Motorcycle Start Problems: 6 Common Issues (Solved)

There’s nothing more frustrating than turning your key to fire up your motorcycle or pushing your starter button only to hear a cough, a whine, a click, or absolute silence.

This article dives into the 7 most common reasons a motorcycle develops starting problems and how to solve them.

We’ll also look at some models notorious for starting problems and the causes behind them, as well as the pros and cons and resale values of motorcycles that won’t start.


Faulty Motorcycle Battery

The most obvious way a faulty motorcycle battery causes starting problems on a motorcycle is when the battery is completely dead and fails to provide any power to the starter motor or the ignition system.

If a dead battery is the culprit behind your starting problems, you’ll experience no sound or movement when you try to start the bike, only silence.

Another way battery failure triggers starting problems is when the battery is too old, corroded, damaged, or otherwise weak to supply ample current to the starter motor or the spark plugs.

This results in slow or sluggish cranking, clicking noises, or intermittent starting problems.

  • A weak battery is often caused by the parasitic drain, which means that some electrical components are drawing power from the battery even when the bike is off.
  • Parasitic drain empties the battery over time, making it harder to start your motorcycle.

A faulty battery can also have physical damage, such as cracks, leaks, bulges, or discoloration, affecting its performance and safety.


Inspect the battery for damage and test it with a multimeter or at an auto parts store, replacing a damaged battery or one that won’t hold a full charge for any reason.

Improper Clutch Engagement

Your motorcycle’s clutch is the mechanism that connects and disconnects the engine and the transmission, allowing the rider to change gears and control the power to the rear wheel.

If your bike’s clutch is improperly or infrequently adjusted, improper engagement or alignment between the transmission and the engine causes shifting interference and starting problems.

Some of the symptoms of improper clutch engagement include:

  • The clutch lever feels chunky or sticky when pulled or released.
  • The motorcycle has trouble hanging gears or makes clunking noises when shifting.
  • The motorcycle stalls or jerks when you release the clutch lever.
  • The bike only starts intermittently or won’t start at all.

Improper clutch engagement can be caused by various factors, such as:

  • A poorly adjusted clutch cable or shifter linkage that has too much or too little slack.
  • Worn or damaged clutch plates, springs, or bearings that reduce the friction and pressure between the plates.
  • A faulty clutch switch prevents the starter from cranking unless the clutch lever is pulled in.


Inspect your clutch cable and shifter linkage, adjusting accordingly. Inspect your clutch and replace any damaged springs, plates, bearings, cables, etc.

Faulty Electrical Wiring

Your motorcycle’s electrical wiring harness is a system of wires connecting the battery, the ignition, the starter, and other electrical components.

If your bike’s wiring is damaged, corroded, loose, or shorted, it can prevent the electrical current from flowing correctly, affecting the motorcycle’s performance and causing starting problems.

A faulty wiring harness can be caused by exposure to moisture, heat, vibration, or abrasion and can be prevented by routine service inspections and proper storage and upkeep.

Some of the symptoms of faulty electrical wiring include:

  • The motorcycle only starts intermittently or refuses to start at all.
  • Your bike’s lights flicker or fail to illuminate.
  • Your motorcycle stalls or runs poorly.
  • Your bike frequently fuses blow.


Inspect and repair or replace the frayed, burnt, or shorted wire or relay.

  • Use a multimeter to test the continuity and voltage of the wires and find the problem’s source.
  • Solder or crimp new wires or connectors as needed; check and clean the ground wires, which are essential for completing the electrical circuit.

Impaired Fuel Valve or Fuel Injection

The fuel valve or the fuel injection system is responsible for delivering fuel to your motorcycle’s engine.

If the fuel injection system is impaired, the engine’s fuel supply is unregulated, causing a rich (too much fuel) or lean (insufficient fuel) condition.

On Carbureted bikes, the fuel valve is the switch that controls the fuel flow from the tank to the carburetor. It can get clogged with dirt or debris and prevent the fuel from reaching the combustion chamber.

Conversely, Electronic Fuel injected bikes equip fuel injectors. These devices spray fuel into the intake manifold, which can get clogged with carbon deposits or dirt and affect the fuel pressure and spray pattern.

Some of the symptoms of fuel valve or fuel injection failure are:

  • Your bike only starts intermittently or fails to start at all.
  • Your motorcycle runs poorly and stalls at low speed or idle.
  • Backfires or pops during throttle acceleration or deceleration.
  • Poor fuel economy or emits black smoke.


Inspect, clean, or replace the fuel valve or the fuel injectors. Use a multimeter to test their resistance and voltage and a cleaner to remove any deposits.

Also, check the fuel filter, which can get clogged with sediment or damaged from low fuel levels and restrict the fuel flow, replacing the filter as needed.

Expired Spark Plugs

Expired spark plugs can prevent your motorcycle from turning over by producing a weak or intermittent spark that fails to ignite the fuel-air mixture in the engine.

Running old or damaged spark plugs can cause misfiring, backfiring, fuel flooding, engine stalling, and starting problems.


