How To Back Down An Incline With Your Clutch

backing a motorcycle down a ramp
Backing down a steep incline or slippery slope can be intimidating when the front tire loses grip. Using a technique to emulate rear-wheel braking is the magic solution.

There are countless YouTube videos showing epic failures of riders attempting to back their motorcycles down ramps from trailers or truck beds. And I’ve personally witnessed numerous riders at motorcycle gatherings and in campsites lose it as they tried to back down damp, grassy slopes. I’ll even admit to having a very awkward moment of my own a few years back in front of dozens of my fellow riders when I nearly dominoed a row of parked BMWs because I couldn’t keep the front tire from sliding as I rolled and slid backward down a steep gravel driveway. Not pretty.

The problem presented to riders when backing down a slanted surface is that the motorcycle’s weight shifts to the rear, simultaneously lightening the front wheel. Not a problem if the rider could maintain use of the rear brake, but both feet are needed on the ground to walk the bike backward and keep it upright. That leaves the rider with only the use of the front brake to keep the machine from rolling rearward too quickly. Unfortunately, with less weight on the front end, the front brake provides very limited grip, especially the steeper and the slipperier the surface. So what’s a rider to do? Here’s the perfect technique to use in a clutch.

To simulate the use of the rear brake without actually requiring a foot on the rear brake pedal, follow these clever steps. With the bike’s transmission in first gear, turn off the engine (engine cutoff switch is simplest) and ease out the clutch lever. The engine’s compression with the engine off will hold the bike in position on the hill—no need for brakes at all! To back down the slope with complete control, slowly pull in the clutch into the friction zone. This will partially disengage the engine and transmission from the rear wheel, allowing the bike to drift backward. Control your speed with the clutch position, releasing the clutch lever slightly to slow more or squeezing it in slightly to allow more speed. With a little practice, you’ll have the confidence and control to back down virtually any angled surface like a pro. Just don’t forget to restart the engine before you attempt to pull forward again!


  1. All sounds good, and I have used this technique with brakeless dirt track racers when unloading from trucks/trailers, but I always wonder if any engines “dislike” being rotated backwards? Might they suffer any damage.


    • The engine isn’t rotating if it’s not running. You’re using the friction zone – clutch all the out (engaged) the won’t move. Pull all the way in to the bar (disengaged) the bike will coast. Somewhere in between it will move slowly as the clutch drags against the non-running engine.
      Very cool idea.

    • I used that technique with my Bultaco 2 stroke – except the danged engine started backwards. I knew that 2 strokes would run backward but had never experienced it – now I know. Good practice for non 2strokers.

  2. Good option for those without linked brakes. Since my front brake also connects with one of the two pistons on my rear brake caliper, I don’t really have an issue.

      • Deactivation/Disengage only applies to the function of the ABS. Linked brakes stay linked throughout all speeds of use. Unless its a new “feature” that has been added in recent models.

  3. I’ll give it a try, but it’s not going to be easy giving up my 17 bungee cord cement block counterweight trebuchet method.

  4. After reading this, I had the need to try the idea out when I brought my bike back from the shop.. I have a 2007 Shadow 1100 and use a 10 ft. ramp from the back of my 2015 Colorado. I have usually tried to have someone handy due to the several feet of no contact near the bottom of the ramp. Using this method, I’m sure I will become more proficient and will no longer need help when getting my bike off the truck. Thanks for this remedy .. MUCH APPRECIATED ! !

  5. Just watched an episode of Bikes and Beards where the lads from SRK Cycles were going to unload twelve bikes from a flatbed truck using a ramp. They explained the problem as above but their solution was to ditch the ramp and turn each bike “multi point turns” sideways onto the tail lift. It took them a while and I was genuinely worried for the guy. I’m surprised they didn’t try this.


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