorcycle. Just understand the steps above and apply them when you practice in a safe area devoid of traffic. If you think you missed something, read the list again and try again.

Safety Tip: Although this may seem obvious, do not look down at the controls while you are stopping your motorcycle. Keep your eyes on the road at all events. Remember that all your controls are exactly where you need them.

Can I Skip Gears When Downshifting on My Motorcycle?

It is, of course, possible to shift gears when downshifting on a motorcycle. In fact, you can do that even without pulling in the clutch. There is also no limit on how many gears you can downshift to it. it can be just one gear or four or five gears.

However, keep in mind that this maneuver requires a lot of experience as the rider needs to be certain to match the engine speed and the wheel speed with the appropriate gear when downshifting. A little bit of miscalculation can make your motorcycle jerk or stall, which can result in a serious accident, so I do not recommend new bicycle riders to try this.

Is It OK to Stop my Motorcycle in the Second or Third Gear?

Many new bicycle riders have asked whether it is possible to come to a stop at a high gear and then downshift to the first when their motorcycle is standing still. This process is similar to how you handle a manual transmission car. However, a motorcycle’s gearbox is different with gears in a sequential pattern.

Although it is certainly possible to come to a complete stop at a higher gear with the clutch in, many motorcycles might not shift down when standing still because power needs to be transmitted from the engine to shift transmission. That is why it is smarter to sift all the way down to the first gear when you approach a red light.

If you do stop at a second or third gear, you might find the motorcycle won’t shift further down at a standstill. What you need to do is to ease on the clutch slightly until the motorcycle bites and then try to downshift again. This will allow you to shift down a single gear. Repeat if necessary.

Remember to not release the clutch completely while doing so as your motorcycle will stall.

Should I Stay in the First Gear or Select Neutral When My Bike is Standing Still?

Many motorcycle riding schools offer different opinions on this one but you can safely select neutral or first gear when you are at a stop. The benefit of staying in first gear with the clutch applied is that you will be ready to pull away as quickly as possible. This can be useful if the cars behind you don’t want to stop and you need to get clear of the traffic post-haste.

On the other hand, selecting neutral will allow you to relax and take the pressure off on your wrist that comes from applying the clutch. You also do not want to accidentally lose your grip on  the clutch and leap forward in heavy traffic.

It all depends on your preference. You can do both; stay in first gear if you know you only have a few seconds to wait before the light turns green or select neutral if you know you are in for a long wait.

Although this guide might appear quite long for something that seems like a very basic maneuver, it only seems so because you have to do all these multiple actions simultaneously. Stopping your motorcycle will keep both your hands and feet engaged but don’t let it stress you out. Practice until you become muscle memory — and we can tell you that it doesn't take a lot of time.