Rev-Match Magic

Downshifting got you down? Here are some tips for smoothing out those gear changes.

throttle
A slipper clutch can help solve the problems caused by sloppy or rapid downshifts, and while slippers are becoming common equipment on modern bikes, not all of us ride the newest motorcycles.Julia LaPalme

Botched downshifts are rough on your drivetrain and can mess with your confidence. It can even lead to a potentially dangerous rear-tire skid if your timing is off and you release the clutch abruptly during a high-rpm downshift. The effect of clumsy clutch work is especially bad on big single- or twin-cylinder bikes that produce a lot of engine braking.

A slipper clutch can help solve the problems caused by sloppy or rapid downshifts, and while slippers are becoming common equipment on modern bikes, not all of us ride the newest motorcycles. If your bike doesn’t have a slipper clutch, you can avoid most downshifting drama by simply easing out the clutch gradually, the way you were taught as a novice. The slow-release method is fine if you have ample time, but sometimes you gotta get the job done quickly. This is where throttle blipping comes in. Blipping the throttle momentarily increases engine rpm to better match engine speed to the road speed for super-quick and buttery-smooth downshifts.

Blipping entails rapidly rolling the throttle open and then closed while simultaneously clutching and clicking. It’s similar to a normal downshift but with the addition of a perfectly timed throttle blip as you click into the lower gear. Do the shift quickly by squeezing the clutch lever partway into the friction zone, blipping the throttle, shifting, and then releasing the clutch swiftly but smoothly. This all happens in an instant. The technique is repeated with every downshift, one gear at a time.

Oftentimes, you need to brake while downshifting, but doing both simultaneously means juggling a lot of motions. You can make the procedure easier to manage if you use your index and middle fingers to brake and your thumb and two outside fingers to work the throttle. A problem you’ll likely discover is that blipping causes your braking fingers to move, disrupting brake pressure. You can try to isolate your fingers from your fist by curling the first knuckle of your index and middle fingers over the front brake lever. Combining braking and throttle blipping is easier with very firm braking pressure when slowing from higher speeds.

Getting the technique right takes precise coordination and timing that comes from practice. Start by going through the motions in your garage with the engine off. Then take a ride and try it on a quiet road. Just blip the throttle during a normal downshift and then perform the technique more rapidly as you get used to it. It won’t be pretty at first, but eventually you’ll be blipping like a boss.