There’s no doubt about it; riding a motorcycle takes skill.
Just shifting the bike into gear without stalling out can prove to be easier said than done when you’re starting.
Still, if your bike is dying every time you throw it in first, it’s probably not a user error, not that that makes it any less irritating when you’re geared up in the saddle and ready to rip.
No matter how many times I’ve been through it, when it happens to me, I can’t help but ask myself, why does my motorcycle stall out when I put it in gear? Read on to find out.
Here are a Few Reasons Why Motorcycles Die When Put in Gear:
Apart from rider input error, the most common culprits are an inadequately tuned engine, a strained clutch cable, a malfunctioning side stand switch, airflow blockage, constricted clutch plates, or a leaking master cylinder.
1. Clutch Still Engaged: Clutch Lever not Pulled In
Let’s start with the basics; if you throttle the bike down to shift but don’t pull your clutch in while shifting, your bike’s for sure going to stall out.
We’ve all done it, so make sure your clutch is pulled all the way in while you’re shifting. If you’re sure that’s not the issue, read on to troubleshoot some more complicated scenarios.
Also have a look at our article which explains “Why your motorcycle vibrates when braking”.
2. Clutch Lever Popped Out From Your Hand
Another basic to cover early on is this: releasing the clutch lever before throttling into the friction zone will stall the bike.
To stop stalling, you have to properly transfer power to your gears, release the clutch slowly, and throttle up slightly as soon as the bike starts to walk you forward.
3. Extended Side Stand: Malfunctioning Side Stand Switch
One of the most prominent reasons a bike dies when you put it into gear is an activated side stand safety switch; this can happen if the stand is extended and still in use or the side stand switch is faulty.
These days, most bikes come standard with what’s called a side stand safety switch.
A side stand is what we call a motorcycle kickstand, and riding with an extended side stand is risky business. Therefore, most bikes these days come with a sensor that wires into the bike’s neutral safety circuit.
When you extend the side stand, it pushes a plunger in on the sensor to interrupt the circuit unless your motorbike’s in neutral; try to shift it into gear, and the bike will die like you hit the kill switch.
Why the safety switch? Riding with your side stand extended is risky.
Imagine leaning hard into a left-hand turn and having it scrape the road or hitting a rock.
If your side stand isn’t in use, but the bike is still dying when put into into gear, it might be due to a malfunctioning side stand switch.
Sometimes, its plunger jams are closed due to dirt, grime, and debris. Others use a magnet to close the circuit, and the magnet can get soiled. If the plunger or magnet is clean, correct, and clear of debris, one of the wires feeding into the switch might be corrupted.
If the side stand is interrupted in any way, shape, or form, you’ve got an opened circuit, and the bike will only run in neutral.
Side Stand Solutions
- Clean the connections.
- Scrape the crud from around the plunger, or,
- if it’s a magnet-based side stand sensor, scrub the magnet at the side stand switch.
- Hit it hard with a parts washer.
- If this doesn’t work, inspect the two wires that feed into the switch.
- If the bike runs in gear when you strip the two wires and close the circuit, you have two options:
- Re-solder the wires onto the switch.
- Bypass and remove the switch by soldering the wires and closing the circuit.
Please also read our article about how to tell if motorcycles have bad brakes.
4. Failing Clutch Lever Switch
Much like the safety switch mentioned above, if the clutch lever safety switch is dirty or the wiring is damaged, it will behave as if the clutch is disengaged even if it isn’t.
The bike will only start and run in neutral, dying when you shift the bike into gear.
Another safety interruption feature connected to the neutral safety circuit is the clutch safety switch.
When pulled in, it prevents you from starting the bike in gear by disrupting the power supplied to the starter when you yank in your clutch control.
5. Clutch Lever Switch Solutions
- Clean up your switches with a parts washer.
- If you cleaned the switch and the bike still can’t shift into gear without dying, you may have wire damage.
- You can either resolder the wires to the switch,
- Or you can bypass it by soldering the circuit closed.
6. Overextended Clutch Cable
A stretched clutch cable prevents the clutch from disengaging, even when you pull it in.
