As motorcycles become more technologically advanced, ignition systems become more and more specialized.
From keyless ignitions to passcodes to electronic fabs, the game has changed quite a bit; in some cases, the key is still present, but the ignition is also wired into and therefore governed by the bike’s electronic Computer Unit (ECU).
Regardless, there’s nothing more aggravating than being suited up for a weekend rip when suddenly, your motorcycle ignition won’t turn.
Here’s Why Your Motorcycle Ignition Won’t Turn:
Your motorcycle ignition could be jammed due to damaged parts in the ignition, an ECU safety feature, lack of lubrication, or the key itself could be damaged. If the key is stuck in the ignition, we suggest calling a locksmith before forcing it out.
Motorcycle ignitions are more complex than ever, with intricate fuel mapping and ECU regulation. Troubleshooting a motorcycle key that’s jammed in the ignition can be time-consuming.
Leave the key where it is for now and scroll down for the most common reasons why your motorcycle key isn’t turning.
Front Fork Is Locked
Many modern bikes have a feature referred to as a locking front fork.
Many motorcycles have a keyhole in their forks that, once turned into the lock position using the forked key that comes with the motorcycle, locks the fork in its angled side stand position.
Locking forks are an antitheft feature that prevents the handlebars and front wheel from facing forward until the fork is unlocked.
If someone was to hot wire or steal the extra copy of your ignition key, they’d only be able to ride the bike in circles until the fork is unlocked; they wouldn’t get very far.
Some of the more advanced motorcycle ignition systems won’t allow the motorcycle to start if the fork lock is engaged.
If the ignition on your motorcycle won’t turn, examine your fork locks and see if the fork, wheel, and handlebars are locked in place. If so, getting the ignition to turn might be as simple as unlocking your front forks.
Motorcycle Ignition Lock Needs Lubrication
Another common reason a motorcycle ignition won’t turn is that your ignition cylinder’s keypath is clogged with debris, corrosion, etc.
In some cases, applying OEM-suggested lubrication is enough to get the ignition to turn. This is an especially important troubleshooting step for older bikes that have sat in moisture or motorcycles that have been exposed to nasty weather.
Most motorcycle manufacturers suggest either a silicone spray lubricant or a graphite-based product.
The most important quality to consider when selecting keyway lubrication for a vehicle like a motorcycle, which is exposed to the outdoors, is whether or not it will attract dirt and grime.
You also don’t want to use lubrication that will decompose in the sun and particulate, as this will cause problems down the road.
Once you’ve purchased ignition lubrication that’s approved by your moto-manufacturer, here are the next few steps:
- Spray the lube product into your bike’s keyway, following the application instructions on the packaging.
- Wipe away the excess lubrication around the area and anything leaking from the bike’s keyhole.
- Insert your motorcycle ignition key and turn it. Hopefully, that was enough to get it started, but we’re not done yet!
- If the bike hasn’t started yet, jiggle the key up and down. Try starting the bike again. If it doesn’t start—add more lubrication and repeat.
Note: Many ignition lubrication products stain and cause damage to the finish if left there long enough to dry.
We can’t stress enough the importance of using a product suggested by your bike’s manufacturer, following any instructions provided in your owner’s manual, following the product directions, and doing your best to work clean and wipe up the excess lubrication immediately.
Key Is Damaged
Sometimes the issue is with the key itself. If your motorcycle key is bent, cracked, or broken, it won’t line up with the ignition keypath correctly, and it won’t turn your ignition.
We can’t stress enough the importance of keeping a spare bike key with you on long trips for this exact scenario. Too many good riders have to pack up and head home early, bike in tow because their key gets damaged in the middle of their trip.
There are ways of fixing damaged keys, but it requires locksmith-level troubleshooting.
There are a variety of ways a key incurs damage and, therefore, multiple potential points of failure in the keyway and on the key itself.
- First things first, take your key out of the ignition. If you can’t do that, we suggest you call your insurance to see if a tow is covered and head to the dealership.
- If you can get the key out and you have a spare handy, try the extra. If the spare works, you know the point of failure is likely not in the ignition itself.
- Place the keys side by side, taking care to distinguish the key that worked from the key that didn’t.
- Examine the keys for differences, keeping an eye out for any bends, cracks, snaps, and twists on the failed key.
If you have the tools, time, and skill, you might be able to adjust the broken key so it matches the functional spare. If not, a locksmith can probably make that happen.
If your moto is still under warranty, we suggest contacting your dealership service department before you or your neighborhood locksmith tampers with the key or the ignition, ensuring you don’t void your warranty.
Internal Components Are Jammed
Sometimes, the internal ignition components are stuck in position because of dirt contamination or the lack of lubrication we discussed earlier.
In these cases, shaking, beating, or vibrating your key might be enough to knock the components into place, allowing the key to lock into the position required to turn your motorcycle’s ignition.
Sometimes all you need is a quick twist back and forth of the handlebars while cranking on the key to get the ignition to turn on.
Micro springs and other tiny components inside the motorcycle ignition can get stuck, dislodged, or even go missing.
Shaking and vibrating the key around the keypath might be enough to pressurize a limp or dry spring, for example.
That said, you want to be gentle. When we say beat on your ignition, we mean with your hand, and just enough to cause some shaking and vibrations. Don’t use a hammer to slam your key or ignition; you might cause more damage and void your warranty.
If hand strength isn’t enough to knock the ignition into turning, you likely have a more severe problem on your hands than a jammed spring.
Ignition Cylinder Needs Replacing
If the key isn’t damaged, and clubbing and knocking on your ignition wasn’t enough to get your motorcycle ignition to turn, you might have a faulty ignition cylinder on your hands.
If this is the case, you’ll likely have to replace the ignition assembly.
If your motorcycle is under warranty, this is likely covered, and we suggest you contact your dealership before you make that call.
For you, DIY home mechanics, don’t skimp on the research. You need to be sure you’re replacing it with an ignition cylinder that’s proper for your make and year model moto.
There are some great online resources but verify your sources. We suggest purchasing and consulting the service manual for your specific motorcycle, utilizing it as a guide during your replacement.
If your motorcycle is fancy enough to have locking hard bags or trunk compartments that use the same key as your ignition, keep in mind that changing your ignition cylinder means a new ignition key; either keep the original key handy as a saddle bag key or get the locks on the hard bags re-keyed.
Here’s When to Call a Technician or Locksmith If Your Motorcycle Ignition Won’t Turn
A failed ignition cylinder can be a hard problem to diagnose, even for some experienced home mechanics.
Performing the ignition cylinder replacement process varies from bike model to model. If your ignition is ECU regulated, important updates and changes need to be programmed.
Regardless, if you don’t have the tools required to do the job, or if you don’t have a service manual handy that correlates to your particular bike, there’s no shame in taking your motorcycle into a dealership technician for the ignition replacement.
A few of the problems that can cause your motorcycle ignition to stop turning might require technical knowledge and professional tools, depending on which of the culprits mentioned is responsible.
If your key is damaged, for example, a mobile locksmith can probably fix it in a matter of minutes or cut you a new key, especially if you have a spare,
Furthermore, these days, some of the more popular bike models have codes like cars do that locksmiths might be able to access the key schematics needed to cut you a new key.
In some cases, contacting the dealership technicians is the best bet.