Can you multitask?
The corner is coming up fast. You’re doing 150 mph and need to brake down to 60 or so before turning in. Your bike is in fifth gear but needs to be in second very soon. Are you a good throttle blipper?
Two fingers on the brake leave your other two fingers and the thumb for throttle blipping.
A Lost Art
If there’s anything that can breed confusion and fear in a Novice classroom, it’s the subject of throttle blipping. Beginners aren’t the only ones with blip-phobia. It seems that approximately half the riders at any given trackday do not possess this vitally important skill. In a world where stick shift automobiles are increasingly rare, the ability to rev-match downshifts is becoming a lost art among drivers. Thankfully, sportbikes still come with manual transmissions! This presents a problem, however. Motorcycle riders need to be able to rev-match their downshifts but most have never done so previously in a car, which gives them no frame of reference to apply to a bike.
Getting it wrong
Let’s say you’re cruising down the straight at casual 100mph in fourth gear. Ahead is a 50 mph corner that you’ll need to take in second. You pull in the clutch, stomp down two gears and let go of the lever. What happens next? AAAAAAAHHHH!!! The revs go to the moon, the back tire locks up and you likely get tossed from the saddle. While it would be the least of your worries at this point, you’ve probably over-revved the motor as well, causing expensive damage.
Slow down first
The first rule of downshifting is that you must never select a gear with a redline speed which is slower than you are currently travelling. Doing so will allow the rear tire to turn your engine faster than it can safely go. Many riders think that since their machine has a rev limiter, it cannot be over-spun; however this is not true. The rev limiter controls engine speed by placing an rpm ceiling on ignition events. If the rear tire is travelling 80 mph when you select a gear that redlines at 60 mph and let out the clutch, the wheel speed will spin the motor far past its danger zone even as the rev limiter shuts down the spark plugs in a vain attempt to stop the destruction.
The trick to surviving the above scenario is to first slow the bike down enough that its speed falls within the range safely possible for the chosen lower gear, at which point you can then accomplish your downshifts. In other words, slow down before you downshift.
You’ve slowed from 100 mph down to 60mph. You know from past experience that your bike will safely go sixty in second gear, so you pull in the clutch and click down twice from fourth, then let out the lever. AAAAAAAHHHH!!! While you were slowing down, your engine’s rpm dropped to near idle. When you let out the clutch, the road speed of the rear wheel instantly punched the revs to 10,000, momentarily skidding the rear tire and giving the whole bike a mighty jerk. Hopefully, you didn’t crash as a result. Ten grand was a safe rpm for the lower gear but you should have rev matched!
Rev matching is simply a matter of using the throttle to spin up the motor to an rpm that matches road speed before you let out the clutch after a downshift. If the revs have dropped to 5K under braking and what you need to match the downshift is 10k, you get the extra rpm with a sharp flick of the wrist, which you do just before you let the clutch out. Mind you, this does not mean that you roll on and hold the throttle; instead you snap it open momentarily and snap it closed again just as fast, “goosing” the engine into a quick rpm increase. This action is referred to as “Throttle Blipping.”
It takes practice to become a good throttle blipper; however, it isn’t as difficult as most people think. Every rider alive has revved up the engine by goosing his or her throttle at least a million times already, just because it sounds cool! Believe it or not, applying that blipping action to downshifts is less precise than you might think. Your “goose” can be a bit too soft or too hard, as long as it is timed correctly with the release of the clutch lever. Just be sure that the rpms are on the rise as you let out the clutch and things will usually sort themselves out nicely. If you currently do not rev match at all, literally any attempt you make to do so will be an improvement.
Let’s get one thing straight: A slipper clutch is intended to assist throttle blipping, not replace it. If any attempt at blipping is an improvement on a regular bike, any attempt made aboard a machine equipped with a slipper will yield near-professional results. Without blipping, a slipper clutch is simply a semi-effective rev limiter that somewhat protects the motor at the cost of chassis stability and control; which are both greatly compromised by the resulting rear wheel drag. Those who just bang off downshifts while expecting the slipper clutch to take care of business are wasting time, wearing out parts and giving up a great deal of accuracy at corner entry.
