Why Is 1st Gear Down On A Motorcycle?

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Key Takeaways

  • First gear is down on a motorcycle because it’s easier to shift into first gear to get the bike moving. 
  • All motorcycles with three or more gears use this first gear down gear pattern to make riding easier and safer. 
  • The neutral position is located as the second gear position above first gear and second gear is above that.

Anybody new to riding a motorcycle can get confused about the gears. So exactly why is first gear down on a motorcycle while the rest are up?

The first gear on a motorcycle is located on the bottom of the gear box because it makes the gear easier to locate. This gives the rider better access so there are no safety concerns or troubles shifting gears. Above the first gear is neutral and above that is second, third, and fourth gear, etc. 

This arrangement makes it simple for riders to shift down to first gear in emergencies and ensures they don't accidentally engage the second gear when taking off. I have ridden dozens of motorcycles and this is a standard feature. This guide will explain why this is the case and why it’s important.

In this article...


Why Is First Gear Down On A Motorcycle? (Reasons Explained) 

Motorcycles have a unique design and different shift patterns. Because of this, there are a few main reasons as to why the first gear is down on a motorcycle. We will explain each of them below. 

You Don’t Use First Gear While Riding

The obvious reason why the first gear is at the bottom is because the rider won’t need it while driving. It’s only used for starting the bike and reaching 10 MPH before shifting. 

Once we get on the open road, we won’t need this gear again until we start the bike up the next time. Because of this, the design experts decided to build motorcycles this way to make it easy to shift. It makes sense this way too. 

Easy Access For The Rider

First gear helps provide a smooth take-off since it has the lowest ratio when compared to other gears. It’s the easiest gear to access, so starting the bike is simple. 

Also, using first gear allows you to get up to speed slower and ensures that sudden changes in speed are limited while you are still learning how to ride your bike. 

This helps maintain control over the motorcycle, especially during tight corners or at low speeds where higher gears may cause instability or lack of maneuverability. Finally, going into first gear when coming to a stop gives more stability and balance when stopping your bike quickly and safely.

Safety Reasons

One of the primary reasons is safety. Having the first gear down ensures that I can easily shift gears down to the 1st gear in an emergency situation. 

This arrangement helps to avoid accidentally engaging the second gear when taking off from a stop, which could lead to a loss of control or stalling. Placing the neutral gear between the first and second gears signals the rider to only use the first gear for starting and driving purposes.

Better Shifting 

Another aspect that makes the first gear down convenient is the ease of shifting. With this design, I can quickly shift the clutch lever all the way down to first gear without any confusion during a stop or while slowing down.

Also, having the first gear at the bottom makes it easier to pull away from a stop, providing a smoother and more controlled start. This is ideal for new riders who have less experience with the gear shift lever. 

What Is The Purpose Of First Gear On A Motorcycle?

First gear is crucial for motorcycle riders when starting to move. It provides the most torque and power to pull away, ensuring smooth acceleration from a stationary position. 

There are two primary reasons why we need it. This includes getting the bike from a rest position to a start position and using it while driving slowly (parking). 

Going From Rest To Start

This gearing arrangement is quite different from cars, making it easier to get going on two wheels. Neutral, positioned between first and second gear, allows me to easily access first gear without searching for it with my foot.

Having neutral right at the bottom would require counting the gears each time I stop and pull away. Placing first gear at the bottom also offers safety benefits. 

For instance, if I need to stop suddenly, downshifting to first gear allows me to restart and move out of harm's way promptly. I appreciate this arrangement for its ergonomic and logical design, making handling my motorcycle more intuitive.

Slowly Driving or Parking

The next reason we have a first gear is to move the bike slowly. This is the lowest gear so it’s below the neutral gear position. It’s only recommended to keep the bike in first gear when driving between 0-10mph. Any faster, you should shift the gear lever to higher gears.  

This is ideal for slow movements, stopping, parking, etc. It’s required and useful to get the bike moving before we shift to a higher gear while increasing our riding speed. 

This is simply the easiest way to ride a motorcycle too. It eliminates the need to use a gear selector light so you can use to shift drum to get to a lower gear without much thought. 

Motorcycle Gear Shift Pattern Explained

As an avid motorcycle enthusiast, I often find myself explaining the unique gear shift pattern on motorcycles. Unlike cars, motorcycles typically use a one down shift pattern. This means that the first gear is below neutral, and the rest of the gears can be accessed by shifting up. 

How It Works

The neutral position sits between the first and second gears, which might seem strange at first glance. However, there are some practical reasons behind this design. One of the main reasons is for rider safety. 

In case of an emergency, it's easier for riders to shift down into first gear to quickly disengage the clutch and come to a stop. There is also less of a concern for riders accidentally shifting into the wrong position. 

Another factor behind this design choice is ergonomic. Placing first gear at the bottom makes pulling away from a stop easier for riders. When starting from a complete stop, you can confidently shift down to ensure you're in first gear before pulling away. 

Is First Gear Down On All Motorcycle Models?

I've noticed that most motorcycles have their first gear positioned downwards, but you might wonder, is this the case for all models? Almost all road-going motorcycles follow this configuration, using a neutral gear between the first and second gears. 

This arrangement has logical and ergonomic reasons, such as safety and ease of pulling away. Also, it's easier for riders to shift to first gear in an emergency and avoid accidentally engaging second gear when taking off. 

This is simply the easiest and safest way to design the gear system on a motorcycle. The lower gears can be accessed easier to get the bike moving. It’s helpful for riders and has been the standard for many years.