12 Common Motorcycle Problems Every Rider Must Know

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Every machine has its quirks, and motorcycles are no different. Over the past decade I’ve come to find that although I love to ride, there are some common problems I’ve run into with motorcycles I’ve owned.

These were common issues that I encountered when I was restoring motorcycles for college. Here’s what I learned and here’s what you can do to combat these problems so you can continue to enjoy your ride.

Carburetor Issues

Though you’ll likely see more and more motorcycles with fuel injectors, the majority of motorcycles will have a carburetor. As simple as of a system the carburetor has, it’s proven to be probably one of the most finicky and problematic part a motorcycle can have.

The carburetor, which is basically the part of the motorcycle that mixes the fuel and air required to ignite the engine’s combustion process, is what you call it. When it malfunctions, that means the motorcycle has running issues or simply can’t run at all.

The most common problems I’ve seen within a carburetor is gas leaks, vacuum leaks, brittle gaskets, plugged jets, and getting all around gunked up. These are issues that can lead to poor performance on the motorcycle, which can make a rider feel frustrated and stuck.

The best way to ensure you don’t have carb issues is to simply clean out the carburetor once every 1-2 years. It’s most thorough if you take it apart and clean each piece with an ultrasonic cleaner (like this one found on Amazon.com) and replace any gaskets as needed. Click here to view my other article about how to clean the carburetor without taking it apart.

Chain Maintenance

The motorcycle’s driving force is the chain. The engine is where the power comes from, and the tires are what keep the bike on the road. But you need something to connect the two for it to move forward.

When you own a motorcycle, it is important to maintain your chain. Although it’s a simple task to do, untreated chains can have serious consequences.

It is possible that the chain can break. If it is too loose or tight, it could cause damage. The actual break of the chain isn’t much of a concern as what the chain does after it breaks. It’s possible for the broken chain to jam up the sprockets which can ultimately bring the motorcycle to a halt since a seized sprocket means a seized rear tire. It’s also possible for a broken motorcycle chain to flip back and hit the car behind if the rider is going fast enough.

A broken chain isn’t as common as it used to be. But a broken chain is common for motorcycle owners so it’s important to be aware of the proper maintenance a chain requires and know the signs to look for if the chain has run it’s course. You can read my other article to learn more about the consequences of a broken motorcycle chain.

Flat Tires

Motorcycles, like all machines that use tires, are more likely to have flats. Flat tires are a common problem for motorcycles. This can be more frustrating and inconvenient than a similar situation with other vehicles.

The reason flat tires are common among motorcycles is because a lot of riders don’t really take the proper care and maintain them. The problem is almost always preventable, with the exception of hitting something on the road or something else. You can tell if your tire is old and need to be replaced by looking for signs such as bulging or bald spots and cracks.

Flat tires are more likely to occur due to age, constant usage, and prolonged exposure of the sun. Flat tires can cause serious injury to riders. You can read more about motorcycle tire maintenance by clicking here.

We have less protection

One of the most common problems motorcycles have is that they offer less protection to their operators than other vehicles. When someone rides a motorcycle, they’re completely out in the open with nothing around them which means accidents can be more serious if they were to occur.

People often mistakenly believe that motorcycles can be dangerous. The truth is that motorcycles themselves aren’t dangerous, rather it’s the driver and their skills while riding that makes the experience dangerous. There are many situations in which dangerous situations can occur without the rider’s fault (i.e. other drivers’ ignorance). In either case, that’s why having less protection can be a problem.

Engineers are trying to improve the safety of motorcycles. For example, some are looking for ways to implement airbags and anti-lock brakes so collisions aren’t so dangerous. These improvements can make this a less common problem for those who ride. Check out my other article to learn more about how dangerous motorcycles can be.

Start-ups for Cold Weather

Winters can be very harsh on vehicles, especially motorcycles. Many motorcycle owners find it difficult to start their motorcycles when the temperature is below freezing. This is the most common problem a motorcycle can experience.

Trouble starting up in cold temperatures is usually caused by the battery. The temperature drops slowly in freezing temperatures as the voltage on the batteries decreases. This happens mostly because people are riding their motorcycles less during cold weather so the battery isn’t being charged by the stator. And any parasitic drain that’s happening will manifest itself by less usage of the motorcycle.

Cold temperatures can also be harsh on motorcycle engines. An engine can become more oily due to a good freeze. The engine will need more power from its battery to start. And since cold weather is also harsh on batteries too, a motorcycle battery sometimes can’t give the amperage the engine needs to start. It’s a vicious cycle. You can avoid these problems by doing some preventative maintenance. You can read my article to learn more.

Fuel Misuse

If you use a basic fuel type, your motorcycle will start to run. But before long the motorcycle will begin to have issues if you don’t put in the right type of fuel. This means that most motorcycles need a specific type of fuel to function at their best.

Most motorcycles require a higher level of octane (not less than a rating of 91) that is ethanol-free. High-compression engines such as those found on most motorcycles require high-octane gasoline. Ethanol free gas is especially important for motorcycles with a carburetor because it’s common for ethanol additives to eventually plug up the small jets inside.

