If you are new to motorcycling you may be wondering about the correct way to stop your bike. In a manual transmission car you can simply brake, come to a stop and then shift straight from fifth gear to first with the clutch in. On a motorcycle, however, you have a sequential gearbox. So how do you stop your motorcycle the right way? And can you stop your motorcycle in 3rd gear?
In order to come to a planned stop on a motorcycle, you need to follow these 8 steps:
- Check your rear view mirror
- Roll off the throttle
- Apply the front and rear brakes
- Pull in the clutch and downshift one gear
- Match the engine and wheel speed with the throttle
- Slowly release the clutch between downshifts to apply engine braking
- Downshift through all the gears until you are nearly stopped
- Pull in the clutch completely and select first gear
These steps might sound complicated, especially since you are using all four your limbs simultaneously to perform them. Don’t overthink it. Let’s walk through the process in detail so that you know what to practice, as well as why each step is important.
How to Stop Your Motorcycle the Correct way
For experienced riders it may seem silly to ask how to stop a motorcycle. That’s not because it is a silly question, but rather that they’ve become so accustomed to doing it that it happens automatically. As a new rider, you will also very soon get to the point where you aren’t thinking about how to stop your motorcycle properly.
To make sure you learn the correct habits, here are the steps to correctly stop your motorcycle:
NOTE: These steps are for coming to a planned stop like when you are approaching a red traffic light or a stop sign. While reading the steps below, image you are riding at 50 mph and are approaching a red traffic light.
Step 1: Check your rear view mirror
This is easy to forget, but on a motorcycle you need to always know what is going on behind you. This is even more important when you are planning to slow down or stop. Drivers often don’t pay attention and can easily miss you on your bike.
Step 2: Roll off the throttle
As you approach the red traffic light, roll off the throttle with your right wrist and leave the clutch alone. You will immediately feel the bike slowing down due to the engine braking. If you have no traffic around you and the stop line is still far ahead, you won’t even need to apply any brakes. In fact, you might even be able to slow enough to catch the green light and pull off in a lower gear.
TIP: If there is traffic behind you, it is a good idea to touch the brakes to illuminate the stop light to let the person behind you know you are slowing down.
But let’s assume there are cars around and you need to stop more suddenly. Maybe the light turned red as you are approaching and you need to reduce your speed with a bit more enthusiasm.
Step 3: Apply the front and the rear brakes
After closing the throttle, apply both the front and rear brakes evenly. The clutch lever is still all the way out. This is where some riding schools differ from country to country, and from school to school. I’ve heard from some riders who said their school taught them to grab the clutch first. Others said, brake first then clutch.
The reason why we leave the clutch alone initially is to let the engine help brake the motorcycle. If you pull in the clutch first, you essentially have a heavy object with momentum, freewheeling, and have to rely solely on the brakes to stop it. You would have felt how much the engine assists with braking force in Step 2 above.
You need to use both brakes. New riders may be afraid of the front brake, as they’ve heard stories of riders wiping out in a corner when grabbing the front brake. In a straight line, your front wheel will have enough traction (except if you ride through oil) and it is the front brake that does most of the stopping. The rear brake is simply there to keep the bike straight.
Use only your index and middle finger to apply the front brake. That way you won’t grab too much front brake, and you will still have a decent grip on the bar to apply throttle when you need to.
Step 4: Pull in the clutch and downshift one gear
This is where it gets confusing for some new riders. As you slow down, your bike’s engine speed (rpm) will slow too. You may be riding in 5th gear and you will need to either pull in the clutch or downshift to prevent the bike from jerking or stalling as you slow down. Some riders simply grab the clutch and and focus on the brakes, which immediately eliminates the benefits of engine braking.
As your engine’s rpm drops, you need to shift to a lower gear. Keep applying both brakes smoothly and evenly while pulling in the clutch completely. Step on the gear selector with your left foot to grab a lower gear. If you let the clutch out suddenly, the bike might jerk due to the engine speed being lower than the wheel speed. This is because the engine rpm dropped even further as you pulled in the clutch.
Step 5: Match the engine and wheel speed with the throttle
To avoid this jerking upon downshifting, you need to match the engine speed with the speed of the rear wheel. This may take some practice, but you’ll soon do it without thinking about it. As you downshift, give a small amount of throttle by using your thumb, ring finger and pinky while the clutch is pulled in. Now let out the clutch slowly to connect the drive train.
Step 6: Slowly release the clutch between downshifts to apply engine braking
It will take some practice to get this right, but the idea is to make a seamless downshift without the bike jumping ahead due to too much throttle, or jerking due to too little. Initially you can simply let out the clutch slowly without worrying about matching the revs.
Aim to shift quickly so that you do not let the engine speed drop too much while the clutch is in. That way, the difference is speed between the engine and the rear wheel will be much less.
