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Know Your Controls: Clutch
The top half of the image shows a two-fingered clutch technique (which is common with sportbikes), while the lower half shows a four-fingered technique that is usually employed with other types of bikes.
The clutch is the lever just ahead of the left hand grip. Most sportbikes requires only two-fingered operation (pictured above), while touring, cruising, and other types of bikes often require the whole hand to grab the lever (pictured below.)
Think of the clutch as a way to connect and disconnect the engine from the transmission. When you squeeze the clutch lever, you're effectively putting the bike in neutral (even if the shifter is in a gear.) When you let go, you're enabling the engine to turn the transmission and, if the bike is in gear, the rear wheel.
Practice pulling the clutch with your left hand, and do so slowly and gradually; imagine it's a dimmer switch, rather than an "On-Off" switch, and you'll be able to engage gears much more smoothly.