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How to Control a Motorcycle

The author is a motorcycle enthusiast with lots of useful knowledge for readers.

The Questions That Everyone Asks

As a rider and ex-motorcycle mechanic, people come to me for the most intricate advice on their machines. I've been asked how to do everything from changing the oil to replacing piston rings. But there is one question that I've been asked more than any other: where are the controls and what does each control do?

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 the key is turned 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 do both.

Clutch lever

Clutch lever

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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 handlebar. You pull 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, the 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. Unlike a car, they do not automatically shut off after you turn. 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, and 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.

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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.

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