How Motorcycle Controls Work

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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.

Front Brake Lever and Twist Throttle
Front Brake Lever and Twist Throttle

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.

Ignition Kill Switch and Start Button
Ignition Kill Switch and Start Button

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.

Clutch Lever
Clutch Lever

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.

Hi-Lo Beam, Blinker, and Horn
Hi-Lo Beam, Blinker, and Horn

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.

Shift Pedal
Shift Pedal

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.

Back Brake Pedal and Fluid Reservoir
Back Brake Pedal and Fluid Reservoir

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.

Gauge Assembly
Gauge Assembly

Gauge Assembly

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.

Please don't forget to vote up if you like this article. And as always, comment below! I love to hear feedback from my readers!

Comments 25 comments

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

This is absolutely fantastic! I've always loved motorcycles, but have always felt a bit shy about asking about various parts and how things work (completely illogical, but so it goes). Now, my curiosity has been satisfied... or rather, somewhat satisfied but also further sparked. Thanks so much for putting together the overview!

PositiveChristian profile image

PositiveChristian 5 years ago from Hailsham, England

Excellent information. I have built wheels for motorcycles all of my life, but I have never ridden one. I would like to ride a classic motorcycle from the 1960s. What differences will I find from the machine you have here?

mottiandbander profile image

mottiandbander 5 years ago from Chd

Nice information. I love biking. I have a 2 stroke bike and i ride it always. Love my bike a lot.

Russ 5 years ago

A great explanation! - Well done.

Just a bit on the use of the rear brake - the rear brake is mainly used to stabilise the bike when turning at low speeds. When doing slow speed turning it is advisable to keep a little throttle on, slip the clutch and drag the rear brake. This allows for easier low speed turning.

More advanced riders will use the rear brake when high-speed turning to stabilise and pull the bike into the turn.

Russ - Sysdney Australia - Honda VFR1200

chamilj profile image

chamilj 5 years ago from Sri Lanka

Oh! Really useful article for Motorcycle owners. Thanks!

ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

I can ride a bicycle but not a motorcycle. You explained this so well that I enjoyed my motorcycle lesson. :D

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! To read this week's Hubnuggets and vote, please visit here: Best of luck from ripplemaker and the Hubnuggets Team.

SlyMJ profile image

SlyMJ 5 years ago

I wish I had seen this when I wrote a chapter of a book recently that involved characters riding Harleys. I'll be back again as I have a similar but more detailed scene to do in the future. Thanks for making it all so clear and simple.

POWERS1205 profile image

POWERS1205 5 years ago

Excellent article! I've been riding for years and I find that your article explains the basics of operating a bike extremely well. I truly enjoyed it and plan to share it with others.

PETER LUMETTA profile image


Great article on bike controls and how they work, the only thing you might mention is that the older British Bikes have the shifter on the right foot and the brake on the left so folks don't get freaked out if they ride one. Enjoyed the ride, Thanks,


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

What a FABULOUS article! Thoroughly enjoyed it and bookmarked it for when I FINALLY get that bike! Thanks. Well deserved for the Hub of the Day and a nice change from the usual articles that show up there. :) Voted up and shared on my FB page.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

A fall ride through the Smokies seems like the only right response to this informative article. Very well done hub! Congrats on Hub of the Day!

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

Very comprehensive article. I've never ridden a motorcycle, although my ex had them, and used to commute to work on his bike.

I'd have to disagree with your statement about it being "easier than driving a stickshift car," however--that would not be true for me. I learned to drive on a stick, and I can shift so smoothly that the unobservant passenger won't know I'm driving a stick!

On a bike, however, the controls are all a$$-backwards, and I just don't think I could adjust to clutching with my hand and shifting with my foot!

Very well-done article, in any case, and congratulations on your Hub of the Day award!

Voted up!

randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This is a very useful article for anyone interested in learning more about motorcycles. The detailed photos are a great addition. Congrats on getting Hub of the Day!

felicitylovespari profile image

felicitylovespari 5 years ago

A very useful hub indeed. I have actually been practicing with my brother's little fun bike which is a just a Honda CB 110. I am used to using scooters, but the clutch added in a whole new element of confusion for me. I only have done two 15 minute sessions on the bike. I really wish there was someway to make it more obvious which gear I was in all the times. Anyways, thanks for the useful hub with the motorcycle basics which I voted up for you.

Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

Congrats on this being Hub of the Day, it was well deserved. I'm not interested in motorcycles and don't have any desire to ride them but I was curious about how they are operated. This was very well written, clear and concise with great pics to go along with it. Voted up, useful and interesting

kripkrip420 profile image

kripkrip420 5 years ago from In relation to what?

I want to get a Kawasaki Ninja so bad! I hope to have one for next summer! I still need to get my liscence but I have plenty of time for that. Very well written article. It will help me understand the clutch controls a little better when I start riding (already know how to drive stick in a car but motorcycles are obviously different). Thanks!

Don Bengert 5 years ago

Great information for the non or new riders of the world. Keep in mind, ArockDaNinja, spoke of a fuel injected type of other words you may have to choke the carb. before starting an older bike. And a Triumph motorcycle (English) has all the foot controls reversed. Now don't let this stop you from considering taking a bike out on the road. Start with a smaller cc (motor size) and graduate to a larger bike when you become comfortable.

I've been riding since the 1980's and this is good basic info for people interested in motorcycles. Thanx, dbworx

ttagpine profile image

ttagpine 5 years ago

Excellent article, but I feel it's worth mentioning that some states require you to get a motorcycle license, or an endorsement on your drivers license in order to ride on the streets and highways.

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Congratulations on winning a place in the Hubnugget awards.

kenhubs profile image

kenhubs 5 years ago

Interesting, engaging, informative, and well-written hub. I liked your explanations, and the accompanying pictures. At least I now have a good idea of how to ride a motorbike, thanks.

allaboutseo profile image

allaboutseo 5 years ago from United Kngdom

interesting article it is i like

pharmacist profile image

pharmacist 5 years ago from Whitinsville, MA

Great article. Well written, clear and to the point. Voted up!

ArockDaNinja profile image

ArockDaNinja 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hey thank you all for the comments, congrats, and great feedback! I really enjoyed writing this article and I'm glad everyone else can enjoy it too! So many new followers! I'm so excited!

moinuddin chisty profile image

moinuddin chisty 3 years ago from bangladesh

I have fascination about motorcycle. Thanks for your nice information.

diego 3 years ago

you help me a lot in my project thank a lot:)

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