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Topic: Motorcycle Safety & Driveability
Expert: William Roberson
Subject: Down shifting
I own a 2002 kawasaki vulcan 800. I was wondering
if there is less wear on the clutch if you skip
the down shifting when coming to a red light? I
understand the brakes will wear out quicker but
replacing the pads or shoes is much cheaper than
the clutch. So is it better to pull the clutch
lever in and hold it in while down shifting to
1st gear while coming to a stop?
Thanks for the question.
The short answer here is “yes, there is going to be less wear on the clutch if you do not downshift.” But in all reality, the amount of wear saved is going to be very small, and correct downshifting technique is important to learn. Modern motorcycle clutches (especially on heavy bikes like cruisers) are built tough and engineered for some slippage.
Unless you are slipping the clutch an enormous amount on each downshift (like a racebike might see on a track), the wear from typical downshifting is very small. Also, many bikes won't let you (or don't like) being downshifted many gears at once with the clutch in. In truth, you run a small risk of damaging your transmission doing multiple downshifts (say, from 4th to 1st) without letting the clutch and gears engage at some point along the way. Again, a small risk, but one easily avoided.
The best possible solution is to downshift “correctly”. When I downshift, I “blip” the throttle so that the engine rpm matches the wheel speed in the lower gear. Then when the clutch is engaged, there is a minimal amount of slippage (and wear). Engine braking then slows the bike without clutch slippage. It's hard to teach someone how to “blip” an engine correctly. It's really a “feel” type of thing that comes with experience. Some people can do it instinctively, some people can't do it at all. I'd give it a try if you are not doing it already.
The clutch in your 800 Vulcan does not need to be babied very much. If you are keeping the oil changed and not abusing the clutch, it should not need any replacement parts until it is over 30,000 miles. Knowing how to slip the clutch (when needed) and use your brakes effectively are important skills in their own right. I would not worry about clutch slippage on your Vulcan, and do keep an eye on those brake pad levels as the miles add up.
Ride smart, have fun,