Learn to Ride Part 1: Understanding the Function of Gearset, Clutch and Drive System

Are you a motorcycle rider? If so, it is important for you to understand your motorcycle’s component parts and their functions. This tutorial is designed to teach you the basics of how a motorcycle works, especially the gearset, clutch and drive system.

These three components are the driving force of a motorcycle. They work together in transferring power from the engine to the rear wheel to make the motorcycle move forward.



The gearset functions by cycling the transmission, which in turn propels the motorcycle forward. This is accomplished by engaging the shift lever, which moves the shifting forks within the transmission to engage the proper gear. The number of gears may vary between two and six depending on the type and model of your motorcycle.


Shifting gears on a motorcycle requires the use of a clutch. The clutch is a set of plates that are spring loaded and bring the crankshaft and transmission together. When used, the clutch disengages the crankshaft from the transmission, selects a gear and then re-engage the crankshaft and transmission.

Although it is possible to shift gears without the clutch, this could damage the transmission as gears are constantly turning while the transmission and crankshaft are actively engaged. Most riders cannot accurately time their road speed with the engine’s RPM. For this reason, you should use the clutch every time you shift.

Drive System

You learned how the gearset and clutch work. Next, you need to understand how all that power is transferred to the rear wheel, to propel your motorcycle forward. This is done by means of the drive system (or final-drive system).

Drive systems come in three basic types:

  • Chain system;
  • Belt system; and
  • Shaft system

With the chain system, the output shaft (the main shaft coming from the transmission) has a sprocket mounted on it. The rear wheel also has a sprocket attached and these two are connected by a chain.

When a gear is selected, power from the engine is transferred to the transmission shaft sprocket and the chain transfers this force to the rear wheel sprocket by spinning it, thus making the motorcycle move forward. This system requires lubrication to prevent wear. The chain can also stretch and needs to be adjusted from time to time. The sprockets should also be checked for wear, and replaced as needed.

The belt system works on the same principles as the chain system. This system became obsolete for a while due to issues with slippage when belts got wet. The belt is made of tough rubber that is cogged to work with the sprockets.

The belt system requires less maintenance and does not require lubrication.

The shaft system uses a shaft to deliver power from the transmission to the rear wheel. The shaft is encased and spins in an oil bath to reduce friction and wear, similar to the drive shaft of a car. This type of drive system is seldom used because it increases the weight of the motorcycle, increases braking distance, and makes the motorcycle harder to handle.

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