It’s generally suggested to start your motorcycle in neutral and let it idle for a few minutes before shifting into first and riding.
In neutral, the rider can still manipulate the throttle and rev the bike’s engine, but the motorcycle won’t move.
That said, if you shift your motorcycle down first and nothing happens, you’ll likely have a shifting problem.
This article covers the most common reasons a motorcycle gets stuck in neutral; it can’t shift. We’ll also dive into reasons motorcycles get stuck in neutral because they won’t move.
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Stuck In Neutral; Won’t Shift
Here are reasons a motorcycle can get stuck in neutral and prevent shifting to a different gear:
1. Hydraulic Clutch Fluid Is Compromised
If your motorcycle has a hydraulic clutch controlled by a system of hydraulic hoses full of oil or fluid and gets stuck in neutral, chances are your hydraulic fluid is compromised.
Not all motorcycles use a hydraulic clutch system; many use a mechanical steel cable.
That said, if your motorcycle doesn’t use a hydraulic clutch, and the fluid is either expired, clogged, or lower than the spec level, your bike will have problems shifting out of neutral.
- The earliest symptom of a hydraulic clutch fluid failure is typically rough shifting from neutral into first and up through the rest of the gears.
- If the fluid level is lower than spec, or if the fluid is expired and coagulated, air can get into the clutch system, preventing your clutch from fully engaging with the first gear when shifting out of neutral.
Hydraulic clutch fluid inspections and fill-ups are a critical part of routine maintenance on bikes with these unique clutch systems.
However, if your clutch is worn, you may find that you’re going through more fluid than usual, which could be why your bike is stuck in N.
A thorough hydraulic clutch inspection includes examining and replacing any worn seals and lines, as fluid leaks can also cause problems shifting.
2. Chain Drive Is Too Tight
The most common reason a chain-driven motorcycle gets stuck in neutral is if its drive chain is tuned too tight. That said, an overly slacked chain can also cause problems shifting out of neutral on a motorcycle.
Motorcycle chains require routine lubrication and inspection, including minor adjustments to keep the tension within the spec range outlined in your bike’s manual.
If your motorcycle chain falls out of adjustment frequently, and you’re keeping it greased, it may be your chain is worn and failing to hold its tension correctly.
Regardless, if your motorcycle’s chain is either too tight or too loose, the first thing you’ll notice is jerking when you’re trying to shift your bike out of neutral.
In severe cases, your motorcycle may get stuck in neutral completely, and here’s why:
- When you draw your clutch, and down out of neutral, your clutch eases down onto whatever gear ratio is your 1st gear.
- The chain is now supposed to spin along with the gear rate versus its neutral state earlier.
- If your chain is too tight, it will be too rigid to be able to spin with the first gear ratio, and our motorcycle will get stuck in neutral.
- If the chain is too loose, it may not have the tension required to align with the gear’s momentum properly, and your bike won’t make it out of neutral and into first.
3. Internal Gearbox Failures
Interference with various components within your gearbox system can cause shifting problems on your motorcycle, which may eventually get stuck in neutral.
The design of motorcycle gear varies depending on whether you have a shaft drive, chain drive, or gear-driven transmission and whether or not your clutch is hydraulic.
However, the core functioning of a gearbox is the same.
Regardless of the specific parts used to achieve this process, interference with any gearbox components can cause rough shifting and may lead to your bike not shifting out of neutral.
Here are a few gearbox failures that can get you stuck in neutral:
- Gears were incorrectly installed into the gearbox.
- An alien object, road rubble, moisture, contaminated oil, or rust interferes with the gear’s operation, pinning them into place.
- The shifting shafts are warped or out of sync with the gear dogs, or the gear teeth are worn down.
Because your motorcycle’s gearbox system is an intricate system, unresolved interference with one component leads to failures elsewhere in the system.
Failing to keep up with the gearbox maintenance on your motorcycle will cause rough shifting out of neutral, eventually leading to your bike getting stuck in neutral from time to time.
If you catch these issues early, a re-alignment or some cleaning and lubrication might be all you need; if it gets bad enough, your bike may need a gearbox rebuild.
