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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
  • 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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4 Answers 4

up vote 14 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

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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There isn't a technical reason. The pattern can be, and sometimes is, quite different than what you state. It is the combination of history and evolving ergonomic considerations in play here. Really old bikes had an all-up pattern so neutral was at the bottom or top of the pattern.

There was a government rule established in the US 40 years ago standardizing motorcycle controls for regulated motorcycles, so there are political reasons as well.

But it isn't for technical reasons.

Between first and second is the most logical place to put neutral given that it can easily placed anywhere. Don't forget, you aren't spending time in the neutral position in ordinary driving, so you certainly don't want to find yourself there inadvertently!

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Coming from a country where almost 80% of the personal transport are motorcycles I agree with Rory's answer,

When you are driving fast , you will spend a lot less time in Neutral and when you stop you dont want to end up without power at the wheels so it makes sense to have the lowermost plonk a Gear.

After driving a 1N2345 bike setup for like 5 years , one day I had to drive a N1234 bike, most of the time I stopped the bike I was in neutral twisting the throttle only to make noise, riding becomes difficult and frustrating.

Thus the idea of a N1234 looks idiotic but the reason as to why most commuter segment bikes still have them is because of comfort while waiting for signal or being stationary, if you have to live with stop and go traffic everyday then having Neutral all the way down will actually be helpful as it will easily allow you to reach it no matter what(its sort of a gear in a N1234 setup) so there is no chance of you missing it.

Imagine stopping ever 15 yards and having to pull the clutch and search for the half neutral on a 1N2345 setup , by the time you figure it out the traffic starts to move and you are back where you started.I personally prefer holding onto the clutch instead of searching for the neutral as its a pain.

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Hence, the neutral finder lever in older bikes like bullets, which i still think is pretty cool. Though, the safety and ride-ability benefits far outweigh the apparent comfort in finding neutral with the N123.. IMO… . –  chilljeet Jun 24 at 12:06
@chilljeet Bullets were awesome machines, I dont like the new UCE engines though. –  Anarach Jun 24 at 12:50

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