MotoGP bikes are some of the most technologically advanced motorcycles on the planet, featuring technology that you won’t find in your average road motorcycle. Given how fast the riders are able to change gears, you may wonder if MotoGP bikes have a quick shifter.
MotoGP bikes do have a quick shifter, which is paired with a seamless shift gearbox for fast and smooth gear changes. This allows riders to change gears without lifting off the throttle or using the clutch, and they can even change gears at high speeds while cornering at lean angles of 50+ degrees.
Given the money spent on building MotoGP bikes, it’s no wonder that they contain some of the best technology in their transmissions. Below, we’ll go into more detail about how MotoGP riders change gears with the quick shifter and their seamless shift transmission.
Do MotoGP Riders Use A Quick Shifter?
MotoGP riders do use a quick shifter, as they need to be able to make quick and smooth gear transitions even while cornering at speeds above 60 mph and at lean angles beyond 50 degrees. The quick shifter allows them to change gears without lifting off the throttle or using the clutch.
Quick shifters allow motorcycle riders to change gears rapidly without rolling off the throttle or manually using a clutch. You can find them on some road motorcycles, but they’re rare and expensive, and definitely not essential.
Vital In Racing
In motorcycle racing though, every fraction of a second counts, and riders can make more than 500 gear changes over the course of a race. This means the faster they can change gears, and the less they have to lift off the power, the lower their lap times will be and the higher their chances of performing well in a race.
With a normal manual motorcycle transmission, you have to lift off the gas and use the clutch to change gears, unloading one gear before engaging the next one. This process takes time and requires you to lift off the throttle, which reduces your speed. With a quick shifter, you skip the throttle lifting and the clutch application, and all you need to do is shift up or down.
Quick shifters are connected to the bike’s ECU (the onboard computer), and this in turn is connected to the engine. This allows the computer to unload the gear almost instantly – within about a tenth of a second – when the rider shifts up or down. This makes for essentially uninterrupted power, which is obviously desirable in a sport that’s all about going as fast as possible.
Shifting gears this way also makes for one single movement, rather than dropping the power, disengaging one gear, engaging another, then applying the power again. While the bike is still going through these phases, it’s doing them in a fraction of the time it normally would with a manual transmission, so it’s effectively one fluid movement. This is important for a simple reason.
Avoiding Torque Variation
When a bike shifts gears normally at high speeds, there is a sudden variation of torque applied to the rear wheel. This is often called shift shock. This results from the decrease and then increase in power sent to the rear wheel, and this unsettles the bike. This can lead to wheelies or wiggles in the corners, which is clearly not what you want when racing.
It can also make the tires spin and it wastes a bit of fuel too. So, with a quick shifter, these effects are minimized. However, it’s really the seamless shift gearbox that is to thank for this in the first place.
MotoGP Seamless Shift Explained
The seamless shift gearbox on a MotoGP bike works by essentially selecting two gears at the same time, with one (almost) always transmitting power to the rear wheel. This allows for incredibly smooth gear changes, with almost no loss in power.
KEY FACT: Seamless shift gearboxes allow for gear changes in about 0.01 seconds, which is faster than you can blink your eyes!
It does this both ways – for both upshifts and downshifts – and so the rider can benefit from this system when downshifting in the braking zones and when accelerating out of corners. The rapid shifting and minimal torque variation makes for next to no shift shock in the bike and minimal wheelspin, offering incredible stability even when the rider is leaning at 60 degrees and changing gears.
But these super smooth gear shifts come at a high price, and seamless shift is something you’re only likely to see on race cars and racing bikes, as there is a large gain made on powerful machines, but not much advantage for less powerful ones. Formula 1 gearboxes use seamless shift, and they have been using it since 2005.
KEY FACT: MotoGP started using seamless shift in 2011, and interestingly it was Honda that introduced it to both F1 and MotoGP
Do MotoGP Bikes Have A Slipper Clutch?
MotoGP do have a slipper clutch, and they have done since the introduction of the 4-stroke engines to the sport. As slipper clutches prevent the clutch from fully meshing until the bike and engine speeds match, they act as torque limiters, preventing big variations in torque that cause shift shock.
