Tag Archives: driving

Fine points of rowing your own

(Disclaimer: drive at your own risk. I am not liable for anything you do in your own car)

Being that driving stick (or “rowing your own”) is a skill soon to be relegated to the dustbin of history, what with the 10-gear automatics in the 5L Mustangs (although the high-end Lexii still sport that old-school, low-fidelty 6-speed auto…) it is fitting and appropriate that I should elect this moment to write up how one is to approach managing gears in a standard transmission.

For my entertainment, this piece assumes a working familiarity

We have three goals when operating a vehicle (on roads, in the execution of our daily duties, the world has not enough caveats for this parenthetical): have fun, deliver our passengers an enjoyable ride, and do the whole thing in a safe fashion.

Goals dictate operational constraints (rules for our solver, if you will), and we use tools to satisfy our constraints.

Safety is a metaconcern that must be addressed at a higher level of abstraction than gear selection and transition, so we can dispense with it forthwith.

The goal of having fun provides a convenient operational constraint: we must always be in the correct gear. “Correct gear” is highly situationally dependent. For fuel economy, aim for the highest gear possible that keeps you going down the road at the speed you’re trying to keep. For power, you want your tachometer to indicate that you’re in the “power band” for your engine, that sweet range where it’s optimally converting essence du Motoя into vitesse du voiture. At any point in time, you must be able to demand that the engine give it all that you has, and you may not simply mash the gas pedal into the floor and expect anything to work. No, you must actually downshift, and in doing so, a) not rattle everyone around in the car and b) not wear your clutch out.

The goal of an enjoyable ride for our passengers demands that we shift as smoothly as possible between gears, such that our passengers don’t even know that we’re shifting. It is, I contend, possible to deliver a driving experience that exceeds the automatic transmission for all velocity derivatives.

Your tools (should you choose to avail yourself of them) are rev-matching and toe-heeling. Alors.

Rev matching is simple. When you decide that you need to be in a lower gear, because there’s a corner coming up that you want to power out of, because you want to cruise into the subdivision at something less than a blistering 45 miles per hour, or because the ding-dong in the left lane going sixty-five in a fifty has burnt through what few stores of patience you have left after dealing with dipshit vendor “customer success engineers” all day, or whatever reason may compel you at any time, you must blip, nay, caress the accelerator such that the engine revs up into the bottom of its power band, and ease the clutch in so that as the engine slows down from the wee skosh of fuel you shot into it, the clutch catches and everything matches up perfectly. Learn to effect this move, and your passengers will stop flinching when you downshift. The real joy comes from when it’s completely automatic, and you can blip your revs up and let the clutch out super fast because you can feel the precise right moment to make it all happen.

The poorly-(or more generously historically-)named “toe-heel” technique involves manipulating both your brake and gas pedals with the same foot. In human-sized cars, you can make this happen with the left and right sides of your foot, but in my pickup I actually have to keep my heel on the brake pedal and metatarsal on the gas. My goal is always to come in as hot as I can, and brake at the last possible second, dumping as much speed as possible in the shortest runway possible. I generally pop out of gear a few seconds before I’m trying to apex through a turn (turns are one of the few times that toe-heeling actually makes sense), apply the brakes, drop one or two gears, and if I’m good with my timing, blip the gas without letting off the brake, let the clutch out quickly without disturbing vehicle balance (messing with balance will ruin your day at speed, if you’re anywhere close to the edge of the performance envelope with your tires), and gas my way from right before the apex onto the straightaway (or whatever’s next in my daily urban obstacle course).

Go forth and drive well. Downshift with blips to rev match (if the clutch drags the engine up to speed you dun fukked up), let the clutch 80% of the way out before applying gas when upshifting, and toe-heel your way through corners where you’re downshifting. None of it is hard, and it all takes practice, so get out there and hail motor!