It’s a frustrating scene—you’re all geared up and ready to rip roads, leaning forward in the saddle when you stick your key in the ignition to fire her up.
You jab once, thrust twice, but the key won’t lock into place in there, which is obviously a requirement for starting your motorcycle and enjoying your weekend ride; why won’t your motorcycle key go in the ignition?
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Here’s Why Your Motorcycle Key Won’t Go in the Ignition:
The most common reasons a motorcycle key won’t go into the bike’s ignition is because there’s a problem with the key itself, the ignition lock cylinder is damaged, or there’s a problem with one of the various components that interfaces with your ignition system, like the battery or charging components.
Motorcycle designs are getting more complicated, and ignition types vary from bike model to model. For the specifics of repairing the ignition or key of your specific make and model motorcycle, we suggest purchasing a service manual.
That said, all bike repairs start with isolating the issue, and a motorcycle key that won’t go into an ignition switch could be caused by failures with a number of parts, not just with the key.
- The first step to fixing a motorcycle key that won’t go into the ignition is figuring out if the problem lies in the key, the ignition cylinder, or in one of the components that integrate with the ignition switch.
- Examining the most common reasons a motorcycle key won’t fit into the ignition to start the bike can pinpoint your point of failure.
Obstruction Inside the Ignition Lock Cylinder
The ignition cylinder or key cylinder is an essential part of the ignition process.
If your motorcycle’s ignition lock cylinder is obstructed by dirt, road grime, corrosion, etc., your motorcycle’s key won’t fit into the ignition.
If you suspect a blockage in the cylinder keyway is what’s preventing your key from entering your motorcycle’s ignition, we suggest you stop trying to force the key in.
In some cases, riders will eventually get the key shoved into the cylinder, only to find the key won’t turn, and worse yet, some of these riders can’t get the key back out.
It’s much easier to troubleshoot your key cylinder without a key stuck inside it; before another attempt at forcing the key in, try the following:
- Look inside your motorcycle ignition key cylinder with a flashlight to see if there are any apparent blockages. Generally, you’re looking for dirt and corrosion. However, if the cylinder is shot, you might notice some metal shavings or debris.
- Before you try cleaning the keyway, we suggest you wear a pair of safety shades to protect your eyes, as you never know what’s in there.
- Use air at first, either via canned air electronic cleaner or an air compressor; take care not to use enough pressure to damage the keyhole.
- Keep those safety shades on tight and blast the keypath with air to shake out any blockages. You should be able to see the debris coming out.
- Try your key again. If debris came out, there’s no doubt it’s the least closer to letting you slip it into the ignition cylinder. Don’t force it if it’s still difficult to slide it in. Spray the cylinder out a few more times, and if this was your issue, the key should slide right in.
Key Cylinder’s Internal Springs Is Jammed
The pins and springs inside your key cylinder are engineered to form the shape of your key so that no other key works to start your motorcycle. If these pins and springs are bent, jammed, or damaged, it can prevent your motorcycle key from going in the ignition.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as moving your handlebars back and forth while you poke around with your key until it fits.
In other cases, you might have to tap the ignition enough to vibrate the inner mechanisms without causing them damage. This will shake any stuck springs loose.
Again, the goal here is to vibrate or gently shake the springs loose, not hammer them into place; don’t beat them too hard.
Once you shake the handlebars, poke around, and tap on the ignition cylinder a few times, try it again.
If it fits in but doesn’t quite turn yet, you at least know what part of your problem was. Try shaking it and twisting your handlebars a few more times, and you might just get those springs loosened up enough to crank your motorcycle to life.
Handlebar/Front Fork Stuck or Locked
Some motorcycles feature a safety mechanism known as a fork lock. Generally key-operated, once engaged, the fork lock keeps the motorcycle’s front wheel, fork, and handlebars leaned to the side, in its resting kickstand position.
Fork locks are an anti-theft device; if someone tries to steal your bike while the forks are locked, it will just ride in circles.
