All of the early British motorcycles used a right side gear change lever system. The change pattern for most makes and models was one up, and three down on the four speed gearboxes.
Although left side gear change levers had been used on many of the European motorcycles, especially MX and trial bikes, it wasn’t until the Japanese manufacturers began selling their bikes with left-hand gear change levers as standard did the system become commonplace, even to the extent that some of the remaining British bike manufacturers began to offer conversions (from right to left side changes) and then eventually motorcycles supplied with only the left side change. This final phase was forced on the British manufacturers by legislation in the US requiring the gear change to be on the left side (Triumph in 1975).
Learning to ride a classic motorcycle with the gear change on the opposite side to what a rider is used to, or learned on, is simply a matter of practice. However, the first few rides with the gear change on the opposite side will be challenging for most riders; this is particularly true of race machines where everything happens much faster.
The simple approach to learning the opposite side change system is to find a quiet, open area and practice. For racers a better place to practice would be during a track day where less pressure is on the riders to go fast.
The learning process should start with the bike on its stand and the rider sitting in his or her normal riding position. However, although it is acceptable to apply the rear brake while the bike is on a stand, it is not a good idea to move the gear change lever without the engine running or the motorcycle moving. That being said, as long as the rider does not move the gear change lever too far, he can practice getting his foot into position to change up or down the gearbox (muscle memory training).
Starting and Stopping
Having become familiar with a gear change on the opposite side, and having practiced to a certain extent with the motorcycle on its stand, the rider should practice moving away from a standstill in first gear then applying the brakes (especially the rear) and bringing the machine to a standstill again.
Next, the rider should repeat this process and add an up change (from first gear to second gear), again bring the machine to a standstill. This process should be repeated until all of the gears have been selected going up through the gearbox and down again to first gear before bring the bike to a stop.
Although it will take time and practice to make gear changes on the opposite side as easy as second nature, it will, when mastered, allow the rider to transition from one system to the other easily.
However, applying the brakes in an emergency situation will often show which system is the one memorized by the rider, and although he will not be able to come down through the gearbox quickly, by pressing the gear change lever and rear brake lever at the same time, he will slow the machine adequately. (It should be remembered that most of the braking force is required on the front during hard braking, 75:25%, therefore the rear brake is less important).