Generally speaking, neutral on a motorcycle is where the shifter is when no gear is engaged. So, contrary to popular belief, neutral on a motorcycle isn’t actually a gear! Instead, in neutral the engine crankshaft doesn’t transmit power to the rear wheel, even if the clutch is engaged. If you want to find out more about the topic, this post is for you!
What is Neutral on a Motorcycle?
If the engine on your motorcycle is running but you don’t want the machine to move, there are basically two options to choose from. You can pull the clutch lever with your left hand or switch the bike into neutral. Both solutions achieve the same goal but in a different way. In neutral, the power is delivered into the transmission, but not transmitted towards the rear wheel.
In contrast, a disengaged clutch cuts the power between the transmission and the engine crankshaft.
For a better understanding, please check out this great animation:
In the transmission, there are two shafts, the input and the output shaft. The input shaft is connected to the crankshaft through the clutch.
This input shaft is driven continuously by the crankshaft when the engine is running, unless you pull the clutch lever.
The output shaft is driven by the input shaft if the motorcycle is in gear. But if the bike is in neutral, it means the input shaft is running but the output shaft is stationary.
This is because in neutral the gears on these shafts can run freely, so it’s not possible to transfer power.
Where is Neutral on a Motorcycle?
Simply put, neutral on a motorcycle is between first and second gear. Since neutral is literally halfway between these gears you have to shift “half click” up from first gear or downshift from second gear to reach neutral.
Why is Neutral Between First and Second Gear on a Motorcycle?
The main reason why neutral is between first and second gear on a motorcycle is that motorcycle shift patterns were standardized in the ‘70s in the United States due to usability and safety reasons. Thanks to this regulation, when riding a motorcycle, you can be sure to find neutral between first and second gear.
Besides regulations, this shift pattern makes the most sense and provides the greatest comfort and security. Why?
For instance, if neutral were placed below first gear, many more riders would accidentally shift into neutral while shifting down. Since neutral leaves the bike with no power, this would lead to risky situations.
Since first gear is placed at the bottom, you can be sure to find engine power (or engine brake) if you shift down to the lowest gear. This is beneficial for beginner riders who don’t even know which gear they are in.
What’s more, neutral is used on a motorcycle when it starts or stops, so it makes sense to place it close to the lowest gears.
Sure, neutral could be placed between four and fifth gears, but it would be a hassle to go through the gears to shift the bike into neutral each time.
Consequently, the most logical place for neutral is between first and second gear!
How do You Put a Motorcycle into Neutral?
To put a motorcycle into neutral you have to pull the clutch lever and shift the gears between first and second gear. This means if your bike is in first gear, you have to gently move the shift lever up, while if you are in second gear you have to downshift. If you don’t know which gear your bike is in, best practice is to downshift multiple times to first gear. Then, move the shift lever up to find neutral.
This is because motorcycles feature sequential transmissions, which require you to shift through all the gears in sequence.
Also, don’t forget that neutral is just a “half-way click” from first and second gears, so you have to move the shift lever carefully!
You also have to fully squeeze the clutch lever against the grip to make sure that the clutch is completely disengaged before you shift your bike into neutral.
How do You Know if Your Bike is in Neutral?
Keeping safety in mind, most motorcycles feature a neutral light on the dashboard, which is typically a green indicator lamp (often with the letter ‘N’ on it). If this neutral light flashes, you can be sure that your bike is in neutral. What’s more, many modern bikes come with a gear indicator to inform you of which gear you are in.
Another clue that your motorcycle is in neutral is that you can easily move it by hand when the engine is off.
If your bike lacks a neutral light for any reason, you need to thoroughly get used to the transmission to handle it safely.
You should also consider installing an aftermarket neutral light on your bike for more comfort and greater security.
Can You Put a Motorcycle in Neutral Without Starting?
Yes, you can put a motorcycle in neutral without starting, just make sure to fully depress the clutch lever as well. If you find shifting the bike difficult, just rock the machine slightly back and forth by hand. This way the gears will turn inside the transmission, which allows them to engage.
Sometimes the gears are in the “wrong” position, which means the pins (known as dogs) on the gear can’t slide into the nests of the neighboring gear.
Rocking the bike gently moves the dogs into another position, allowing the gears to engage.
You can also rotate the rear wheel by hand if the bike is on a center stand.
When and Why Do You Use Neutral on a Motorcycle?
You have to use neutral on a motorcycle in a variety of situations, which are as follows:
- Before you start the bike
- When you stop and want to leave the engine running
- To move the bike around by hand when the engine is off
- During maintenance
- When to bike is stored (but not in all cases!)
Let’s take a closer look at these cases!
Does a Motorcycle Have to be in Neutral to Start?
Yes, for safety reasons a motorcycle always has to be in neutral to start. Although it’s physically possible to start some motorcycles in gear if you pull the clutch, but this is definitely not recommended. Keep in mind that accidentally releasing the clutch results in immediate acceleration of the bike. This is why many modern motorcycles can only be started if they are in neutral.
On these bikes the electronics won’t allow the engine to start as long as they are in gear.
It’s also good to know that many bikes feature a “kickstand safety switch,” which doesn’t allow the engine to start when the kickstand is down.
So, if you can’t start your bike, make sure that it’s in neutral and the kickstand is up!
Does a Motorcycle Have to be in Neutral to Stop?
As a rule of thumb, a motorcycle has to be stopped in neutral if you want to let its engine run for a longer period of time. On the other hand, at a stoplight best practice to stop your bike in first gear for safety reasons. This can help you escape from a dangerous situation and start the bike faster when the light turns green.
One of the biggest risks at stoplights is if a speeding car can’t stop behind you, which is why you have to keep your eyes on the mirrors!
