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Do MotoGP Bikes Have Neutral? (Gearboxes Explained)

MotoGP bikes are designed for the racetrack, with only one purpose – to go as fast as possible. The bikes are therefore built very differently to those you’d find on the street, from the engines to the gearboxes, which may leave you wondering if MotoGP bikes have neutral.

MotoGP bikes do have neutral, but unlike on a road bike, it isn’t found between 1st and 2nd gear. Neutral is located just below the 1st gear on a MotoGP bike, but the rider needs to actuate a lever first. This is to prevent the rider accidentally selecting neutral when they are racing.

The gearbox of a MotoGP bike is the interface between the engine and the rear wheel, creating forward momentum out of up to 290 horsepower. Keep reading as we take a look inside a MotoGP gearbox to find out how it all works.

What Gearboxes Do MotoGP Bikes Use?

MotoGP bikes use seamless shift gearboxes because of their efficiency and ease of changing gears without any loss of power to the rear wheel. Throughout a race, the rider will need to change gears up and down about 500-800 times, and so it’s key that they have minimal power loss while doing so. 

With a seamless-shift gearbox design, one gear is driving the chain right until another gear takes over so that the power supplied to the wheel is essentially continuous, and the gear change is extremely smooth. Essentially, two gears are engaged at the same time. When moving at high speed, the amount of jerk and vibration from normal gear transitions can affect the bike’s stability.

The only time that most riders use the clutch is at the start of the race. Once the race is underway and the bikes are moving on the track at high speed, most of the riders prefer to use the quick shifter/auto-blipper (more on that soon).

Where Is Neutral On A MotoGP Bike?

On a MotoGP bike, neutral is located just below first gear. Most riders never have the need to go to neutral until the end of the race, but it still needs to be there. There are only two times when the bike is kept in neutral, just before the race and after, or if the rider has to stop mid-race.

How Do MotoGP Riders Get Into Neutral?

On a MotoGP bike, neutral can be shifted into from the gear lever, but a lever on the handle needs to be activated first which then allows the bike to go into neutral. This is purely a safety precaution to prevent the bike from going into neutral by accident during the race. 

KEY POINTS

• MotoGP bikes do have neutral, located below first gear, and it’s activated using a lever

• MotoGP riders use seamless shift gearboxes to make over 500 gear changes per race

• This high-tech gearbox allows for shifting with almost zero power loss

How Many Gears Do MotoGP Bikes Have?

MotoGP bikes have 6 gears, similar to street bikes but with a number of differences in the clutch and transmission. MotoGP gearboxes are also reversed when compared with a normal street bike. In MotoGP, riders engage first gear by pulling the shifter up, and then gears 2-6 by pressing down.

But the big difference that MotoGP bikes have over street bikes is that they have a slipper clutch that takes care of gear changes without any power drops while shifting. Although the slipper clutch has made its way down to the production motorcycle, it is mostly restricted to high-end bikes that cost more. The average street bike still uses a manual clutch which is much less efficient.

How Do MotoGP Riders Shift?

MotoGP riders shift gears the same way as street bike riders do, by using the foot pedal, except they do so with a one up, 5 down pattern, rather than a one down and 5 up pattern that you’d use on a normal motorcycle. Neutral also sits below the first gear, rather than between 1 and 2.

The gears are accessed in this way in large part because of the massive lean angles – sometimes in excess of 60 degrees – that the riders take through the corners. When they’re at these angles, the gear shifters at their feet are very low to the ground, and not having to put their foot underneath to shift down the gears while leaning gives them an extra bit of much needed ground clearance.

Apart from neutral which requires the use of the extra lever, the other gear shifts are exactly the same (although they’re in reverse order). Other than at the start of the race when the rider uses the manual clutch, once the race progresses, the rider makes use of the slipper clutch which is standard on all MotoGP bikes.

How Does The Slipper Clutch Help?

During a race, the riders may shift gears more than 500 times. Every time they shift, the slipper clutch compares the bike’s speed with the engine’s speed and does not actually engage the gear until they match. This prevents the engine from over-revving and ensures that the bike remains stable during the turns.

The entries and exits of corners are where the maximum number of gear shifts take place as riders bring the bike speed down to the right level to negotiate the corner safely, and then accelerate again into the straight. 

The Quick Shifter With The Slipper Clutch

The quick shifter is used in conjunction with a slipper clutch to make gear shifts completely seamless. It engineers this by switching the engine off for only a few milliseconds so that the engine slows down to a level where the slipper clutch can initiate the gear shift safely. It also works the other way if the engine needs to be sped up to match the speed of the rear wheel.

The quick shifter is comprised of a mechanical sensor that feeds a microcontroller which also controls the electronic ignition of the bike. It has a sensor to detect the pressure on a gear and cuts the ignition until the new gear is engaged. All of this is happening in milliseconds, which is too fast for a human being to respond to, and it prevents excessive load on the transmission.

Can A Quick Shifter Be Fitted To A Street Bike?

These technological marvels help the rider to make near-perfect gear changes without any loss of power or speed. The quick shifter has to be set up accurately as it can damage the gearbox if the ignition does not cut off at the correct time. For those who would like to have a quick shifter installed on their bikes, there are plenty of manufacturers that sell them.

Prices of a quick shifter meant for street bikes depend on the quality, the type of microcontroller used, and the quality of the sensors. Not all quick shifters work in both directions, but the ones that do are called autoblippers. Generally, quick shifters require very precise installation, can go wrong easily, and are high maintenance.

Most quick shifters that are fitted to street bikes are no more than a fancy toy, and rather than bestowing any real advantage, they can hinder the bike if it is not maintained regularly. 

KEY POINTS

• MotoGP bikes have 6 gears, and they’re accessed in the reverse pattern to what you’d find on a normal bike

• MotoGP riders shift gears using a foot lever, much like on a normal bike

• They make use of a quick shifter and slipper clutch for maximum speed when shifting

Final Thoughts

MotoGP bikes do have neutral, and it’s located below 1st gear. This is in contrast to most road bikes, where you’ll find neutral between 1st and 2nd gear. MotoGP riders must actuate a lever before selecting neutral, and this reduces the chance of them accidentally selecting neutral while racing.