how to drive a manual atv with clutch

How To Drive A Manual ATV With Clutch (And Not Stall)

Honestly, it’s easy.

Like easy peezy. And pretty soon you’ll be riding a manual transmission ATV  with a clutch like second nature.

Just follow what I’m going to show you and you won’t stall, not even once.

But first, lets go over the basics.

I mean, how will you know which lever to pull or what pedal to step on if you don’t even know what it looks like or where it’s located, right?

throttle clutch shifter on atv

Directly above is a birds-eye view of an ATV. You’ll notice that it emphasizes three key areas of the quad when it comes to driving a manual transmission:

Clutch – the unit that engages and disengages the transmission to the drive shaft (wheels) to transfer torque.

This is the lever on the upper left that needs to be squeezed toward the grip every time you want to change a gear. It looks very similar to the brake on the opposite side of the 4-wheeler (though it’s absolutely not).

Gear Shifter – on the bottom, left side of the ATV near the foot pegs. This is where you physically shift the gear up or down depending on your speed or your need for torque.

Shifting from neutral to 1st gear is done by pressing the gear shifter down one time and then shifting from 2nd gear to 6th gear (if you have a 6th gear) is done by flipping the gear shifter up with your foot.

We’ll go over this in more detail shortly.

Throttle – or gas pedal is used to deliver more fuel to the engine for a couple of reasons:

  • Deliver the right fuel mixture when releasing the clutch
  • To go faster (obviously)

Starting your ATV

Starting an ATV that has a manual transmission is slightly different than starting one with an automatic transmission. In an automatic transmission, you are starting from a park position but there are a couple of ways to start an ATV with a manual transmission:

Neutral – the more common way. Neutral is found between 1st and 2nd gear on most ATVs. If you have a neutral light indicator on your vehicle then simply pull in the clutch lever and click the gear down to first. Once you are in 1st then do a half click upwards to shift into neutral gear.

When the neutral light indicator is on then you can push the start button or pull the cord to start your quad. It should idle on it’s own.

In gear – if you are in a gear (any gear) then you must disengage the clutch by squeezing in the clutch lever towards you and holding it in.

Do not let go.

Start the motor by pressing the start button or pulling the cord.

Again, do not let go of the clutch or the quad will stall and shut off. It can never be in a gear and physically stopped or it will just shut off on you.

Once the quad is on, and idling, you can shift it into neutral.

The most important lever of a manual transmission ATV

Without a doubt, the clutch.

The clutch is everything!

It’s always neutral and should be your “go-to” if you’re ever panicked. With the clutch pulled in, you can either come to a complete stop or you can shift gears to go faster or slower.

It’s the one thing you want to get really familiar with.

Driving From A Stop (without ever stalling)

Ok here we go, don’t freak out, I promise this is pretty simple.

Just remember one thing: THE CLUTCH IS ALWAYS NEUTRAL

What do I mean by that? If you ever feel that your quad is going to shut off on you then simply pull in the clutch and you’re back to neutral (safe).

Here is what you’re going to do – you’re going to get familiar with your clutch.

  1. With your ATV in neutral, pull in the clutch and push the shifter gear down into 1st gear.
  2. You’re not going to touch the gas at all. In fact, take your thumb completely off the throttle.
  3. Very slowly, release the clutch lever until your quad starts inching forward.
  4. Remember: if you ever feel like it’s going to stall then quickly pull in the clutch. Clutch is ALWAYS neutral.
  5. Once the ATV has started moving forward, and you’ve completely released the clutch, then completely squeeze and hold the clutch back in and come to a complete stop using your brakes.
  6. Using your foot, put the gear back into neutral and release the clutch.

That was super easy right?

Now do it again, over and over.

Now that you’ve got a good feel for how your clutch works, lets give it some gas.

  1. Put your quad in first gear and keep the clutch in.
  2. Give the quad a little bit of gas so that its got a small rev to it and slowly release the clutch just as you had been before.
  3. Do your best to maintain that slight rev to the engine and remember that the clutch is neutral. If you feel the engine will stall, pull in the clutch.
  4. Now that your vehicle is in motion, and you’ve completely released the clutch then feel free to give it more gas to go faster.
  5. Now come to a stop by pulling in the clutch, putting the quad in neutral gear and pulling in the brakes.

See, that was easy.

Now keep on practicing that drill over and over again until you feel comfortable with it and before you know it, you will be able to start from a complete stop without even thinking twice about it.


Stalling – if you are stalling it’s because you are either not giving it enough gas or releasing the clutch too quickly. You can always give the vehicle plenty of gas as long as you release the clutch slowly to where the quad inches along. The key is to inch your way forward.

Front lifts upward – you are giving it too much gas and releasing the clutch too quickly. Give the engine a healthy amount of gas but remember to release the clutch slowly so that the quad moves forward gently.

Shifting Up

Ok so you’ve got the start down and you’re ready to pick up the speed.

When you hear and feel the engine struggling, the gear has reached its maximum speed and you need to shift.

Pull the clutch in and shift the gear up to 2nd. Now that you’re in motion the quad will not stall.

You’re now able to release the clutch at a much fast pace but cautious with the gas since you’ll pick up speed quickly.

As you gain more speed, you’ll hear and feel the engine reaching its max output and you’ll need to shift up to 3rd.

Eventually you’ll keep shifting till you reach your highest gear (5th or 6th depending on your particular model) and you can no longer go any faster.


You’ll find the need to downshift as you vary your speeds. You can also feel it because if you’re in too high of a gear for the speed you are traveling, the vehicle will feel extremely sluggish.

Shifting down to a lower gear will give you more power and will improve your acceleration.

If you are driving through tough terrain, you’ll find yourself shifting up and down often. It’s part of the fun experience of driving and I love it!

Stopping Your ATV

Good things come to an end and, at some point, so will your joy ride.

To come to a complete stop, you can go about it a couple of ways.

Neutral – you can simply throw you quad into neutral and come to a stop by applying the brakes.

Downshifting – by default you’re stressing the engine and you’ll notice that the quad slows down on its own. By constantly downshifting and applying the brake at the same time you can come to a quicker stop.