If your bike is in first gear, you can just hit the throttle and move quickly out of the way.
On the other hand, it’s also not recommended that you hold the clutch for an extended period of time. It’s hard on the clutch as well as on your left hand and can lead to wrist pain if you ride a lot in city traffic.
Therefore, it makes sense to shift the bike into neutral if you know the light and expect a long wait, but only if a car has already stopped behind you. This car could work like a bumper and protect you if a speeding car can’t stop in time.
It is safest to have a stopped vehicle in front of and behind you as well before you switch into neutral.
Can You Move a Motorcycle Without Turning It On?
Yes, you can move a motorcycle without turning it on, just make sure that it’s in neutral. When the bike is in gear it means that the transmission (or more precisely the pistons) blocks the rear wheel, which prevents the bike from being moved. In fact, this is the same effect that causes engine braking, the pistons work against the rear wheel!
Should you Leave a Motorcycle in Neutral When Parked?
The general rule is that you should never leave a motorcycle in neutral when parked on a slope. Instead, you should switch to first gear, which works like a parking brake on the bike! But when it comes to parking a motorcycle on ground level, there are widely diverse opinions. Some riders prefer to leave their bike in neutral while others always leave it in first gear regardless of terrain.
Leaving the bike in gear makes sense as it will be much less likely to roll off the kickstand.
This is why motorcycles in the showrooms are typically parked in first gear. It prevents the bikes from rolling when buyers sit on them or accidentally bump into them.
But bikes on the street are not completely safe either. Sightseeing tourists can bump into them, which can easily roll the bikes forward and lead to collapsed kickstands.
On the other hand, many owners prefer to leave their bikes in neutral when it’s parked in the garage. Surprisingly, some owner’s manuals recommend the same, especially in cases of long-term storage.
This also makes sense as you can easily move the bike around if needed.
It’s also recommended to shift the bike into neutral if you leave your motorcycle at your dealer or a repair shop.
This is because technicians usually move the machines by hand. And while experienced mechanics always make sure that the bike is in neutral (or pull the clutch lever), it could be moved by newbie techs.
Leaving your bike in gear could surprise them, which may end in a dropped machine!
Can You Go from Neutral to Second Gear on a Motorcycle?
Yes, you can go from neutral to second gear on a motorcycle, however this is rarely needed. One of these cases could be if you want to start your bike in second gear on a steep hill facing down. You also have to shift from neutral to second gear if you’ve accidentally shifted into neutral from first gear before.
Men it comes to start the bike on a ground level, you should always shift into first gear. But if you want to start downhill on a steep slope, it makes sense to start in the second gear in some cases.
What is a False Neutral on a Motorcycle?
False neutral on a motorcycle refers to an incomplete shifting when gears don’t engage properly. Simply put, false neutral means that your bike shifts into a neutral anywhere other than between first and second gear. This typically occurs between 4 and 5, or 5 and 6 gears, and can be dangerous as it leaves the rear wheel without power or engine brake.
What Causes False Neutrals on a Motorcycle?
False neutrals on a motorcycle are typically caused by a wrong shifting technique or even transmission malfunctions. When you shift your bike, inside the transmission two gears should engage to transmit power towards the rear wheel. If these gears can’t engage properly it causes a false neutral and leaves the motorcycle without power.
If you take a look at a motorcycle transmission, you can see that some gears feature little pins, which are known as “dogs.” These dogs need to slide into the nests of the neighboring gear.
If the shift is made incorrectly, these dogs won’t slide into place, so the two gears won’t engage.
This malfunction is more common if the dogs/nests are worn out.
Why is it Hard to Find Neutral on a Motorcycle?
For beginners, sometimes it can be hard to find neutral on a motorcycle because it’s halfway between first and second gear. To shift into neutral, you have to move the shift lever a “half click” down from second gear or up from first gear. If it’s unusually hard to find neutral on a bike, it could also be a sign of transmission or clutch malfunctions.
If you’re new to riding and finding neutral on your motorcycle seems to be hard, don’t worry. You aren’t alone, as this is a problem for many beginners.
But with some practice, you can master it in a short time!
Why Can’t You Find Neutral on Your Motorcycle?
If you can’t find a neutral on a motorcycle, this may be due to several reasons, which are as follows:
- The bike needs to be rocked back and forth
- Using the heel shift lever
- Wrong shifting technique
- Clutch drag or other clutch issues
- The engine is cold and needs to be warmed up
- Transmission malfunctions
If the engine is off and you can’t find neutral just rock the bike a little back and forth. This little trick typically solves the issue!
Also, don’t forget that it’s typically easier to find neutral on a bike if you’ve warmed up the engine.
Finding neutral on a bike with a heel shift lever is always more difficult as they are typically less precise than toe shifters. If your bike features a heel toe shifter, try to use the toe shift lever to shift in neutral.
If finding neutral is often a problem on your bike, this can also be caused by clutch malfunction.
Sometimes you just have to adjust the clutch or replace the cable if needed. The clutch has to completely disengage when you pull the clutch lever!
If the clutch seems to be fine, difficulty finding neutral can also be a sign of a transmission malfunction.
First, try to refill/or change the engine oil (or the transmission oil if it’s a separated system).
If this can’t solve the issue it means you need to have the transmission checked asap. Unless you’re an experienced mechanic, you may want to leave this to the professionals.
As a final word, keep in mind that on some motorcycles, neutral is harder to find because of the design of their transmissions. It always depends on the make and model!
Neutral on a motorcycle can be found between first and second gears. If you shift into neutral, the bike will remain stationery even if its engine is on.
In general, you have to shift your bike into neutral before starting or when you want to stop and let the engine run for a longer period.
Finding neutral on a motorcycle can be hard for beginners, but with some practice, you can master it easily!