13 Reasons Your Motorbike Won’t Start and How You Can Fix It

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Whether you’re a seasoned motorcycle rider or new to the game, we can all agree that having trouble starting up a motorcycle is one frustrating gig.

Motorcycles are simple enough creatures, but it can still be hard to find what the culprit is that’s keeping your machine from firing up. I’ve been there many times myself. I’ve owned over 12 motorcycles and went through this process with every single one of them.

Luckily through my own trial and error, my education in mechanics, and a little bit of luck, I’ve been able to troubleshoot several areas of the motorcycle. Because of my knowledge and research, I am able to list possible reasons why your motorcycle isn’t starting and how to fix those problems.

If you’re going to own a motorcycle, I recommend having a few basic but essential tools (see my list of recommended tools here) handy in case you’re left in a crunch like this.

Dead Battery

Signs that your battery is dead this is the easiest problem to diagnose and is probably the most common reason why a motorcycle doesn’t start.

Depending on the level of your battery, you might be able turn the key and turn on your blinker if there’s still some voltage. However, turning it over is slow because it takes so much effort. Your motorcycle won’t make any noise if it is dead.

How to die a battery on a motorcycle If a motorcycle battery is not used and just sits, it will lose it’s capacity to power your motorcycle.

Parasitic drain is another phenomenon. This occurs when the battery is discharged slowly by poorly grounded wires and motorcycle computers. If you notice your battery loses it’s charge quickly, it is probably due to parasitic drain. For more information on what happens to a battery that is just sitting, see my article here.

How to fix it Take a multimeter, and switch it to DC Voltage. Then turn it on to direct current at 20 volts. Now put the separate leads on the two battery posts (if you’re reading a negative number, that just means you need to switch the leads to the other battery post).

If it reads less than or equal to 12 volts then charge the battery and start your bike again. If it has a really low number, such as 9 volts or below, then you battery is pretty much toast and you’ll need to purchase a new one.

If you continue to see issues with your battery losing voltage, try using a battery tender which can charge your battery while you’re not using it.

Dirty Carburetor

Signs that your carburetor is dirty: There are many ways to identify if you have a malfunctioning carburetor. If you have an electronic starter, pull your air intake apart and push the starter. Then, squirt starter liquid straight into your carburetor. If your carburetor doesn’t start or revs up after a few seconds, it is dirty.

How the carburetor is dirty: Fuel system deposits can lead to dirt and other particles. Because they are so small, this buildup can quickly cause fuel to stop flowing. A dirty carburetor will be quickly caused by a lack of a fuel filter.

How to fix it you’ll need to thoroughly clean your carbs. To do this, you’ll have to take off the air intake then detach the carburetor from your motorcycle engine. Take pictures of everything you are doing to disassemble it so you can remember how to put it back together. You can label the parts you need with tape if necessary.

You’ll need to take some of the carburetor apart and purchase a few new gaskets for when you reassemble it. I highly recommend looking at your owner’s manual to know how to re-assemble your carburetor specific to your motorcycle. If you don’t have access to your owner’s manual, check out emanualonline.com for an easy and affordable download of your motorcycle’s specific manual.

It is best to clean the carburetor by immersing all parts in an ultrasonic cleaner, and then doing a few rounds. If the solution is right, the ultrasonic cleaner will emit an ultrasound that stirs the solution. This can easily remove fuel and dirt from hard-to reach places.

A cheap and easy way to clean your car with an ultrasonic cleaner is to visit your local auto shop or home improvement store.

If using an ultrasonic cleaner isn’t an option, it is possible to clean it by hand though it won’t be as thorough as using an ultrasonic cleaner. It can be rinsed in warm soapy water. You should inspect the jet holes to ensure there aren’t any obstructions. This will make your bike less efficient.

A video series I created about motorcycle restoration includes a 25-minute video detailing how to clean and rebuild carbs. You will also find other components that are difficult to tackle, such as the body and electrical. I give dozens of tips and tricks that you won’t find anywhere else online. Click here for more information if you’re interested in viewing multiple videos that will help fix up your bike or if you’re interested in completely building your dream motorcycle!

Blown Fuses

Signs and symptoms of blown fuse: While the motorcycle sounds normal when you start it, it won’t respond until it spins forever.

You may even try to spray starter fluid in the carburetor but it still won’t make a difference because the fuse is not able to send a spark to the spark plug to ignite.

How a fuse blows: A blown fuse is usually a sign that there is an issue with the grounding wire, especially if it has to be replaced repeatedly. Sometimes people try to wire up aftermarket light bulbs or horns and end up putting the wrong wire somewhere.

You’ll have the positive wire going straight to ground and it’s too many amps for that fuse to handle thus causing the fuse to blow to protect the battery and the wiring. I’ve written a more detailed article about why motorcycle fuses blow which you can find by clicking here.

How to fix it Only one fuse can cause a motorcycle to stop starting. A main fuse is usually found on every motorcycle. It can be between 30 and 50 amps, but some bikes may have 20 amps. The fuse is located near the positive battery wire. Sometimes it’s an inline fuse and other times it’s a regular block fuse.

