As a rule of thumb, the majority of stock motorcycles have “1 down, 4 up” (1 N 2 3 4 5) or “1 down, 5 up” (1 N 2 3 4 5 6) shift patterns. This means to shift into the first gear, you move the shift lever down, but to reach the higher gears you move the lever up. Neutral is between first and second gear.
But surprisingly, some vintage and non-US motorcycles feature different shift patterns, plus racing bikes typically have a reverse pattern, which is known as “GP-shift.”
What’s more, motorcycles are manufactured with a sequential transmission, meaning that you have to shift through all of the gears to reach the top gear.
If you want to find out more about different motorcycle shift patterns, this post is for you.
We at PowerSportsGuide have compiled the basics under one roof!
What is the Shift Pattern on a Motorcycle?
The shift pattern on a motorcycle refers to the layout of the gears. In other words, it guides the appropriate gear selection on where to move the shift lever to reach each speed. It’s safe to say that the majority of modern motorcycles feature a 1 N 2 3 4 5 (6) shift pattern. This means for first gear you move the shift lever down and move it up to reach the higher gears.
This surprises many beginner riders, because this pattern is vastly different from cars’, which typically feature an H-shaped shift pattern.
The main difference between these patterns is that on a motorcycle you have to go through all of the gears in sequence. (That’s why they are called sequential transmissions.)
In other words, you can’t “jump” gears to shift for example, from second to the fifth gear. You also can’t put the bike in neutral from any gear, just from first and the second gears.
Do All Motorcycles Have the Same Shift Pattern?
Contrary to popular belief, not all motorcycles have the same shift pattern. While most of today’s motorcycles feature the “1 down, rest up” pattern, you can find some other models that have different shift patterns. These bikes are mainly small-bore (100-125cc) bikes marketed in India, and vintage bikes manufactured before the ‘70s.
For instance, the smallest Hero motorcycles (below 150cc) have all gears up, while in certain Bajaj and Tvs motorcycles, all gears are down.
These motorcycles are also manufactured with sequential transmission, but their neutral can be found either on top or bottom position depending on the model.
Motorcycle Shift Pattern Chart
For better comparison, we’ve listed the most common as well as some old-fashioned motorcycle shift patterns in one chart:
|3 – regular (vintage)||1 N 2 3|
|4 – reverse (vintage)||4 3 2 N 1|
|4 – regular (vintage)||1 N 2 3 4|
|4 – all down (India)||4 3 2 1 N|
|4 – all up (India)||N 1 2 3 4|
|5 – all up (vintage)||N 1 2 3 4 5|
|5 – regular||1 N 2 3 4 5|
|6 – regular||1 N 2 3 4 5 6|
|6 – reverse (racing)||6 5 4 3 2 N 1|
As you can see, bikes come with many different shift patterns, but the most commonly used patterns today are still the “1 down, 4 up” in 5-speed motorcycles as well as the “1 down, 5 up” in 6-speed models.
What is the Shift Pattern of Racing Motorcycles?
Surprisingly, racing motorcycles feature a reverse shift pattern (6 5 4 3 2 N 1), which is often referred to as a “race shift pattern” or “GP shift pattern” as well. The whole reason behind this reverse shift pattern is that it makes upshifts easier and safer when cornering. This is because when the bike is leaning, and the racer is hanging off the bike it’s difficult for him to place his foot under the shift lever.
In these risky situations, the last thing a racer wants is to lose control of the bike. That’s why racers want to minimize the changes in their body position.
This is where the racing shift pattern comes into play, as it allows the rider to select a higher gear by pressing the shift lever down.
It’s also a lesser-known fact that these racing bikes are not manufactured with different transmissions. Instead, with a little trick their shift patterns are reversed.
Are you wondering how?
How do You Reverse The Shift Pattern on a Motorcycle?
To reverse a shift pattern on a motorcycle you have to change how the shift lever connects to the shift spindle. Surprisingly, it’s very simple. You can find a sleeve on the end of the shift spindle, which has to be flipped to the other side. If you do this, the shift spindle will rotate in the opposite direction, just like the shift drum inside the gearbox.
Here’s a great video on how to reverse the shift pattern on your bike.
Why is First Gear Down on a Motorcycle?
It’s a lesser-known fact that first gear on a motorcycle is down for three different reasons: safety, convenience, and to be legal. To be more precise, it’s not the first gear that is placed down but neutral is inserted between first and second gear. Why? This is because in an emergency it would be dangerous to accidentally shift into neutral, especially at higher speeds.
Besides, you only want to put the bike into neutral when you want to stop, and before you stop you are likely already in the lower gears.
And finally, we have to mention legal issues.
The transmissions of motorcycles were standardized in the United States in the ‘70s. Based on that, motorcycles were required to have their gears in a specified pattern and the shift lever on the left side.
Since America was a huge market, each major motorcycle manufacturer wanted to comply with these regulations.
Eventually, this led to the global standardization of motorcycle transmissions.
FAQs About Motorcycle Shifting Patterns
What Does 4 Up 1 Down Mean?
“4 Up 1 Down” refers to the 1 N 2 3 4 5 shift pattern of a 5-speed motorcycle transmission. Most production motorcycles come with this shift pattern.
What is the Shift Pattern for a Harley-Davidson?
The shift pattern of 5-speed Harley Davidsons is 1 N 2 3 4 5, which translates to “1 down, 4 up.” Although the majority of Harleys feature a 5-speed transmission, you can also find some 6-speed models on the market. The shifting pattern of these Harleys is 1 N 2 3 4 5 6, meaning that these bikes have an extra sixth gear at the top. Neutral on a Harley is located between first and second gear.
What is GP shifting on a motorcycle?
“GP shifting” refers to the afore-mentioned reverse shifting pattern. Since this pattern is commonly used on racing bikes it’s also known as “race-shift, or “GP shift” as well.
Is a GP shift pattern better?
Although a GP shift pattern is recommended for racers, the average driver can’t get much benefit from it. Why? Simply because motorcycles on the streets are rarely ridden as hard as GP bikes. Therefore, everyday riders can shift easily and safely in the corners, even if their bikes don’t feature a GP shift pattern.
The most common motorcycle shift pattern is the “1 down, 4 up” (1 N 2 3 4) on 5-speed motorcycles as well as “1 down, 5 up” (1 N 2 3 4 5 6) on the 6-speed models.
However, some bikes feature different patterns, especially vintage Indian bikes. These are mainly 4-speed motorcycles with “all-4-down” or “all-4-up” shift patterns.
Finally, the racing shift pattern refers to a “reversed” (6 5 4 3 2 N 1) pattern, which is commonly used on racing motorcycles.