A surprising number of people ride in too high a gear all the time, which can cause all sorts of problems. You see them running into corners too quickly because there’s so little engine braking, and then they don’t have enough control because the bike reacts sluggishly to changed throttle inputs – at very low revs there’s almost no reaction to the throttle whatsoever. This means they often have to start braking mid-corner or end up coasting round rather than driving towards the exit as the corner opens out.
Overtaking becomes a problem too because the acceleration is just not there. Then the rider has to crawl past, hoping nothing comes the other way, or change down, which is not what you should be concentrating on. What can also happen is that if you’re in too high a gear on a powerful bike you accelerate slowly at first, then the power comes in and you rocket up to a much higher velocity than you require. You end up travelling at a hell of a lick, but it’s still taken longer to get past, and then you have to slam the brakes on for the next hazard.
For corners and overtakes, the engine should be revving so there is a tractable spread of power available – enough to get you crisply round the corner or past the car without you running out of revs. This region is normally in the middle third of the rev range. So for a big twin such as an BMW R1200GS, you’ll want to keep the revs between 3000 and 6000 rpm. If you’re on a sports 600 that revs to 15,000 then you need to be somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 rpm – probably nearer to 10,000 than 5000 because of the peaky power delivery of modern 600s.
The other extreme I see a lot are the riders who have been on advanced training, who hold the bike in too low a gear. They’ll be stuck in second and third on a country road even when the road’s opened up, with the engine revving near its redline. They do it so that when they get to the next bend they can just close the throttle and not brake. This stems from the myth that not showing a brake light is a sign of a smooth rider, when nothing can be further from the truth.
Besides being uneconomical, this habit makes the bike more snatchy, which will have an adverse effect on chain life etc and it also tires you out. Plus, if you end up in a corner in too low a gear it will make the bike harder to control – small changes in throttle will create unsettling amounts of weight transfer that could make the bike feel unstable.
A related bad habit is using the gearbox to slow the bike down before braking. I see riders approach a roundabout, go down two gears and then brake. The risk here is that by letting the clutch out as they change down at too high a speed, the back wheel could lock up and then they would have little control. They could nip the clutch back in, but who has the presence of mind to do that? Of course what you should do is use the brake to slow down and then match the engine speed to the road speed using the gears.
3 Tips to Better Gear Use
– If you’re negotiating a hazard such as a corner, or you are going for an overtake, keep the engine revving around peak torque – usually in the upper-middle third of the rev range.
– Use The Brakes to slow down, not the gearbox. Engine braking is useful going into a corner, but the brakes should have scrubbed off most of your excess speed by then.
– If The Road opens up, change up a few gears and relax. Riding round with the engine revving its head off is mechanically and socially unsympathetic, and knackering.