Some modern Electronic Computer Units or ECU-regulated motorcycles have fork lock sensors that stop the bike from starting when the fork is locked to add to the anti-theft capacity and prevent injuries.
- In some cases, the bike’s ECU stops the ignition from turning while the fork locks are active; some may even block the key from entering the ignition cylinder.
- In many cases, however, the pressure of the locked fork locks is enough to prevent the key from entering or the ignition from turning. Unlock your fork locks and try again to see if you get better results.
If this sounds like what’s happening, but your forks turned out not to be locked, or your bike doesn’t have forks that lock at all, it might just be the pressure the parked handlebar angle is putting on your key cylinder that’s preventing the key from entering.
Try jiggling your handlebars from side to side while sliding the key in. If it lets you get the key in, continue to jiggle the bars as you shake the key itself—the ignition will probably have a hard time turning for the first few twists.
Motorcycle Key Is Damaged, Worn Out, or Incorrect
If the key cylinder, fork locks, and handlebars are all issue free, it might be the key itself that’s causing the problem.
For example, if your motorcycle key is bent, it might not fit into the bike’s ignition lock cylinder.
In some cases, you might be able to force the bent key in there eventually, only to find that its alignment is off with the key path, and your motorcycle won’t start.
Regardless, if the bike’s key won’t fit in its ignition, or if the ignition won’t turn, and the key is bent, you’ll have to repair the key before you get your bike started.
It’s imperative that you use a non-metal or rubber hammer to flatten out the key, or you’ll risk further damage to the key. Also, we suggest laying the key on a piece of wood when you attempt to flatten it, as wood will absorb the impact shock rather than the key.
That said, if your bike is under warranty, tampering with your key (or ignition) can void the warranty. While, in some circumstances, flattening your key is the only way to get it to fit into your ignition cylinder and get you where you need to go, keep in mind that messing with your key can break it permanently.
- It doesn’t have to be a clearly bent or damaged key. Just like all metal components, keys wear out with use, eventually.
- This is especially common on vintage bikes with keys that have been in use for years, sometimes decades.
As you use your motorcycle key, the key’s metal slowly wears against the cylinder. The worn metal won’t efficiently drop the pins, and this can stop the bike key from going in.
Therefore, it’s important to always carry a spare key, or at least know where one is, as once your motorcycle key wears out, it loses its functionality.
If you don’t have a spare key for your motorcycle, swing by the dealership with your VIN, or write it down and email your manufacturer’s customer service.
If you have the worn key on you, check it for a key code. Some motorcycle manufacturers provide key codes for the sole purpose of replacing worn or lost keys.
- Additionally, it’s essential to make sure you’re using the correct key.
- Motorcycle keys are as unique from bike to bike as house keys are. Occasionally, riders realize they’re using a key intended for a different motorcycle.
- Maybe it’s a spare for an old bike they are confused about, or perhaps the dealership gave you the extra for a different bike by accident. Regardless, if your motorcycle key won’t fit into your ignition, ensure it’s the correct key before forcing it into the ignition.
Finally, inspect the key for corrosion, dirt, and debris. Bike ignition cylinders are particular; it doesn’t take much material to prevent a motorcycle key from going into the ignition keyway.
If you see any dirt or grime on your key, use a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol to clean off the debris and try your key again to see if it fits.
Be sure you clean off the excess alcohol, so you don’t dry out the keyway, which brings us to our final section–
Ignition Cylinder Needs Lubrication
If your bike key doesn’t fit into your motorcycle’s ignition, it could be because the ignition keyway needs lubrication.
Locksmiths say never to use WD40 or any kind of wet or oil-based lubrication, as that will attract dirt and grime to cling to the inner components of your ignition cylinder, which can make the block worse.
Locksmiths suggest using either silicon-spray or graphite-based lubrication in the keypaths of motorcycle ignitions to help the key slide in conveniently.
One locksmith I know who also rides a motorcycle says he dips his motorcycle key in silicon powder lubrication once a month before he starts his bike to make sure he has never had trouble fitting his motorcycle key into his ignition cylinder.