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Motorcycle Transmission – How Does It Work? [Types + Video]

how motorcycle transmission works

Motorcycles are one of the most common modes of transportation on the planet. It’s easy to see why! They’re fast, fun to ride, and excellent at getting us anywhere, anytime, or any day. Despite this, there’s a lot more to them. A case in point: the motorcycle transmission.

The motorcycle transmission is built into the bike itself. It serves several purposes: it’s designed to make the engine more efficient, ensure that it’s connected to the wheels at the correct rpm, and provide a safe clutch system that works well in all weather conditions. We’ll take a closer look at motorcycle transmissions in this article.

The Motorcycle’s Transmission

How does a motorcycle transmission work? Here is a video on how a motorcycle transmission work, courtesy of Tecknomechanics: 

The term “transmission” describes the mechanisms that transmit mechanical energy from the engine to the drive wheels. The transmission comprises three main components: a clutch, a gearbox, and a differential. The clutch engages the machine with the gearbox, which in turn engages the differential, which provides torque to the drive wheels.

There Are Three Types of Transmissions

gray cruiser bike

1. Manual

Most manual transmission two-wheelers use a sequential gearbox. Motorcycles typically use a clutch to engage the gears and the engine. You’ll use a clutch shift lever that controls the clutch and gearshift.

Typical motorcycle shifts from first to second gear directly, but the gears are shifted up through second, third, and fourth to fifth. Because there’s no way to get from second gear to fourth gear without going through third gear, it’s necessary to move through first gear before proceeding to second.

A five-speed transmission is known as a one down, four up gearbox because the pattern of gears (one down, four up) is positioned relative to the neutral gear. The position between the first and second gears is neutral, so you can shift directly between them with a single movement.

2. Automatic Transmission

Except for mopeds, underbones, minibikes, custom cruisers, and exotic sports bikes with manual transmissions, automatic transmissions are uncommon in motorcycles.

Automatic transmissions have the following types:

  • Hydraulic automatic transmission
  • Continuously variable transmission
  • Dual-clutch automatic transmission

3. Semi-automatic

Semi-automatic transmissions on motorcycles are called “auto-clutch” transmissions or, sometimes, “clutchless” manual transmissions.

Smaller motorcycles, such as minibikes and underbone (step-through), typically use centrifugal clutches, which are much less common than conventional manual transmissions.

The name “automatic” transmission is often misleading. Some automatic transmissions, such as those used in racing vehicles, will change gears automatically. However, the rider’s input is still required to shift into a higher or lower gear. In this sense, it’s not automatic.

Yamaha’s FJR1300AE sport touring motorcycle has a YCCS automatic clutch system and Honda’s range of 2 and 3-speed Hondamatic semi-automatic transmissions, which were used on many motorcycles in the 1970s and 1980s. The three-wheeled BRP Can-Am Spyder Roadster motorcycle has an SE5 and SE6 range of transmissions.

A few high-performance sportbikes use a trigger shift system, a handlebar-mounted trigger, paddle, switch, or button, and an automatically operated clutch system.

Quick shifters are electronic devices that allow for clutchless upshifts (and usually downshifts) on high-performance motorcycles with a standard manual transmission.

An EFI works with a sensor and a microcontroller to cut the ignition and/or fuel injection for a short time, so the rider can change gears while the engine is running.

The 2016 Kawasaki Ninja ZX 10R is one of the best quick-shifter motorcycles, with the most advanced semi-automatic quick shifter technology on any motorcycle. It’s one of the best quick shifters on the market. If you need an excellent semi-automatic quick shifter bike, get this bike.

Motorcycles with Reverse Gear

Reverse gear is not standard among street motorcycles. However, if you have a more than 360 kg or 800 lbs bike, it will be impossible to push it back if you are seated. As such, these bikes are fitted with reverse gear. An example of this bike is the Honda Goldwing and the BMW K1200LT.

However, the reverse gear in these motorcycles isn’t precisely the typical reverse systems you find in a car. It’s a feature in the starter motor, which, when reversed, does this function. The system is fitted with a separate control switch (e.g., a pull toggle at the head of the fuel tank when the bike is in neutral) to avoid activating the reverse gear.

Shift Control 

A hand-operated gear change is an essential tool for any motorcycle rider. Still, it is also a vital part of driving safely. The most important thing to remember is that you could hurt yourself very badly if you don’t shift correctly. The best way to learn how to shift correctly is to practice, so spend time on the road learning.

What About Scooters, Underbones, and Mini Bikes?

selective focus photography of several motor scooters on parking lot

Traditional scooters change gear with a twist grip on the handlebars’ left side and a co-rotated clutch lever. The moto-scooters are called “twist-and-go” because they are fitted with a continuously variable transmission. A three- to five-speed foot-shift lever is used by underbones and minibikes. This transmission type requires the gears to be manually shifted by the rider.


Any rider must understand that a motorcycle’s transmission system is essential for motorcycle riding. Being aware of how the motorcycle’s transmission work enables the rider to shift gear perfectly and avoid damaging the transmission and other components of the bike is essential.

The importance of knowing how a motorcycle transmission works is highlighted by the fact that most motorcycle deaths are caused by the rider not being able to shift gears.

I hope this article has answered all of your questions about motorcycle transmissions. I have provided a video that may help you understand how a motorcycle transmission works. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.