There’s nothing quite as rewarding as a motorcycle trip in the hot sun, made regal by the sounds of the cool wind and your bike motor purring like a tiger.
And nothing ruins that sensation quicker than a motor that’s hissing and whining and throwing a fit.
If that unlucky moto-ripper is you, you’re probably asking yourself the reasons motorcycles make whining noises.
Here Are the Reasons Why Motorcycles Make Whining Noises:
A disrupted cooling system, improper cam chain tension, unhealthy drive chain, failing wheel bearings, or issues with your transmission gearbox can all cause whining noises in various places on your motorcycle.
Read on to find out how to distinguish the cause of your bike’s whine based on where the noise is coming from.
1. Cooling System Disruption
An air pocket or a blown gasket, or a leaking seal could be the culprit behind an irregular motorcycle whine.
On a liquid-cooled motorcycle, the cooling system shouldn’t be making noises. The circulation takes place in a silent rhythm, so if you hear a whining notice, it’s time to check your cooling system.
Start by checking your coolant level.
If your coolant level has declined, this could indicate a coolant system problem being the source of your motorcycle’s whining noise.
If there’s an air pocket in there due to the low coolant level, your system’s pump won’t be able to circulate the coolant through the engine at an adequate pace. If it backs up or fizzes, it has the potential to gather around hot spots.
If coolant gathers around engine hot spots, it may start to boil and cause a whining hiss sound.
Top your coolant level off and see if the noise goes away. If not, you may have a blown gasket or leaking coolant seal. That frothing and boiling coolant you had rushed through your iron steed’s veins can burst into the header tank and blow through your head gasket or cause other modes of overheating issues.
If your coolant system whine isn’t alleviated by topping off the tank, you may need to take it to your moto-tech for inspection.
2. Drive Chain
While even healthy drive chains make noise, an unhealthy drive chain makes a clanking, whining sound that’s audible above the engine while riding.
The clanking whining vibration of an unkept drive chain can not only be heard from your drive chain area, but its vibration can also be felt through the footpegs while you’re riding.
This vibration sensation is a telling sign of stiff chain links or tight spots in your drive chain.
How do you solve the problem of a clanking, vibrating, whining drive chain?
Start by cleaning your chain. During the cleaning process, examine your drive chain for sticking chain links and lose rollers, and keep your eyes peeled for any extra stretch or play in your chain.
If all that checks out, an alignment check is next. Perform a drive chain adjustment following the specs in your motorcycle’s owner’s manual and make sure it’s properly aligned and adjusted.
Once you’ve cleaned, inspected, and re-aligned your drive chain, use some high-quality chain lubricant to lubricate your chain.
How to Lubricate Your Drive Chain to Stop the Clanking, Whining Noise
When the chain is still warm, apply high-quality chain lubricant on the inside run of the chain, then hit the outside.
If you found a tense or stiff place or links on the chain, and lubricating doesn’t soften things up and quiet things down, it’s probably time for a new chain.
Your drive chain does a lot of work, and if you’ve been packing miles on your bike-clock, fixing that clanking drive chain may be as simple as retiring that tired old workhorse and replacing it with a fresh drive chain.
If that’s all OK, make sure it’s properly aligned and adjusted. Lubricate with decent lube on the inside run first, preferably when the chain is warm.
If you find any tight spots, stiff links, or have run out of adjustment, then the time has come to ditch the chain and invest in a fresher (quieter) new one.
3. Gearbox Issues
A motorcycle whine coming from the transmission gearbox, especially when the gearbox is under load, indicates a problem with the motorcycle’s gearbox.
You’ll have a more accurate diagnosis of the specific problem within the gearbox if you can isolate when the whine is happening.
For starters, if pulling your clutch lever in and out or changing gears triggers the whine or makes it worse, you’re in the right section.
However, if yanking on the clutch has zero effect on the sound, chances are it has nothing to do with your transmission, as loading and unloading the engine or transmission should affect the whine in either case.
If the bike is only whining in a specific gear, for example, you’ve probably got some isolated wear and tear damage to those specific gears.
It’s pretty common for engineers to design and equip gearboxes with gear that work in pairs. If one gear starts to wear and malfunction, it’s just a matter of time before the wear is reflected in the performance of the gear it’s paired with.
If the gearbox whine is present across all gear ratios, a worn gearbox bearing could be the culprit of your motorcycle whining noise.
A worn gearbox bearing forces the shafts into nonalignment. When realigning the gearbox shafts, you’ll have to replace the gearbox bearing to prevent them from being unaligned and causing the whine repeatedly.
