It’s finally here; your Sunday morning.
The bike’s polished up, and you’ve got all your fly riding gear on when you flip down your visor, flick up the side stand, and fire her up… but the bike clicks one time and won’t start?
Here are the three most common reasons why!
Table of Contents
1. Failing Starter Relay
Compared to troubleshooting on a more complicated vehicle, like a car or truck, there are only so many parts on a motorcycle; there are only so many things that can go wrong.
The upside to the simple setup is that when a motorcycle clicks one time but won’t start, there are only a few possibilities, even within the starter itself.
To understand why your motorcycle clicks once and then dies instead of starting, we’ll first have to examine how a motorcycle starter functions.
For the sake of brevity, we’ll divide the starter into three distinct “components,” each of which is really a system of smaller parts that we’ll introduce on a need-to-know basis.
- The starter relay is the part responsible for transferring the charge from the battery to the starter system.
- The starter solenoid is an electromagnetic generator that receives the charge from the relay and expands to activate the starter motor.
- Once activated by the solenoid, the starter motor spins the engine’s flywheel into motion, starting the piston process that starts your motorcycle.
That single-click sound you hear at start-up could be the noise of your solenoid trying to activate the starter motor.
If your battery has an insufficient charge, the solenoid won’t have the power it needs to fully magnetize, meaning your starter motor won’t have the juice it needs to crank the flywheel.
If your battery is functioning and charging properly, the clicking sound could also be a bad solenoid attempting to magnetize but failing.
The relay, on the other, would be your last suspect, as if the relay fails to transfer power, the crank wouldn’t be happening. This is because the solenoid isn’t getting the juice it needs to magnetize. With magnetization, neither the solenoid nor the starter motor can make that single click sound.
- The most likely culprit in the starter system is the solenoid. If the solenoid isn’t strong enough to magnetize and activate the starter motor, the starter motor doesn’t have the strength it needs to turn your flywheel and start your moto’s engine.
- The clicking sound could be the magnet trying to activate and failing.
- It could also be the weak-charged starter motor clicking against the flywheel as it tries to crank it but fails.
Can You Replace Your Motorcycle’s Bad Starter Solenoid, or Do You Have to Replace the Whole Starter?
You can replace just the solenoid, but it requires tearing out the starter, uninstalling the solenoid, and replacing the solenoid. The surest solution is to replace the whole starter.
That said, sometimes you can repair your motorcycle that clicks once but won’t start by cleaning the corrosion:
- Fixing a bad starter solenoid could be as straightforward as cleaning the connectors. Sometimes scouring the rust can increase the starter’s life for years, postponing the replacement.
- Still, all starters and solenoids wear at some point. We suggest replacing the whole starter system unit instead. The used starter’s motor is also ready to go if the solenoid is worn.
- It seems like extra work, replacing your solenoid, reinstalling the old starter only to tear it all back apart when the rest wears out soon after.
Spending the money at the first sign of starter failure provides the added security only a brand new starter can bring. This offers a much less temporary solution than replacing the small starter components one by one as they fail.
2. Motorcycle Battery Failure
Your bike’s battery is where the starting sequence all begins—in most cases, we suggest starting the troubleshooting process with the battery. Still, if your starter is consistently clicking one time before failing to fire up, it sounds more like starter trouble to me.
That said, if your starter isn’t the problem, the battery is the next most likely reason your motorcycle clicks one time but won’t start.
- An expired, poorly connected, or uncharged motorcycle battery is another common reason why a bike clicks only once when you’re trying to start it but won’t come on.
- In addition to being crucial for the essential operation of your bike’s electronic, ignition, and fuel injection systems, your motorcycle’s battery is a vital part of the starting process.
- In more fortunate situations, the issue is just a low charge. Your bike won’t fire up unless your battery is charged at 12.2, although 12.6 is what they call a fully charged battery.
As we said, bikes equip some pretty simple engines.
The starting systems on even the most impressive CPU-run motorcycles are straightforward.
- If your battery is low, inspect the charging directions for the exact battery you’re running in your motorcycle.
- Most battery manufacturers suggest slow charging on a tender or trickle charger.
- Trickle charging your battery until it’s full may take as much as 8-20 hours, so give yourself plenty of time.
