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The gear pattern is selected by clicking a lever with your left foot, and is typically laid out as follows:

  • 6th gear (if applicable)
  • 5th gear
  • 4th gear
  • 3rd gear
  • 2nd gear
  • NEUTRAL
  • 1st gear

What is the technical reason the engineers decided the motorcycle gear pattern as above?

More precisely, why the NEUTRAL is placed between the first and second gears?

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2 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Two of the useful features of this setup (I have no evidence to prove they were the design reasons) are:

  • when braking in a hurry stamping down until you reach the bottom will leave you in first, NOT neutral. This is much safer in many respects than being left with no power in an emergency situation.
  • when starting from neutral, there is no risk of ending up in the wrong gear; 1 kick down leaves you in first gear. I have ridden very old bikes where neutral was the bottom gear, and sometimes the first click up would leave me in second - where I would stall, not being prepared for this.

I have also ridden a bike where the gears were the other way round, with 1st at the top, then neutral, then 2nd, 3rd etc - kicking down to change up a gear...less natural...very odd when accelerating hard

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I believe many race bikes reverse the order (tap down to change up) to allow them to accelerate out of corners. Tapping down means you do not need to get your toe under the changer while while scraping the pegs. –  dave Dec 4 '11 at 19:37
    
@dave - that's a very good point. Hadn't thought of that, but it makes perfect sense. –  Rory Alsop Dec 4 '11 at 20:19
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It’s worth noting that neutral is usually “half way” between 1st and 2nd, so that a shift from 1st to 2nd feels natural — the same “distance” as any other upshift. This can have the side-effect of making neutral hard to select on some bikes.

The primary reason for this is that it is far more common to desire 1st gear than neutral. If you stop at the lights, you can declutch and stamp all the way down on the gear selector, and be sure you’re in 1st, ready to pull away when the light goes green. Accidentally selecting neutral in this situation would be an inconvenience at best, and at worst could lead to falling over when you try to pull away and find out you’re in neutral!

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