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Can I Shift Gears in a Car If I Can Ride a Motorcycle

Can I Shift Gears in a Car If I Can Ride a Motorcycle?

A question came in from reader Alexis Nieddu, who asked:

Hi YouMotorcycle. I started reading your site last year when I started riding motorcycles and love it. I’m sending you my question: My uncle is getting a new car and offered me his 2004 Mercedes C230 for free, but it is manual transmission, and I only drive automatic. Will it be easy for me to use my motorcycle riding experience and knowledge of motorcycle transmission to learn to shift gears in cars? I’ve only been riding for a year and driving an automatic car for a year, so can you explain?”


Car and motorcycle shifting have a few obvious similarities:

  • Both typically require activating a clutch
  • Both typically have up to six gears
  • Both require finding the friction zone or shifting point
  • Both make the performance aspect a lot more fun
  • Both can make you stall out if done incorrectly

Shifting a car’s transmission is very different than doing so on a motorcycle, because:

  • Cars require activation/deactivation of the clutch using your foot, not your hand
  • Cars require moving the shifter with your hand, not your foot
  • If you miss your shift on a car you may stall out, but if you miss it on a motorcycle you could also drop your motorcycle, or worse…

You probably already knew that stuff though, so let’s get into your question.

Car Dashboard

Will it be easy for you to learn how to shift gears in a car, based on your motorcycle riding experience?

First, let’s talk about shifting gears on your motorcycle, and break it up into three main components:

  • Understanding
  • Feeling
  • Doing

Next, let’s get into detail on all of these, and talk about what will and won’t be transferable.

Understanding when, how, and why, to shift gears

If you’ve been riding motorcycles for a year you already know why you need to shift gears. There’s only so fast (or so slow) you can go in a given gear. Being in the right gear is essential to your safety as well as your vehicle’s health, whether it’s a car or a motorcycle we’re talking about. You also know that when your engine starts turning too quickly or too slowly (high or low RPMs), it’s time to shift up or down.

This part of shifting gears is totally transferable. Difficulty Level: Low

Feeling the clutch and when it’s time to shift gears

Speaking of RPMs too high or too low, with a year’s experience under your belt, as a motorcyclist you probably know how your bike feels when you need to shift up or shift down. When the RPMs aren’t in the right range, the bike doesn’t feel happy, does it? Well, in a car you don’t have a motor producing micro-explosions right between your legs, but the vehicle feels about the same when it isn’t happy.

Some of driving a car will feel different, like releasing the clutch, it comes from being IN something BIG, instead of ON something SMALL, but a lot will feel the same. Difficulty Level: Low-Medium

Doing – The Act of Shifting Gears in a Car

This is where it gets tricky. Take everything you did with your hands, and everything you did with your feet, and switch them. For some people, this will come fairly naturally, but others will take some time to wrap their heads around it. Practice, practice, practice. We’ll get into some tips in a bit.

This is one area that may be a bit of a struggle for some, while others are quick to get it. Difficulty Level: Medium – Hard

Mercedes Benz

Three Tips for Motorcyclists Learning to Shift Gears in a Car

  1. Relax, this will be easier than learning to ride a motorcycle because you can’t fall down
  2. Practice on manumatic (aka tiptronic) cars to get a sense of what the gears are like in cars
  3. When you’re ready to get in a real manual car, get lots of practice in an empty parking lot first

Bonus Tips Specific to Alexis’ Situation

  • If the transmission on the 2004 Mercedes isn’t as smooth as it used to be, or isn’t as smooth as newer cars, you can ask your uncle to rent you a newer model one for a day and drive to meet you in an empty parking lot. Learning on a car with a newer, smoother transmission, might make your life easier. Think of it as learning on a more beginner friendly motorcycle first, and then transitioning to something a little more finicky later. You might also want to look into why your car or truck’s transmission isn’t what it used to be.
  • Be careful of free stuff. Free can be both the BEST price and the WORST price. You said your uncle was going to give you the car for free, but you never mentioned what kind of condition it’s in. It sounds like you might be young as you’re new to riding and driving, so make sure you’re financially ready to maintain both vehicles. A free C230 is awesome (it has KOMPRESSOR / TURBO – Cool!), but maintenance might be expensive.

About Adrian from YouMotorcycle

I started riding motorcycles in 2007, founded YouMotorcycle in 2009, and was working in the motorcycle industry by 2011. I've worked for some of the biggest companies in motorcycling, before going full-time self-employed in the motorcycle business in 2019. I love sharing his knowledge and passion of motorcycling with other riders to help you as best I can.

One comment

  1. Speaking here with two hats on. First hat: I started on a motorcycle and went to a manual car after 6 years on bikes and cannot say it was a problem as such, just a little “different” and took time to get used to, but I didn’t get the two mixed up.

    Second hat; I am a Grade A Driving Instructor and have had a number of students who “convert” from bikes to cars. The main thing is that you already KNOW how to use gears and a clutch, you just have to learn different actions for doing the same thing in a car as you already do on a bike. It is literally, just the mechanics of the different actions you need to master and it doesn’t take long, I can assure you!

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