THREE PEDALS? When Do I Shift? For those who have never piloted a stick-shift car, the sight of that third pedal to the left of the brake pedal is probably more intimidating than the shifter handle poking up through the center console. The shifter, with six gears and reverse, seems logical. You start with “1” and work your way up. In a vehicle with an automatic transmission, electronic, mechanical or hydraulic systems determine and select the appropriate gear, depending on vehicle speed and engine demand. Yesterday’s automatics did not perform this task intelligently or quickly enough to satisfy most sports car drivers. Today’s computercontrolled automatics determine and select which gear provides the best balance of performance and efficiency for any given vehicle speed. With a manual, that’s all up to you, and it’s why many sports car drivers still prefer it. But that extra pedal can trigger questions and rattle nerves. It’s called the clutch pedal, or just “clutch” (although the actual clutch is part of the transmission). When do I push it? For how long? When do I release it? Fast or slow? Slow sometimes and fast others? Why? Certainly, it takes a fair amount of coordination between your left foot, right foot and your right hand to make this work. Your ears and, ahem, buttocks, can also play a role -- at least, once you get the hang of the basics and want to get the most fun out of a manual. With a little bit of practice, operating a manual transmission becomes second nature. Let’s get into it. Fortunately, you don’t need to know the technical aspects of the transmission’s innards to operate or enjoy a stick shift. Consider again multi-speed bicycles that you may have been riding since you were a teenager. The principle is the same. Like a car’s engine, your legs have a speed range in which they pedal most efficiently. Selecting the right gear is critical to riding the bike up and down hills and around corners without overexertion. Starting at a low gear allows you to pedal and accelerate quickly to a low speed. You then shift to progressively higher gears to convert pedaling energy into higher bike speeds. You don’t start off in a high gear, because your legs don’t have enough mechanical advantage to get the bicycle rolling quickly. The low gears multiply the force that your pedaling motion creates, giving you more leverage. Clutch BRAKE ACCELERATOR It’s the same in a car. The transmission multiplies the torque that the engine produces.