Single Speed vs GearBox(Shifter) driving styles

I’m just curious if someone could please explain to me in great depth the biggest difference between the driving style differences of a Single Speed vs a Shifter Kart.

First things first, I have (and always have) done my research on this topic but I’m still looking for more information. I’m intrigued by the different styles that a driver has to adopt in order to drive the fastest in one of the two karts.

Ive read the debate about Single Speed making you a better/faster driver since you learn to keep momentum up and make as little mistakes as possible but I’m looking for more information. Its been pointed out to me that 4 cycle engine might be even better that 2 cycle single speeds for learning as your power band is even smaller and dropping rpms hurts your lap times even harder as 4 cycles rev much slower. Curious to hear other peoples opinions

I’m currently new to karts and racing Briggs Lo206 and was driving the kart more like an actual car, like always hitting the apex and heavy late braking. Someone recently pointed out to me to take a wider arch thru fast to medium corners and not brake as much. What a difference that made.

So is keeping momentum in a shifter kart not as big of a deal because of the late braking force you can apply and on demand torque on corner exit? Is diving a shifter kart more like driving an actual race/sports car on a track?

Im ever eager to hear as many opinions on this as I can in as much detail as possible. Thanks for your time.

The notion that single-speed makes you a better driver is just paddock talk with very little substance in my view. I recall a few years ago Jos Verstappen digging at drivers who struggled adapt to KZ karts while Max was dominating. A good driver will quite often drag any type of vehicle around as quick as it can go. For sure there are differences between shifters and single-speeds, but the fundamental sensory demands are similar if not exactly the same.


Agree 100%

Most of it is racers flexing their ego, puffing chest and trying to make their class/kart sound more challenging than others. It’s also common for those same racers to not actually have experience in both karts at comparable levels.

It might have been my discussion on Facebook you read where someone in a 206 group. Someone made the comment that 206 is more difficult compared to shifter because you have gears and more power to “pull you out of mistakes”. I made the point that the 206 (or similar OHV four strokes), especially with the clutch has a very linear torque band to the wheels. A small mistake in a higher powered two stroke can be compounded by a big drop in available torque/power.

If you’ve ever had the displeasure of falling off the pipe out of the tightest turn in a 100cc rotary valve kart it sucks. It’s like someone pulled the plug wire off.

Now on the other hand, a 206 (or any lower HP class) tends to have drivers bunched closer together, so you’re likely to lose more places.

It’s the same with hard/soft tire debate. Guys that have only racer harder tires seem to think having more grip makes it easy peasy. Hard tire small mistake you lose a little time, (proper) soft tire small mistake you’re two wheeling and/or risk cracking a rib.

It’s swings and roundabouts. It varies so much it’s not really with the debate. We should just drive our go karts more and flex less :blush:

Driving and line wise, yes a shifter is different to a single gear. Mainly because you are looking to leverage the launch available out of turns, but sacrificing entry and apex speed. Basically you’ll find yourself apexing later and using kerb in ways that you probably would not do in a single geared kart.

No matter what racing style it is, it comes down to the high level skill of observing what the vehicle wants and being able to figure that out quickly.

What you observed in that wider turn is down to the kart being a little bound up on faster turns. You could tune that out, but then you’ll likely find the kart slower on the tighter turns. So in a way, it’s the same high level technique compared to the shifter where you’re adapting your driving based on what the kart wants.

Karting is a fun puzzle. Hope I actually answered your question :joy:

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Single speed don’t brake as well and don’t accelerate as well. So more care needs to be spent maintaining momentum through a corner with a bigger arch. A gearbox kart can stop much faster and accelerate much better so they can be driven in deeper, a quick rotation, then back on the gas. Totally different. Basically, we are always trying to compress the amount of time we are off the gas, and back on the gas in a corner. In a single speed if you go in too deep, you’ll need to slow down too much, and will lose time on the following straight while you get back up to speed.

Heres a little clip I found on the internet…

If you want to race, if you want to actually learn how to drive, then I would look elsewhere. Anything single speed - Briggs, Rotax - is going to teach you how to preserve momentum, keep your corner speed up, and be smooth. Shifters are a blast to drive, but they’ll teach you bad habits, especially if you’re new to karting. If you make a mistake, just drop a gear and power out of the corner. In a single speed if you make a mistake, you have to live with it into the next corner, and maybe the one after that…

I had the opportunity to meet Ryan Hunter-Reay a few weeks ago (he’s the guy who won the Indy 500 this year), and we got to talking about karting (he’s a 6x WKA national champion) and he told me this; “Shifters are fun to drive, and a its hell of a workout, but they don’t really teach you anything. The Rotaxes teach you how to drive, and how to race.”

