Motorcycles stall: A guide to explanation and troubleshooting

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Every motorcycle rider will experience the learning curve of using the clutch and stalling the bike over and over until they are comfortable with it.  That’s a normal part of the process, so if you’re struggling with that right now, you’re not alone.

So why do motorcycles stall? The frictional load from the back tire on a motorcycle causes it to stall, and the engine stops running. In other words, the engine isn’t getting enough gas to push the motorcycle forward. This can be avoided by pulling on the clutch handle. The engine will spin without the help of the rear wheels.

Your motorcycle is in neutral and the crankshaft of your engine spins between 750-1500 times per hour.  You can pull the clutch handle to shift the motorcycle into first. The engine spins independently of the transmission, but the clutch has now disengaged them both.

Once you let go of your clutch handle, the transmission and engine will engage and want to spin together.  So if you don’t give the motorcycle some gas by twisting the throttle then the motorcycle will stall.  Once you give the motorcycle some gas, it should start rolling forward slowly and you can let go of the clutch.

If you are sure that you’re doing everything correctly and your motorcycle is still stalling then keep reading below, we have some troubleshooting tips that can help you find your problem.

When it comes to not stalling a bike, knowing how to use the clutch correctly is vital.  We’ll discuss the clutch in further detail.

How to prevent your motorcycle from falling

If your motorcycle has a tachometer then it’s easy to tell when your motorcycle is about to stall.  And for those who have been riding motorcycles for a long time, you don’t really need the tachometer all that much because you can tell if you’re about to stall just by the sound.

As stated above, most motorcycles idle in neutral between 750-1500 rpm’s.  Once your rpm’s drop below 750 your engine will start to sputter, this is because your crankshaft is spinning, trying to push the pistons up and down but there is too much friction. Watch your tachometer and try to keep the engine revved above 750 rpm’s.

If you live in a cold region, turn the idle screw to increase the engine’s revs.  Once the engine has warmed up, turn the idle screw back to its original position.

Pull in the clutch handle, and then press the gear selector.  As the 1st gear engages, you should hear a slight clunk.  Slowly rev the motorcycle up to 1500 rpm’s and slowly let go of the clutch handle at the same time.  You will cause your engine to stall if you quickly release the clutch lever.

As you slowly let go of the clutch handle keep your engine revved to around 1500 rpm’s.  Each motorcycle clutch has its own sensitivity.  Some clutches require you to pull the handle back towards the handlebar while others only require you to pull the handle. It may take a few minutes to learn where the clutch handle disconnects.

The motorcycle will begin to move forward as you increase the throttle.  Once you get to a good cruising speed and your rpm’s start to get high then pull in the clutch handle again and pull up on the gear selector to go to 2nd gear.  Slowly let go of clutch handle.

Repeat this process until you are able to go through each gear without having your bike stall.

If you’re a more experienced rider and need some more advanced troubleshooting then scroll towards the bottom of the article.

Why the Clutch Is Important When It Comes to Stalling

A motorcycle’s clutch is an important component.  Without it, it would almost be impossible to change from neutral to the first gear.  It’s possible, but it’s not good on your transmission so I don’t recommend trying it.

The clutch acts as a counselor between the engine’s transmission and its engine.  When you’re in neutral the engine is spinning a thousand times per minute and the transmission is stationary, no spinning gears are engaged.

Once you have pulled in the clutch handle, you will be squeezing the small clutch disks together. They are the only thing that separates your engine and your transmission gear.  These gears will start to spin together when you release the clutch lever slowly.

The clutch plates are lined by friction pads so that when you pull the clutch handle, they stick together. This allows you to change gears as you like.

Is it harmful to the engine if a motorcycle is stolen??

It is unlikely that a few times you stall a motorcycle will cause damage.  It’s not ideal to stall a motorcycle but it’s not going to affect anything.  The engine can suffer if the motorcycle is stalled hundreds of times.

Stalling can be more damaging to your starter or battery than it is to your engine or transmission. These components are built to withstand that weight without causing damage.  However, parts such as the starter or battery last much less time than an engine.  So every time you have to crank the motorcycle back on again, that’s one crank sooner that your starter is going to fail.

I have taught friends and relatives how to drive manual transmission cars and motorcycles, and it is not a bad idea to stall the engine.

Is Your Motorcycle able to Stall Even with the Clutch Handle In?

Let’s look at some troubleshooting reasons why your motorcycle might be stalling even when you have the clutch handle pulled in.  These issues can be very simple or complex.

Even if you have the clutch handle pulled in, the most common reason your motorcycle is stalling is because of this: Your clutch cable becomes loosen over time as it stretches. Every time you pull the clutch handle you’re stretching that thin cable.  You can reduce that stretch by tightening the clutch handle nuts. This will allow your clutch to function again.

If your clutch handle nut has been tightened all the way and it’s still not pulling the clutch in then it’s time for a new clutch cable.  These cables cost anywhere from $20 to $40 USD.

If your clutch handle pulls in way too easily and it feels like there’s no spring force pulling it back then you probably have a snapped cable.  Sometimes, the cables can rust in the sheath and split in half.  Simply replace the cable.

If your clutch handle will not pull in at all and it’s completely stuck in place then try to loosen the clutch handle nut.  If that doesn’t help then there could be three explanations.

  • It is possible that your cable has rusted in the inside and cannot slide into or out of its sheath.
  • A second reason is that the clutch plates are rusted.  This is common if you didn’t have enough oil in the clutch or if the motorcycle has been sitting for a very long time.
  • A third possibility is that your clutch springs are rusted or have sprung from their holes. This happened to me on my 1969 Triumph. I had to remove the left side engine cover in order to rebuild the clutch.

If the clutch pulls properly but the transmission starts to shift very hard, it might be time for new clutch plates. If they haven’t been changed in about 5 years or 15,000 miles then they should probably be changed if the motorcycle shifts hard.

If the clutch is properly working, the transmission shifts into the gears smoothly. But the engine will cut out whenever you try to move forward in first gear. Your carburetor should be cleaned regularly. On most carburetors, when the motorcycle starts to rev higher a second set of jets start adding fuel, and if your jets are clogged then your engine will lose power at the same time that you’re letting go of the clutch.  This can cause an engine to stall.

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