Diagnosing & Fixing Motorcycle Clutch Problems

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Your motorcycle’s clutch allows you to stop and start smoothly and easily shift gears.

Depending on the bike you have, you’ll either have a wet or dry clutch. Wet clutches run in oil, whereas dry clutches do not.

The clutches work to engage and disengage the transmission and final drive. When you pull the clutch lever in, the clutch basket springs compress and disengage the transmission.

The clutch is composed of two types of plates (steel or fiber) that fit into a clutch basket that’s held together by bolts and springs.

Overtime, clutch plates and springs can wear and may need to be replaced.

How Does the Motorcycle Clutch Work?

The clutch’s job is to connect power between the engine’s crankshaft and the transmission.

A motorcycle clutch is made up of:

  • An outer basket.
  • Springs.
  • A top plate.
  • Steel plates.
  • Friction plates.
  • A flywheel gear connecting the the crankshaft and the transmission.

When the clutch is disengaged, the plates stick together and the crankshaft transmits power through to the transmission and spins the rear wheel.

When the clutch is engaged (lever pulled in), the plates spin freely and the crankshaft can spin independent of the transmission. This allows you to change gears or stop moving forward.

Common Motorcycle Clutch Problems

If you suspect your clutch may be bad, you might need to replace the clutch’s friction plates.

Some signs that your clutch plates need to be replaced include:

  • Difficulty shifting or loud clunky sound when shifting.
  • Not being able to shift at all.
  • Abnormally high revs (barring any carb issues).
  • Worsening gas mileage.

The first thing to check if your motorcycle has clutch problems is the clutch adjustment (see below).

If that doesn’t solve it, you will likely need to take apart the clutch and replace the plates.

How to Try to Unstick a Stuck Motorcycle Clutch

On bikes that have been sitting for a while unridden, the clutch plates can stick together.

If you’re working on a motorcycle project, you can try this method before you start taking the clutch apart.

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You can try unsticking the clutch plates by holding the clutch lever and rocking the bike back and forth in gear.

Sometimes the plates will unstick themselves after you get the bike warmed up and ride it a bit.

Getting the bike running with some fresh oil may be the easiest solution for bikes that haven’t been run in some time.

How to Remove the Motorcycle Clutch

To remove your motorcycle’s clutch:

  • Remove the clutch cover from the engine.
  • Begin to loosen the bolts that connect the springs and the clutch basket. Loosen them slowly at the same rate.
  • Remove the clutch plates. Be sure to note the order assembly.

If you need to remove the entire clutch assembly, you’ll need to keep the clutch basket stationary as you loosen the large lock-washer and nut from the clutch.

Inspect and measure your clutch plates. Replace them if they are burnt or worn.

Refer to your motorcycle shop manual for specific procedures and service limits.

How to Reassemble a Motorcycle Clutch

Before reassembling the clutch, soak the clutch plates in oil.

Confirm that the clutch basket is oriented correctly.

When reinstalling your clutch, be sure to check the torque values and the tightening sequence for the six bolts that compress the clutch springs.

If you tighten these bolts incorrectly or over-torque them, you can break your clutch basket.

After reinstalling the clutch and clutch cover, be sure to set the clutch adjustment.

Motorcycle clutch typically consists of:

  • Screwing in the clutch adjuster screw and backing it out a bit before setting the lock nut.
  • Adjusting the cable adjuster near the clutch cover.
  • Adjusting the cable at the clutch level.

Refer to your shop manual for the exact sequence.

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