Nothing screams "Get an automatic!" more than a dirt bike. It's hard enough staying upright on two wheels so who wants the added pressure of figuring out how to use a clutch on a dirt bike when your hands and feet already occupy the brakes and gas?
Perhaps you had similar thoughts when it came to figuring out the stick shift in a car.
Using the clutch on a dirt bike is very similar to using the stick shift in a car. In fact, a lot of the same principles apply. And, once you figure it out you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.
(Of course, if you've never driven a stick shift or not yet of driving age then some of the concepts described here may be a little more difficult to understand. But, once you get clutch riding down, you'll have no problem switching those skills to a car!)
The clutch is located on the left side of the handlebars. It looks similar to the brake lever on the right side. If you have a hard time remembering at first, just remember the brakes and gas go hand in hand. The gas of course is the right grip which is the perfect place for a brake lever.
The Clutch Lever
The clutch lever works exactly like the clutch pedal in a car. To change gears in a car you press in the clutch (you know, that third pedal to the left of the brake pedal). In a car, you push in the clutch pedal with your left foot and on a dirt bike you press the clutch lever with your left hand.
The shifter or the "stick shift" of the dirt bike is on the left side just in front of the boot peg. The shifter's accessibility for your left foot allows you to change gears easily when you're blazing through backcountry trails or trying to get out in front of a pack on the track. Just like the car clutch and stick shift, it does take some time to adjust using your left hand to clutch, your right had to gas and brake, and your left foot to change gears.
The best way to learn and get comfortable using a clutch on a dirt bike is to find an open flat area. If you learned how to use a stick shift in a car you probably first learned in a parking lot with minimal obstacles in your path. Do the same when learning how to use the clutch on a dirt bike.
First things first - start the bike!
Now that you've got the engine running get familiar with the clutch and gas. You will use these together in order to move. The bike right now is in neutral which is in between first and second gear. So you shift "down" to put it in first and shift "up" to second and third gear, etc. To put the bike in first gear, grasp (or clutch!) the clutch lever and press like you would the brake lever in order to stop. While squeezing the clutch, push the shifter down with your left foot to put the bike in first gear.
Just like a car, slowly let the clutch out while giving the bike gas. You'll start to move now. If you pop the clutch your bike will stall, if you give too much gas your bike will take off leaving you on the ground. Remember - let the clutch out slowly while giving the bike gas.
If you've done it correctly you're riding along and probably giving it a bit more gas. Just like a car you can hear the RPMs getting higher and the bike won't go much faster. Now try shifting to second gear. Do the same thing. Press the clutch in, but press up on the shifter and release. You won't need to be as cautious about releasing the clutch like you did when shifting from neutral to first.
Do this again from second to third and so on. Most bikes have five gears, some have four and others have six. If you don't use the clutch to change gears you'll know it rather quickly thanks to the grinding sound coming from the transmission. Do this often enough and you'll need to get a new transmission.
To down shift, instead of pushing the lever up with your foot, press it down. This is actually the trickiest part of learning manual shifting on a dirt bike. You should be wearing a boot which is much less nimble than sneakers so shifting up and down with a big boot can be difficult. Like all things new it takes some time and repetition to learn.
You'll also want to remember to take your foot off the shifter when riding otherwise you might accidentally press on it without holding in the clutch and you'll have one heck of a yard sale (at least inside your transmission) without even crashing. Once you get the hang of it you won't even think twice. You'll let off the clutch as fast as you press it and the gear changing along with gassing sooner or later comes naturally.
Off and running
Finally, to stop riding you'll need to get the bike back into neutral. This too can be a bit tricky as you need to downshift to first gear then put the bike in neutral. Once in first gear, nudge the shifter up to get into neutral. If you push up too far, you'll be back in second gear. Learn to "feel" for neutral since you won't hear the gears switch like you would if you popped it up into second.
With a little practice and some patience, you'll be clutch in no time.