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Why is the First Gear at the Bottom on Motorcycles?

Why is the First Gear at the Bottom on Motorcycles?

Motorcycle manufacturers often fit their motorcycles with the following gear pattern: 1-N-2-3-4-5. There are no technical reasons for placing the first gear at the bottom, but there are ergonomic and logical reasons for this arrangement.

This article will discuss the reasons why the first gear is at the bottom on motorcycles.

1. What is the Shift Pattern on Motorcycles?

The configuration of the motorcycle gears is referred to as the shift pattern. It shows the order of the gear and allows you to select the one you need by moving the shift lever up or down. The majority of motorbikes today have a shift pattern of 1-N-2-3-4-5. This implies you move the shift lever down for first gear and up for higher gears.

This pattern is very different from the car, the primary distinction between these patterns is that on a motorbike, you have to gradually shift through all of the gears in order to get to the desired level. (This is why they are referred to as sequential transmissions.)

In other words, you cannot "jump" between gears, such as switching from the second to fifth gear. You also can’t put the motorcycle in neutral except in the first or second gear.

2. Do All Motorcycles Have the Same Gear Pattern?

Not all motorbikes have the same gear pattern, but most modern motorcycles feature the 1-N-2-3-4-5 pattern. Motorcycles with an engine displacement between 100-125 cc may have unique gear patterns.

3. Why are Lower Gears Down and Higher Gears Up on Motorcycles?

Motorcycles must have lower and higher gears in accordance with the U.S. Code of Federal Regulation. This is why you must change gears according to this rule:

  • The controls on the left handlebar are used to shift gears and operate the manual clutch.
  • The upward movement of the rider's toes shifts into higher gears, while the downward movement of the rider's toes shifts into lower gears.
  • If there are three or more gears, riders cannot shift directly from the highest to the lowest gear or vice versa.

Push the shift level up or down once to raise or lower the gear level by one. Using the shift lever by hand to change gears is easier than using your foot. It also makes it easier to activate the brake in case you need to make an emergency stop.

Lifting the shift lever makes sense when you accelerate and shift gears since inertia causes your body to be pulled backward. It is a similar concept to pushing down the shift lever since your body tends to lean forward when you decelerate and shift into a lower gear.

4. Why is the First Gear Below Neutral?

Some people believe that the N-1-2-3-4-5 pattern would make more sense. However, sequential transmissions are more practical.

Here are a few things you need to consider when looking at a motorcycle gearbox.

4.1 What is the Neutral Gear for?

The neutral gear is only used when your motorbike comes to a complete stop, whether parked or stopped at a red light. To slow down your motorbike with a 1-N-2-3-4-5 gearbox, shift down until you hit the first gear to keep your bike moving slowly. Keep in mind that to reach the first gear, you must first pass through the neutral gear.

If your bike's gearbox had an N-1-2-3-4-5 layout, it is easier to accidentally shift down to the neutral gear instead of the first gear when trying to reduce your motorcycle’s speed. If this happens, your motorcycle's transmission may disconnect from the engine and temporarily disable the brakes.

If you are traveling at high speed or downhill, this could be dangerous since your brakes may not be working properly and may make it more difficult to stop your motorcycle.

Also, if you shift into neutral while turning a corner and then try to accelerate when coming out of the curve, you might lose control of your motorbike due to a sudden lack of power in the engine. As a result, neutral should be in a position that is easy to find when standing still but difficult to select when moving.

On a motorbike, selecting the neutral gear should be deliberate. It is easier to select when it is not the bottom option amongst the other gears. If neutral was placed below first gear, you may accidentally choose it in a critical moment, such as when trying to make an emergency stop.

4.2 What is the First Gear for?

The first gear is used to accelerate when the motorcycle starts from a resting position. You must be able to switch to first gear without having to actively scan the pattern. It takes less coordination and thinking to bring the shift lever all the way down to the bottom, allowing you to focus on the road ahead.

If the neutral gear was at the base, you would not be able to switch to first gear quickly if approaching a slow turn or traveling slowly in a parking lot to keep the engine from stalling. By putting the first gear before neutral, you won't have to rely on the gear selector light, which many bikes lack. Just pressing the gear all the way down will put you in first gear.

5. Reasons Why the First Gear is at the Bottom on Motorcycles

5.1 Safer Option

Having the first gear at the bottom is safer since you will be able to bring the lever down to change speed quickly if necessary.

If the first gear is above and the neural gear is below, and you reflexively press down to the bottom gear i.e. neutral gear in an emergency, your motorbike will lose all the power and stop. The engine of the motorbike will roar but the bike will not receive any power.

By having the first gear as the lowest setting, your motorcycle will continue to travel slowly and allow you to regain control.

For instance, you are taking your motorcycle down a hill and suddenly you notice that the brakes are not functioning properly. You stressfully start downshifting the gears, if the neutral gear would be at the bottom, you can mistakenly shift to it in this panic condition. Then you’ll have to shift up, in such an emergency situation there’s a chance that you can shift to a higher gear, making the condition worse.

However, you can handle the situation easily if the first gear is at the bottom, below neutral. This will keep the gearbox engaged and helps you slow down in a safe way.

5.2 First Gear Makes More Sense as a Base Gear

Placing the neutral gear at the bottom doesn't have much value since riders almost never use it while in motion. If you want to switch to neutral, you can easily do this by pulling the clutch lever with your hand.

However, you cannot engage the first gear by pulling the clutch. Since switching to the first gear requires downshifting from the higher gears by pulling the gear shift lever. To ensure you maintain concentration while trying to slow down while still moving forward, it makes sense to put the shift lever right to the bottom where you can easily switch without having to look down or deliberate.

5.3 First Gear is Not Used While Riding

First gear is used to propel your motorbike forward when it is stopped, not for riding. First gear is rarely used when riding unless you are climbing a steep hill. If an incline becomes even steeper, you may need to upshift from the first gear, pass the neutral gear, and settle the lever on the second gear.

When riding slowly, you may want to put your bike in the second gear as it is the lowest gear you can utilize while your motorbike is moving. If you ride in the first gear, you’ll be in for a bumpy ride.

5.4 Prevents You from Accidentally Shifting into the Second Gear

When stopped at a traffic signal, you likely have the motorcycle in neutral gear. Once the lights turn green, you will need to switch to the first gear to start your motorcycle. Once you gain momentum, you can then switch to the second gear.

The gear shift lever is designed to stop in the rung of each gear level whether upshifting or downshifting. This is to keep the shift lever from sliding suddenly and landing on the wrong gear. This is to lessen the risk of accidentally skipping the first gear and landing on the second gear.

If you try to accelerate from a resting position while the motorcycle is in the second gear, the engine may stall.

6. Last Words

Most motorcycles have a 1-N-2-3-4-5 gear pattern or a sequential gearbox. This gear arrangement is practical by making it easier to switch to the first gear at the bottom in case of an emergency or you need to slow down. The first gear being at the bottom also prevents you from accidentally engaging the second gear ensures better riding safety, and makes it easier to upshift and downshift. If you want to improve your motorcycle’s aesthetics, you can add Viking Bags Saddlebags, handlebars, fairings, seats, crash bars, luggage racks, and sissy bars.

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