Why Does My Motorcycle Die Out When I Shift Into Gear?

Here’s a thought to get your palms sweaty…you’re on your bike waiting at the front of a traffic light, there’s about a hundred impatient cars behind you, and as the light turns green when you go to shift your bike into gear it dies out.

You may be joining me to find an answer after experiencing a situation like this yourself. This set of circumstances described above is not only embarrassing and traumatizing but very dangerous if you split to the front and are now scrambling to get moving.

Whether you are on a brand new bike or an older motorcycle, there are some logical items to check in order to pin down the source of your problem.

Most motorcycles die out after engaging first gear because either the side stand is down or you have a failed side stand switch. If the bike crept forward and then died, you have a deeper mechanical issue with your clutch system.

A quick note before we begin: I’m going to save us all the humiliation of beginning this article with “Reason number 1, make sure you pull the clutch lever before trying to shift into gear.” If this is what you’re doing wrong, go back to the DMV and ask them to remove your motorcycle endorsement.

What Does A Kickstand Have To Do With A Motorcycle Stalling?

Motorcycle manufacturers designed their bikes to have a safety mechanism that prevents people from riding away with their kickstand extended down.

This is because if you take a left turn with your stand down, you will be pole vaulted off of your bike and left wondering what got you to this point as you fly through the air.

As a result, there is a little electrical switch attached to the hinge point of your kickstand which will trigger the kill switch if first gear is engaged and the stand is still down.

This is why the first step in the diagnosis process is to make sure your kickstand is up before you try to pull away from a stop.

After checking this box, the next logical step is to verify a good working kickstand switch. At this point, your bike should be dying out at a stop with the kickstand up and first gear engaged with the clutch lever pulled in.

There are many ways to verify if this is your issue but I’ll filter down to the top two.

  • Replace the switch with a known good unit

For most motorcycles, this part is under $100 and very easy to source from an OEM supplier. I’ve had to replace this part a few times on different bikes and it was about $30 both times. Once you replace the switch which takes about 18 seconds, you can now recheck and know confidently whether you need to move onto the next step or you’re finished and ready to ride.

  • Bypass the switch with a paperclip

Now if you are anything like me and would rather make a quick DIY repair in the garage than take the time to make a proper repair, you are on the proper bullet point. Most side stand switches are three-pin microswitches with a ground wire, signal up and signal down.

You will see three pins lined up in a row in most common circumstances (There are definitely exceptions to this but the principles should align regardless of what connector you are presented with).

To bypass a motorcycle side stand switch, simply jump the signal up pin to the ground pin. This can be performed with a simple paperclip or any loose wire. With a common three-pin connector found on many common import bikes, jump the two outer pins together and leave the middle pin alone.

Why Does My Motorcycle Creep Forward Abruptly Then Die Out?

The second reason your bike may stall out after shifting into gear is due to a mechanical problem rather than electrical as discussed in the above section.

When a motorcycle is at idle but in gear, the critical part keeping this process moving smoothly is the clutch assembly. If the bike is in neutral, the transmission is just free spinning with no load so no clutch interaction is required.

When you have the clutch lever pulled in, and your system is calibrated properly, the clutch is considered “disengaged” and allows for free spinning. As you release the lever, the clutch slowly engages and the bike starts to pull away.

The clutch is obviously a critical component in manipulating the movement of your motorcycle and has several mechanical components involved in its operation. If anything is out of adjustment or has failed, the bike can stall out when drive gear in engaged.

Small caveat: one electrical issue you may encounter in this section is a failed clutch switch.

This is similar to the side stand switch but even easier to replace so please do so if anything looks corroded or damaged in the left handlebar area.

Now let’s go through a list of the common mechanical failures one may diagnose with this lurching issue. Keep in mind, that we are trying to determine the reason why the clutch is not fully disengaging when in gear. The bike is trying to move but we want it static. Got it?

  • Poorly adjusted clutch cable

An overextended clutch cable that is too floppy will cause the bike to lunge and then die out when put into gear.

The solution to this problem is to tighten the cable or replace it altogether. You will want to replace the cable if it looks corroded or frayed.

  • Air in the lines of hydraulic clutch

Air pockets in the hydraulic fluid running from the master cylinder reservoir to the slave cylinder will cause the clutch not to fully disengage fully also resulting in the bike lurching and then dying out.

This should be fairly easy to identify as most motorcycle hydraulic systems will have some clear lines that will show bubbles. Assuming there is no leak in the system, simply bleed the air out of the system. A leak would be simple to detect also as the fittings and cylinders are externally mounted and exposed to visual inspection.

Another article will be required to go in-depth into bleeding fluid systems.

  • Clutch plates binding together

Your clutch pack is made up of friction and drive plates will are stacked in alternating order. They are pressed together when the clutch lever is released in order to deliver drive power to the rear wheel by means of the front sprocket then chain then rear sprocket.

If the clutch pack is binding, that means the plates never disengage, resulting in the bike stalling out at a stop when in gear.

The clutch is a wear item and this is a common symptom of an old clutch that may be heavily corroded or in need of service. This is an easy service item I discuss in another article.

Why Does My Motorcycle Turn Off When I Accelerate?

Another symptom your bike may exhibit along these lines is sluggish acceleration and then dying out. It may even make a chugging sound like it’s trying to pull air in but can’t quite flow through.

In general, this is caused by an obstruction in the intake not allowing a sufficient volume of air to enter the combustion chamber to mix with the fuel. This can be caused by a dirty air filter or a damaged intake assembly.

The air intake assembly on most street bikes is located under the fuel tank and is simple to access.

Once the airbox is disassembled, the air filter can be easily replaced and the intake can be inspected for damage. You want to check damage to any hoses and make sure the velocity stacks are allowing free airflow down into the engine.

Why Does My Motorcycle Die As I Approach A Stop?

Yet another possible variation to this problem is stalling out while approaching a stop. This is typically related to the fuel system and maybe an engine tuning issue.

The idle of your motorcycle is set at a specific point so that it is high enough to rotate a disengaged clutch pack but not so low that the bike stalls out. If your idle is too low, the bike can easily stall out.

This is a more common issue with a carbureted motorcycle.

If this is your situation, you may need to simply “richen up” or add more fuel to the air/fuel mixture, increase the idle speed, or possibly a full carb cleaning is in order.

Can Bad Spark Plugs Cause My Bike To Stall?

Spark plugs that are fouled or incorrectly adjusted can cause your motorcycle to idle rough and stall out.

Spark plugs become fouled if not replaced at the proper interval or if the air/fuel mixture is too rich.

If the gap of the spark plug is incorrectly adjusted, the spark will not be strong and the air/fuel mixture will not detonate properly.

Either one of these conditions will cause a poor running condition and definitely make the bike die out from time to time. Routine maintenance by a professional will address either case.

Can A Bad Battery Cause My Bike To Stall Out?

The final topic of discussion will be an even less common source of your problem yet still possible and worth noting.

The 12 volt battery on your bike supplies power to a variety of systems. If the voltage runs low, but not so low the bike won’t start, not every system will receive full voltage.

If certain systems responsible for your bike running receive insufficient voltage, the bike might stall out. If you have followed every step in this article and your bike still has the stalling out issue, let’s get a fresh battery installed before pushing it off a cliff.

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