This helps minimize any unwanted vibrations in the transmission that could upset the stability of the bike or even cause damage in the long run. Slipper clutches are fairly expensive and unnecessary outside of racing, so you don’t often see them on road motorcycles outside of large displacement sports bikes.
KEY POINTS• MotoGP bikes are fitted with quick shifters, slipper clutches, and seamless shift gearboxes
• All of these work together to allow for very fast and smooth gear changes
• The systems are expensive and unnecessary for most road motorcycles
Do MotoGP Riders Use The Clutch To Change Gears?
MotoGP riders may use the clutch to change gears, but most often they’ll make use of the quick shifter that does it all for them. The bikes do have a clutch, but it’s simply quicker and easier to use the quick shifter system, and this is especially true when cornering at very high speeds.
MotoGP riders can make between 500 and 800 gear shifts per race. They’re also shifting gears in the corners while leaning at some incredible angles, meaning it’s vital that changing gears is as quick and easy as possible. For this reason alone, most riders will use a quick shifter to change gears rather than manually operating the clutch every time.
Using The Clutch On A Motorcycle
In order to change gears smoothly on a manual motorcycle, you need to match the engine speed to the bike speed to prevent clunky gear changes and instability in the bike. If you downshift under heavy braking, you might try to increase the engine speed by blipping the throttle and releasing the clutch very slowly to make for a smooth gear change.
MotoGP riders don’t have time for this when they’re racing 20 other bikes at speeds above 180 mph. The slipper clutch allows the rider to release the clutch far more aggressively without the worry of an abrupt reengagement of the clutch affecting the stability of the bike.
Extremely Smooth Shifting
But MotoGP riders will normally just use the quick shifter, which when paired with the auto-blipping functionality of the ECU (which automatically applies enough throttle to match the engine and bike speeds) makes for ultra-smooth shifting.
Being able to shift gears rapidly with their feet through the quick shifter and understanding that the internals of the bike will take care of everything else, the rider usually only needs to use the clutch at the start of the race or when they’re in the pits.
How Many Times Do MotoGP Riders Change Gears?
MotoGP riders will change gears anywhere from 500 to 800 times per race. This is because they have 6 gears that they will make use of throughout the race track, which will consist of long and short straights, along with corners of different shapes and sizes, all requiring down and up shifts.
Given how many times a MotoGP rider will shift gears throughout a race, it’s clear that they need an extremely durable and efficient transmission. But MotoGP riders also shift up and down in different ways compared to how you might shift on your own road motorcycle.
What Does GP Shift Mean?
GP shifting is when you set your motorcycle up to shift in the opposite way to normal. Instead of pressing down to select first gear and pulling up to get through gears 2-6, MotoGP riders change gears by pulling up to get into first and pushing down to go through gears 2-6.
The main reason behind GP shifting is that, when a motorcycle racer is in the corners and leaving heavily to one side, their foot peg will get very close to the ground on the inside of the corner. This means there isn’t much clearance between the rider’s foot and the surface of the track.
A Safer Way To Shift
The rider will downshift into the corner, and then when they’re in the corner and at a high lean angle, they’ll begin to accelerate and start shifting up through the gears. Being able to do this by pressing down on the quick shifter rather than getting their foot underneath it is simply safer as it is far less likely that their foot will touch the ground.
Even when leaning to the right (i.e. not on the side with the shifter in most cases), the rider will likely find it easier to press down on the shifter rather than get their foot underneath the shifter while they’re leaning so far in the opposite way.
KEY POINTS• MotoGP riders will shift gears hundreds of times per race
• Doing so while operating the clutch manually is too time consuming for many riders
• They will instead use a quick shifter, shifting in the opposite pattern to most road motorcycles
MotoGP bikes do have quick shifters, and when combined with the bike’s seamless shift transmission, it allows MotoGP riders to change gears extremely quickly and smoothly. The rider can use the quick shift system for upshifts and downshifts, and it’s faster than manually shifting with the clutch.