How does a Motorcycle work? An Engineer’s Explanation

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Although riding a motorcycle can be an exciting and thrilling new adventure, it can also seem overwhelming to those who have not been there before.  It is easy to learn how to ride a motorcycle. I’ll show you how a bike works in this article.

How does a motorcycle actually work? The crankshaft in the engine spins a shaft when the engine is running.  As the front sprocket spins it turns a link chain to the rear.  The rear sprocket spins and propels the motorcycle forward.

There are many other things that go on in the engine and transmission. As an engineer, you can easily explain the mechanics of a motorcycle.

Engine and crankshaft

The crankshaft lies near the bottom end of motorcycle engines. The term rpm’s (rotations per minute) comes from measuring the amount of times the crankshaft makes a full revolution in one minute.  So when you rev up your motorcycle and your rpm’s increase, it means your crankshaft is spinning faster.

The pistons and connecting rods, which are located above the crankshaft in the engine, spin the crankshaft. When fuel and air are ignited inside the cylinder, the pistons move up and down.  As the piston goes down, it spins the crankshaft. Your crankshaft will spin as long as your engine is running.

All internal combustion engines work pretty much the exact same way, so If you are able to learn the basics of a motorcycle engine, it will help you understand the engine in your car. It is slightly larger than the one in your car.

The crankshaft rotates and spins the rear wheels. Each motorcycle needs a clutch and several gears in order to control how much power is transferred to its rear wheel.  It is made up of 4 to 5 thin discs that squeeze together to transfer power from crankshaft to rear wheel.


On motorcycles, the clutch handle is typically located on the left.  It allows you to choose the gear you want by pulling that lever. You must pull the clutch lever every time you shift gears. If not, you’ll ruin your transmission which is an expensive fix.

You must first shift the motorcycle into first gear to get it moving.  You do this by pulling the clutch lever, and then pushing the gear lever down 1 click.  You will find the gear lever by your left foot. You always know what gear you’re in by counting the clicks.  To change between first and second gear, click the button once.

Most motorcycles have 5 gears, so you simply click up on the gear lever when your rpm’s get high and you need to shift.


A motorcycle’s transmission works in the same way as a manual transmission.  You pull in the clutch, select your gear and then slowly let out the clutch while you give it some throttle so it doesn’t stall. You can travel as fast as you like because of the transmission’s many gear sizes.

Always start on the first gear when riding a motorcycle. It is possible for your clutch to stall by starting in a higher gear than it needs.  Once your rpm’s get high in 1st gear then you pull in the clutch, shift to second gear and then slowly let out the clutch.  This process can be repeated for all gears.

Carburetors & Fuel Injectors

It is impossible to write a comprehensive article on the mechanics of a motorcycle without understanding how it works. A motorcycle must have fuel, air and spark to turn on. One of two ways to inject fuel into an engine is used. Carburetors are the most common type of motorcycles, but modern motorcycles (2005 or later) have fuel injection.

One or two small hoses are used to supply the fuel tank with fuel.  The carburetor is responsible for squirting a small amount fuel and pushing air into the engine’s combustion chamber.  The mixture of fuel and air is ignited by the spark plug. This causes a small explosion within the combustion chamber.  The piston is pushed down by the combustion and the crankshaft spins.

The fuel injection motorcycles work better in all weather conditions and are easier to start.  Carburetors have problems when they get really hot or really cold, but fuel injection doesn’t get affected by temperature swings, because a computer can control the fuel flow.  Carbureted motorcycles don’t have a computer to control the fuel.

Fuel injection refers to the pressure of the fuel being injected into the combustion chamber. Carburetors, on the other hand, depend on the engine’s suction power to draw the fuel in.

A motorcycle usually has between one and four cylinders. This combustion sequence could be repeated four times in a row, very quickly and repeatedly.  If someone claims they have four cylinders, it means that there are four combustion chambers as well as four pistons within their engine.

Start from a Stand Still

All motorcycles have an electric start or kick-start. An electric start motorcycle is controlled by a button on the one-hand control. This will send power to the engine and turn it over, allowing it to start.  However, many older motorcycles and dirt bikes do not have an electric start. This is the lever that attaches to the right footpeg.

It takes time to learn how to use a kickstarter.  To put the motorcycle into neutral, click the gear lever down until it is half way up.  You’ll know the motorcycle is in neutral if you’re able to roll the motorcycle forward and backward easily. Do not kickstart the motorcycle while it’s in gear. It can propel the motorcycle forward, and it can tip it over. I’ve seen it done many times.

Also, electric start motorcycles must be in neutral at all times. Some motorcycles can lurch forward when they hit the start button, and it is possible to crash into other things.  You should always turn the motorcycle off.

Next is how to accelerate when the motorcycle is stationary.  Once your motorcycle is in neutral and the engine is turned on, you will need to pull the clutch lever using your left hand. Next, click the gear knob down once more.  If you are doing it right, you can feel the click.

After the gear is in first gear, slowly release the clutch lever. The throttle will slowly turn (on your right handlebar).  Slowly is the key word. Don’t give it a lot of throttle or you risk doing a wheelie and losing control.

The balance of a motorcycle works the same way as a bike.  So if you don’t know how to ride a bicycle then don’t attempt to ride a motorcycle, you should learn how to ride a bicycle first to get used to balancing techniques.  Slowly accelerate and place both your feet on the pedals. Your right foot controls rear brake, while your right hand controls front brake.

Things to Do

Start slowly and keep your car in first gear.  You will need to learn how to balance your car and use your hand controls such as the horn and turn signals.  These are the basics to master before you try to get faster. You’re bound to stall the motorcycle several times (or a lot of times) as you’re learning how to start and stop.

Steering is a very important skill to master.  Two-fold is the key to riding a motorcycle. While you must turn the handlebars as if you were riding a bicycle, you must also lean your weight into turns.

It is dangerous to try and keep your body straight while turning. Always be in line with the motorcycle. It takes time to become comfortable with the bike.  You can practice turning and maneuvering in a large empty parking lot nearby.

How to Safely Brake and Stop

Two brakes are found on a motorcycle, as mentioned previously.  Your right foot controls your rear brake, while your right hand controls it.  You can slow down by pressing the brake pedal on your right foot. it’s very important that you apply equal pressure to both brakes. A collision can be caused by braking with only one.

If you brake only with the front brake, you can go over the handlebars and lose your control. However, if you brake only with the back brake, the rear tire can skid and cause you to go sideways.

Modern motorcycles are equipped with disc brakes.  Disc brakes can be either ceramic or steel circles. A little pad is attached to the brake lever that presses against the disc, slowing the motorcycle.

Many older motorcycles use drum brakes. The drum brakes work in the same way, but instead of pressing in on a disc, the pads push up onto the rotating wheel. They are less effective.

Similar Questions

My motorcycle is not starting. The most common reasons why a motorcycle isn’t starting are usually simple.  Make sure it’s in neutral, check for blown fuses, make sure you have fuel, and make sure the key is turned on.  Read more in our article 13 reasons why your motorcycle won’t start.

What is the working principle of a motorcycle stator? A stator is an enclosed coil of wires that has a spinning magnetic magnet in its middle.  The magnetic field created by the magnet spinning creates a magnetically inducing charge within the coil. This charge is then sent to the battery to charge it and to power the system of the motorcycle, such as the lights and the horn. For more information on how a stator works, please click here.

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