How Motorcycle Controls Work
The Questions that Everyone Asks
As a rider and ex-motorcycle mechanic, people tend to come to me for the most intricate advice on their machines. I have been asked how to do everything: from changing oil to replacing piston rings. However, there is one question that I've been asked more than any other: where the controls are and what each control does. I am honestly surprised at how many people have no clue about the mechanics of a motorcycle, or that the majority of bikes have a manual transmission. Of course, at this point motorcycles are second nature to me. So, for those who don't know anything about bikes and want to learn the basics, here's how they work.
Before we begin
Let's assume we're sitting on the bike facing forward for this entire article. Personally I ride a 2005 Yamaha R6. I've had it for a few years and I absolutely love it. The pictures that I used for this article are from that specific bike, but the controls are generally the same on every bike.
Right Side Hand Controls
Contrary to what people think, motorcycle controls are slightly different than those of a bicycle. On the right side of the handlebars you have the front brake lever and the twist throttle. The brake lever works just like a bicycle; you pull the lever in and the bike stops. In order to use the twist throttle, you twist the handlebar grip backward and the engine revs up or you accelerate.
Also located on the right hand side you have the ignition kill switch and the start button. Unlike a car, a key alone does not start the bike. After they key is turned to on, you need to flip the ignition kill switch (red) to run (continuous arrow). Then you push the start switch in order to turn the starter. You either need to be in neutral, or have the clutch pulled in to start this bike. Some motorcycles require you to both.
Left Side Hand Controls
Most bikes come with manual transmissions, which means that they have to have a clutch. Unlike cars again, the clutch lever is located on the left side of the handle bar. You pull in the lever to disengage the clutch and to shift.
Also located on the left side of the handlebar you have the hi-lo beam switch on top, blinker switch, and the horn on the bottom. In the picture the button is clicked downward for lo-beams. The horn works by simply pushing the button with the horn on it. The blinkers are a little more complicated. They do not automatically shut off after you turn, like a car does. After sliding the button left or right to activate, the signal will stay on until you push the button inward to deactivate.
Left Side Foot Controls
On the left foot you'll find the shift pedal. This is where I usually lose people. Yes you shift with your foot. This is how it works. Starting from neutral, 1 click downward is 1st gear, or 1 click upward is second gear. You can return to neutral by reversing either process. If you keep clicking upward from 2nd gear, you'll hit 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th. Most bikes have a neutral indicator light, so you can use that to help navigate through the gears. This may sound difficult at first, but it's easier than driving stick in a car.
Right Side Foot Controls
At your feet, on the right side, you'll find the rear brake pedal. Riders rarely use this pedal. It's mostly used for emergency braking. All regular braking should be done with the front brakes. They are bigger, usually have dual rotors, and are much safer. For those who don't ride yet, you can see why bikes can't stop as fast as cars do. If you slam on the front brakes, you risk flipping. Using the back brakes at all can result in a slide, and most likely an accident.
Above the handlebars you're going to see something that looks like this, the gauge assembly. Here you'll find the speedometer, odometer, engine RPMs, engine temperature, shift light, neutral indicator light, and any other indicator lights the bike comes equipped with. Most motorcycles do not come equipped with a gas gauge. Instead, they have a gas indicator light that comes on when your tank is near empty.
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