How Does the Heel & Toe Shifter Work on a Motorcycle?

by Jerry Romick
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Motorcycles equipped with rider foot pegs, as opposed to floorboards, generally have a toe shift lever, situated in front of and a little higher than the left foot peg. Bikes with floorboards are usually equipped with a heel-toe shifter -- two shift levers that are connected in the shape of "V." The levers are situated at the front and back of the left floorboard. The action of the heel-toe shifter somewhat resembles the movement of a see-saw: When one side goes up, the other side goes down. The principle and integration with the movement of the clutch is the same for both types of shifters. With the heel-toe shifter, the rider has the option of always using downward movement to shift gears.

Shifting Up

With a standard toe shifter, the rider must place his left foot under the lever and lift to shift into the next higher gear. When using a heel-toe shifter, the rider presses downward with his heel on the rear lever to shift into the next higher gear. The lever is then released so it will reset and be ready for the next shift.


On both standard toe shift and heel-toe shifter-equipped motorcycles, shifting into a lower gear is accomplished by pressing down on the forward shift lever with the ball of the left foot. Once the rider has re-engaged the clutch, the shift lever is released so it can reset for the next shift.

Advantages to the Heel-Toe Shifter

Many riders who become accustomed to using a heel-toe shifter find it much easier to always use a downward motion to shift gears. To shift into a higher gear, the rider presses downward with his heel on the rear shift lever. To shift into a lower gear, the rider presses downward with the ball of his foot on the front shift lever. Because a rider isn't wedging the toe of the boot under the shift lever to shift up, there is less chance of marring the surface of the boot. Riders with certain handicaps also find a heel-toe shifter easier to manipulate, especially those with limited mobility in their ankles.

Disadvantages to the Heel-Toe Shifter

Using a heel-toe shifter does take some getting used to, especially for riders who have used a traditional toe shifter for many years. While it is possible to use the front lever of a heel-toe shifter to shift into higher gears, just as a rider would on a traditional toe shifter, there is usually much less space between the floorboard and the underside of the forward shift lever. This makes it more difficult to properly position the left foot to shift into a higher gear. Heel-toe shifters are almost always found on motorcycles with floorboards. Floorboards stick out further than foot pegs, giving the rider less room to lean in a turn before coming into contact with the road surface.

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