4. Improper Cam Chain Tension
A squeaky whine accompanied by a clattering on a motorcycle could result from an improper cam chain tension.
If the clattering happens most obviously at tick over or when you’re letting your throttle down, the culprit for your weird motorcycle noises could be a cam chain with a tension that’s either too tight or too loose.
A chain slap noise might get worse as the bike warms up and the cam chain’s metal expands. If you adjust your cam chain and it rectifies the sound, problem solved. It might just need an adjustment per the specs in your bike’s owner’s manual.
However, sometimes you’ll find the sound goes away for a while, then comes back. You check the cam chain you just adjusted, and now the tension is all wrong again. Either:
- Your chain is worn and needs to be replaced, or
- You’ve got a bad cam chain tensioner; it’s what’s worn and needs to be replaced.
A chain’s a chain.
Your cam chain can overstretch just like your drive chain can. Once the cam chain sags past a certain limit, the tensioner won’t compensate it back to spec.
When your chain is flopping around in there, you’ll hear a combination of metallic clanks and whines coming from your cams.
A stretched-out cam chain is more than just an annoying sound. It’s a hazard for both you and your motorcycle. It can skip a tooth and bank against other metal components, causing wear, damage, and friction. And if self and vehicle preservation don’t convince you, a loose cam chain slaps up your bike’s performance too.
If unchecked, your valve timing cab goes out, and your valves and pistons won’t get along.
So if your bike’s making a mechanical chain whine at the hands of inadequate cam chain tension, get it adjusted back to spec asap, and if that doesn’t work, consider replacing your cam chain, your cam chain tensioner, or both.
5. Bad Wheel Bearings
A chirping squeal or whine noise coming from the wheels of a motorcycle could be due to worn wheel bearings, and subtle details in nature and location sound can enforce that diagnosis.
Just because the sound is coming from the wheel area doesn’t mean bad bearings are the culprit. A humming noise, for example, could be the bearings, but it could be a cv joint or the tires as well. The sound your troubleshooting jury is looking for to pin the charges on the wheel bearing is a growling whine or squeal.
It’s like a mechanical bird chirping in a rhythmic cycle. This wheel bearing whine changes in ferocity with the vehicle’s speed. The sound might get worse as you accelerate, or maybe it disappears for a while.
Unlike a rear differential sound, a wheel bearing squeal would happen consistently during rider input; for example, during throttle deceleration, it could be that a pinion-bearing pre-load is loose. If the howling whine is prevalent during acceleration at multiple speeds, it could be wear and tear on your gears.
That said, worn-out bearings tend to make a whining, howling sound as well since they’re not interacting with your bike’s transmission gears in the way that they should. In some cases, that whine will be accompanied by a rumble when the bike turns.
Dangers of a Worn Wheel Bearing
Not only does a worn-out wheel bearing cause poor performance, early wear on your tires, and an obnoxious chorus of sounds, it’s incredibly hazardous. If you’re suspicious that worn bearings are the culprit behind your motorcycle whine noise, get them inspected immediately.
If you’re a decent home mechanic with the proper tools and equipment, you probably know the difference. Still, if you’re not, there’s no reason not to consult a professional mechanic for this job—a worn wheel bearing is a 911 repair situation.
Riding with a worn or damaged wheel bearing is incredibly unsafe in the way that it can stop your wheel from moving. A worn wheel bearing can also stress the cv joint, the wheel hub, and the transmission and gears.
Putting a motorcycle with a damaged wheel bearing on the road is dangerous for yourself and others, and you risk a slew of other problems down the road.
A worn wheel bearing also wears your tires quickly, which is as expensive as dangerous, making your motorcycle less responsive to rider input.
And finally, in extreme cases, a wheel bearing is a critical part of keeping the wheel assembly intact. A wheel bearing that’s damaged past a certain point can actually cause the wheel to detach while riding.
I know this sounds dramatic, and it can be, but wheel bearing inspection is part of routine motorcycle maintenance. If you or your mechanic is performing service maintenance outlined within the motorcycle’s service manual, you should catch bearing wear at its earliest signs and replace your wheel bearing then.
Wheel bearing replacement is a routine bike job, and the cost isn’t outlandish at any decent motorcycle shop.
If you’re not performing routine inspections and service maintenance on your motorcycle, though, an unchecked worn wheel bearing can get worse with time and can cause damage with a repair cost exponentially more serious than a simple wheel bearing replacement.
We say it all the time, but the best offense against motorcycle problems, including weird whining sounds, is a good defense. Have your bike inspected, serviced, and maintained according to the schedule outlined in your owner’s manual to prevent parts from wearing and catch and fix any noise problems while they’re still small.