Won’t blipping take away my engine braking?
Yes, that’s the whole point! Your engine is a very expensive and woefully inadequate brake, not to mention that it is slowing down the wrong end of the motorcycle. Your brakes work far better and are pinpoint accurate. The goal of throttle blipping is to have you in the right gear at the right rpm at the right time, perched aboard a composed machine that is ready to negotiate the corner. Without it you arrive at turn in with disturbed suspension and a much better chance of crashing.
The Great Dilemma
You need to brake for that fast-approaching corner but must also downshift, which requires blipping the throttle. The brakes and throttle are on the same handlebar! How do you work both at the same time? AAAAAAAHHHH!!!
Modern sportbikes have great brakes. Two fingers are all you’ll need for any level of braking. That leaves your ring and pinkie fingers to combine with the thumb in controlling the throttle. Yes, we’re talking about blipping the throttle while simultaneously squeezing the brakes and if you think that this is a tricky maneuver, you’re absolutely right. The technique is to maintain a squeeze on the brake lever while blipping by allowing your fingers to roll over the lever without releasing it. So how do you learn this skill?
Since you’ll be performing several actions at once when downshifting, why not learn them one at a time?
1) Blipping while braking: You can begin learning this technique while sitting still with the engine off. Practice maintaining an even tension on the brake lever while blipping the throttle.
2) Rev Matching: We recommend finding an open area and learning how to rev match. If you have plenty of room, there will be no need for brakes so you can just concentrate on accurately matching engine speed to each lower gear. From 50 mph, downshift one gear at a time from sixth to second. The sequence for each downshift is to pull in the clutch lever, simultaneously click the bike into the next lower gear while giving the throttle a blip, then let out the clutch. Let engine braking slow you a bit after each downshift. Since your bike will likely do 50 mph in second with ease, these will be very small and essentially non-critical blips. Repeat this process until you’re smooth. Next, do the same drill, again starting at 50 mph but in fifth gear instead of sixth. The blips will need to be larger and will become more critical. Having mastered that, try it starting from fourth gear, then third gear. Each time you begin the drill in a lower gear, the amount of blip required will get larger and technique will become more critical. The more precise you become, the better the process will sound and feel. As your skills improve, you might even begin to enjoy this drill!
3) Blipping while braking with no downshifts: Once you have rev matching down, take it out of the equation. From 50 mph, try pulling in the clutch lever and using two fingers to gently brake as you simultaneously blip the throttle. Since the clutch is in and you’re not downshifting, it won’t matter how accurate your blips are. The goal here is to maintain a steady rate of deceleration while managing to simultaneously blip the throttle.
4) Tying it all together: When you’ve achieved the ability to blip while maintaining smooth braking, combine it with the downshifting. Now that you have a finished skill set, learned at low speeds in an open area, you can take it to the track and begin to experiment with it at speed.
Since one good video clip is worth a thousand words, we have provided one, courtesy of GoPro. This bike is travelling approximately 140 mph in fourth gear at the end of the straightaway. The brakes are applied first, to slow the bike enough for safe downshifting. With the brakes still squeezed, two quick downshifts are applied. This is timed so that the throttle can immediately be rolled on after the last downshift to accelerate the bike through the corner.
The ability to rev match downshifts while simultaneously braking is what separates the fast folk from those who are getting in the way. For riders lucky enough to have arrived at their first trackday already in possession of this skill, life is good! If you’re already a racetrack addict and have yet to learn proper downshifting, you have some work to do. The good news is that no matter how hard you think this might be, virtually any rider can become a proficient downshifter by breaking the procedure into its individual steps and learning them one at a time. When you finally put it all together, you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment.