Darryl.Richman's picture

As I mentioned in the comments in my previous post, I love to get people interested in what it's like to ride the R52. Most are quite intimidated, because the controls are so foreign to what a modern rider is used to. Even the clutch and front brake levers, which are in their normal places, pivot the wrong way.

Here's a picture of the most important rider controls:

As mentioned, you have the clutch and front brake in the usual places, but the levers pivot from the outside. This means you have to get used to reaching for them with your index fingers, and I do mean reach.

There are three thumblevers on the handlebars: the spark timing on the left and the choke and throttle ganged together on the right. There's no twist grip, and I find that I must ride with the palms of my hands against the grips so I can manipulate these levers with my thumbs.

This is a hand shift bike with a three speed transmission, and the shift lever is on the right; the same side as the throttle lever. This can complicate downshifting somewhat.

Finally, we have the rear brake, which must be modulated with your right heel. Just to use it, you have to learn to lift your foot and put it down in the right spot to hit the lever with your heel.

Besides these, there's the swing-out kickstarter on the left side, the engine kill button on the left handlebar by the spark lever, and the combination horn button and mechanical high/low beam lever on the right handlebar. There is no key of any sort, the bike is always ready to ride. The headlight and taillight are operated by a big knob on the back of the headlight shell.

Here's a demonstration of how to start the bike:

Actually, that misses a couple things right at the start. First, the petcock must be opened, then the tickler on the carb must be held down until some gas overflows; this is usually about a 15 count. The spark must be fully retarded, the choke opened about 1/3 and the gas opened about 1/2. When the engine fires, the spark needs to be advanced some, the choke opened fully and the gas closed to the stop for idling. Of course, this only applies when the engine is cold.

To first get going, you have to pull the clutch lever and pull the shift lever up into first; if it won't go in, the bike needs to be rolled forward or backward slightly until it does go in. Then some gas is given with the throttle lever and the spark is advanced gradually as the clutch is released and the engine speeds up.

When it's time to shift into 2nd, it really gets busy. You have to understand that, while 1st and 3rd gears on the transmission output shaft are, like any modern motorcycle, always in mesh with their counterparts, the two gears that mesh for 2nd gear are not. This leaves the rider in the position of trying to get them spinning at the same speed so they won't grind badly when they are meshed. The gear on the output shaftwill be turning at a speed relative to the rear wheel, but its counterpart will be spinning at the engine speed, or not at all if the clutch is pulled. This is where double clutching comes in.

First, the clutch has to be pulled and the transmission shifted into neutral, and the throttle lever pushed closed to let the engine begin to fall to idle. At this moment, there are three independent moving parts that need to be synchronized: the engine and clutch, the input shaft, and the output shaft, final drive and rear tire. The way to do that is to let the clutch out, which connects the first two items together to match their speed and then finish the shift by clutching and shifting up (pushing down on the shift lever) into second. Now it is time to open the throttle a bit while releasing the clutch lever.

The upshift into 3rd isn't as bad, because 3rd (and 1st) are always in mesh. So clutch, close the throttle, push the shift lever all the way down, give it some gas and release the clutch.

Downshifting to 2nd is the most work. There's a false neutral position on the shift lever between 2nd and 3rd that needs to be found (no detent for it that you can feel). Once shifted into this neutral and releasing the clutch, the rider must move his right hand from the shifter up to the throttle, "blip" the throttle to bring up the engine and input shaft speed, before returning to the shifter, declutching and making the shift into 2nd. Watch as I do it here:


Complicated Controls

Jim Hansen's picture

Sheesh...I'll never complain about the confusing turn signal switches on my '78 R100RS again.

Well, that's a point where

Darryl.Richman's picture

Well, that's a point where the R52 is right up to date! It has automatic turn signal cancelation. I mean, you can't keep your left hand out there all day, you'll need it to clutch after you turn...

--Darryl Richman
"Bling is not made in Germany" --OTL, 12/05

Alternative Shift Technique

Drew Grant's picture

Another way to change down is to make use of the kill button.

Start with the gas set a little high, now hit the kill button, declutch and go into the false neutral.

Now release clutch and kill button, let your revs rise, declutch again and shift to second.

Doing it this way means you do not need to take your hand away from the shift lever, it is a little quicker and saves you from the grab for the throttle lever and back to the shift.

Takes a bit of practice and you can also use it to change up by not releasing the kill button till you have shifted into the higher gear.

I use this on my '29 Triumoh which has a similar crash second gear transmission and lever throttle set up, it's also useful on the R12 and sidecar (it's better than reaching across the tank and changing clutchless on the kill button which was the old hand-shift racing technique).


Interesting ideas, Drew! The

Darryl.Richman's picture

Interesting ideas, Drew! The engine fires again when the kill button is released because the heavy flywheel is still spinning the motor, I presume?

The downshift into 2nd is a very busy time. I should have included the maneuver at real time to show that in the little video.

The kill button can be used to slow before and during a turn instead of the long process of downshifting, when it is appropriate. You can scare following riders with the backfire when you release the kill button, too. Smile

--Darryl Richman
"Bling is not made in Germany" --OTL, 12/05

Whew! Not for me, I am afraid!

jeff dean's picture

I enjoyed reading about how you operate and ride an R52, but I could not grasp it all.

I am too old to learn all that.

Tickling the carbs and kicking my R60/2s, R69S, R51/3, R68, and R25/3 are enough for me, thank you Smile

I had a prewar bike once. That was enough. The BMWs from the 1950s and 1960s I ride almost daily are wonderful to ride and I can actually operate their controls!


miller6997's picture

When I was in college I had a job driving a manure truck for a gigantic chicken ranch. The truck was a mid-fifties cab-over GMC with a four-speed main transmission, a three-speed "Brownie" auxiliary gearbox, and a two-speed rear axle--twenty-four combinations. I thought that was complicated but your routine makes it look simple.

'67 R69S
'05 R1200RT

I did 2600 miles of it across

Darryl.Richman's picture

I did 2600 miles of it across most of the US. It's work in traffic, that's for sure, because you must anticipate what everyone around you is doing and take preventative actions as well as just driving the bike. And there are speeds the bike likes and those it can't do, based on where the torque is in each gear. You sometimes have to direct traffic to get people to stop following you and pass where it's safe, or just pull off the road to get the idea across.

--Darryl Richman
"Bling is not made in Germany" --OTL, 12/05

A cast back to a better time in motoring

Liam Borand's picture

Am I the only person who thinks that driving these days is just too easy?! All this new technology and new advances in automotive design and performance are just taking away the fun and enjoyment that driving is all about. To me, bikes like this represent a lost era in driving. They are a cast back to a better time, when driving took skill and knowledge. These days, virtually anyone can jump in a car or on a bike and they're away. They are even working on self drive cars for god sake! Come on guys, this just isn't what driving is about! Motoring is fun and should always remain fun! No one really wants to be driven about all over the place....do they?!

Controls - thanks

Al Kuenn's picture

Darryl, that is a great article and I am really enjoying the whole series. I forgot how involved the whole process is with these old bikes. Its easy to take for granted how much is 'done for us' on our newer bikes. Thanks again for all these articles.

Very Cool!

spo123's picture

Thanks for the instruction....Well "spoken"......COMPLICATED!
Heal up and get WELL!

Best wishes always,

Sneaking onto your list to say "Hello"

Jeff Alperin's picture

So -- hello. And, Happy New Year. How's your leg? Can you please give us the full description of how you clutch it?

Hi Jeff! Hope things are

Darryl.Richman's picture

Hi Jeff! Hope things are going well for you and "The Beast"! I have an appointment this morning with my orthopedist and I hope that this is the last one! I'm getting around fine, and although I'm not at 100% yet, I can see it from here.

--Darryl Richman
"Bling is not made in Germany" --OTL, 12/05

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