Having a motorbike that won’t start can be just as baffling as it is frustrating. You’ve got places to be, things to do… and a bike that just won’t go. Maybe the motorcycle kickstart is not working, maybe the engine cranks but won’t fire up, or maybe there are no lights on your dash. You know motorcycle engine starting problems can be caused by about ten or more things. So starting with the obvious, it’s time to start troubleshooting. With any luck, you’ll soon be ready to roll again.
Despite the many forms motorcycle engine starting problems can take, the issue always comes down to the three ingredients an engine needs to run: fuel, compression and spark. A lot of the time, the problem is something simple and easily fixed. But if it isn’t, putting your bike on a truck or Ute and taking it to a professional will sort your problems out faster than playing the guessing game will.
Here’s the Taverner Motorsports guide to diagnosing motorcycle engine starting problems and when to call for assistance so you can be back on the road.
Diagnosing the Problem
Before you pull out the tools and begin pulling the bike apart, check the small stuff. It’s easy to start with and often addresses the problem.
Here are some of the steps you can take to diagnose motorcycle engine starting problems and get your bike running again. It’s a good idea to keep your motorcycle manual on hand while you work as well.
Check the fuel
You might be diligent about always filling up your gas tank when it needs it, but fuel gauges sometimes malfunction. You can check your fuel level by giving your bike a gentle shove or shaking it lightly back and forth while listening out for the slosh. Pop the cap. If the fuel smells sweet and stale, it’s going to be hard for it to combust. Fuel can go bad in just 30 days. You can also use the flashlight on your smartphone to see if there’s gas in the tank.
Check the battery
There are some sure signals that a motorcycle battery is dead or at least hanging on for dear life. A dodgy battery can’t deliver enough power to crank a motorcycle engine. With a dead battery, you get the “click of death”, which activates the starter solenoid enough that your bike makes a dreaded clicking noise but doesn’t start. A battery that’s no longer capable of holding a charge can’t crank the starter for more than a second.
You can check that your battery has enough charge by using a multimeter to make sure it holds at least 12 volts. If the motorcycle’s not starting, but the battery is good, it’s time to dig a little deeper into the possible causes.
Check the compression
There are other issues that can cause problems with the compression when your motorcycle isn’t starting, but your battery is all good. Worn-out piston rings, crank seals or head gaskets are among the most common. Sadly they can also be time-consuming to fix.
Check the spark plugs
You can see if there’s some spark by unscrewing a spark plug, laying it against the cylinder head and turning the engine on. You should see a vibrant whitish-blue flame jumping across the gap. An orange or feathery spark, or no spark at all, means the ignition isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.
You can try replacing the spark plug and checking the plug boot and wire for any signs of damage. If that doesn’t fix the issue, it’s time to get a multimeter and follow the specific instructions related to your model.
Check the carburettor (if you have one)
If you have a carburetted bike, open up the float bowl drain to make sure there’s fuel making its way there.
There are other issues that can cause motorcycle engine starting problems if your motorcycle isn’t starting, but the battery is good. If your motorcycle kickstart isn’t working, the solution may be as simple as checking your kickstand switch or, worst case scenario, there could be severe engine damage or electrical system failure. Blown fuses, loose wires, faulty fuel injection systems, bad starters, bad ignition coils and vacuum line damage are other common problems.
Solutions to Get Your Motorcycle Going
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to get your bike up and running again when the motorcycle kickstart isn’t working. There are only specific solutions for the particular problem you’re having. When your motorcycle doesn’t start, but you know the battery is good, it’s time to try some other steps:
Look for loose wiring
Your battery may be fine, but what about its connector cables? Electrical issues are frustrating because they’re often not visible. But sometimes, all you need to do is tighten a couple of cables to resolve them.
Check ignition problems and spark plug wires
Faulty or damaged spark plugs or ignition coils can stand in the way of proper combustion. You can check the coils, spark plugs and spark plug wires to see if they’re worn out or damaged and replace them if you have the time, the tools and the skills.
Clean or replace the air filter
A damaged air filter or one clogged with debris can restrict airflow. You can check it, clean it, or, if necessary, replace it.
Clean the carburettor
If you have a carburetted motorbike, debris can build up in the jets, especially if you haven’t ridden in a while. If you clean your carburettor, make sure you put the float back in the right way up. Otherwise, the fuel won’t flow, and your bike still won’t start, which is, needless to say, incredibly frustrating.
DON’T jump-start the battery with a car
It may be tempting to try it for a quick fix, but jump-starting your motorcycle battery with a car can spike the voltage and cause damage to your motorbike. If you get that desperate, there’s a better solution.
When Should You See A Professional?
If you don’t have the time, the patience or the know-how to fix the bike yourself, there’s no shame in seeing a professional as soon as you notice the motorcycle kickstart not working. When it comes to motorcycle engine starting problems, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Some reasons you might want to turn to a pro for motorcycle engine starting problems include:
Serious safety concerns
Exposed wiring, sparks or a burning smell are sure signs that your bike needs urgent attention from a pro.
If the problem is difficult to figure out or requires a higher level of skills or tools than you have available, taking it to a professional is always the best option.
Your bike is still under warranty
Needless to say, you don’t want to do anything that may void your warranty, and trying to fix motorcycle engine starting problems yourself is likely to be one of them.
If this isn’t the first time in recent memory that you haven’t been able to switch your motorbike on, it’s time to take it to someone with the time and in-depth knowledge to find and fix any underlying problems.
Get a Professional to Help At Taverner Motorsports
The Taverner team services, repairs and modifies all makes and models of motorbikes. With 40+ years of experience in the industry, our capable team knows how to get to the root cause of your motorcycle engine starting problems. We’ll have your bike up and running again and take the stress of repairs off your shoulders. It’s what we do best.
Contact the Taverner team and request a free quote.