Check the main fuse and see if it’s blown. The fuse can be identified by the presence of black material on it or the disconnection of the wires. If the fuse is damaged, you can replace it. The fuse can be identified at any auto parts shop.

For a few dollars, you can buy a small circuit breaker at an auto shop and place it in the line until the problem is solved. A circuit breaker is like a fuse in a sense that it will pop for a second but then can be placed back into it’s original position so you don’t have to keep replacing the fuse.

You’ll need to figure out which wire is poorly grounded. Multimeters can be used to check the grounding of wires. This will allow you to identify the source of the problem.

Too Cold

Signs your bike is too cold This applies only to motorcycles with a carburetor. It doesn’t usually apply to motorcycles with a fuel injection system. Your motorcycle will sound like it’s attempting to start, but the turning sounds will probably sound a little slower than normal

How cold temperatures can prevent you from starting your bike? obviously you’ll be able to calibrate this because of the temperature outside. The gasoline doesn’t entirely evaporate when it is mixed with air during cold temperatures and therefore combustion doesn’t occur correctly.

Sometimes there is ice buildup within the carburetor that makes it difficult for fuel or air mixture to reach certain parts. When the engine is at optimal temperatures (above freezing), it is easier to ignite gas.

How to fix it You should bring your motorcycle to a garage that has an outlet. You’ll need to plug in a space heater and blow it directly onto your engine and carburetor for at least 20 minutes. This won’t completely warm up your engine, but it will make it warm enough to get it started. This method has been tried hundreds of times, and it always works. You can read my article to learn more about how to start a bike in cold weather.

Always keep your motorcycle covered, or at least stored inside to protect it from the elements. My guide to long-term storage provides more information.

Clogged Injector

Signs that your injector is clogged: Your motorcycle will attempt to turn over normally when you try to start it but there won’t be any combustion. If you know it’s sparking correctly and that there is gas in the tank but it has been sitting for a while, your culprit is probably a clogged fuel injector.

You can also inspect the fuel injectors manually. If your fuel injectors look dirty or blocked, they should be replaced or cleaned.

How can fuel injectors become clogged? This is not a common problem with fuel injection systems. If you ride your motorcycle a lot, you will have fuel constantly flowing through your injector which eventually cleans it.

When your motorcycle is left for too long, an injector can become clogged. You will end up with old, gelled fuel that can clog your injectors. It will also prevent fuel from flow. Check out my other article, clicking here to find out what happens to your motorcycle if it is left alone.

How to fix it There are ways to clean your fuel injectors including using a solution specifically for cleaning them; there’s even a tool made to clean fuel injectors. Fuel injectors can be quite expensive so you may want to spend more money on new ones than on a tool for cleaning them.

Bad Spark Plugs

Signs that your spark plugs are not working properly: If a spark plug is about ready to blow, it means that the motorcycle is not running as well as normal. “gutless.” Eventually when a spark plug has gone completely out, your motorcycle will attempt to turn over but simply won’t fire up.

Also, if you have no idea when they were changed last, that might be a good indication that they’re spent.

What happens when spark plugs stop working? There are several ways that a spark plug could go bad. First, it’s possible for the ceramic coating to get cracked. When a cracked spark plug is installed, the spark will find the least path of resistance through the crack and ground out to your engine block instead of going all the way down to the end of the spark plug and jumping across the gap like it’s supposed to.

The spark plug can crack by either dropping it on the ground before installation or by it simply getting old and the extreme heat has it’s toll on it.

The second is that a spark plug may become fowling. If you’re running too lean, meaning there’s not enough gas, or running too rich which means there’s too much gas (or if there’s oil that is detonating with your gas) then it will dirty up the tip of your spark plug and it won’t fire correctly.

The gap between the center and side electrodes (or between the points at the end of the sparkplug) can also fail. The manufacturer sets this distance and it must be within a specified distance to spark properly. If it’s too far or too close then it won’t spark right.

How to fix it It’s easy to replace a sparkplug. Spark plugs cost only a few bucks and can be bought at any auto shop. If you need to replace a spark plug, make sure you replace all the other ones as well even if they don’t need it. This will help your motorcycle run more smoothly.

Bad Starter

Signs you are starting to have trouble? This applies only if your electric starter is working. One bad starter can produce many strange sounds. A clicking sound would be one example. Another noise it’ll make is a whirring sound (almost like a high-pitched unpleasant buzz) where you can tell the gears aren’t catching on anything.

A third sign you should look out for is no sound when you attempt to start the engine. This is even though the starter and battery are good.

How does a starter stop working: Age is the leading cause of a starter going bad. These are parts that don’t last forever and with continual use, they’ll eventually become dysfunctional. You can also contribute by poor wire connections, or overheating the starter.

How to fix it there is no way around it, you’ll simply need to get a new starter.

Bad Ignition Coil

The symptoms of a bad ignition system: Poor spark circulation can be caused by a bad ignition coil. A coil problem is when you are sure that your motorcycle has enough fuel, your battery is properly connected, and your spark plug wires are clean. This problem can be caused by poor idling or stalling.