Replace the spark plugs with new ones, following the correct specifications outlined in your year model’s owner’s manual.

Inspect and clean the spark plug wires and connectors, as this can affect the spark quality.

To replace the spark plugs, remove the wires and use a wrench to unscrew the pins from the engine, screwing in the new plugs in the reverse direction.

When finished, put the spark plug wire boot back over the plug’s head.

Problematic Starter System

A complex starter system can prevent your motorcycle from starting by failing to turn the engine over.

Motorcycle starting problems are most commonly caused by one of the following problems with the main starter-system components:

  • A bad starter motor
  • A faulty starter relay
  • A weak battery
  • A poor connection in the wiring

The most common solution is to test and replace the faulty component.

Use a multimeter to check the voltage and resistance of the battery, the starter relay, and the starter motor.

Inspect and clean the wiring harness and the connectors.

If any part is damaged or worn out, you need to replace it asap to solve your motorcycle’s faulty starting issues.

What Motorcycle Models Are Known For Starting Problems?

Honda CBX 1000

  • The Honda CBX1000 is a classic bike stocking a complex six-cylinder engine that requires a lot of power to crank.
  • The original battery is often not strong enough to handle the load, especially in cold weather.
  • The starter motor and solenoid can also wear out over time and cause starting issues.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883

  • Harley-Davidson Sportster is a popular model.
  • Older carbureted Sportster models and some of the newer Iron 883 models have a reputation for being hard to start, especially in cold weather and after significant periods of inactivity.
  • The carbs can get gummed up with old fuel and need cleaning or adjustment. The ignition system can also malfunction, weakening the ignition spark.

Yamaha Virago

  • Yamaha Virago is a line of cruiser bikes.
  • The Virago had a common problem with the starter clutch, a one-way gear that engages the flywheel when the starter motor spins.
  • Its starter clutch can wear out or break, causing a loud grinding noise and preventing the engine from turning over.

Suzuki GSX-R

  • The Suzuki GSX-R is a sport bike with a high-performance engine – a motor requiring a lot of compression to start.
  • The valves can get out of adjustment and cause low compression, making it hard to start the bike for riders who fail to adjust their valves. 
  • The fuel injection system can also get clogged or dirty, affecting the fuel delivery.

Kawasaki Ninja

  • Kawasaki Ninja is a popular sport bike with a sensitive electrical system that can cause starting problems if the battery is weak or the connections are loose or corroded.
  • The starter relay on older year models can also fail, preventing the starter motor from receiving a battery current.
  • Finally, some year-model Ninjas’ fuel pumps have malfunctioned and caused low fuel pressure, leading to starting problems.

General Pros and Cons of These Models

Honda CBX 1000


  • Six-cylinder engine
  • Classic design
  • Collector’s item


  • High power load overpowers battery; starting problems
  • Heavy and bulky
  • Outdated chassis
  • Expensive maintenance

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883


  • Affordable, proper Harley-Davidson Motorcycle
  • Simple and rugged
  • Easy to work on


  • Hard to Start When Cold
  • Heavy clutch
  • Poor brakes
  • Slow steering

Yamaha Virago 250


  • Reliability
  • Fuel-efficiency
  • Stylish, classic design


  • Fuel system issues cause starting problems
  • Rust issues
  • Lack of power and performance

What Do the Reviews Say?

Honda CBX 1000

5 out of 5 stars

“I bought my CBX in 1981 and still have it today. The bike is very reliable and easy to work on as long as you have the right tools and manuals. The only problems I have had are with the starter clutch, which I replaced twice, and the cam chain tensioner, which I upgraded to a manual one.”

[Source: Motorcycle News]

Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883

4 out of 5 stars

“Great bike for cruising and commuting, easy to ride and reliable, but lacks power and comfort for longer trips.”

3 out of 5 stars

“Hard to start when cold, needs choke and throttle. Once warm, runs fine. No major issues so far.”

[Source: Motorcycle News]

Yamaha Virago 250

5 out of 5 stars

“Reliable, economical, comfortable and easy to ride. Perfect for beginners or commuters. Classic cruiser style with low seat and wide bars.”

5 out of 5 stars

“[I personally] never had any problems starting it, even after long periods of not using it. Very reliable and economical.”

[Source: Motorcycle News]

What’s the Resale Value of a Vintage Motorcycle with Starting Problems?

The following table compares listings for three vintage motorcycle models that are prone to starting problems:

Year Model  Mileage  Used Market Price
1982 Honda CBX1000  20,980 miles  $9,500
1982 Honda CBX1000  18,000 miles  $8,000
1979 Honda CBX1000  12,000 miles  $7,500
2015 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883  4,500 miles  $6,999
2018 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883  1,800 miles  $8,999
2020 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883  1,000 miles  $9,999
2007 Yamaha Virago 250  10,000 miles  $2,500
2012 Yamaha Virago 250  5,000 miles  $3,000
2015 Yamaha Virago 250  2,000 miles  $3,500



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