You should also read this article about reasons motorcycle won’t shift into 1st gear.
4. Worn Clutch Cable; Slack Is Poorly Adjusted
A motorcycle may have problems getting stuck in neutral if your clutch cable is out of adjustment, either with too much tension or too much slack. If you often inspect, adjust, and lubricate your clutch cable and still find this happening, the cable may be worn.
A worn clutch cable will slack itself out of adjustment at the first sign of heat, making it unable to fully disengage your clutch when shifting out of neutral.
Conversely, if it’s too tight, a clutch cable won’t be able to compress itself to generate the initial force needed to move your bike out of neutral and into gear,
- Since these steel mechanical clutch cables are susceptible to shifting their tension based on temperature and air pressure changes, inspecting, adjusting, and reapplying to lubricate the cable is part of standard moto maintenance.
- Consult the manual for your make and year model motorcycle to find the spec adjustment for its clutch cable.
- Over time, the stress of everyday use can wear on a clutch cable so that it won’t retain its tension even after you’ve adjusted it.
- If the clutch cable is worn for good, you’ll have to replace it.
Whether it simply needs an adjustment or your clutch cable is at the point of needing to be replaced, a clutch cable with improper tension is one of the most common causes of a motorcycle that gets stuck in neutral.
Please read this article to learn how to fix a faulty motorcycle clutch.
5. Contaminated, Expired, or Low Engine Oil
If your motorcycle’s engine oil is lower than the spec operating level, used past due, or contaminated with rust, grime, or moisture, your bike will develop shifting problems and may get stuck in neutral.
These days, most motorcycles use a wet clutch sealed and drenched in oil to keep its parts from overheating or warping from the friction of metal-on-metal contact.
In a previous section, we discussed the importance of ensuring there’s no impediment to your gearbox. While we briefly mentioned the importance of oil in that process, the commonality of the failure warrants a more thorough explanation.
- If your oil is spoiled with rust, moisture, or grime, its flashpoint is lowered, meaning it burns and boils, overheating your gearbox components.
- If the oil is expired and burned, it loses its lubrication properties, allowing friction to interfere with the gearbox’s functioning.
- If the oil level is lower than your motorcycle’s spec calls for, the lack of oil forces your gearbox components to damage one another via the metal-on-metal contact.
Insufficient oil supply and quality are among the most common culprits behind the various gearbox and shifting problems that cause a motorcycle to get stuck in neutral.
Stuck In Neutral; Won’t Move
Here are reasons a motorcycle can be stuck in neutral and prevent the bike from moving:
6. Clutch Plates Are Warped
A motorcycle with warped clutch plates will get stuck in neutral, as damaged clutch plates can cause a complete loss of shifting or even wheel mobility.
- Clutch plate warping generally only happens on old or worn motorcycles ridden hard and fast for many engine hours.
- That said, a hard week of track riding, or a month-long trip of 14 hours of daily riding at full blast, can overheat a motorcycle clutch and glaze its plates until they warp or fuse.
- This can especially happen in hot weather if the oil quality is compromised.
- Warped clutch plates can cause a total loss of motorcycle motion and shifting ability regardless of how it happened.
Glazed clutch plates will keep your motorcycle stuck in neutral until they’re replaced, as warped plates can’t be fixed.
7. Seized or Damaged Bearings
If any of the various bearings used in your motorcycle’s mechanics are damaged or warped, the balls can detach, wearing its rolling surface and jamming the motion of the bearing. Your bike will get stuck in neutral and be hard to move.
The most common reasons bearing failure happens that causes a motorcycle to be immobile are improper bearing installation or failure of the rider or their mechanic to keep up with bearing maintenance.
- Motorcycle manufacturers typically test the various motorcycle bearings at the factory to ensure they can handle the force put on them daily.
- Still, motorcycles use bearings in multiple places, and not all are interchangeable or the same, making bearing maintenance a meticulous thing on some bikes.
Still, failure to inspect and treat the various bearings in your motorcycle can cause a total loss of movement, leaving your bike stuck in neutral until the faulty approach is located and replaced.
Please also read our article about reasons motorcycle won’t move in neutral.