All motorcycle clutches engage late periodically due to mechanical hiccups or certain riding conditions.
That said, if your motorcycle is regularly experiencing late clutch engagement, it could be the sign you need to catch a critical issue at the earliest stages.
But a motorcycle clutch is an intricate system of components, all working together with the engine to move your rear wheel.
The list below will familiarize you with the various parts and failures associated with a motorcycle clutch that slips, grabs, or engages late, helping you keep up with the typical gearbox wear and tear and solve the problems before they spiral out of control.
1. Corrupted Throwout Bearing
The throwout bearing is the part of your motorcycle clutch responsible for disengaging your clutch system from the engine when you pull in your clutch lever.
When you release your clutch lever, the throwout bearing is responsible for engaging your clutch on your engine.
In time, the friction of general use wears down the throwout bearing, causing rough shifting until the worn path is replaced. In some cases, riders don’t routinely inspect their throwout bearings or don’t realize the quality of their shifting experience has changed.
If you continue riding on a worn throwout bearing after your shifting has gotten rough, you will eventually experience delayed clutch engagement while riding your motorcycle.
2. Flywheel Is Warped
The flywheel is a critical component of your clutch system, as it stays in continuous motion during motorcycle operation.
The flywheel is responsible for four critical functions:
- Supplies the mass, rotation, and inertia forces that keep your motorcycle engine running.
- Engages with the starter motor to start your motorcycle
- Transfers power between your engine and the clutch system inside your transmission.
- Balances your crankshaft’s weight with its specifically engineered weight, functioning as a crankshaft counterweight.
Because the flywheel constantly rotates and transfers force between two robust systems, it’s subjected to intense friction and heat that causes warping. This warping is worsened by inadequate oil maintenance and hard riding.
Once your motorcycle’s flywheel warps, shifting gets more arduous, and your motorcycle clutch can slip or engage late.
If you suspect a damaged flywheel is why your motorcycle’s clutch engagement is sometimes delayed, we suggest you inspect and replace it before riding on it.
A warped flywheel causes damage to the various engine and clutch components it interacts with while transferring and providing force.
3. Pressure Plate Wear and Tear
The pressure plate of your motorcycle clutch is bolted to your flywheel, forcing the clutch plate against the flywheel to ensure it transfers adequate energy between the engine and the gearbox.
Because the pressure plate is bolted to the flywheel and the clutch plates, which we’ll discuss further down, it incurs wear and tears from the force of essential use over time, significantly if the oil quality is compromised or the bike is ridden hard at redline RPMs.
Once the pressure plate wears down or warps, it fails to pressurize the clutch plate and flywheel correctly. The interference with the power transfer process can sometimes cause your motorcycle clutch to engage late.
4. Leaking Hydraulic Clutch Cylinder
Some modern motorcycles equip hydraulic clutch systems—if your bike doesn’t use a hydraulic clutch, you can skip down to the next item on the list.
Simply put, a hydraulic clutch functions similarly to most motorcycle brake systems, using fluid-filled lines to create pressure instead of a standard metal clutch cable lever.
The hydraulic clutch system includes a master and slave cylinder, which transfers the rider’s input into the power needed for clutch-system engagement.
- The master and slave cylinders use seals to keep the fluid in their lines while they transfer force.
- The pressure put on these seals from frequent use can cause cracking. The friction incurred during standard operation can generate gross changes in temperature, causing the seals to shrink, warp, or lose flexibility.
Once the seals in your hydraulic motorcycle clutch system’s master and slave cylinders lose integrity, they allow the flowing fluid to leak out. Fluid loss causes changes in pressure within your clutch lines that can result in shifting problems, clutch slipping and grabbing, and late clutch engagement.
5. Failing Clutch Disc
The clutch disc is coated with brake pad material and installed between the pressure plate and the flywheel.
The core function of the clutch disc is to smooth out the engagement and disengagement between the pressure plate and the flywheel.
