An ATV that has a clutch is considered a manual transmission ATV, unlike an automatic transmission ATV that does all the shifting for you. Driving a manual ATV is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. After a while it becomes second nature and you will be able to ride without even thinking about it too much. You will need to be able to coordinate between your hands and your feet to shift. I will go over step by step exactly how to start, get into gear, and shift with a manual ATV.
First, lets go over the components you will need to know to drive an ATV with a clutch.
Manual Transmission ATV Components
- Clutch: The clutch is the lever in front of the left hand grip. If you pull this lever in, the plates in the transmission pull away, causing your ATVs transmission to be disengaged. It is similar to be being in neutral, you could give it gas and not go anywhere, you’ll just rev the engine.
- Shifter: The foot shifter is located next to your left foot. This is what you will use to shift gears up or down using your foot. You will only shift gears with the clutch lever pulled in.
- Throttle: The throttle lever is located on the right hand grip. You will use your thumb to press the lever to give the ATV some gas to allow you to accelerate.
- Hand Brake: The hand brake is located in front of the throttle on the right hand grip. This brake will activate the front tires only.
- Foot Brake: The foot brake is located next to your right foot. This brake is used for the rear tires only.
Starting An ATV With A Clutch
It’s best practice to start the quad when it’s in the neutral gear. It is possible to start the ATV in any gear as long as you hold in the clutch lever. Remember, when you pull in on the clutch lever, you’re essentially putting the quad in neutral, as long as you’re holding in the clutch.
If you start your quad in gear, you need to pull in on the clutch and start the engine. Be careful though, if you let go of the clutch with the engine running and the transmission in gear, you will stall and could do damage to your transmission. I only start mine in neutral so that way I can let off the clutch and the quad will idle, and I suggest you do the same.
To get into neutral before starting the quad, you need to pull in on the clutch lever and use your left foot shifter to find neutral. Neutral is usually located between 1st and 2nd gear. You typically won’t be able to get into neutral from 2nd gear though. You should shift to 1st gear by clicking down on the foot shifter, all the way down to 1st gear. Then lightly shift a half click up into neutral. A full click up from 1st gear will put you into 2nd gear, a half click up will put you into neutral.
Start Driving From Neutral
This is the part that everyone gets hung up on, I know I did when I first learned. It’s really not that hard once you get the hang of it though, it takes some practice. Don’t let yourself get discouraged too easily and you’ll be just fine.
Start off by being in neutral with the engine running. Pull in the clutch lever and hold it in. Now shift into 1st gear by pressing down on the shifter with your foot. To start accelerating, you need to give it some gas with the throttle while you slowly let out the clutch. You have to do these at the same time, that’s what usually gets people.
When you feel the clutch engage, the quad will start to move forward and you can let go of the clutch all together. You’re now in 1st gear moving forward. Be careful though, if you come to a stop without pulling the clutch back in, or getting back into neutral, the ATV will stall.
It may help to just practice getting the quad moving in 1st gear using the clutch and throttle for a bit. Every quad is a little different so it’s hard to say how much throttle to give, and how far to let the clutch out before it grabs. A good starting point though is to try about half throttle, and let the clutch out slowly until you get a good feel for it.
If you keep stalling your engine, you’re either not giving enough gas or you’re letting the clutch out too quickly. If the front end lifts up on you, you’re probably giving it too much throttle when you let the clutch out. It may take patience to get the hang of, but just take it easy and practice.
Shifting Through Gears
Once you’ve got the ‘start driving’ part down you’ll want to go faster. Luckily this isn’t as hard as getting the quad moving in the first place. To shift up a gear you want to be about 75% or more of the rpm range for your engine. You typically want to shift up in the higher rpm ranges or you will just bog down the engine. For example, being in 4th gear but only going 5mph will give you no power, and you might even stall.
To shift up, you have to let off the throttle and pull in the clutch lever all the way. With your left foot, pull up on the shift lever into the next higher gear then let the clutch out and give it throttle. Keep in mind when switching from 1st to 2nd you need to do a full click up to shift, a half click will put you in neutral.
If you feel more comfortable slowly letting the clutch out and giving gas at the same time like you did to start in 1st, that’s fine. It is not necessary though. That’s why I think shifting between gears is easier than starting out in 1st. Because you can just let off the gas, pull in the clutch, shift, let go of clutch all together, and give it gas again. You’ll be able to do this faster with time, and it becomes second nature after a while.
To downshift you do the same steps except press down on the shifter with your left foot. Keep in mind that if you down shift at a high speed you will red line your engine and could cause damage. Downshifting is only really needed when you’re slowing down. What I do is just hold the clutch in whenever I’m slowing down, and once I’ve slowed to the speed I want, I shift down into the gear best suited for that speed, and let the clutch out.
You really do need to know what gear is best for the speed you’re going. Unlike shifting up through gears, you can shift down through multiple gears at a time depending on how much you slowed down. If your ATV doesn’t have a speedometer, the best you can do is just get a feel for what speed you’re going and what gear you should be in.
Stopping An ATV With A Clutch
This is the easiest part, but the most important, you should definitely know how to stop before you even try riding an ATV with a clutch. To come to a complete stop simply let off the throttle, hold in the clutch, and apply the front and rear brakes until you’ve stopped moving. You can down shift while you’re slowing down or wait until you’ve stopped to down shift all the way to 1st gear. Either way, it’s important that you hold the clutch in this entire time. Once you’re into 1st gear, do a half click shift up into neutral. Now you can let off the clutch and the engine will idle.
The front brake is applied by using the front brake lever on the right side of the handle bars. The front brake is typically about 3/4 of your stopping power. Some people never even touch their rear brakes at all, which is fine. To use your rear brakes apply the foot brake by your right foot. The rear brake becomes more useful when you start to learn more advanced braking and cornering, or if you just like to skid to a stop.
That’s it! now it’s time to practice, a lot. You’ll get the hang of it and you’ll want to start trying more advanced maneuvers in no time. As always, remember to wear proper safety gear. At the very least, make sure you wear a helmet, goggles, and a decent pair of boots. If you want to check out some gear I’ve tried, tested, and recommend myself, check out the Recommended Gear section of this site.