Acceleration School with Clint McBain

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Downshifting & Blipping

Well, we’re half way through summer and I’m sure many of you readers have seen at least 20 days of good riding so far. If not, what are you doing? Even I have more than 20 days of street riding this summer, not to mention all the race events and track nights!

Suzuki_optIt seems over the past couple of years I haven’t been getting out as much as I would like, but with the cost of fuel these days and my truck taking $150 per fill, the bike is getting lots of riding, and I love it!

With all my riding this season I came across a situation the other day that made me realize some of my riding skills may be getting a little rusty and I think this is due in part to the fact that motorcycle technology is once again outpacing rider skill level. I was testing our Superbike out at the Shubenacadie track near Halifax, NS a couple weeks ago and every time I entered Turn 1 to brake and downshift a couple of gears the rear wheel of the motorcycle locked up momentarily and caused it to chatter and hop. My first reaction was to come into the pit area and tell to my mechanic so he could fix the clutch and allow it to back slip some more to stop the chattering. He made a few adjustments and back out I went, but again the rear wheel was chattering and hopping when entering the first turn. We continued this procedure over and over again to the point where we had no more adjustment available and, unfortunately, the problem was still there but not quite as bad.

This was when I realized that I have become a bit lazy in the downshifting and “blipping” the throttle department. Now, as a human being my first reaction was to put the blame on the bike manufacturers as they continue to make the bikes easier and easier to ride. After all, they’re the ones that introduced the “slipper clutch” on most of today’s modern sport bikes, and this new technology is designed to help eliminate this problem. Fortunately, it does help reduce this momentary lock up of the rear wheel, but it does not prevent it from happening all the time. In the end, it was me — the rider — who needed to take full responsibility for this unsettling of my bike. I’m the one riding this motorcycle and therefore I’m the one who is supposed to be in control.

The great thing about a slipper clutch is that it helps allow the engine speed (RPM) to match with rear wheel speed when you backshift into a lower gear. Unfortunately, there are far too many variables (tire grip, difference in braking force, downshifting too quickly, etc.) that can limit this action from working perfectly in every type of scenario and it is because of this that riders need to practice “downshifting & blipping the throttle” techniques. If you aren’t able to match the RPM with the rear wheel speed it can cause the rear tire to momentarily “chatter, hop, and/or skid,” which in turn can upset your bike. This is precisely what was happening to me and only because I’ve gotten a bit lazy with my downshifting and blipping of the throttle.

Here are the steps required to properly downshift and blip the throttle to match the RPM and rear wheel speed. Once you have practiced and perfected this method it will become second nature and should be the smoothest method of downshifting, not to mention the fact that your motorcycle will love you as it puts way less strain on all moving parts.

Technique

You will have to be used to using the front brake with only one or two fingers in order to downshift this way. I recommend using your index and middle fingers to brake while keeping your ring and pinky fingers wrapped around the throttle.

Once you begin braking, pull in the clutch and backshift to the next lower gear like you would normally. Now, here is where it’s going to take a fairKawasaki_opt bit of practice – while still holding the clutch in, use your right hand (ring finger, pinky finger and palm) to quickly rev (blip) the engine slightly. You will need to rev the engine higher if you are backshifting while the engine is at a high RPM level than you would if the engine was already at a lower RPM level — either way it is still a quick blip.

Remember to keep your braking smooth with the front brakes. This is achievable as long as you still have your index and middle fingers on the brake lever. If you find that every time you try to blip the throttle your index and middle fingers squeeze/spike the brake lever, make sure you adjust the lever so your fingers have room to extend as you blip the throttle, but also be sure you still have enough lever movement so as not to bottom out the lever on your ring and pinky fingers, which are still wrapped around the throttle.

This skill alone takes a lot of practice. One hint is to also make sure you have your throttle adjusted properly so there is not a lot of extra free play. But you need a little free play so it doesn’t stick on you!

When the engine is revved up slightly, let the clutch back out smoothly to engage the next gear. As you get better at this skill you will start to
release the clutch lever quicker and quicker, but I recommend that at first you just concentrate on being smooth and precise with your controls. Throttle_optIdeally, you want to be able to match the engine RPM in the newly selected gear to the actual rear wheel speed without causing the bike to get upset. If the bike jerks forward when you let the clutch out, the engine was turning too fast — don’t rev it as much next time. If the bike rapidly slows, the engine wasn’t turning fast enough so you need to rev it more before releasing the clutch.

Repeat each time you shift down a gear and remember: practice makes perfect. If you don’t get this right away, keep trying, eventually it becomes second nature. And it can make your riding experience a lot more enjoyable.

Well that’s all there is to downshifting and blipping — sounds easy right! I wish it was, but as the proverbial saying goes, “Nothing good in life comes easy.”

Until next time, get back on your bike, enjoy the second half of summer and continue perfecting your riding skills.

 

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