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It is one of the most enjoyable leisure activities, riding a motorcycle on the open road. Until you attempt to shift gears, you will be able to tell that something is wrong.
The most important part of motorcycle riding is being able to shift gears smoothly. You may feel frustrated and embarrassed if you are unable to shift gears smoothly.
How can you tell whether a motorcycle clutch has gone bad? To tell if your motorcycle clutch is bad, you’ll need to look for signs such as unexplained high revs and lowered gas mileage. You may also notice a stuck clutch lever or difficulty shifting gears, as well as a jerking sound or clunking sound.
In the past few years I’ve owned more than a dozen bikes, many of which were older models. Every problem I could find with them, including clutch problems, was mine. This is what I’ve learned about how to diagnose clutch issues as well as how to address it.
How to Tell if Your Clutch is Bad
There are typically 5-6 clutch plates on a motorcycle. These plates become interconnected and stick together when the handle is released. These plates look almost like small brake pads. They are arranged in a 4-inch circle. The plates cannot rotate when they are connected and held together.
When you pull on your clutch handle, the plates come apart and allow them to spin freely. The clutch releases the engine and allows it to spin at a different rate than the transmission. This allows you the ability to change the gear. When the clutch is released it locks the engine and transmission together again. However, this time, the ratio of the gears allows you go faster.
You can first tell if your bike clutch is failing by listening to it and feeling the revs. If you know your motorcycle pretty well, you’ll be able to tell the clutch is going bad by how much higher it is revving. This means those plates aren’t moving the way they should be. The clutch plate may take a longer time to engage with the flywheel’s speed and torque.
If your motorcycle is getting worse gas mileage, this is the second sign you should look out for. Your motorcycle’s revving speed is increasing, which means that the engine is working harder and burning more fuel. You can also read my article on other reasons motorcycles may have poor gas mileage.
Another way to tell if the clutch on your motorcycle is bad is if the clutch lever is stuck whether that means it’s stuck completely released or if it is stuck pulled in. This could be a sign that your clutch cable is bad, but it can also indicate a bad clutch.
Sometimes, these disks can become stuck together or separated from the clutch due to dirt and grime. The clutch may also have faulty springs. If those aren’t working, the plates can lean or turn and end up jamming up. If they get stuck apart, your gears aren’t going to lock together and you won’t be able to get it in gear.
A hard gear shift is another indicator to look out for. You may hear a strange clunking sound or feel the bike jerk when you shift during a ride.
Wearing plates may cause this problem by not allowing them to separate sufficiently to be able engage in a different type of gear. The plates are expected to separate a certain distance so those teeth don’t hit each other, so when they don’t distance themselves as far as they should go, those parts grind together which will give that loud clunking sound as well as the jerking feeling. This can be caused either by a malfunctioning spring or a loose clutch cable.
The last sign I’ll mention that indicates your motorcycle clutch is bad is if you simply can’t get the bike to go into gear at all. A lot of motorcycles require that it’s put into neutral in order to start it (especially kick start bikes). If you can’t get the motorcycle to shift into certain gears and your gear shift lever by your foot just goes up and down freely, your clutch is bad.
This is due to the clutch being stuck or seized altogether which in turn doesn’t let you change gears. This is often caused by a lack of oil or lubrication, which can cause the parts to heat up and warp.
How to Fix a Motorcycle Clutch
Before you begin to disassemble and try to replace parts of your clutch, It is a good idea to play around with the clutch cable first. The clutch cable should be followed down until it reaches the engine. The clutch cable usually slips through the groove in that arm. You can tighten the cable at this location or near the handlebar to see how your motorcycle reacts.
If your motorcycle has a bad clutch, it is not difficult to replace if you have some experience.
The clutch is located under one of the side engine covers. Once you know which side it’s on, you’ll need to take anything off that may be obstructing your access to the side cover (brake pedal, etc.).
Once the engine cover is off, you’ll notice the stator (the iron man looking contraption), a small gear in the center, and then the clutch. You’ll likely need to take the timing chain off of the stator and the clutch and use a grabber tool that looks like a claw that wraps around the clutch and will easily remove the clutch for you. You can rent this tool from your local auto shop.
Disclaimer: you’ll need to have some level of expertise if you’re going to take the timing chain off. This needs to be placed in the exact right position when it’s put back on or else it could cause timing issues within your engine.
You’ll need to buy a new clutch rebuilding kit. These kits will include new disks which will likely resolve your problem. You must ensure that you have enough clutch disks.
Each motorcycle’s anatomy will be different. I have worked on numerous motorcycles, and this is the most common layout when it comes to accessing the clutch. If you are attempting to replace the clutch on your motorcycle, refer to your owner’s manual and/or look up information specific to your motorcycle to ensure you do it right.
A video series I created about motorcycle restoration includes a detailed video showing how to rebuild a clutch. You will also find other components that are difficult to handle 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!
Is Fixing a Clutch something a beginner can do?
As I had mentioned before, fixing a bad clutch on a motorcycle can be an easier task if you’ve worked on motorcycles a little bit before. However, is it something a beginner should attempt to fix a clutch?
Even though it can be a simple task, I don’t recommend a complete beginner to do it. Because it’s a smaller task to complete, it won’t be very expensive to have a shop do it for you.
It can be quite simple to fix. However, novices might not know where to look and end up putting things in the wrong places. Anything that is not properly placed in an engine clutch, or under the engine cover can lead to expensive repairs in the future.
Because of the age and condition of motorcycles, sometimes clutch problems are inevitable. That’s a common fix among older bikes and it’s probably a good idea to fix it if you’re having issues on your older bike.
To prolong the clutch’s health, you can take several maintenance steps. First and foremost, you’ll need to stay on top of changing the fluids regularly. Many motorcycles use a special oil called crankcase oil for their clutch. It is a heavier oil than the majority.
It is important to change the oil on a regular basis. It doesn’t need to be changed as regularly as your motor oil, but if you ride regularly it’s probably a good idea to change out the crankcase oil every other year.
The little fill cap can be found on the engine cover. Once you have unscrewed that cap, you can poke your finger into the fluid to check the level and examine the appearance (notice any metal slivers).).