How To: Improve Your Clutch Control - Rookie To Rider
Clutch control is essential for all motorcyclists. For new riders, moving off smoothly (and without stalling!) is an essential part of your CBT. But even for the seasoned biker, good clutch control is crucial for hill starts as well as for slow riding – which is a skill you’ll need for filtering safely through that early morning traffic!
Let’s start by looking at how the clutch works: think of the clutch as two plates that come together. When you squeeze the clutch in, the plates separate, breaking the connection between the engine and the back wheel. When the clutch is released past its biting point, the plates engage, and the engine will provide power to the back wheel. Keeping the clutch held in consistently while riding is called “coasting” and is best avoided by motorcyclists.
It’s important to know that mastering the clutch will be different on every single motorcycle you ride. This is because a clutch’s “biting point” or “friction zone” can change over time and will differ from one motorcycle to another. Therefore, it’s important to get used to feeling where the biting point is.
The best way to find the biting point on a new bike is by taking it off the kickstand, turning on the engine and putting the bike into first gear. Make sure to do this on a flat surface so that you can keep your hand off the brake and not roll. Start to slowly release the clutch until you can feel the bike wanting to pull away: this is the biting point. You may also notice the tone of the engine dip slightly. Do this gentle micro movement just enough so that you can pull the bike back with your feet – there should be no need to touch the brake. Pull the clutch back in and repeat this process a few times to store it in your muscle memory. It’s worth doing a quick check of where the biting point is on every bike you ride. Nothing will make you feel sillier than hopping on your mate’s bike for the first time only to skip past the biting point and stall!
To really master the clutch out on the road, you need to find the perfect balance of handling the clutch, throttle and back brake. When getting to grips with the clutch, it’s good to remember that revs are your friend. Low revs = a high chance of stalling. You can use your clutch to control the speed. It’s possible to max out your revs and still move slowly if you control your clutch correctly. Slowly let out and release your left hand grip for speed, pulling back the clutch or clenching your fingers to slow back down. When you are at the point of achieving this autonomously you know you’ve achieved a key riding skill.
The best way to practise this is by slow riding. We first recommend getting professional training and once complete you can look to get practicing on your own. Find an empty car park, as other road users will not appreciate being behind you while you practise riding at 5mph!
Try riding in a figure of 8 or a slalom as slowly as you can, using the clutch, throttle and back brake to control the bike. The aim is to never put your feet on the ground, and to gradually control this slower and slower – confident and stable slow riding is a skill that almost all bikers can improve. Remember to keep your head up and look in the direction you want to go – this will make the process easier! (When practising your figure of 8s, you may find it helpful to focus on the centre point instead.) You can even try it in a straight line – eventually you’ll be able to go so slowly you’re almost staying still, all without putting your feet down on the ground. Now that’s great clutch control!
If you’re still struggling? Try changing your grip on the clutch: are you using two fingers or four?
Try doing a turn in the road with the two grips and see what gives you more control. It also may be worth checking the fit of your gloves, as a pair that’s too tight or too large can hinder your ability to control the clutch. If the gloves are tight across your hand muscles when you pull a fist, they’re too small. However, if they’ve got more than half an inch of material at the end of your fingertips then they’re probably too large, in which case it may be time to invest in a new pair. As with all skills, the most important thing you can do to improve your clutch control is to practice! Try rolling on and off the clutch while you’re waiting at the lights, and also regularly practice your slow riding. Remember, as long as your oil level is healthy you can’t burn your clutch out as it’s a wet clutch – so don’t feel like you’re hurting your bike by practicing your clutch skills. Now, what more excuse do you need to get out there and ride!