Gears Sprockets

What are Go-Kart Gears and Shifter Go-Karts?

I was lucky enough to witness a professional race during my latest trip to the local go-kart track. A dozen racers were going at it inside 125cc KZ1 go-karts with no speed limiters and… manual gearboxes. Now, I knew that there were go-karts that have gearboxes and that they’re usually used by professionals, but I didn’t expect to see one of them in person. So, having only driven single-speed go-karts, I was intrigued, to say the least.

I asked the marshalls and the racers about go-kart gears and the go-karts they were racing. And, after I did my research on the topic, I opened up an entire part of the karting world that I didn’t know a lot about: shifter go-karts.

For starters, every go-kart has at least one gear (single-speed). There are other go-karts that have up to six gears and manual transmissions, while single-speed karts have an automatic transmission. I’ll be explaining everything you need to know about go-kart gears below.

Shifter go-karts are a type of karts that have gearboxes and manual transmissions. A professional shifter kart usually has 6 gears, while some have fewer gears. I compare single-speed and shifter go-karts more in-depth below.

Watching and listening to the shifter karts was fascinating, but it only raised more questions, like how gears work on a go-kart.

How Do Gears Work on a Go-Kart?

To my surprise, all go-karts have gears. So, it all comes down to what type of transmission each kart has. Go-karts that have automatic transmissions will change gears depending on the RPM of the engine, while in manual transmissions, the racer changes the gears.

Speaking of transmissions, I learned how important they are in a go-kart. Go-kart engines tend to overheat, especially if the weather is hot and their cooling is below-par. An automatic transmission will keep the RPM within a specific limit so that the engine doesn’t overheat and explode. That’s why you’ll need to be an expert racer to drive a shifter kart so that you don’t end up blowing up an engine on each race, as they don’t come cheap .

In go-karting, the transmission systems are usually relatively simple since all they really have to do is keep the engine’s RPM within the rev limit. Similar to my experience, you’ll not notice any gear changes when you’re in a kart with an automatic gearbox. But, if you listen very carefully to an engine running, you can hear the drop in the RPM when there’s a gear change. 

That being said, when it comes to professional racing, the greatest challenge appears in shifter kart racing. However, both single-speed and shifter go-karts can be tuned in several ways to go faster. One of the main ways to achieve better results is tuning your go-karts gear ratio.

What is a Gear Ratio in General

I recently learned about gearing (tuning a go-kart’s gear ratio). Gearing is easily the most efficient way to adjust your go-kart to your preference. But, what exactly is a kart’s gear ratio, and why is it important?

By definition, a gear ratio in a go-kart is the number of teeth in the rear axle sprocket divided by the teeth in the crankshaft or clutch sprocket. In other words, if your go-kart’s gear ratio is 4.0, it means that the clutch sprocket needs to complete four revolutions so that the rear axle sprocket completes one.

But why is it essential to understand gear ratios? Well, for starters, if you tune your gear ratio incorrectly, the clutch sprocket might end up destroying the clutch. Gear ratios are present on every go-kart, whether it’s an automatic rental kart or a shifter KZ1 go-kart. So, knowing how to tune it effectively will give you a more significant advantage against your opponents.

While I was talking to the racers at my track, they all mentioned that a high gear ratio is essential for go-karting. Otherwise, the torque would be too much for the clutch to handle. So this raises the question of what the best gear ratio is.

How to Tune and Find the Best Gear Ratio for Go Kart?

Unfortunately, there’s no gear ratio that’ll be the best for each track. That would just be too easy. The simple rule that a racer follows when gearing is the following: low gear ratio, high top speed and high gear ratio, high acceleration. I’ve taken a closer look at how gearing works right here

But, how do you apply this rule on the track? If the track is very technical, with tons of corners and one main straight, you should opt for higher acceleration, so a high gear ratio. You should opt for a low gear ratio if the track has several parts where your go-kart reaches its top speed. 

Gearing is a pretty complicated process for beginners. Some racers might try to tune the clutch sprocket, which is a ticket to a rage-filled evening. The best way to tune a go-kart’s gear ratio is to change the rear axle sprockets according to your desired gear ratio.

I can already smell my clutch burning on my first try to tune my gear ratio. That’s why I spend some time asking some of my friends, who are professional karting racers, whether single-speed go-karts are better than shifters and what their main differences are.

Single-Speed Go-Karts vs. Shifter Go-Karts

From what I gathered, single-speed go-karts are the best option for beginners, while shifter go-karts are a better alternative for experienced racers who are looking for an extra challenge.

The general consensus is that if you want to learn how to race correctly, and if you’re going to drive properly, then single-speed go-karts are the best option. That’s because you’ll end up focusing more on changing gears rather than learning racing etiquette and proper driving expertise.