Ethanol isn’t a bad thing, in fact the catalyzing effect ethanol has on octane helps it to maintain it’s burning efficiency. But when it’s in small, tight places such as inside the carburetor, it can gum up causing clogs which will ultimately mean no fuel can pass through the carburetor at all.

This is another common problem that motorcycles have, but it can be easily avoided. Every rider should pay close attention to what gas they are using and only use gas stations that advertise to have it. “ethanol free” gas. Click here to find out more about what type of gas your motorcycle needs.

Backfiring

People associate motorcycles with backfiring. Some riders even make it a point to do this. Generally, however, it isn’t good for a motorcycle to backfire because that means there are underlying problems. These problems are quite common.

There are many reasons why a motorcycle could go wrong. But the most common reason is that the engine is running lean, or too rich. These problems are usually caused by clogged jets, or a vacuum leak.

An engine that runs too rich means it is getting too much fuel. Over-fueling could cause the spark plug to not ignite all of the fuel. The fuel that is left over will heat up and then combust into the atmospheric air, causing the popping sound.

Lean engines are those that have too much fuel or too little air. Air doesn’t burn, the fuel does. So when there’s way too much air then sometimes the fuel won’t combust. Once the exhaust valve is opened and the mixture of fuel and air hits the hot exhaust header, it ignites and produces a loud bang sound.

Battery issues

Most motorcycles’ most frequent problem is battery issues. Motorcycle batteries can be a bit finicky if they’re not maintained just right and most motorcyclists have to learn how to deal with them through trial and error.

There’s a lot that can effect how a battery works such as temperature, age of the battery, age of the motorcycle, how it’s stored, and how often it’s charged. As I had mentioned before, cold air can be brutal to motorcycle batteries if they’re not connected to a charger or there’s some sort of parasitic drain or poor grounding.

In the last few years, I have sold and bought dozens of bikes. I usually buy bikes that aren’t running because the fix is normally pretty easy; a gunked up carburetor or a poorly grounded battery. If you do your research and look at a few Youtube videos, these are very simple repairs. You can read my article here about winter maintenance for your motorcycle battery.

Electrical Problems

Now that we’ve talked about motorcycle batteries, let’s discuss common problems with electrical issues. Although battery problems and electrical issues can sometimes be linked, they can also present as separate issues. Even a good battery can still cause electrical problems.

Because motorcycles have more wires than other vehicles, they are more susceptible to electrical problems. Water and/or sunlight can easily destroy wiring if they’re not connected or protected right. And any time a motorcyclist has to break into any wiring, there are potential problems down the road because electrical is tricky and most people don’t know what they’re doing.

Throttle Response

When you twist the throttle, your motorcycle should accelerate. Sometimes that’s not the case and this can be seen as a common problem when you aren’t getting the acceleration you want or need. This can be frustrating for riders, who often ride motorcycles for the ease of it.

Poor throttle response happens when the engine isn’t getting what it needs to properly fire up and make the motorcycle go faster. It could be due to spark plugs not lighting the fuel, too much fuel/not enough air, or too much fuel/not enough fuel.

There are many reasons why a motorcycle may not respond to the throttle as it should. Some of these include poor timing, carb issues, and vacuum leaks. A lot of these causes can be prevented through regular maintenance though sometimes you can’t help the issue when it comes to the timing. You can read my article for more details about why your motorcycle loses power while accelerating.

Squeaky Brakes

Squeaky brakes are more common among motorcycles compared to other vehicles because they’re more exposed. A car’s brakes have a little more coverage from its hub caps and the car’s body. Brakes on a motorcycle really don’t have any covering and are more susceptible to the elements.

The most common reason a motorcycle has squeaky braking is that rocks get lodged between the brake pad rotor and brake pad, as well as moisture and water getting in there. Wearing out brake pads, uneven brake rotors and no grease between the brake pad and the caliper piston could all be reasons.

Because it is so important for safety, brake maintenance is crucial. If you’re worried about squeaky brakes, make sure to inspect them several times a year and you shouldn’t have much of a problem.

Clutch Handle Tightness

A majority of motorcycles come with a manual gearbox, which includes a clutch handle. Pulling in the clutch lets a rider change gears depending on what speed they’re going. This clutch handle is often too tight for motorcycles.

The clutch handle can be either too loose or tight. Too loose can mean you won’t have enough force to disengage the clutch. The clutch will not disengage if the clutch handle is too tight.

Too tight of a clutch is usually caused by the owner or mechanic over tightening the cable. The clutch handle is too loose, which means that it has become loose over time. This can be fixed by tightening the clutch just a bit. It’s a common problem but it can easily be fixed by simply adjusting the cable screw a few turns.

So, Are Motorcycles Worth It?

This list will help you decide if owning a motorcycle makes sense. You will be very happy with your purchase. If you were to compare the list of common problems a car has compared to common problems a motorcycle has, the car’s list would be much larger.

Every source and machine of transportation will encounter problems at some point. However, while motorcyclists can sometimes run into problems, basic maintenance and a visual inspection can prevent most of them. It’s good to be aware of these problems if you own a bike or you’re thinking about buying one; that in itself can ensure you won’t run into these near as often and can enjoy your motorcycle rides rather than spend more time fixing it.

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