15 Simple Solutions When a Motorcycle Won't Start (But Battery is Good)

When your motorcycle doesn’t start, it’s not always easy to determine what the issue is, let alone fix it in time for your commute or weekend ride. But instead of calling up a mechanic at the first sign of a problem, there are steps for what to do when your motorcycle won’t start, but the battery is still good. First, you must confirm that the battery is truly functional. After that, there are simple solutions you can use to check out your bike and possibly get it road-worthy on your own.

How to Tell Whether Your Motorcycle Battery is Good

You might suspect that your motorcycle battery is good, but you aren’t entirely sure one way or another. If it’s not clear from looking at the bike when you turn the key (the lights come on, for example), you might need to take a few steps to see whether the battery is the problem.

Symptoms of a dead battery include dim running lights, a clicking sound when you turn the key, and a short-lived crank of the starter, followed by nothing.

If you don’t see these symptoms or are otherwise unsure what to look for, the first step is ensuring that the battery is operational and providing the maximum voltage. To confirm your battery is still good, you should visually inspect it, check the voltage, and load test the battery.

A visual battery inspection should involve:

  • Checking for a broken terminal
  • Examining the battery for leaks/checking for any errant fluid
  • Looking for bumps or cracks on the battery case

If everything looks ok, next is checking the voltage. You can DIY this or take your battery to a local shop or auto parts store to check it out. You’ll also want to load test the battery with a digital voltmeter, leaving it attached to the motorcycle.

The voltage reading should range between 9.5 and 10.5 for about 30 seconds. If the reading stays steady, your battery is good to go—and your motorcycle likely has another problem (or a few problems). Fortunately, there are other troubleshooting means that can help determine why your bike won’t start.

What to Do When Your Motorcycle Won’t Start (But the Battery is Good)

The bad news is, there could be ten or more things wrong with your motorcycle when it just won’t start. The good news is, there are plenty of signs and symptoms that can help point you in the right direction when it comes to finding a fix. Once you confirm the battery is still good, that’s one less worry as you try to source the true problem.

In general, the issue likely falls into one of three categories: fuel, compression, or spark. To start the bike, you need to determine which of those is missing and how to reintroduce it. Here are 15 things to check to get your motorcycle up and running again.

Confirm There’s Gas in the Tank

A basic pre-trip check is seeing whether you have gas in the tank, but it’s something riders tend to overlook. Especially if your gas gauge reports a full tank, you might not think to check. Keep in mind that gauges can malfunction, so consider jostling your bike and listening for the slosh of gas in the tank before jumping to other potential problems.

If you can confirm there’s gasoline in your bike, see if the fuel pump is operational (if the motorcycle has one), and if there’s a carburetor, see if there’s gas making its way there, too.

Engage the Clutch

It’s usually a no-brainer for experienced riders, but for newbies, remembering to engage the clutch can mean the difference between a relaxing ride and a frustrating trip to the shop. Many bikes must have the clutch in before they will start—even when you’re in neutral.

There’s also the possibility that your bike’s clutch switch has damage, and you can try “pumping” the clutch a few times to see if that helps reset it. You can get around the clutch switch, but long-term, you’ll need another solution (and probably a clutch replacement).

Put the Motorcycle in (the Right) Gear

Depending on the motorcycle, you might need to not only engage the clutch but also have the transmission in neutral to get started. If you’re new to the bike you’re having trouble with, switching to neutral and engaging the clutch can be a valuable troubleshooting step (and save you potential embarrassment).

Look for Loose Wires

Another seeming no-brainer is checking electrical connectors to see that everything is plugged in. Electrical issues often escape riders because they aren’t always visible, but manually checking the connectors can help you spot a problem that wouldn’t otherwise reveal itself.

If you suspect something other than the battery is the culprit, especially if you’ve just swapped the battery for a new one, it’s also worth looking at your battery connector cables. It’s possible your new battery’s wiring is incorrect, making your non-start a quick fix once you tighten the cables to the terminals.

Confirm the Kill Switch is Off

Not every rider uses their kill switch with regularity, but if you have used it recently, it’s possible the engine cutoff switch is still activated. Either that or someone else flicked it, or you did it by accident—either way, it’s worth a quick glimpse, as the switch remaining in the on position will prevent the motorcycle from starting.

Ensure the Fuel Valve is Set to “On”

For motorcycles with fuel valves (read: non-fuel injected models), having the setting in the wrong place can keep your bike from starting up. Make sure the fuel valve is turned to the “on” position and be patient for a few seconds until the carburetor float bowls fill.

See if the Fuel Injection System is Functional

Fuel injection systems are tricky to deal with, which makes it challenging to determine whether your bike is having injector issues or another problem. But since fuel injectors very rarely fail, experts suggest a pump failure is more likely.

Check to see if you can hear the pump running when you try to start the bike—if not, you can check the pump fuse. Apart from these preliminary investigations, you will likely need to see a professional to confirm whether the FI system is the culprit.

See if the Spark Plugs Are Good

Spark plugs are another easy-to-check potential fix for bikes that won’t start. Like in other types of vehicles, symptoms of spark plugs gone bad can include a loss of power, bad gas mileage, engine misfiring, trouble starting the engine, and slow throttling.