Using this method will slow your bike much fast and you will need much less braking force due to the assistance from the engine. Like I said earlier, if there is no traffic you will be able to stop your motorcycle with almost no input from the brakes apart from the last moment when you come to a complete stop.
Step 7: Downshift through all the gears until you are nearly stopped
Depending on the speed you were riding at and how fast you had to stop, you will repeat the downshifts until you are nearly at a standstill. Many motorcycles have a tall first gear with the rest of the gears spaced closer together. You might find that you initially reduce the speed quite a bit, and then in quick succession downshift through all the gears to second gear.
This does not have to take forever. You can shift, release clutch and shift again from 6th to 2nd in two to three seconds. The reason you don’t want to hold in the clutch and select through three to four gears in one go before releasing the clutch is that you may lose count and shift to a too low gear. Releasing the clutch in a very low gear while the bike is still moving too fast may unsettle the bike or lock up the rear wheel and result in a skid.
Step 8: Pull in the clutch completely and select first gear
Aim to be in second gear just as you are about to stop. Some bikes may jerk if you select first while still moving. Just as you are about to stop, pull in the clutch completely, select first gear and hold the clutch in.
Ease your grip on the front brake a little the moment before you come to a complete stop in order to prevent the front wheel from losing traction and sliding forward. Don’t be afraid of the front brake, however. You will get a feel for it after a while.
Well done! You did it.
TIP: This may be obvious, but please avoid the temptation to look down at the controls as you follow these steps. It is very important that you keep looking up ahead. All your controls are already at hand (and foot).
Now you just need to practice it. Don’t overthink it. Read the eight steps and apply it when you practice. If something doesn’t quite feel right, read that step again.
If you’ve never ridden your motorcycle in the traffic before, practice this technique in an empty parking lot or on a private road first. In traffic you will have to focus on what’s going on around you too, especially in front and behind you.
Can’t I Just Hold the Clutch in While in Brake?
Many riders simply pull in the clutch when they start braking and hold it in until they come to a complete stop. They will still have to end up in first gear in order to pull away again, so they either shift down through the gears as they slow down (with the clutch in) or they stop in a high gear and then tap, tap, tap down to first at the traffic light.
While this won’t hurt your motorcycle, it is not a good technique to use. You won’t have any assistance from the engine to reduce the speed, which means your brakes will have to work harder and therefore wear out faster.
Can I Stop by Motorcycle in 2nd or 3rd Gear?
Many first-timers have asked whether they can stop in a high gear and then shift to first. This is similar to what you would do in a stick shift car. The only difference is that the motorcycle has a sequential gearbox.
While it is possible to stop in 2nd or 3rd gear, many motorcycles won’t shift down while standing still. The clutch plates need to be rotating for the transmission to shift. That is one of the reasons why you want to shift down while you are still approaching the stop.
What if you stopped in 3rd by accident and it won’t shift? Let out the clutch until it starts to bite and try shifting again. It should go down one gear. repeat this until you are in first. Don’t let out the clutch all the way of course!
Should I Select Neutral or Stay in 1st Gear at a Stop?
There’s no hard and fast rule that states you have to wait in first or in neutral. Many riding schools are divided on this. The advantages of waiting in first gear with the clutch in, is that you are immediately ready to move off. This could be very useful if a car behind you failed to stop and you need to get out of the way quickly.
On the flip side, waiting in neutral saves your wrist not having to apply the clutch and you don’t run the risk of dropping the clutch and jumping forward into oncoming traffic.
It is totally up to you. Personally, I do both. If I know the light is going to stay red for a while or I want to adjust my gloves, I select neutral. Otherwise, I switch to first to be ready.
This post may seem long to explain a very simple maneuver, but it is only because there are so many things happening simultaneously. Don’t overthink it and practice it until it becomes muscle memory. This will happen sooner than you think.
Before you know it, some new rider will ask you how to stop their bike, and you won’t know how to explain it because you won’t be thinking about it anymore.
Happy riding! (And stopping…)
Make Sure You are Protected
Beginner riders often skimp on protective riding gear as it can be quite expensive. Most motorcycle accidents happen during the first few months of riding, and a study published in the Journal of Trauma showed 56% of injuries happen to lower extremities (ankles and legs). Bike boots are therefore a must.
A helmet is a no-brainer, and so is a jacket. The hands are also high up on the list of injuries, due to the natural reflex to catch yourself when you fall. While I always recommend getting the best gear you can afford, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive. Below is a list of some good value gear available on Amazon that I recommend:
* To find out whether you should get a full faced street helmet or a dual sport, check out this post.
What About an Emergency Stop?
The post above explained the braking process for a planned stop. An emergency stop is somewhat different and needs to happen much faster. To find out how to perform an emergency stop on gravel, check out my post about 26 adventure bike riding tips and techniques for beginners.