Learn How To Drive an ATV with a Clutch in 6 Really Easy Steps

by Matt Powell | Last Updated:  October 4, 2019

If you really enjoy watching sport ATVs crack open that throttle and take off down the trail or on the track but you say to yourself, “I just don’t know how to drive a manual transmission so I can’t drive an ATV with a clutch”, I am here to tell you that it isn’t that hard to do. Learning how to drive an ATV with a clutch is a simple process and it takes just a bit of practice and getting used to. Before you know it, yo will have it mastered and will be ripping around on a manual transmission quad in no time.

The basics for driving an ATV with a clutch are to pull in the clutch, shift from neutral down into first gear, slowly press the throttle while release the clutch slowly at the same time. The ATV will start moving and it is time to start shifting through the gears.

Before we get out onto the dirt to try these steps let’s make sure that we have the right safety gear to prevent injuries. Even at slow speeds, if not prepared, you can get hurt so go get your helmet, gloves, boots, goggles, and other gear so we can dive right into learning how to drive a manual transmission ATV.

Learn What the Controls Do and Where they Are

Before starting up the ATV, let’s take a look at the controls and familiarize ourselves with what each one does and how it relates to driving an ATV. 

Also take the time to make sure you have the proper riding gear to keep yourself safe. You can see what I personally recommend by following this link to my recommended gear page.

Throttle

ATVs use a thumb throttle instead of the more common twist throttle used on dirt bikes. This helps maintain control while leaning to the sides on an ATV. The throttle is located just under the grip on the right handlebar and is used to increase engine RPM and accelerate the ATV.

Front Brake

The front brake lever is located in front of the grip on the right side of the handlebars. This lever controls how much brake pressure is applied to the front wheels and is the primary force used to slow down and stop an ATV.

Rear Brake 

The rear brake is located just in front of the right foot peg. You use the bottom of your foot and press down to activate the rear brake.

Clutch

The clutch lever is located in front of the grip on the left side of the handlebars. The clutch lever disengages the clutch plates inside the transmission and allows the transmission to be shifted into the next gear, either up or down. The clutch lever is used in conjunction with the gear shifter. 

Gear Shifter 

The gear shifter is located just in front of the left foot peg. You push down with the bottom of your foot to shift gears down and put your toes underneath and pull up to shift gears up. Below is a chart of each gear. Notice that neutral is between 1st and 2nd and it is only a “half click” to get to it instead of a whole gear shift.

Starting the ATV

If you have an older 2 stroke ATV you are most likely going to have to kick start it instead of turning a key. Pull the clutch in and make sure the quad is in neutral. Turn the key on, open the choke and kick the kick start to get the engine started. On the majority of other newer ATVs you will just have to turn the key on, and press the start button. Be sure your ATV is in neutral before starting.

Drive From the Stopped Position

Now that the ATV is started and warmed up a bit, it is time to practice driving from the stopped position. Just pull in the clutch and press the gear shifter down to get to first gear. Give the ATV a little gas by pressing the throttle until the engine starts to rev a little. Once the engine is revved a bit (not too much), slowly let off the clutch. Increase the throttle gradually as you release the clutch until you are finally using throttle and the clutch is fully released. Now you should be cruising at a pretty slow speed in first gear.

Tip: If you stall out while releasing the clutch and are giving throttle then you did one of two things. You either didn’t give it enough gas or you let off the clutch too soon. 

It is a balance that takes a bit of practice to master but eventually it will be second nature and you will be able to punch the throttle and let off the clutch so get a rocket start.

Shift While Riding

Now that you are cruising slowly in 1st gear, it is time to speed up a little. You can only go so fast in first gear before you have to shift into a higher gear to gain more speed. Listen to the engine to give you an indication of when to shift gears. If the engine is screaming loud then you are probably going way too fast for that gear and need to shift up. If it sounds like the quad is struggling or bogging down, then you need to give some more throttle or shift gears down.

This is really the same as starting off but you are already rolling so you don’t have to be as deliberate with your clutch and throttle. You don’t want to ride the clutch while giving it throttle too much because you can burn up your clutch.

When you get up to speed and feel it is time to shift gears up, pull in the clutch and let off the throttle. This will bring the engine RPM down and you can pull up on the gear shifter. When in 1st gear you need to pull up through neutral to get to second. Pull up until you feel the shifter actually click into 2nd gear. You can tell the difference between neutral and 2nd gear. Now that you are in the next gear, give it some gas by pushing on the throttle and gradually release the clutch while continuing to give it more throttle. Now you have shifted gears. Go ahead and practice going to 3rd gear using the same method. Now that you can shift gears up, let’s cover shifting down.

Downshifting

You can use downshifting to slow your rate of speed instead of using the brakes and also to aid your braking if you need to slow down quickly. To downshift, just pull the clutch in and let off the throttle. Push the gear shifter down and give a little less throttle than you would if you were shifting up. Let off the clutch and you engine RPMs will get higher than before and you will slow down because you are in a lower gear AND you aren’t using as much throttle as before.

Stopping the ATV

You can downshift to slow the quad down in order to stop or you can just pull in the clutch and coast while slowly applying the front and rear brakes. You can pull the clutch in any gear and coast to a stop but make sure once you slow down or are stopped, you downshift the gears into the neutral position so you can either start from the idle position again, or you can turn off the ATV and get off.


If you are on a quad and it is in gear, DO NOT release the clutch or get off because the quad will lunge forward and stall out. Practice safe parking techniques when exiting the vehicle by turning it off, applying the emergency brake, and putting the quad in first gear to prevent roll aways.

As with everything on ATVs, if you have never tried to drive an ATV with a clutch, it will take some practice, but in the end you will become a pro and have a blast riding around!

My name is Matt and I am the owner of DirtWheelRider.com. I want to do my best to give you all the information needed in your offroading endeavors.