The clutch plates are still fastened together, carrying power to the transmission, so putting the bike into gear will move it forward.
The clutch cable is what runs from your clutch drum to your clutch control hand lever.
The cable should be close to rigid, with only slight play. If the bike is dying as you put it into gear and your clutch cable is slacked, there’s a chance that that’s your problem.
- A good old-fashioned tension adjustment should fix your cable right up.
- You need ample free play on the lever to keep it from wearing the clutch through slippage,
- But you’re looking for a tight enough cable to disengage the clutch plates entirely when the lever is pressed.
- While you are down there, lube up the clutch cable, not just to keep her slipping and sliding but also to prevent any dirt from causing future issues.
Make sure to also read our article about how long the Honda ST1100 and ST1300 last.
7. Constricted Clutch Plates
If the clutch plates on your bike are seized, the clutch plates stay clasped together. Even if the springs still press while the levers are pulled, the bike will die as soon as you release the clutch lever once you’ve put her into gear.
A sitting bike starts to get funky.
If you’re not riding your bike at all for an extended period of time, corrosion can lock up your clutch plates.
Another scenario might be a bike running at inadequate levels, or the oil isn’t replaced regularly. Either can result in a constricted clutch drum.
When you put the bike into gear, the engine won’t generate enough power to move those seized clutch bells; as soon as you release the clutch lever, the bike stalls out.
If the motorcycle is dying when put into gear and it refuses to roll forward while you’re walking it even with the clutch lever pulled in, a bound clutch could be the problem.
- First, keep walking it around in first gear, with the lever pulled in. This could work the corrosion off and free up your clutch drum.
- Another quick trick is to start it in neutral, put her in first but keep the clutch lever pulled in, then hit the throttle six or seven times before releasing the clutch lever; you might knock the drum loose.
- If this happens even though it hasn’t been sitting, make sure you’re using the proper oil.
- Improper oil causes clutch plate friction that sometimes results in a clutch seizure.
- Replace the oil with oil of the correct viscosity.
- Still nothing? You might have a jammed-up clutch basket. If that’s the case, you’ll need to swap it out for a fresh part.
8. Airflow Blockage
Air is critical to combustion, and restricting your airflow restricts your power, and the motorcycle will die as soon as you take off. It will lose power and stall when pulling away.
Depending on what type of air cleaner you’re rocking, your filter has to be cleaned or replaced during the regular service intervals outlined in your owner’s manual.
A dirty air filter can block airflow.
Another way airflow blockage can occur is if a dent or a pinch is restricting your exhaust system.
Solutions to Airflow Blockage
- Clean or replace a dirty air filter.
- If there is damage to the pipe, particularly if it’s close to the intake manifold, you may need your pipes replaced.
9. Air in Hydraulic Clutch System
Even if you pull your clutch lever in, a hydraulic clutch can’t disengage if there’s air in your lines or a leaking cylinder.
- Examine the hydraulic clutch fluid reservoir.
- If it’s low, fill her up and try to put it in gear.
- If it still doesn’t start, inspect the hydraulic lines, the master and slave cylinders, and the reservoir for leaks.
- Leaks let air in the system, so if you’ve got some, that could be the culprit of your bike dying when you put it in gear.
- Replace the leaking components and bleed the air from your Hydraulic clutch system.
10. Bike’s Motor Not Tuned Properly
If the bike starts fine and idles fine but dies as soon as you put it in gear and start riding, you may need to tune your engine.
The problem might be a clogged carb, for example. You could have worn or contaminated spark plugs as well.
- The best offense against a poorly tuned bike is a good defense.
- If your bike is carbureted, clean your carbs periodically with carb cleaner.
- Keep your spark plugs fresh and clean.
Also read our article about how long the Honda Shine last.
11. Idle Positioned Too Low
If your bike’s idle is positioned too low, it can’t roll the clutch plates hard enough to put the bike in gear and ride, and your motorcycle will die.
Your motorcycle’s motor can’t generate the force required to beat the clutch plate friction if your idle is set too low.
- Adjust the idle to be higher.
- If you’re unsure of your mechanical abilities, there’s no shame in having a trusted mechanic do it for you.