How Motorcycle Controls Work

Updated on January 22, 2019
Click thumbnail to view full-size

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 don't know 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!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      2 weeks ago

      I knew nothing about a bike now I'm ready to try.

    • profile image

      silvestre stallone 

      3 weeks ago

      well explained and am sure one can easily ride after reading this article

    • profile image


      7 weeks ago

      It's many years since I drive a motorcycle. What surprised me is the gears are now on the left. They were on the right pedal when I was you ger

    • profile image


      10 months ago

      Since i started looking up the controls and pedal for motorcycle your article poped up and really satisfying . Thanks and looking for more.

    • profile image


      20 months ago

      Great info,thank you

    • profile image

      Matheus Rocha 

      2 years ago

      I actually research this information because I dreamt I was riding a motorcycle, and then all of a sudden, I became aware that I don't know where the controls are and fell and woke up. Not a nice dream, but great info, thanks. By the way: that does not sound easier than a manual transmission car AT ALL!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thanks!!! Great info.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thank you for the article it helps me a lot because I want to buy .and it is my firstime to have my 1st mc. Thanks a lot

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      It self explanatory

    • profile image


      7 years ago

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

    • moinuddin chisty profile image

      moinuddin chisty 

      7 years ago from bangladesh

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

    • ArockDaNinja profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      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!

    • pharmacist profile image

      Jason Poquette 

      8 years ago from Whitinsville, MA

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

    • allaboutseo profile image


      8 years ago from United Kngdom

      interesting article it is i like

    • kenhubs profile image


      8 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.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Congratulations on winning a place in the Hubnugget awards.

    • ttagpine profile image

      George S McChristian 

      8 years ago from Louisiana, USA

      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.

    • profile image

      Don Bengert 

      8 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

    • kripkrip420 profile image


      8 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!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      8 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

    • felicitylovespari profile image


      8 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.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 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!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      8 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!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      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!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 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.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      8 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      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,


    • POWERS1205 profile image


      8 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.

    • SlyMJ profile image


      8 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.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      8 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.

    • chamilj profile image


      8 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Oh! Really useful article for Motorcycle owners. Thanks!

    • profile image


      8 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

    • mottiandbander profile image


      8 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.

    • PositiveChristian profile image

      Vince Warner 

      8 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?

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 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!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)