You sit on your bike, geared up and ready to roast to Malibu. Or maybe you’re suited up and ready to commute to work.
Either way, you pushed the starter switch, and the bike doesn’t start. Your heart sinks; you know there are several reasons your motorcycle has no power.
Well, don’t fret, we’ve broken down the 16 most common reasons your motorcycle won’t start, and we’ve poured them into this article.
Kill Switch Engaged
As its name implies, your kill switch cuts your motorcycle’s power; if your kill switch is engaged, your bike will act like it has no power.
We’re starting with the basics, so all you old heads keep your boots on the ground for a second. And new riders, don’t get discouraged; I still do this about once a month.
There are plenty of riders out there who don’t use their kill switch very often, so when they do use it, they forget to flick it back off before they press their starter button next time they’re in the saddle.
Maybe you didn’t use it. Maybe you elbowed the kill switch on this dismount, or your cat slunk in your garage and flipped it into the kill zone while you were at work.
Regardless, one of the most common and easily correctable culprits of a motorcycle with no power is that the kill switch is engaged, preventing the bike from turning over.
Your bike battery generates the voltage required to start your motorcycle, and keep its lights, gauges, and CPUs running during operation. A bad battery means your bike has no power.
While riding, your bike has a charging system. Your charging system not only charges the battery back to complete after the juice-sucking ignition takes place, but also charges your battery with the same amount of voltage it’s using.
Your battery might be good, but if there’s a problem with the charging system, it might just need a charge. More on charging systems in the electronics section.
However, if your battery is dead, it won’t hold a charge no matter how good your charging system is.
Always check your battery terminals first.
You don’t know how many times I’ve ridden with guys who insist their battery is dead, or their fuses are blown, and it turns out the problem is a loose terminal they can fix with a few quarter-inch turns.
For now, let’s take a look at a few symptoms of a dead battery.
Symptoms of a dead battery include:
- Running lights are off or dim.
- Pressing the ignition switch only results in a clicking sound.
- The starter tries to crank over a few times, then gives up, and nothing happens.
So now you know it’s dead, but not if it’s bad; it might just need a charge.
Next step, how does your bike battery look?
- Broken terminals
- Battery fluid leaks
- Breaks, splits, or bulges in the battery case
If everything looks ok, check the voltage with a digital voltmeter or run it by a motorcycle, mechanic, or auto parts store, and they’ll help you out.
The voltage reading should range between 9.5 Volts and 10.5 Volts for at least 30 seconds without wavering.
Clutch Is Engaged
Most bikes won’t start unless you pull in the clutch lever, disengaging the clutch. However, some bikes will turn over in neutral even if the clutch is engaged.
Again, I acknowledge we’re starting with the basics here, but it happens often.
I’ve seen it happen, and it’s happened to me. You’re on a new bike or someone else’s bike. The neutral light is lit, but nothing happens.
You assume everything on this lift but the clutch, but you decide to pull the clutch lever in, even though the bike is in neutral to see what happens, and when you do, the motorcycle starts right up.
If the bike’s clutch switch is stuck, your bike will act as if the clutch is engaged even if it’s not.
You can try pumping the clutch lever a few times to reset the clutch switch. If that doesn’t work, you may have a damaged clutch, and we’ll get to that in a minute.
Motorcycle Isn’t in Neutral
Some motorcycles have to be in neutral to receive power, even if the clutch lever is pulled in. Many engineers and mechanics suggest that starting the bike in neutral is better for its longevity.
No Fuel in Fuel Tank
Whether or not the battery has power, a motorcycle needs a certain amount of fuel in the cylinder to start the ignition process.
If your bike doesn’t start, start by checking the fuel gauge to see if it’s low on gas, but don’t stop there.
Gauges can malfunction, and sometimes a bike’s fuel reading can be misleading if it’s on a side stand or parked on an incline or decline.
When dealing with a motorcycle that won’t start, shake the gas tank around to see if you can hear the fuel’s movement.
Fuel Valve Is Off
Carburetted motorcycles have an adjustable fuel valve that can turn from on to off. First, be sure your fuel valve is set to the on position.
Once you’ve flipped the valve on, give it time for the carb’s float bowl to fill up before you try to turn the motorcycle over.
Most modern bikes are fuel injected, and their fuel system is regulated by a CPU and not a manual valve.
The starter is the component that begins a bike’s ignition and fuel injection process, and a failing starter will make your motorcycle appear to have no power.