The clutch disc can wear down and warp just like your brake pads can since it’s situated between two force-generating/absorbing/transferring components.
Once your clutch disc wears down or warps, it fails to smooth out your flywheel employment. At first, you’ll notice your clutch activity getting rougher, with more slipping and grabbing. Eventually, you may see that your bike’s clutch engages later than usual.
6. Overfilling Motorcycle’s Engine Oil
While running your motorcycle with less oil than it calls for can lead to severe engine failure, including seizure and total loss, running too much oil through your engine can cause problems too.
If you fill your engine oil over the max level, your engine and transmission components are lubricated excessively, weakening the force they can generate and transfer.
Many motorcycles use the same engine oil supply to lubricate the clutch system. Therefore, overfilling your engine means more oil in your transmission case than it calls for.
The excess lubrication caused by too much oil reduces the gripping ability of your clutch components, lessening their force-generating and transferring potential and causing your clutch to fail to engage entirely or to engage late.
7. Worn Clutch Springs
Your motorcycle’s clutch springs are the components responsible for pulling your clutch plate in and out of place, providing the space required for gear shifting.
These springs are engineered to adjust consistently to maintain the tension required to perform their duty.
Overheating, a lack of lubrication, or the stress of everyday use over time are enough to wear out your clutch springs’ retention capability.
Once the springs wear out, they fail to completely move the clutch plates back into place, causing missed shifting and a motorcycle clutch that engages late from time to time.
8. Worn Clutch Plates
Clutch plates are mounted onto the friction plates, using them to detach from the plates when you pull your clutch lever in.
The metal clutch plate incurs minor wear and tear from friction throughout standard operations.
The wear eventually changes the plate’s physics, hindering its detaching capabilities and causing your motorcycle clutch to slip and grab, delaying your clutch engagement.
9. Low-Grade or Improper Engine Oil
Engine oil comes in various ratings and consistencies and is made from multiple materials, some of which are synthetic.
The owner’s manual that comes with your motorcycle specifies a particular type of motorcycle oil, which takes the unique attributes of your engine components and their needs into account, as well as your motorcycle’s transmission style and cooling abilities.
Using expired, contaminated, burned, or improper grade of oil changes the physics and, therefore, the mechanics of your clutch operation, potentially resulting in shifting problems and a motorcycle clutch that engages late.
10. Clutch Cable Needs Adjustment
Your motorcycle’s clutch cable runs from your clutch lever to your clutch system.
The clutch cable uses a balance of tension and compression created by the rider’s input on the hand lever to move the clutch into the chain of events that disengage your clutch system from your bike’s motor.
Your clutch cable needs to be a specific length to achieve that tension and must be adjusted regularly to maintain it.
Your clutch cable also needs a specific amount of slack to generate the force required to yank on your plates and disengage your clutch.
If your clutch cable is out of adjustment, with too little tension or slack, your motorcycle clutch may fail to disengage on time when you pull the clutch lever.
11. Motorcycle Engine Overheating
Lack of engine oil, overworking your motor, riding in harsh weather, improper storage, or a long list of other transmissions, combustion, and engine problems can cause overheating inside your gearbox.
Since many of your clutch components rub together during standard operation, they are already prone to friction and the wear and tear it inspires.
Suppose any of the reasons mentioned above elevate your transmission’s internal temperature.
Overheating occurs between all the clutch components that incur friction, causing multiple components’ expansion, warping, and dislodging.
The result is your motorcycle clutch disengaging and engaging later than usual.
The many issues a motorcycle clutch develops resulting in improper engagement are inescapable after years of use and friction.
That said, you can catch most of the wear long before it causes problems.
Inspecting your motorcycle’s clutch system components per the service intervals outlined in your owner’s manual, changing your oil regularly, and riding and adequately storing your bike not only helps you slow down clutch wear but also helps catch these problems before your clutch fails to engage.
Because your clutch components and engine all work closely together, any failures on the list eventually lead to new problems.
Routine maintenance is always less costly than waiting until your clutch system fails.