Sturgis Rally
Sturgis Rally
Font size: +





I've seen the term "suicide shifter" used in describing a plain old ordinary tank shift. Simple ignorance caused that. There is however such a thing as a "Suicide Clutch." I'll tell ya why. Back in the good old days, long before foot shift was standard equipment, tank shift and foot clutch was the method used. Let's use Harley-Davidson motorcycles as an example. The foot clutch was of the rocker type, meaning it could be "rocked" to the disengaged position, and it would stay in that position until the rider nudged it with his or her foot in the opposite direction. The rider would then control the RATE OF engagement with the foot. In other words the clutch was not spring loaded. Clutch pedal movement was determined by foot position. If the rider slid his foot off the clutch pedal while it was in the disengaged position it would stay disengaged. The stock rocker clutch did have a spring that would pull the pedal towards the engaged position only after the clutch was "rocked" out of the disengaged position. Safety first for this style clutch.

 Early Chopper builders modified the rocker clutch so it was spring loaded, and would not stay "rocked out" in the disengaged position.This allowed for much faster clutch action. It also meant that the rider had to maintain foot pressure on the clutch to keep it disengaged. NO big deal! Many early chopper builders/riders/Outlaw bikers also decided to remove the front brake. This was done not only for cosmetic reasons, removing the front brake also lightened the motorcycle by quite a bit. If you look at old chopper photos from the 1950's and 1960's, even through the 1970s, many times you'll see custom bikes or chopper with a clean looking front-end that has no front brake. This is when the suicide name caught on.

A motorcycle rider while riding up steep hills such as found in the city of San Francisco was subject to red lights like all the other traffic. If that rider was riding a chopper equipped with no front brake, hand shift (jockey shift or tank-shift) and a clutch that was modified to act as a spring loaded clutch, that rider could not easily stop and start at traffic lights. If the rider stopped at light on a steep hill using the right foot on the brake, the transmission would need to be neutral. The right foot would be holding the brake engaged the left foot would be on the ground with the left leg holding the bike upright. It took speed and coordination to quickly put the right foot down to hold the bike up, then the left foot to push the clutch pedal down, the left hand would slam the tranny into first, and the rider could then let the clutch out and go. This was virtually impossible to do on a very steep hill, so riders took to running the traffic lights rather than attempting a stop & go. More than a few were killed in the process. And that, my friends is how the suicide clutch got his name. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! Enough riders were killed for other riders (and the cops) to consider it suicide to ride a motorcycle equipped as described. But then again, all the macho guys went straight to the suicide set-up, for macho reasons alone. Back in the good old days real bikers shunned the wearing of leather. Back then, only sissies wore leather. Also, if a jockey-top is mounted rather than a ratchet-top (four speed transmission only) when hand shifting, blazingly fast power shifts can be made, and wheelies will happen. It's more fun than a high speed chase!

I rode a rigid frame Panhead for years with a foot-clutch, jockey shift, and no front brake. I purchased the motorcycle so equipped and once I got familiar with it, I saw no reason to change. I also wore a leather jacket; I like my skin too much I guess. When myself and friends rode up to San Francisco to cruise the Haight Ashbury district, the guys with front brakes rode behind the guys without front brakes, and held them in place on the steep hills at traffic lights by putting their front wheel against my and others rear wheel. That's what friends are for. Hardly anyone runs without a front brake these days, but there are a few. See the photo of the purple bike seen here. Foot clutch, no front brake, and hand shift. The owner makes a point of riding it exclusively on flat roads. I don't blame him, anything else is beyond scary. Then again, I miss my old Panhead; I must have put 200,000 miles on that bike without committing suicide. Came close a few times though. I'll tell ya about one of those later on.


8 Essential Skincare Tips for Motorcycle Riders
Get the News Before Official Public Announcements!