The starter uses electricity to charge the spark plugs for initial combustion.
If your battery is dead, your starter won’t operate, but if your starter itself is bad, all the battery volts in the world won’t start your motorcycle.
Here are four symptoms of a failing starter:
1. Motorcycle Will not Start
I know what you’re thinking. You’re here because you’ve already established this.
Still, the first step to diagnosing your starter is ensuring the battery is in working condition. Mapping your bike’s battery voltage is the fastest way to determine whether the battery is dead or if the starter is failing.
2. Sporadic Starting
A starter goes bad slowly. At first, the starter will fail once or twice, but the bike starts after a while. It fails 5 or 6 times, then the motorcycle starts. Get it looked at as soon as it starts lagging.
Eventually, the starter coughs and coughs, and nothing happens. Once you get to this point, tap your starter motor with a hard object. If it turns over after a few taps, your starter is probably the culprit. Get it replaced.
3. Starter Makes a Clicking Noise
As corrosion takes your starter or your solenoid, a similar clicking noise haunts its function. It could mean replacing the solenoid alone. Test it to find out if you need to replace your solenoid or the whole starter.
4. Starter Coughs or Grinds after the Motorcycle Is Running
If your motorcycle’s starter has shorts in its circuitry, the starter will attempt to deliver voltage even after the bike is running.
Make sure to also read our article about motorcycle cold start problems.
Motorcycles have electronic systems since headlights and electronics integration in modern motorcycle designs make them essential to the bike’s power.
Bikes have fuses, for example, which can blow just as quickly as any other electronic fuse.
Pro racers and moto-nomads all keep fuse kits handy, but if you go that route, pay close attention to the amperages on your bike and only swap a fuse with one of the same amps.
As we mentioned early, your bike’s battery hooks up to an entire system of components that keep it charged and distribute its volts accordingly. Two of those components are the stator and the Regulator/Rectifier.
The stator uses power generated by a force of motion to charge your battery once your R/R has converted and limited the charge, so your battery doesn’t explode.
If either of these components malfunction, it’s bad news for the battery. Either you or your moto-mechanic will have to replace them, or you’ll continue to ruin good batteries, and your motorcycle will have no power.
Faulty Fuel Injector
On more modern, fuel-injected bikes, a failing fuel injector could cause your bike not to power up.
This is one of the more difficult culprits to diagnose based on symptoms, so you may require the assistance of a mechanic to be sure.
A mechanic I know said that injectors don’t fail all that often and that it’s more likely a faulty fuel pump.
When a fuel-injected bike clicks on, you can hear the fuel injection system priming itself before you start it. If you don’t hear that happening and your bike doesn’t start, it’s time to take your motorcycle to your mechanic for some troubleshooting.
Also read our article about symptoms of a loose motorcycle chain.
Bad Spark Plugs
Spark plugs are an essential part of motorcycle ignition, and bad spark plugs mean no spark, and no spark means no engine power.
Luckily, spark plugs are an easy fix.
5 symptoms of bad spark plugs are:
- Loss of power
- Dip in gas mileage
- Engine misfiring
- The bike won’t start
- Slow throttle
Examining the spark plugs is a vital part of your routine maintenance and should be done following your owner’s manual.
A clogged petcock or clogged fuel lines are two other common causes of loss of power on a motorcycle.
Fuel lines are a part of your fuel delivery system. The petcock is a fuel control valve that gives the rider the option to turn petrol flow on, off, or use the reserve tank.
Corrosion, harmful gas, or debris can get in your petcock screen or fuel lines and backstop fuel delivery. When this occurs, your bike will lose power.
You’ll have to clean out your lines unless the debris is from damage to your fuel system itself, at which point you’ll have to replace the corroded parts.
Please also read our article about 6 reasons motorcycle can shut off while riding.
Side Stand Switch
Many modern motorcycles have a sensor that cuts power to the engine for the duration of the time that the side stand is extended.
It does this using a plunger device (or something similar), interrupting the circuit when the stand is down.
If the switch fails and the plunger gets stuck down, the bike will have no power, even if the stand is up.
Sometimes debris can jam it shut. If cleaning the switch doesn’t help, you’ll either have to replace or bypass the circuitry by removing it and soldering the connection close to create a loop.
NOTE: If you’re not an experienced electrician, you might want to avoid that second option. It also might void your warranty.