Simon Pagenaud won the Indy 500 this year not Hunter-Reay.

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Geez anecdotally I think there’s a lot to the idea of learning on something like lo206 as opposed to two stroke or two stroke shifter.

It’s undeniable that 4 stroke racing is much more punishing of mistakes than a kart with more power. I can’t imagine how growing up “greedy” for momentum isn’t a better learning tool.

I stand by my guns that single-speed (or low-power engines in general) teach a ton of valuable skills that create a better and more well-rounded driver. Sure, you can learn to be smooth in a high-horsepower kart or a shifter, but it’s a necessity to learn those skills in the momentum classes.

I’ve seen plenty of young drivers try to make the jump to X30 Junior or something similar right away, without going through the low horsepower classes first, and their driving is all over the place. Lots of bad habits and poor fundamentals that would’ve quickly been sussed out and fixed if they were driving something they couldn’t just toss around and mash the gas.

There was a topic about this very subject a few months ago, but I can’t find it now…

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This was written back in 2014 when Ryan Hunter Ray did in fact win the Indy 500

My mistake I guess, the fact that the post indicates that it was posted 3 hours ago threw me off.

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If the fields are equally competitive when we’re comparing a mistake in a lower powered kart vs shifter. If you have to drop a gear, you’re pretty screwed. Especially if you don’t pre-emptively shift down to compensate, you’ve already lost .3s from the downshift alone to compound your mistake.

It’s definitely easier to build bad habits in a shifter if you’re fooling around because it just so much fun to throw around.

In competition, it’s a different story IMO. But again, it depends on the competition level and depth of the field.

It would be interesting to look at data of total time lost for certain “mistake scenarios”. I’m not sure how that could be done exactly. You’d need a pretty consistent driver.

I think Jos nails it here (2:45)

All this hopping between classes… if the driver is good the driver is good.

This idea that drivers learn bad habits in shifters as opposed to Rotax? come on.There’s a ton of weird habits you can develop in Rotax that one could hypothesise would be habitually negative as well. An over sized carb requiring a compensatory throttle application as an example.

Also, I guess I reject this notion that karts need to be ‘learning tools’. Learning for what exactly? We never say “car drivers develop bad habits that means they can’t drive in karts”.

Generally humans specialise though there is some homogenization of skills because it’s more efficient. I think the skills that differentiate drivers are more deeply embedded in the brain than merely something surface like “he’s learnt coz he drove a low-powered kart first for years”. That’s 9 times out of 10 confirmation bias or survivorship bias.

What makes a good drivers is probably more about the efficiency of neural pathways as well as other weird things than doing a stint in L206.

Very interesting.

Anybody know when he raced shifters and with what series? Again, the idea that you can just drop a gear in a competitive shifter field without almost no consequence is interesting to me.

he raced KZ for CRG and won the championship in 2013 I believe before he made the jump to single seaters

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I wouldn’t say Rotax is a good learning tool either, exactly for the reasons you mentioned. It’s a weird engine to drive and requires an unusual technique.

Of course a quality driver can be fast in anything, but I wasn’t necessarily comparing top-tier pilots. If we weren’t, then there’s no argument, if you’re good at driving you’ll be able to adapt to whatever style you need.

Also Jos is fairly biased, his kid is generationally talented.

I think if we are talking about learning and understanding driving and racecraft, if you make a mistake in an LO206, it’s a lot more noticeable to the driver than if you make a mistake in an X30. You can feel the low-powered kart fall on its face. In an X30, you can step on the gas and though the lap time suffers, it doesn’t feel like you made a mistake. From a learning perspective, that’s beneficial I think, because it helps a learning driver more easily identify their own mistakes.

Back to your analysis Alan, yes a driver with natural ability, good feel for the vehicle etc. will more likely be able to feel those mistakes and adjust regardless of their power, but not all drivers have those innate abilities.

I remember several years back when I had been racing X30/TaG for several years in a row, my driving started to get sloppy and I didn’t notice it until I decided to race some 100cc stuff again. Jumping back in the slower kart made me realize how choppy my driving had gotten, helped me smooth myself back out, and when I returned to TaG I was closer to the front pace again.

if you turn FFB off in a driving sim, it’s somewhat analogous in that you become aware of little inefficiencies as you are driving “naked”. Normally these little moments are hidden within the forces of driving. In any case, it makes me think of 4 stroke and how the lack of power reveals much.

Getting back to the main question asked, this is a photo of a line trace at I think south garda?


Note the much sharper line of the Shifter vs direct drive kart. One thing to note though is some of these euro circuits are very wide. On a more typical narrower circuit this will still be the case but less exaggerated

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