#20: Clutching at Stoplights
February 7, 2010
Today’s question for Dr. Buzz and his panel of experts comes from Peter M. in NYC:
I’m a new rider–when stopped at a light, is it ok to leave the scooter in 1st gear and idle or always return to neutral when at a stop??
Dr. Buzz: WIth a question like this, my first step is always to consult the bible of motorcycle riding technique, David L. Hough’s Proficient Motorcycling. When that fails me (which is rare), I check More Proficient Motorcycling. In this case, a brief flip through both didn’t provide an answer. Surely Hough’s newer Street Strategies could help, but I don’t have it.
Also, this is the kind of question that would be answered by taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, which every scooterist should take before facing the mean streets. But I’m shamed to admit that never got around to that. I know what I do, but I’d never presume to insist I’m right until I’ve consulted the experts.
So I turned to the web. And found that your question stirs up a bit of controversy.
It seems most riders (at least on the Harley and sportbike threads I’ve found, for what they’re worth) argue that keeping it in gear allow you a ‘quick getaway’ if a car behind you threatens to rear-end you or anarchy breaks out in the intersection.
A minority feel that shifting to neutral relieves your clutch hand, and also that being in neutral prevents an accidental release of the clutch that could launch you into the intersection (or car in front of you) or stall your bike. They argue you can get into gear quickly enough.
I’d trust MSF above anonymous Harley riders anyday, so I checked MSF’s site and their PDFs and didn’t see any clear instructions. Personally, the first argument seems a bit overly paranoid, and the second argument seems to make more sense to me. But in practice, I vary between the two. If I know I’m going to be at the light for a while, I’ll definitely shift to N. If it’s a stop sign or a light I suspect is about to change, I won’t bother.
I’d love to hear what our commenters have to say, especially if they have MSF experience. I just asked Mrs. Dr. Buzz and she claims her MSF instructor told her to stay in gear, and then we got in an argument about it. Thanks a lot, Peter M.
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Note: Dr. Buzz is an unlicensed, mostly-fictional doctor. Take his advice, and that of his team of experts, with a grain of salt.