Motorcycle Shift Pattern: How to Shift Gears on a Motorcycle?

To motorcycle riders, no experience is as thrilling and exhilarating as hitting the road on their beloved motorcycles. When it comes to riding a motorcycle, knowing how to shift gears is one of the most critical aspects of it and you will be surprised to know that many young riders really struggle on this matter.

However, shifting gears on a motorcycle is quite simple, and to do it effortlessly, all you need is the right knowledge and a bit of coordination. In this guide, we will provide you with every detail and information that you need to know for shifting gears on your motorcycle.

What is the Shift Pattern on a Motorcycle?

In simple words, the Shift Pattern on a motorcycle literally means the layout of the vehicle’s gear. Information on Shift Pattern is invaluable to a rider as it will guide the rider on the specifics of which direction the Shift Lever should be moved into in order to reach a certain speed.

Traditionally, most motorcycles have manual transmission until and unless you are driving a scooter or an electric bike. And in manual transmission, there is a rule of thumb that is generally applicable to the majority of bike models.

The rule is “1 Down 4 Up” or “1 Down 5 Up” Shift Patterns. The “1 Down 5 Up” transmission could be broken into 1 N 2 3 4 5 6 (N stands for Neutral). What this thumb rule translates into is that for shifting to first gear, you need to move the Shift Lever in the ‘Down direction’ and for higher gears, you need to move the Shift Lever in the ‘Up direction’.

As far as the Neutral gear is concerned, it comes in between the first and the second gear.

Having stated this rule of thumb, it is important to note that there are some vintage motorcycles or even a few non-US motorcycle models that come with a different shift pattern. In the case of racing bikes, there is another shift pattern called ‘Reverse Shift Pattern’, which is popularly known as ‘GP-Shift’ in the racing world.

Also, another important thing to remember is that all motorcycles come with a sequential transmission pattern, which means, as a rider if you wish to ride in the top gear, you will have to go through all the gears in between to reach the top one.

So, as a rider, you simply can’t take a leap to 5th gear from 2nd gear. As a matter of fact, you cannot even jump directly to Neutral from any gear as you will have to be either on 1st or the 2nd gear.

Do All Motorcycle Models Have the Similar Shift Pattern?

Although many riders believe that all motorcycles have the same shift pattern, but to break the myth, not all motorcycles share the same shift pattern.

Most of the motorcycles that you will find in the world today come with a “1 Down Rest Up” sequential transmission. This means for the first gear the Shift Lever should be Down and for all other gears, the Shift Lever should be moved in the Upward direction.

However, there are many vintage bikes, especially the ones that were manufactured before the ‘70s have a different shift pattern. In fact, many bikes with smaller engines between the volumes 100 to 125 CC have different shift patterns. You can find these small-bore bikes widely available in the motorcycle market of India.

For example, if we look at the Hero motorcycles in India that come under 150 CC, we will find that the model has all gears in the ‘Up’ direction. Again there are some TVs and Bajaj motorcycles where all the gears are designed to be in the ‘Down’ direction.

All these bikes come with the sequential transmission but, depending on the model and the manufacturer, the Neutral gear in these bikes can be found either in the ‘Up’ or in the ‘Down’ direction.

So, the bottom line is there are bikes in the world with different shift patterns but mostly you will find either “1 Down 4 Up” Shift Patterns for 5-Speed motorcycles or “1 Down 5 Up” Shift Patterns for 6-Speed motorcycles.

What About the Shift Pattern in Racing Motorcycles?

When it comes to the world of racing, motorcycles are equipped with another type of Shift Pattern called the Reverse Shift Pattern. It involves the gear layout as 6 5 4 3 2 1 N and is also known as ‘Racing Shift Pattern’ or ‘GP-Shift’.

The reason this difference is present in racing bikes is that ‘Reverse Shift Pattern’ makes it easy for the riders to carry out the Upshifts. Also, this pattern makes the process of cornering at high speeds extremely safe and secure.

In a race when a heavy bike is leaning around the corners and the biker is hanging tantalizingly to his motorcycle, it becomes almost impossible for the rider to get his foot below the shift lever to change gears.

In these situations especially, the rider does not want to make any changes to his body position as it could turn out to be riskier in terms of properly balancing the vehicle at high speeds around the corners. One wrong move and the rider would lose control of his bike which could even result in fatalities.

So in order to shift to higher gears, a rider simply presses the Shift Lever in the ‘Downward’ direction as it will be difficult to get his foot under the lever. Therefore as far as safety counts, the Reverse Shift Pattern is quintessential for the race tracks.

But do you know that racing bikes are not actually manufactured with different transmission patterns?

The shift pattern is simply reversed on these bikes using a little trick –

How to ‘Reverse’ the Shift Pattern on a Motorcycle?

You might think the process involves technical knowledge but surprisingly, the trick is extremely simple and anybody can do it.

In order to ‘reverse’ the shift pattern on your motorcycle, all you need to do is alter the connection between the Shift Lever and the Shift Spindle. You will find a sleeve on the end of the Shift Spindle and what you need to do is flip the sleeve on the other side.

Once you do this, the Shift Spindle will start rotating in the opposite direction just like the Shift Drum which is present inside your gearbox.

Why is the 1st Gear ‘Down’ on Motorcycles?

You might be wondering Why the 1st Gear is the only gear that is designed in the ‘Downward’ direction on a motorcycle?

Well, there are in fact three reasons for this –

Number one is safety, number two is the factor of convenience, and the third reason is to be legal. Also, the reason the Neutral gear is positioned between the 1st and the 2nd gear is that it would be detrimental for a rider who is riding at high speeds to accidentally shift to neutral, because of an emergency situation.

Neutral is meant for stopping. When a rider wishes to stop, naturally the speed of the vehicle will be on the lower side, which means the bike will be on lower gears. So, shifting to Neutral is easy when it is placed between the 1st and the 2nd gear.

To cut the long ‘legal’ reason short, motorcycle transmission systems were standardized in the United States of America around the ’70s. Upon the standardization, motorcycles were supposed to have a specific Shift Pattern along with their Shift Lever to be placed on the left side.

Now, since the US market was huge for motorcycles, each and every manufacturer started to comply with these standardization rules. Sooner rather than later, it became a global norm for motorcycle transmissions.


Now that you know everything about shifting patterns on a motorcycle, as a young rider it won’t be difficult for you to master the skill.

Always remember that riding a motorcycle safely needs a lot of practice and patience on the riders’ part. So, do not rush until and unless you are confident of your riding abilities.

And never compromise your safety when you are on the road with your two-wheeler. Always wear protective gear and be attentive to your surroundings.

Happy & Safe Riding!  

About The Author

daniel and sarah on motorcycle

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