I can say that my experience karting with a single-speed go-kart has helped me focus on finding the optimal racing line, taking corners smoothly and in a way to preserve most of my speed. 

This, in turn, helps in having these skills as second nature so that when someone transitions to shifter go-karts, they can focus on perfecting their gear changes.

A friend of mine told me that some older drivers who already have thousands of miles of driving under their belt start out with shifter karts. This forces some bad habits on them, like going full speed into a corner and gearing down to slow down. This works until the engine breaks down after a couple of laps.

But I won’t take all the credit off of shifter karts since they’re the best challenge for any go-kart racers. They are also faster than most single-speed go-karts since the driver has much more input on them. But, with the right gearing, a single-speed go-kart can be as good as a shifter.

Shifter go-karts are also much more taxing on the body. Even though I’ve been training a lot to get stronger, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be extremely sore after my first time on a shifter go-kart.

Then again, if you’re a seasoned racer, whether you’re coming from a formula background or a car championship, shifter go-karts are the best for you. You probably already know how to take a turn optimally and how to accelerate afterward. So, spend a couple of hours inside a single-speed kart to get the feel of it, and then go straight to the low categories of shifter go-karts.

That being said, as I’ve already said, go-karts have gears, but how many gears does every go-kart have?

How Many Gears Does a Go-Kart Have?

Whether it’s a rental kart or a professional KZ1 kart, most shifter go-karts have six different gears that the driver can shift through. This is similar to the majority of cars, which are six-speed nowadays. But, there are also go-karts that have fewer gears, like four or even two gears.

No matter how many gears a go-kart has, you should learn how to shift gears effectively. If you shift too early from 1st to 2nd gear, you’ll end up going slower, whereas if you shift too late, your go-kart’s engine will overheat. If you do that over and over again, the engine will blow up.

That being said, if you’ve driven cars for a long time, you’ll know the exact moment to shift so that you gain the maximum output from the engine. But, most karting racers and champions have always been teenagers who’ve never driven a car, so it’s always best to start with a single-speed go-kart.

Speaking of professional racers, professional go-karts obviously have the same amount of gears as their rental counterparts. Nowadays, shifter go-karts are becoming more and more popular in the professional karting world. 

So, now that you’ve become more accustomed to gears, the question is whether go-karts have a reverse gear or not.

Do Go-Karts Have a Reverse Gear?

I always wondered why racers don’t just reverse back to the track. I mean, they do it in F1; why don’t they do it in karting? 

I asked around the track, and I found that go-karts don’t have a reverse gear. Both rental karts and professional go-karts lack the ability to reverse.

However, you can install a reverse gearbox set on your go-kart. This isn’t the best choice, though, since you’ll add a lot of unwanted weight on the kart. Another option would be to opt for an electric kart.  

Another drawback of installing a reverse gearbox set is that it’s a complicated process. You can check out this video below.

(Reverse Gear Installation, Not exactly a racing Go Kart but it’s following the same concept)

If you’re wondering why a go-kart doesn’t have a reverse gear, the answer is pretty simple. A go-kart only needs to go fast and win the race. Why would you put something that adds extra weight on the go-kart and only allows it to go backward? The answer is that you don’t.

I believe that I covered the topic of go-kart gears and shifter karts pretty thoroughly. Don’t let any of this discourage you from getting on track and having the time of your life. You’ll most likely start with rental karts as a beginner, so you needn’t know about all of this.

Stay tuned for more articles just like this one!

FAQs for Go-Kart Gears and Shifter Go-Karts

Do Go-Karts Have Gears?

Yes, every go-kart has gears (at least one). Go-karts can be automatic or manual, but every single one has gears. Usually, a go-kart has 6 gears, but there are some that have fewer as we talk about it in this post.

Do Go-Karts Have a Clutch

It depends. Most go-karts nowadays have a clutch. Traditionally, go-karts used a direct drive system, and some of them still follow the same design. But, more and more go-karts are opting for a centrifugal clutch.

Are Single-Speed Go-Karts faster than Shifter Go-Karts

It depends on the tuning and the skill of the racer. If you put two racers of the same caliber side-by-side, the one using the shifter kart might be faster. That’s because they’ll have greater control over the speed of the go-kart. But, if the racer on the single-speed go-kart has better gearing for the track, then he’ll be faster.

If you have any more questions that you’d like me to answer, be sure to contact me or leave a comment below.

Picture of Dor from GoKart36
Dor from GoKart36

Hi, I'm Dor and since my first lap on a go-kart in Italy, karting became my favorite hobby. I check tracks in many places around the world and am happy to share from my experience.
In my daily job, I am a programmer, and during the season, I race in my local league in the senior category.

More About Me
Phuket Go Kart 390cc 4T

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