How Do Kickstand Switches Work? (Explained)

A motorcycle kickstand switch is a safety feature on most contemporary motorcycles.

Although Harleys don’t typically use them, as the United States doesn’t require mandatory kickstand sensors at the time of writing, most other bike brands include them as standard equipment.

A few countries require motorcycles sold on their territory to have kickstand sensors due to various accidents that have taken place because of riders riding with the kickstand still engaged.

But just how does a kickstand switch work? Find out below.

Here’s the short answer to how does a motorcycle kickstand sensor work:

The kickstand switch is a safety sensor that signals the ECU to kill the motorcycle as soon as it’s put in gear, preventing the bike from taking off with the kickstand still engaged by opening the starter relay circuit when the side stand is engaged, stopping the relay from starting the motorcycle.

What Is a Kickstand Switch?

A motorcycle kickstand switch is a sensor switch that works together with its neutral switch and clutch lever to prevent the rider from riding with the kickstand extended.

If the stand is down while the motor is running, the engine dies when you put the bike in gear and release your clutch lever.

The kickstand sensor switch is a safety switch used on most motorcycles to ensure the rider doesn’t crash due to unknowingly riding with their kickstand down.

Mostly, a kickstand switch is a two-piece assembly. There are a few different ways this can work. Some kickstand switches used a hall effect to execute their function with no physical contact.

  • On a contactless kickstand switch, the circuit is made and broken by a magnet, traveling through the energy field created by the charged controller.
  • The magnet lives on your moto’s kickstand while the field-generating switch is bolted to the motorcycle frame.
  • The magnet enters the sensor’s field when the kickstand is lifted up, completing the electrical circuit that sends juice to your starter relay to start the bike.
  • The magnet leaves the circuit when the kickstand is extended, breaking the energy flow and disrupting the starter relay’s current.
  • These switches can fail if the magnet becomes corroded, dislodged, or removed, or if the sensor falls to generate the electrical field.

The other common type of kickstand switch works similarly, but uses a physical/mechanical process to carry out its function instead of a magnet.

  • Just like the style of kickstand switch mentioned above, a mechanical kickstand switch is designed to disrupt its associated sensor’s circuit when the stand is extended.
  • This type of kickstand sensor uses a plunger or pivot bolt instead of a magnet and is often engineered to be a single unit mounted to the frame but the stand.
  • The unit includes a type of plunger—a pivot bolt raised up in some cases—to complete the starter relay energizing circuit when the kickstand is up, and the bike is ready for action.
  • The bolt pops out when the side stand is extended, interrupting the circuit.
  • Some kickstand sensors function in the opposite order; the bolt interrupts the circuit by pushing in when the kickstand is deployed to interrupt the circuit and popping out when the kickstand is up, allowing the course to complete itself without its interference.

Regardless of the style of kickstand sensor your bike uses, if the plunger gets stuck on these kickstand sensors or if the sensor becomes dislodged, your motorcycle’s starter circuit will be interrupted, and your engine will stall out.

If the circuit is stuck in the active position, the switch will fail to prevent you from riding off while your kickstand is still engaged.

Related: Motorcycle Brake Caliper Won’t Release: 5 Reasons (Solved)

What Exactly Does the Kickstand Switch Do?

A kickstand switch is a safety sensor that stops you from riding your bike with the kickstand down.

It allows you to start the bike in neutral with the stand down; as soon as you put it in gear, the kickstand switch kills the current that charges your starter relay, stalling the engine.

Most motorcycles in this day and age come standard with a kickstand switch or sensor.

Who knows how many lives they’ve saved by stopping a rider dead in their tracks before riding off?

There are multiple cases of riders injured or even killed in a collision due to riding with an extended kickstand preventing them from leaning far enough to maneuver their bike through a curve.

A kickstand switch would’ve saved these riders ‘ lives, whether it’s from hitting a wall or falling over a ledge because they couldn’t lean hard enough to make it through.

  • Kickstand switches do their job by either signaling the ECU to stall the engine if the stand is down or physically interrupting your relay circuitry responsible for starting the bike, either with a magnet or through a mechanical process involving a push-button, plunger, or pivot screw.

  • Most metric bikes come standard with kickstand sensors. That said, to my knowledge, Harley-Davidson motorcycles still don’t use kickstand sensors, likely because it’s not a legal requirement in the United States. There are countries that make kickstand sensors a moto-requirement, though.

