Replacing a Lost Motorcycle Key: A How-To Guide

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A lot of us have probably found ourselves in the unfortunate situation of losing a key to a motorcycle. Surprisingly enough, this is actually pretty common.  Motorcycle key chains tend to not have a lot of extra add-ons on them so they get lost a lot easier.

So, you may have found yourself in this regrettable situation and may be wondering what you need to do if it’s completely hopeless that you will never find your key, at least in a timely manner.

So, what should you do when you lose your motorcycle key? If you lose your motorcycle key, there are several ways you can get a new one such as accessing the ignition cylinder code which a locksmith can use, taking the whole ignition cylinder to a locksmith, replacing the ignition cylinder altogether, or providing the dealership with the VIN to have a new key made.

Many times I have found myself in this situation and have learned a lot about this process.  I’ll explain and guide you through this step by step in details of what to do if you’re caught in a mess like this.

Accessing The Cylinder Code

I have bought a good number of my project motorcycles without a key.  This is will be a big possibility if you’re buying an older motorcycle, especially one that hasn’t been running for a while. Don’t let this keep you from purchasing a motorcycle because it is really simple to get a new key and usually isn’t that expensive, it all just depends on the make, model, and year of your bike. Replacing a key for newer motorcycles may be a little more expensive, but definitely doable.

Your first and least expensive way to replace a motorcycle key is by accessing the cylinder code.  To do this, you’ll first need to locate your ignition cylinder. This is usually located between the speedometer and tachometer on the instrument cluster.  

The cylinder code is most commonly found on the side of this shaft.

The ignition cylinder usually has a silver shaft around where you put the key in to. Most commonly, somewhere on the side of that shaft will be a code, usually three to four digits long (you may need to get the shaft loose in order to see it).

Write that number down and also take a clear picture of it on your phone (in case you write it down wrong).  Sometimes you’ll need to clean it off a bit in order to see the numbers clearly. Take this code into a local locksmith.  It’s a good idea to call in ahead of time to make sure your locksmith is able to make motorcycle keys. A lot of them do, but not all of them.

Locksmiths usually have tables and values to look up using the code you bring in to them and will be able to cut the appropriate key for your motorcycle.

Taking in The Whole Ignition Cylinder

Although a lot of motorcycles have an identifying code on their ignition cylinder, you may be in a situation where you can’t find the code because it doesn’t have one or the code is unrecognizable.  No need to worry, you can still get a new key made, you’ll just have to do a little extra work for it.

Your next option to get a new key for your motorcycle is taking the whole ignition cylinder into a locksmith.  Obviously, you’ll need to unhook your ignition cylinder to do this in order to take it in. Before you start taking this apart, call around to locksmiths first to make sure there is one close by that can make a new key using the ignition cylinder.  Most can, but again there are a few that do not.

There’s usually only one wiring harness clipped in and two bolts that hold the ignition cylinder in to place. You’ll need to take off those two bolts and unclip the wiring harness.  I recommend labeling the wiring harness so you remember where it goes and place the two bolts in a labeled baggie and place it somewhere safe to prevent them from getting lost.

In my experience, I have seen that taking in the ignition cylinder itself to be a little more expensive than giving a locksmith a cylinder code.   This is also what I have been directly told by the locksmiths I have visited.

A locksmith is able to get a key made from an ignition cylinder by doing an impression of the lock in the cylinder.  This is done by the locksmith inserting a blank key into the lock and turning it. This will bind the pins inside which will mark where the locksmith needs to make the cuts and files on your new key.  

This is a relatively simple and painless process. Once you get your new key, you should be able to hook back up your ignition cylinder and be on your way!

Replacing the Ignition Cylinder Altogether

If you can’t seem to find a code on the silver ignition shaft or can’t seem to find a locksmith that will be able to make a key from the ignition cylinder, your third option will be to replace the ignition cylinder altogether.  This option works because purchasing a new ignition cylinder will come with a new key compatible with your new purchased part. Though a bit annoying and a little more time consuming, this is still a pretty easy option.

First, you’ll need to remove your ignition cylinder from your motorcycle using the direction as stated above (removing the two bolts and unclip the wiring harness).  Next, you’ll need to get online and type in the year, make, and model and type in the part you need (ignition cylinder). I usually use Ebay which I’ve always had a lot of success with.  

Be sure to read the description and thoroughly look through the pictures of the potential part you are going to buy. Be wary; a lot of places will state that their ignition cylinders are “universal” and can be use on most motorcycles.  Technically, yes they could be used on any motorcycle, but you’d have to rewire the whole ignition cylinder which is highly annoying and very time consuming.

Get an ignition cylinder that is specific for your motorcycle. All of these parts usually come with a new key, but make sure the description says that it does.