You may notice your motorcycle turning over, but it won’t stay on. It will stop and stall. The coil can’t support the start of your motorcycle so you might be able flip it.

How to stop an ignition coil from working The coil’s winding can be damaged by heat and vibration over time. However, the main reason ignition coils fail to function is an overload of voltage due to poorly functioning sparkplugs.

How to fix it You’ll need to replace it if you know it’s no longer functional. It is easy to replace ignition coils and they are generally affordable for motorcycles.

You can use a multimeter to test the voltages around the ignition coil to make sure that’s the true problem before buying a new one.

Spark Plug Wires Cracked

Cracked spark plug wires are signs and symptoms Even though cracking spark plug cables can look like other problems, this is an indicator that spark plug wiring is the problem.

Visual inspection is all that’s required. Bend and move the spark plug wires around, paying attention to cracks or breaks in the plastic. Even though it is an easy fix, it could prove to be very dangerous if the spark plug wire was damaged while the motorbike was being driven. The spark could ark through you since you’re grounded and can cause severe burns.

How spark plug wires break: The rubber/plastic material that your wires are made from will eventually be melted by heat. This process can be accelerated by extreme weather conditions.

How to fix it You only need to replace the sparkplug wire. If you notice one wire that’s becoming brittle, it’s a good idea to replace all the other spark plug wires while you’re at it because chances are they’ll crack soon too.

There is no air flow

No airflow: Again, it is possible to turn it over easily but have trouble getting it started. You may also notice it stalling when you accelerate.

Checking the air filter inside your box can help you determine if there is an issue with your air flow. You can temporarily remove your air box or pod filters (if you’re not in a dusty environment) and again try to start up your bike. The problem is most likely the airflow. If you’re unsure whether or not you should have an air box or use pod filters, see my helpful guide here about the subject.

How to obstruct air: this is usually caused by a dirty air filter that hasn’t been cleaned or replaced in a while or clogged pod filters (though pod filters don’t usually have a problem with obstructing air).

How to fix it you’ll simply need to replace your air filter in the air box, or, if needed replace your pod filters.

Timing is off

Signs that your timing is off this is most likely not your problem especially if your motorcycle has been previously running okay, but it’s definitely worth mentioning.

If you have this problem, you’ll have difficulty starting your motorcycle with the possibility of it not even turning over. You may hear a ticking sound when you try to start it. It may be possible to start it, but it could backfire and stall. You may have engine timing issues if your motorcycle is having oil leakage problems, smoking excessively, or making a tickling sound while it is running.

How to adjust the timing of your motorcycle’s engine: it’s possible the timing was not set right if someone has previously taken your engine apart and reassembled it together with or without professional help. You may also have an older electronic control module that could cause the timing to be off.

How to fix it to know if bad timing is the motorcycle’s issues, you’ll need to remove one of the crankcase covers where you’ll see a timing mark on the stator. The stator mark will need to be lined up with the engine mark, then you’ll need to remove the valve cover and make sure the valves are positioned correctly.

Every motorcycle’s process of timing is different from each other. If you’re a beginner, do not attempt to diagnose and fix this yourself. I strongly recommend everyone bring their motorcycle to a shop for professional timing.

Seized Engine

Signs and symptoms of a seized engine An electric starter will prevent your engine from turning over. The starter will make a short clicking sound, then a humming sound. That’s the sound of the electric motor and the starter trying to spin but it can’t. Because of the buildup of amperage, you may blow out the main fuse.

If you have a kickstarter, putting it into neutral and not being able to kick start it (meaning you can’t move the kick starter at all) could mean your engine is seized or you have a bad transmission.

How a motorcycle engine is seized Lack of lubrication is the most common reason why a motorcycle engine can seize. Old or dirty oil is the second reason. Due to long-term sitting, the third most common reason for a seized engine is rust or grime buildup. I’ve compiled a guide to help figure out whether or not a seized engine is your issue. Click here to access the guide.

How to fix it There are several methods you can use to fix a stolen engine. However, unless you have the necessary knowledge, I would recommend that you take your bike to a shop to have it repaired or to determine why it was seized. It can be difficult to fix a seized engine depending on its severity. You may also have problems with the engine if you try to modify it.

The wrong gear

Symptoms that you’re in the wrong gear: This is mostly applicable to kickstart motorcycles. This safety feature is intended to prevent people from moving forward by preventing them from putting their bike in gear and jolting.

Your motorcycle might turn over but not start. It may make a grinding or squealing sound depending on what make and model it is.

How a motorcycle can get in the wrong gear Often times people will turn off their motorcycle while it’s in gear and forget to put it back into neutral.

How to fix it Start your motorcycle by putting it in neutral.

Similar Questions

Which types of motorcycles are the easiest to repair? Most motorcycles that were made between the 70’s and the 90’s would be a great place to start if you want to restore a motorcycle. Japanese motorcycles are easier to repair than European motorcycles. Check out my article to find more details.

How much more difficult is it to fix a motorcycle than a car? It is much easier to repair motorcycles than cars. Motorcycles and cars have the same basic system. Understanding how a motorcycle works will help you to understand how a car operates.

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