  • Despite its American Polaris heritage, my Indian Chieftain Limited came with one, I assumed to meet the international standards without having to manufacture multiple versions of the same bike.

The primary function of the kickstand switch is safety. If you rub hard enough and long enough, you’re bound to drop the bike and go down. It’s a matter of fact that riding with your side stand extended and leaning far enough for it to scrape the street.

While riders criticize some bike brands for only employing kickstand switches to meet international laws, deeming them unnecessary, the truth is that these laws are in place due to the occurrence of severe accidents at the hands of the extended kickstands in the past.

Various manufacturers handle performing this function in multiple ways, but the core concept is similar and relatively simple across the board.

The kickstand switch sensor is integrated into a loop, either an ECU loop or an electrical circuit affecting ignition.

The kickstand interrupts the loop when extended, stalling the engine until the kickstand is disengaged. When the kickstand is up, the circle opens.

Related: How To Start A Motorcycle With A Bad Starter (Solved!)

Can You Bypass the Kickstand Switch Sensor?

You can bypass the safety switch on a motorcycle in multiple ways, depending on the type of switch you have.

In a roadside emergency, you can avoid your kickstand switch with a piece of electrical tape by unplugging the two wires from the kickstand safety switch and taping them together.

Note: In some countries, motorcycles are required by law to have functional kickstand safety switch sensors.

Kickstand switch failure is more common than you think; I’ve had mine knocked loose from dropping off a parking lot curb I couldn’t see. At that point, I was on the road; as soon as the road ripped the switch from the frame, the circuit was permanently broken, making my bike think the kickstand was down even when it wasn’t.

Luckily for me, I had a more experienced bike tech in the pack along with me on that trip who was able to teach me how to bypass the kickstand switch together so we could get our happy hogs back on the road.

It’s important to note that bypassing your kickstand switch is not only a safety hazard, as you’re opening up the possibility of riding with your kickstand extended, which can cause a collision, but it also might void your manufacturer’s warranty. 

We suggest consulting a seasoned dealership tech to decide if bypassing your kickstand safety switch is right for you.  

To bypass a plunger-style kickstand switch: 

  • Unplug the kickstand safety switch: you’ll see two electrical tabs—use a flathead screwdriver to unplug the two wires, one from either side. You need the metal wire exposed; depending on the switch design, you might have to cut away some of the wire’s protective rubber casing.
  • Connect the two wires with some thorough twisting, effectively completing the open loop.
  • Wrap the connected wires in electrical tape to keep them fastened and unexposed—you want no metal wiring showing.
  • Confirm you’ve completed and secured the circuitry by starting your bike.
  • If the motorcycle fires up, you’re in business! We suggest soldering the connected wires the first chance you get.

As we mentioned earlier, different moto-manufacturers use varying styles of kickstand switches, depending on make and model.

You can bypass the contact-free magnetic-style kickstand switches mentioned earlier by removing the magnet from the kickstand and attaching it to the sensor part, completing the magnet, and sealing the circuit loop, so it will function whether the stand is up or down.

Again, this causes a hazard and voids your warranty; we’re simply providing this information if you’re stranded on the road with an incomplete circuit at the hands of a failed kickstand switch.

There are myriad kits online that can be installed to bypass your kickstand sensor; the same kits vary from model to model.

That said, there have been some manufacturers chased out of business or sued for making at-home install kits to bypass a kickstand switch that may have saved the life of riders killed in collisions caused by extended kickstands preventing them from turning.

Most modern kickstands are set up to kick themselves up when they touch the pavement; it doesn’t always happen. And at high enough speeds, a quick scrape on the pavement is all it takes to toss your bike to the ground.

  • If you’re stranded on the side of the road with a smashed-up kickstand sensor, do what you have to do to get where you need to go.
  • Bypassing the kickstand sensor on your motorcycle does more than void the warranty and exposes your electrical system to the elements (if not done correctly). It’s a risk to your safety.
  • In some cases, removing your bike’s kickstand switch can cost you your life. That said, consider yourself warned: kickstand sensors save more lives than we might know about by forcing riders to kick up their side stands before they take off.

Related: What Does a Solenoid Do On A Motorcycle? (Explained)

How Do I Know If My motorcycle Has a Kickstand Switch?

To know your motorcycle has a kickstand switch, consult the owner’s manual.

An owner’s manual should list the bike’s various electronic sensors; if your bike dies when you put it in gear, but only when the kickstand is down, it’s likely due to a kickstand switch.

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