- After following the directions provided by your specific battery manufacturer and charging your bike’s battery to full, it’s time to recheck your battery’s level to make sure it’s holding charge.
- With the moto off, attach your voltmeter. The battery should read at least 12.5 volts.
In summary, if your bike clicks once but won’t start, charge your battery and test your battery is at “full.”
Then, try to start your bike again.
If it starts, it’s safe to say that your battery was the problem.
If your battery is charged to 12.6 Volts and your bike still only clicks once when you try to start it, bring your battery to an auto parts store and have them test it; your battery could be reading 12.6 volts even if it doesn’t have enough current to start the bike.
They’ll have the gear needed to conduct a more accurate test of the battery’s capacity. If the current tests are low, your battery might just be expired.
What Causes Motorcycle Battery Failure?
- The quickest way to extinguish your battery’s charge is by running an electrical component like a headlight, blinker, gauge lights, LCD, or any other electronic aftermarket add-ons while the motorcycle is off.
- The battery is recharged by a system that converts energy power into electrical charge while you ride. Allowing the bike to sit with the lights on with the engine off drains your bike’s battery.
- Another common battery drain is known as a parasitic drain, when a wire with a bad ground leaks power gradually, often to the point of being undetectable.
- Failing to prepare your motorcycle for storage adequately may cause the battery to freeze, losing its capacity to hold current.
- If you plan on storing your bike for a significant period, attach your battery to a battery tender to keep it full while also preventing it from overcharging or exploding.
3. Seized Motorcycle Engine
This item is notably less common than any of the previous reasons why a motorcycle will click once but not start.
Still, it’s a much more complicated circumstance regarding repair time and parts and labor costs.
A seized engine can cause a motorcycle to click once but not start. If your engine parts are locked up to the point where the crankshaft cannot turn the bearings, you could be hearing the clicking sound of the jammed engine.
If your bike’s rod bearings, pistons, piston rings, and other vital engine parts overheat, they can seize or fuse together.
The single-click sound could be the flywheel failing to rotate, just like how we mentioned in the first section with starter failure.
The difference here is that the issue isn’t due to a lack of power on the front end of the process, but rather its mechanical resilience coming from the engine itself.
In this situation, the battery supplies plenty of currents, and the solenoid is charging the starter motor, which has all the juice it should need to spin the flywheel under typical circumstances.
Only this time, the flywheel fails to turn the pistons because they’re fused to the surrounding parts.
These fused parts put immense pressure on the flywheel.
- A seized engine is an infrequent occurrence under typical riding stress—it happens after long-term neglection or from overworking your motorcycle engine to a high degree (racing, stunt riding, etc.).
- You’ll know you have a seized engine on a vintage bike because your kick pedal won’t move an inch while you try to crank it. This is due to the force of resistance caused by the fused motor parts.
- On a modern bike, the first step to analyzing whether or not you have a seized engine is to roll the bike back and forth:
- Put your bike in the highest gear possible.
- Pull the clutch lever in and roll your motorcycle forward.
- If your motorcycle won’t budge with the clutch pulled in when it’s in its highest gear, a seized engine is the reason your bike is clicking once but not starting
A bike engine can seize and essentially become inoperable, including triggering the starting issues discussed here due to a lack of lubrication. This is why oil changes and top-offs are essential for any bike. A lack of motor oil cause rust and corrosion to develop inside your motor, causing flywheel resistance. Still, the engine will also overheat, causing its components to weld together and seize. A seized motor is likely beyond repair. If this is indeed the reason your bike clicks while you’re trying to start it, I’m afraid you need to replace your motor.
We’re pretty sure that the spec service intervals listed in your bike’s owner’s manual require oil changes and inspections at almost every service.
Changing your motorcycle oil is the most effective way of preventing engine seizures. Failing to maintain your bike’s oil levels and quality or running low-quality or dirty oil can lead any motorcycle to engine seizure, primarily if the bike is worked hard.
So, in review, what causes a motorcycle to click once but not start?
The three main reasons a motorcycle will click once but won’t start is because your starter is failing, your battery is dead, or, in severe cases on vintage, poorly maintained, or hard-ridden bikes, it could be due to a seized engine.