by Jerry Romick
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Motorcycles equipped with rider footrests, unlike floorboards, generally have a gearshift lever in the toe box, located in front of and slightly higher than the left footrest. Wood floor motorcycles are typically equipped with a heel-to-toe shifter – two shifters that are connected in a “V” shape. The levers are located at the front and rear of the left floorboard. The action of the heel-to-toe shifter is a bit like the movement of a rocker: when one side goes up, the other side goes down. The principle and integration with the clutch movement is the same for both types of shifters. With the heel-to-toe shifter, the rider has the option of always using the downward motion to change gears.
With a standard shifter, the rider should place their left foot under the lever and lift up to shift to the next higher gear. When using a heel-to-toe shifter, the rider presses down with the heel on the rear lever to shift to the next higher gear. The lever is then released to reset and ready for the next turn.
On both standard toe shift motorcycles and heel toe shift equipped motorcycles, downshifting is accomplished by pressing the forward shift lever down with the ball of the left foot. Once the rider has reengaged the clutch, the gear lever is released so it can be reset for the next shift.
Advantages of the Heel-Toe shifter
Many riders who are used to using a heel-to-toe shifter find it much easier to always use a downward motion to change gears. To shift into a higher gear, the rider presses down with the heel on the rear gearshift lever. To shift into a lower gear, the rider presses down with their toes on the front gearshift lever. Because a rider does not tuck the toe of the boot under the shifter to shift up, there is less chance of damaging the surface of the boot. Cyclists with certain disabilities also find it easier to manipulate a shifter from heel to toe, especially those with limited mobility in the ankles.
Disadvantages of the Heel-Toe shifter
Getting used to using a heel-to-toe shifter takes some getting used to, especially for riders who have used a traditional shifter for many years. While it is possible to use the front lever of a heel-to-toe shifter to shift to higher gears, just as a rider would on a traditional toe-shift shifter, there is generally much less space between the floorboard and the bottom of the forward shift lever. This makes it more difficult to position your left foot correctly to shift into a higher gear. Heel shifters are almost always found on motorcycles with floorboards. The floorboards stick out more than the footrests, giving the rider less room to lean into a curve before coming into contact with the road surface.