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The #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women, and Men Who Ride With Women

Riding Right: Get More Control Over Your Motorcycle

Mastering the clutch and throttle

By Jerry “Motorman” Palladino

I hear from so many riders with heavyweight bikes—the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic, Honda Gold Wing and Yamaha Venture, just to name a few—who say these bikes are heavy and clumsy. A lot of riders tell me they’ve been riding motorcycles for 20 or 30 years and just purchased their big dream bike but believe they may have made a mistake because they find the bike nearly impossible to handle at low speeds, especially when creeping through traffic or maneuvering through a crowded parking lot. They all want to know what they can do to make maneuvering the bike less of a hassle. The answer is right there in their hands.

One way women are able to handle bigger bikes like this Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra CVO is by mastering the fine art of feathering the clutch.
One way women are able to handle bigger bikes like this Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra CVO is by mastering the fine art of feathering the clutch.

It’s the clutch and throttle. I’ve seen so many riders make the same mistake over and over again—they let the clutch out all the way and open the throttle while attempting to turn from a stop. Once the clutch is fully engaged or released, the slightest movement of the throttle will cause the bike to leap ahead. Let’s say a rider is making a right-hand turn from a stop sign. She smoothly releases the clutch all the way out, feeds a little throttle and the bike leaps forward even if the rider had her head and eyes turned to the right. When the bike leaps forward, instinct tells the rider to look straight ahead. Since the bike goes where she looks, she’ll be going straight instead of turning.  

To overcome this, simply stay in the friction zone, feed a little throttle and look where you want the bike to go. The clutch should never be fully engaged until the turn is completed. This technique can also be called “slipping the clutch.” That’s exactly what you have to do at low speeds to smooth out forward progress. Most riders, even ones that have been riding for many years, have it in their heads that the clutch should be released as soon as possible. While that works fine if you’re starting off from a start and going straight, you must slip the clutch if you’re attempting to turn from a stop. Also, if you’re maneuvering and turning in a crowded parking lot, use that friction zone and throttle the entire time. If you put a little bit of pressure on the rear brake while slipping the clutch, you’ll have even more control. If you’ve ever witnessed a slow race, that’s exactly what the riders are doing. However, even if you’re not going extremely slow—say, 8 to 10 mph—that clutch and throttle will be your best friend if you learn to coordinate them well.

The clutch (shown here), along with the throttle, provides a lot of control over your motorcycle.
The clutch (shown here), along with the throttle, provides a lot of control over your motorcycle.

Learning to use the friction zone and the rear brake properly will also keep you from having to drag your feet along the ground in an attempt to balance the motorcycle. Dragging your feet, especially on a heavyweight motorcycle (anything over 300 pounds), is not going to help you. In fact, if you’re going slow and turning while your feet are dragging on the ground, you may find yourself having to stop quickly. If your foot is not on the rear brake, you’ll have to use the front brake. Of course, if you use that front brake with the handlebars turned, you’ll quickly find yourself and your motorcycle flat on the ground.  
An easy way to practice using the clutch, throttle and rear brake is while riding in traffic and approaching a red light. Simply slow down a little sooner than you need to and leave four or five car lengths between you and the car in front. Then try to inch your way up toward that vehicle with your feet on the pegs or floorboards, manipulating the clutch and throttle to maintain your balance. Make sure to keep your head and eyes up. If you look down at the ground directly in front of the motorcycle, you will have to put a foot down.  
With a little practice, you’ll find that you can almost bring the motorcycle to a complete standstill with your feet still on the pegs and the rear brake. Once you feel comfortable doing that, try turning the motorcycle while going as slow as possible and keeping the bike straight up. When you can complete a 24-foot circle at 2 mph without leaning the bike or dropping a foot to the ground, you’ll have a good handle on clutch and throttle control. 
Riding Right No More Wide Turns Jerry Palladino
About the Author
Jerry Palladino is the founder of Ride Like A Pro, Inc., a company that produces motorcycle instructional DVDs and books. Jerry also teaches classes to experienced riders who want to enhance their motorcycle skills. Visit
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Reader Comments

I have been riding a long time and still have a problem with stopping. At the end of the stop when it's time to put my feet down, I am using the front brake and most of the time my left foot hits the ground first making for a sloppy stop. What am I doing wrong?

Seymour, TN
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Editor Response
This article focuses on using the clutch and throttle to control your motorcycle using the friction zone, the first riding exercise in the MSF Basic Ridercourse.
The very next technique is how to stop smoothly next to a target cone using proper braking technique. It can be described as a three-part process:
1. Roll off the throttle and squeeze in the clutch lever simultaneously
2. Downshift to first gear
3. Keeping the clutch squeezed in, squeeze the front brake and press the rear brake

As you approach the target stop point, keep your head and eyes up, and while continuing to use both brakes, your left foot should come down to the ground first because your right foot is still using the rear brake pedal. Once you've made a complete stop, your right foot then comes down to stabilize the motorcycle.

Of course, there are exceptions to this technique, such as when you are riding a tall bike or when you're stopping on a hill.

If you find that your stops are sloppy, work on your timing. You don't want to wait until you are completely stopped to bring your foot down in order to "save" the motorcycle from falling over. And you don't want to have to drag your foot along either. Instead, have the left foot start to come down a couple feet before the stop point. Then, work on stopping and touching the foot down together in unison, like a well-orchestrated dance.
Tricia Szulewski, Assistant Editor
Loved the article. I have been riding since the 70s. Last year I broke my left wrist in two places. Now I am having trouble holding the clutch in slow traffic. Any suggestions. I feel like I am overlooking something simple.

Tullahoma, TN
Friday, April 17, 2015
Editor Response
You can work on building up the strength in your wrist as it is probably weakened due to the injury. Try squeezing a rubber ball in your left hand over and over to build up strength; or lifting a one pound weight with your left hand up and down to strengthen the wrist.

Or, you can invest in an adjustable clutch lever so that the pull can be adjusted to accommodate your reduced strength. We know of only one brand that offers a quality adjustable lever: check out our story on . Be sure to call them to discuss your needs to see if their levers are right for you. Tell them we sent you.
Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
Everyone will gain so much if they have Motorman's videos. Before I learned to ride, my hubby asked Jerry for his advice for me and he started up with the first video I'd need. Friction zone IS key. Thank you Jerry (and Donna). Of course we then had to get all those videos that were available at that time, seven years ago. We play them before we begin our riding season. Yep..we've seen them, but, a refresher is a good thing. Helps you remember all those important keys that will come to you when you ride. Yeah, head up, look where you want to go, not where you're going and more. Best ever. Thank you Motorman

Deb O'Leary
Warner Robins, GA
Thursday, July 03, 2014
I enjoy your articles and have learned a great deal. Just purchased my new bike on New Years day 2012. Will be signing up to take the class and currently have my permit. However, I am learning the friction zone, but when I release the clutch slowly my bike will take off. I don't even have to give it throttle. It is a 2011 Harley-Davidson SuperLow. So I am confused when I hear give it throttle. Please guide. I would like to learn to be a fairly good rider.

Cindy Schleicher
Vincennes, IN
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Editor Response
Congratulations on your decision to become a rider. You will learn all about the friction zone and use of the throttle in the riding class that you are planning to take. Until then, we don't recommend getting on a motorcycle. A motorcycle can be a dangerous machine in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to operate it properly. Plus, it's more likely the bike could could be dropped in the hands of someone who's not trained. I recommend staying off the motorcycle until you've been properly trained. Sorry to be sound so harsh, but this is the best advice we can give based on years of observing the most effective and efficient way to become a safe rider.
Genevieve Schmitt
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