Clutches are for n00bs!

I recently had the interesting experience of being 650km from home on a bike with no clutch. The hydraulic fluid had leaked from my slave cylinder overnight and the appropriate replacement fluid could not be found anywhere within a 300km radius.

I had to make a call – try a backyard fix with my leatherman and some cooking oil, or ride home without a clutch. After managing to do a short loop around the farm I was staying at, I decided to try the latter.

Actually riding a moving bike without a clutch really is not a problem at all. In fact, some people prefer clutchless shifting all the time as it can be done quicker than when using the clutch.

The challenge lies in trying to pull away on a big adventure bike, loaded with luggage, when you don’t have a clutch. You have to get from a bike idling in neutral, to it moving along in first gear, somehow.

So, here are my tips on getting home without a clutch:

1. Stop as little as possible.

Pulling away is a bit of a mission (as you’ll read below), so simple not stopping means less effort. This means making sure you fill your fuel tanks to the brim when refuelling and have easily accessible drinking water at hand.

2. Plan your route carefully.

If, like myself, you ride without a GPS, also make sure you memorize your planned route exactly, so you don’t have to hesitate at turn-offs.

Ideally, you only want to make fuel stops. Plan these carefully to ensure you make the minimum required.

Avoid any congested roads and towns. A red traffic light, or an intersections with other cars, will see you ungracefully stalling your machine with no quick way to leave the area.

And, for God’s sake, don’t go down a sandy farm road with gates that need to be opened.

3. Make sure you know how to shift clutchlessly.

The technique is quite simple, but you can easily get it wrong as well.

For upshifts, put a very small amount of tension on the gear lever. As you briefly close the throttle, the engine unloads and when you at tension on the lever it slips into the next gear.

For downshifts, blip the throttle. Just as the revs peak, confidently step down on the gear lever.

In my experience, shifting like this is easier to do while you’ve got some revs to work with, so in general you should be riding a bit higher in your rev range (unless your already at the rev limiter all the time like Rowan).

Here is a good video by Ari from MC Garage explaining the basics:

My final comment here is to not panic when you get it wrong and hit a false neutral. This will almost certainly happen when you’re not used to riding like this. Chances are your revs will shoot up violently. When this happens, don’t try to jam it into gear immediately – you risk damaging your engine! Let the revs drop back to normal and try again.

4. Plan for coming to a stop.

As I said above, having to stop unexpectedly means stalling your bike, dragging your tyre and just being messy. The proper way to stop is to get into second gear about 50m away from your targeted stopping point, then very lightly tapping on the gear lever to engage neutral. It’s about 100 times easier to go from second to neutral than first to neutral while the bike is moving. Now you can gently freewheel to your desired location.

If it seems like you’re going to come up a bit short of target, don’t try to correct! Fiddling with the gears now will only cause sorrow and pain. Rather come to a stop and push it the last few metres.

5. Use my patented starting procedure.

Now I’ll share the most important part of the post – the pull-away technique.

  • Put the bike in neutral. You can do this without a clutch.
  • Start the bike.
  • Stand on the left side of the bike.
  • Make sure there are no moving vehicles in the area and you’ve got a clean, obstacle-free runway in front of you.
  • Start pushing the bike, and as it moves, start going faster and faster until you’re running as fast as you can.
  • As quickly as you can so that the bike does not lose momentum, put your left foot on the left peg and swing your right leg over.
  • Rev the bike up properly (at least a third of it’s available rev range).
  • As the revs peak, kick it into first gear and hold on to the bars as it lurches forward.
  • Do it with great style, and without looking back at any bystanders that are not sure what they’ve just witnessed.

The first couple of times you may stall due to not running fast enough, taking too long to get on or not getting the revs up properly. Be ready for this and don’t drop the bike – you’re already looking like a fool so don’t make it worse. Starting on top a slope can help a lot here.

But you’ll get better. You’ll get it down within a few attempts and quite soon you’ll be starting of clutchlessly without breaking a sweat.

By the time you get home you won’t be reaching for the clutch at all and you’ll be wondering why ever thought you needed one in the first place.

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