A well-functioning clutch gives you a pleasurable ride. If your clutch is misbehaving, it causes the bike to perform poorly and can even put you in danger. To enjoy smooth exits on a long curve and smooth gear shifts, you will want to troubleshoot clutch problems early.
What is a Clutch?
The clutch’s primary function is to disconnect the power created by the engine from the drive system. The clutch lever is usually located on the left handlebar. When you pull in on the lever, you generate the disconnect.
The clutch on a motorcycle has 5-6 plates consisting of steel discs and friction plates. The steel plates can be smooth or dimpled with pads on the inner circumference. These plates connect to the clutch center. On the other hand, the friction plates have teeth on the outside to fit into the clutch basket.
When you have not engaged the clutch lever, the friction discs and the steel plates rotate together with the inner clutch in unison. This way, the engine’s power is fully transferred through the transmission to the rear wheel.
To engage the clutch, you pull in on the lever which separates the steel plates and friction discs. This process disconnects the engine’s drive from the gearbox. It’s what you hear bikers call ‘freewheeling’. During this time, the engine and transmission are spinning at different speeds so you can shift up or down.
How to Tell if your Motorcycle Needs a New Clutch
If your rear tire, chain, and sprockets are in good shape and you notice any of the signs here, your motorcycle may need a new clutch.
1. Engine Builds Up High Rev After Releasing Lever
You can tell how your motorcycle engine revs so you can catch on when it’s high revving. If you release the lever and the bike builds rev, but it just creeps forward, the clutch is taking long to engage.
It means that the friction plates and the steel plates are not rotating together fast enough. The rev increases, but the speed does not increase according to the engine’s power being transferred to the transmission.
2. Difficulties When Changing Gears
Another thing that tells your clutch is unhealthy is that it becomes difficult to engage the gear even after proper gear maintenance. The bike tends to jump, which can give you an unpleasant, sometimes embarrassing ride. This is because the clutch plate engages and disengages when you try to change the gear, hence the unwanted jerks.
This issue can be a result of a misrouted, frayed, or loose clutch cable. When the cable is loose, it reduces the degree that the plates are pulled apart when you pull the lever in.
It can also be that you have worn clutch springs.
3. Motorcycle Makes a Metallic Sound
If you hear chattering sounds when riding your motorcycle, it is a clear sign that you need to inspect the clutch for problems. The noises can still be caused by the plates not separating far enough when you engage the clutch. The teeth grind into each other hence the chattering sound. The sound usually starts slow and then builds up the longer you don’t recognize that there are problems in the clutch system.
4. The Clutch Lever is Stuck
A clutch lever can stick whether the lever is pulled in or released. It can be caused by a kinked clutch cable, which can signify that the clutch is bad.
If grime gets into the pressure plate and the disks, it can stick them apart or together. It can also result from malfunctioning clutch springs that cause the pressure plate and the friction plates to be out of sync. If the disc plates get stuck apart, the gears will not mate, so you will find it challenging to get into gear.
5. The Motorcycle Will Not Get into Gear
The best way to start a motorcycle is to put it in neutral. With a bike that uses a kickstart, you may kick, and it slips. In this case, the gear shift lever just moves up and down freely, but it does not shift to start the bike. It can be that the clutch is seized altogether, or it’s just stuck. This can be a problem of overheating because of not lubricating.
You will want to use lubricant on the clutch cable. Remember that the clutch system uses friction to transfers power. It generates heat, so it needs proper lubrication, or the parts will fuse.
Keep Your Clutch in Good Condition
Now that you can recognize a bad clutch read on to know how to delay its wear and tear.
- Use manufacturer’s recommended oil.
- Avoid changing the gear until you have pulled the clutch in completely.
- Avoid getting into stop and go situations as it generates lots of heat.
- Don’t put pressure on the clutch partially because it creates more friction on the pads.
- Change the gear quickly.
- Always check to see that the chain is at the appropriate tension.
Can You Fix a Motorcycle Clutch Yourself?
If you have worked with motorcycles before, repairing a clutch can be a simple DIY job. But before you start removing the rear brake pedal, start by checking if you have a loose clutch cable. If the cable has too much play, simple tightening should get the clutch performing normally again.
Another quick fix is changing the oil and checking the oil level. If you have not changed the oil recently, it may be time to do so. However, if you have changed the oil and there’s too much of it, it will drown the clutch’s drive friction plates and cause them to slip.
If the oil is at the right level and the cable is tight, but you are still experiencing problems, you may want to look at the clutch system.
Performing repairs on the clutch system requires some level of expertise. Especially when removing the timing chain because it can cause timing issues if you don’t put it back to its exact position. If you are new in biking, it’s best to refer to the owner’s manual to ensure you do it right.
To fully enjoy the motorcycle experience, you will want to have a healthy clutch. It is important to remember how your motorcycle revs so that you can notice any signs of wear in the clutch. While it is expected that the clutch will wear gradually, it is also possible that overheating and a loose cable affect the clutch.
Sam is Automole’s editor-in-chief and classic car enthusiast. Sam is studying mechanical engineering at Cockrell School of Engineering, Austin. He also writes for many top automotive publications and appears on the Collecting Cars Podcast.