E-Z shifting for beginners

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For more specific information on this subject, see the articles on Accelerating & changing gears and Doing practice exercises.

Despite the title, shifting is not exactly easy. If you're a new rider, there's a lot going on that you have to react to very quickly. Even if you know how to drive a car with a manual transmission, everything's backward. On a bike you clutch with your hand and shift with your foot. It's easy to fumble around some when you first start, so it's important that you get comfortable with how to work the gears, before you get out in real traffic and being in the right place at the right time depends on it.

Which gear for starting the bike?

A bike can be started:

  • in neutral with the side stand down and the clutch out
  • in neutral, with the side stand up and the clutch out
  • in gear, with the side stand down and the clutch in
  • in gear, with the side stand up and the clutch in

For everyone's safety, it's best to get in the habit of having your right hand on the brake when you thumb the starter.


You'll never use neutral on a bike while you're in motion. Neutral is there for when you're at the red light that will never end (although it's still a good idea to stay in first, in case you need to get out of the way fast) or if you need to push the bike while it's not running.

First gear

First on the 250 is almost exclusively for starting from a dead stop. If the bike is rolling at all, second is usually smoother for acceleration, although you may have to "feather" the clutch a bit to keep it going.

What happens when you shift

Your engine has to always be spinning, even when you're standing still. Your rear tire, connected to the engine by the chain, has to be able to stop spinning without stopping the engine. To do this, they must be able to, for some periods, run at different times.

When you're fully stopped, you have the clutch lever pulled and the clutch is disengaged (not attached). ----| |----

When you're moving in traffic, the clutch lever is untouched, and the clutch is engaged (wheel attached to engine). ----||----

There's a space in between, a friction zone, where the clutch is not completely free, and not completely attached. When you start from a full stop, you start releasing the clutch to apply pressure, and when the engine and wheel speeds come to match, you should have the clutch fully engaged / lever untouched. That's easy to practice: find a good straight area (parking lot) and just work first gear. Start, stop, start, stop.

You have to be moving to shift

The EX250 has the Kawasaki positive neutral finder. This means the bike is set up to keep you from shifting past neutral at a stoplight and looking stupidly at your left foot while you go back and forth between 1st and 2nd. This is usually a good feature, but you have to remember a few things about it.

In order to shift past neutral the rear wheel has to be turning. This usually means that the bike is moving. The rear wheel has to be turning and you also must be in first gear. You can't just turn the rear wheel in neutral and shift up; you must go down into first and then shift.

You can shift through the gears on the centerstand with the bike running, but this is not recommended. If the centerstand gives way you could end up chasing the bike several hundred meters up the road or digging it out of the end of your garage.

So, for all of you who have dropped your bike on the left side and now can't shift it, start it up and run it down the street before you determine that there is something really wrong with your transmission.


Pull the clutch in at the same time you close the throttle (one motion with two hands), click the shifter, then let the clutch out as you bring the throttle back up (same motion in reverse). You can do this amazingly fast. If you're damn good, you can do it without a clutch, but you shouldn't.

Upshifting is usually easier to learn than downshifting. Practice by starting from a stop and accelerating until you reach third gear. Then gradually come to a stop by going slowly and carefully down into second, then first. Since first is so low, shift down into it, but come to a stop without letting the clutch out, at least until you get used to using first gear. Note that you won't usually coast to a stop in normal traffic. When you get completely stopped, start the routine again and keep practicing until upshifting is easy and natural.


When you disconnect the engine in an upshift, it naturally lowers its speed because you're no longer applying gas. That lowers the engine speed so it matches the wheel speed in the next higher gear. When you downshift the opposite happens. The rpms will rise, and if you're not careful the rear tire will lose traction because it's forced to try to speed up quickly to match the new, higher engine speed.

There are two ways to avoid this. One is to learn to "blip" the throttle, which is difficult to do when you're worried about everything else as a new rider. The way that works best for new riders is to let the clutch out gradually when you downshift. This will allow the engine and wheel speeds to match each other gradually and result in a smooth shift. Let out the clutch slowly and either apply gas because you're downshifting to accelerate, or just leave it alone because you're slowing down. Popping the clutch while downshifting is to be avoided.

Practice downshifting by going back and forth between 2nd and 3rd gears, or 3rd and 4th, depending on where you are. That will be smoother than trying to go from 2nd to 1st, which is almost never done out on the road, except when coming to a full stop.


When coming to a stop, run down through the gears, like this. You don't ever want to just coast in with the clutch pulled in. The bike is very hard to shift when it's standing still, and you always want to be in the right gear to get out of the way, if necessary.

Because first gear is so low on the Ninja, you may not want to let the clutch out once you hit first. Since you may not always know which gear you're in, you can let the clutch into the friction zone a bit and see if there is a noticeable increase in engine speed. If there is, you're going too fast for the gear, and you risk having the rear tire slip. Just pull the clutch back in until you get to either a slow speed or you come to the stop. You don't really want to go into first at more than about 2 mph as you're stopping. And remember to always stop with the transmission in first gear.

Learning to shift is just like getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.