By Jaco du Plessis | Published on 2020-08-23
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now I'll share the most important part of the post - the pull-away technique.
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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