A key part of riding any motorcycle is knowing its friction zone. An incorrect or poor understanding of the friction zone could lead to unpredictable and dangerous riding.
Whether you are a newbie or an advanced rider, there is no escaping the importance of knowing and using the friction zone correctly on any motorcycle.
Table of contents
- So what is the friction zone on a motorcycle?
- When does one typically experience the friction zone?
- Who uses the Friction Zone?
- How to not use the friction zone? Can it be harmful?
So what is the friction zone on a motorcycle?
The friction zone is the area of the clutch lever movement between the first bite point of the clutch to the point where the clutch is fully engaged.
To experience the friction zone on a motorcycle, here’s how:
- Start your motorcycle engine with the bike in neutral gear
- Pull the clutch lever all the way back.
- With the clutch lever still pulled all the way back, put the motorcycle in first gear with your left foot.
- Now very slowly, release the clutch lever (with your left hand) and gently apply a little throttle with your right hand.
- You will experience (feel) a biting point, where the engine’s power will start transmitting to the back wheel.
- At this engagement point, the motorcycle will start to pull forward or at least make you feel that it is trying to. This is where you have just entered the friction zone.
At the start of the friction zone, the pressure plate has just started to engage with the clutch pack (clutch plates and steel plates). At this time, the pressure plate is sliding against the clutch pack, which is why some of the engine’s power is being transmitted to the rear wheel.
As you release the clutch lever, even more, a point will be reached where the sliding friction between the clutch plate and the clutch pack stop, and all of the power of the engine begins transmitting to the rear wheel via the transmission.
At this point, the clutch is fully engaged, and all of the engine’s power is transmitted to the rear wheel. This is where the friction zone ends –just at the point of full engagement.
Don’t worry if this is all too much; here is just the right video to explain all of this!
When does one typically experience the friction zone?
The use of the friction zone comes into play all the time. Usually in conjunction with the front brake and/or rear brake, clutch control, and throttle control.
When you slow down and stop at the traffic light, you use the friction zone. When you are moving through traffic at slow speeds, you leverage the friction zone.
For those of you who do a lot of off-roading, you know the friction zone all too well. Slow-speed maneuvers require a good understanding of the friction zone.
When slowing down over a bumpy road or patchy road or path, there is a ton of friction zone play.
Who uses the Friction Zone?
If you thought that only new riders need to use the friction zone, then you are simply wrong in that assumption.
New riders do and should pay careful attention to learning and mastering the friction zone. But that doesn’t mean that experienced riders get a free pass. In fact, no one can do without using the friction zone.
It is only wise for a rider of any experience to pay attention to the friction zone of a motorcycle, especially one he has no prior experience with.
Each motorcycle has its own friction zone, and therefore becoming aware of that should be one of the first tasks for any rider when riding a motorcycle that they haven’t ridden before. The idea is to develop muscle memory about the clutch characteristics of whatever motorcycle you ride.
For example, my ZX-10R has a much higher tension in the clutch cable as compared with the Z900. When I shift from one bike to the other, I rely on my muscle memory to quickly adapt to how the clutch works differently on each. Not adapting quickly can be potentially dangerous, especially when dealing with litre-class superbikes and high-performing sports bikes, often called crotch rockets!
If you need to quickly familiarize yourself with a new motorcycle, using a parking lot to get some initial experience is generally a good idea. Here are 7 places where you can practice riding your motorcycle.
How to not use the friction zone? Can it be harmful?
Yes, you read the correctly. While the friction zone is necessary to understand and master, incorrect or overuse can have terrible consequences. Here are some scenarios:
1. Using the clutch control instead of the actual brakes
This is a common occurrence when riding on steep hills or roads with inclines.
Riders tend to use the friction zone more instead of using the brakes to perform slow speed maneuvers. The pressure plates get worn out rapidly, and so does the clutch pack. This leads to a reduction of the life of the pressure plate especially and requires much sooner replacement.
This is also common with cars and heavier vehicles on steep hills moving up slowly. In fact, one can often smell a clutch burning in such situations. That characteristic smell of the superheated clutch mixed with oil is all too common on tight mountain roads with slow-moving traffic.
2. Unknowingly never fully releasing the clutch lever
This is just a pure rider error.
It’s easy to develop bad habits, such as unknowingly not releasing the clutch lever fully while riding. This keeps the pressure plate and the clutch pack sliding for extended periods and, as a result, leads to much quicker wear and tear.
Here’s a parallel example of what I mean: some riders have their foot on the rear brake pedal all the time. They have it every so slightly engaged so as to cause unnecessary wear and tear and return poor gas mileage. Needless to say, it’s frustrating to watch!
3. Not pulling the clutch lever all the way in
If you are completely halted, it’s best to keep the clutch lever pulled in all the way. Make sure you have it all the way back, touching the lefthand grip. And what would be even better is to use the brakes and shift the gear to neutral.
Why give the friction plates extra work for no reason?
4. Riding in slow traffic — bumper to bumper traffic
If you find yourself caught up in slow, moving traffic, you will end up using the clutch lever a lot. The heavy use of a clutch lever to modulate your speed to stop and move smoothly will ultimately cause quicker wear and tear to your clutch.
If I anticipate slow-moving traffic for extended periods of time, I typically take my Duke 390 in that case. Not only is the clutch lighter, but it’s also much cheaper to replace it as compared to the ZX-10R, for example.
On any given day, you will find me riding the Duke 390, Kawasaki Z900, Kawasaki ZX-10R, or the Kawasaki Versys 1000.
This means I constantly switch between four different motorbikes, each with its unique friction zone.
Not adjusting to the friction zone means greater wear and tear to the clutch and uncomfortable, abrupt starting and stopping, and potentially dangerous riding as well.
So knowing and using the friction zone correctly on a motorcycle is both necessary and important.
Take time to learn and use it to your advantage!