Onboard sensors can also contribute to spark plug problems, but fortunately, spark plugs are typically easy to access, making this a simple step toward finding out what’s wrong with your motorcycle. Remove one and check if it’s wet; if it is, clean it off, replace it, and see if the bike will start.

Checking the spark plugs should also be part of your routine maintenance, which can help keep your bike in good overall condition and help it retain its value.

Determine if the Petcock is Clogged

One potential issue that might be keeping your motorcycle from starting up is a clogged petcock. The petcock is a fuel control valve. It controls the gas flow between off, on, and reserve settings. Clogged petcocks are a common issue that riders often bring up in forums.

A minuscule screen helps keep gunk out of the petcock, but corrosion and bits of stray material can cause flow issues. Rattling the petcock a bit can help dislodge any blockages, but replacement or a deep cleaning might be necessary to get your bike running again.

Check for Blown Fuses

Just like a car or truck, motorcycles have fuses, and they can blow the same as in any other vehicle. Keeping a fuse kit on hand is helpful so you can replace any blown fuses with one that has the same amperage.

If fuses continue to blow after you replace them, you likely have a more serious electrical issue somewhere in the bike’s wiring.

Check for Damage to the Vacuum Line

The line between the petcock and the engine can sustain damage, too, which keeps the system from operating properly. With leaks—whether from cracking, rot, or road damage—you might be able to reseal the line, or you may need a replacement before you’re road-worthy again.

Put the Side Stand Up

Newer bikes (and some older ones) may refuse to start with the side stand down. Along with all the other high-tech sensors that are on board, your motorcycle might have a built-in code that keeps the ignition from starting if your kickstand is engaged.

Check if your bike has a sensor for the side stand, and if you put it up and the bike still doesn’t start, see if the switch down there is working correctly. If it isn’t, the bike might “think” you have the stand down when it’s not.

Clear the Muffler

Whether it’s your kids or grandkids, the neighbors, or residents of the rodent variety, someone (or something) could have blocked your muffler. This is especially common if the bike has been in storage for a while, or if it’s been outdoors.

Rodents looking for an accessible home might move into your muffler, but it’s also possible there’s just a ton of debris in there if the bike has sat for a while. Clear it out (carefully) and see if that helps get the bike started.

Set the Choke Properly

For carbureted motorcycles, you might need to set your choke or mixture enricher to match the ambient/engine temperature. Another common oversight, this issue can crop up in extreme weather conditions, or when conditions take a sudden turn you haven’t accounted for.

Think About Past Maintenance

Whether you just rode your motorcycle yesterday or it’s been in storage for months, think back to the last maintenance you performed. You may have washed your bike, which could have resulted in water in undesirable places. Look for spots where water could have gotten into your bike or where it could have impacted electrical systems, knobs, buttons, or other parts.

For bikes fresh out of storage, you might need some WD-40 to loosen up tight switches and dials, so it’s worth looking the motorcycle over carefully for any resistant knobs or adjustments.

What Not to Do When Your Motorcycle Won’t Start

There are plenty of steps you can take to troubleshoot what’s wrong with your bike, but there are a few no-no’s you should avoid. Here’s what not to do when your motorcycle won’t start.

Don’t Jump the Battery (with a Car)

If you’re at the point where you’re unsure whether the battery is to blame for your motorcycle’s non-start, you might be tempted to jump-start it just to make sure the battery isn’t the problem. But in many cases, jump-starting the battery on your bike might not be a smart way to go.

If your motorcycle has a microprocessor on board, which many do, you could fry it by spiking the voltage through a jump start. Keeping mind current motorcycle values, you may not want to risk damage to your bike by jump starting it.

You should also avoid jump starting a motorcycle with a car, since the full amps from a vehicle could fry your motorcycle’s system. Even if you have a 3 wheel motorcycle, it’s still not the same animal as a sedan or pickup truck, and the guidelines for voltage and jump-starting are different.

Don’t Overlook the Simple Things

The above list contains some simple steps for confirming your bike is in good working condition. While it’s tempting to skip the basic steps like putting the clutch in or consulting your manual for proper start-up protocol—it’s often the most basic elements of the motorcycle that riders overlook.

Save yourself a headache and start with the simplest means of troubleshooting before moving on to removing and cleaning parts or involving tools in the repair.

Don’t Buy Replacement Parts (Without Consulting a Pro)

Unless you are a mechanic, don’t be in a rush to buy replacement parts for your motorcycle when it won’t start. If you run through every troubleshooting step and still can’t get your bike to start, you probably need professional assistance to diagnose the problem.

Buying spare parts will only cost you in the long run, especially if you wind up with costly repair fees down the line—and ones which are unrelated to what you thought was the problem.

Don’t Void Your Warranty

If you have a warranty on your motorcycle, whether a factory or extended warranty, make sure you’re not voiding the terms by DIYing troubleshooting or repairs. Many repairs have coverage under warranty, so you should avoid taking any drastic measures until you get approval from the warranty company.

Typically, warranty companies want repair work performed at a specific location, whether at the manufacturer’s dealership or another approved shop, and if you skirt those requirements, you risk losing coverage, which can affect trade-in value.

Final Thoughts

Often, getting a stubborn motorcycle to start is as simple as checking a few items off your pre-trip list. Other times, you’ll need to seek professional help for a complete overhaul before you can get back on the road. Either way, these steps give you a starting point to figure out what is wrong and get the right repairs completed.