Once you get your new ignition cylinder, your new part should be able to clip right on to the new wiring harness and easily bolt into the motorcycle’s triple clamp.  Though you will have to wait a few days for the part to be mailed to you, it’s a pretty simple process. If you are crunched for time and need a key sooner, your first two options are probably best.

Providing Your Dealership With Your VIN

If you’ve exhausted all your other options, the last option you can try is calling your dealership.  The reason I suggest this last is because this will be your most expensive option. Anything done through the dealership is always going to be a bit more pricey.  This may be the best option for newer motorcycles that have difficult accessibility to the ignition cylinder.

In order to do this, you’ll need to find the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to your motorcycle.  This is usually the same place for most motorcycles and can be found on the steering neck, located under the instrument panel of your motorcycle.

Once you have the VIN, you’ll also need to obtain your proof of ownership of the motorcycle.  This can include the title, motorcycle registration, and possibly your receipt or bill of sale.  

Once you have that, you can take this paperwork and the VIN to the dealership. Call the dealership beforehand to make sure they’re able to do this.  Also ask what specific paperwork they need as some dealerships may require additional proof that you own the motorcycle.

If you do not have proof of ownership of the motorcycle, you may be out of luck as dealerships do not want to risk making a key for a stolen motorcycle.

Once you take your motorcycle into your dealership, they should be able to either give you a newly cut key or replace the ignition cylinder that comes with a new key.

If you have to take your motorcycle in to a dealership, you’ll obviously not be able to start it to drive it there. Click here to see my list of recommended ways to tow a motorcycle.

How to Prevent Losing Your Key

I think we can all agree that losing your keys, for any vehicle really, is incredibly annoying.  Motorcycle keys are especially susceptible to getting lost because of their simplicity. There are a few preventative measures you can take to make sure you don’t lose your keys.

The first idea to think about is placing your motorcycle keys in a designated area when you’re not using them.  This can be a basket, hook, shelf, or anything that you find suitable and know the keys won’t get disturbed or moved. Getting into a habit like this will help you know exactly where to find your keys and training other household members to respect this space will help tremendously.

The second measure to consider in preventing lost keys is keeping your home organized.  Clutter and unorganized stuff creates more “hiding places” for your keys to go. If you keep organized, it’ll be easy to spot misplaced items, such as your motorcycle keys.

If you must place your keys in a random place for whatever reason, it’s a good idea to make a mental note and say out loud “the motorcycle keys are in my nightstand.” This will help your subconscious remember where you placed your keys last.

Another preventative measure to try is placing an obnoxious and large keychain with your motorcycle key.  It might be annoying having that hang off your key while you’re riding, but it’s a great way I have found to never misplace my keys because of the bulkiness.

Bigger key attachments may not be as bad as you think; you can always find something you like. For example, on my motorcycle key chain I have hooked on a large embroidered sign that says “Remove Before Takeoff” and I love it!

The last suggestion I have to help you prevent yourself from losing your motorcycle key is to use a Bluetooth tracker.  There are a lot of companies who have small attachments for key chains that act as the tracker. You’ll need to download the specific company’s app on your phone.  In the case you lose your keys, you’ll be able to look at the app and see the exact location of your keys.

Where to Store Your Keys So They Won’t Get Lost

I was talking with a cop friend yesterday who reported an increase of stolen vehicles in our area. He said the biggest problem is that people are leaving their keys with their vehicle, giving any burglar an easy chance to snatch it up. You should never leave your motorcycle key in the ignition even if it’s locked away in your garage.  That’ll leave you with a lost motorcycle as well.

Having multiple keys is a great way to prevent yourself from getting into situations with no motorcycle key at all.  I recommend having at least three copies of your motorcycle key that are easily accessible.

The first key should be your initial key or the one you use the most which should always be stored in its designated spot in your home whether that be a bowl, hook, etc. This should always be your go to when it’s available; using any of your three copies whenever you want ends up in disorganization and will leave you frustrated.

The second key should be labeled and stored in a safe or in a drawer in your home that is not frequently used.  This should be your second go to in the case you lose your first one. If you ever lose your first one and cannot find it, promptly make a copy from one of the other two so you have your complete set of three.

The third key should be place in a small magnetic hide-a-key box and stored somewhere on your motorcycle frame. Be sure to place it in a spot that is not noticeable but also in a very secure place as motorcycles tend to have less cargo security than cars.

This should be your last resort key. I say that because if you’re ever stranded somewhere far away from home and have lost your initial key, this key will be available. You don’t want to ever lose this key because of those emergency purposes.

Related Questions

What part of the motorcycle is the VIN associated with?  The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is associated with the frame of the motorcycle.  It’s important to know that if you switch out frames on your motorcycle, that means you will need to have a new title associated with that VIN.

How do you unfreeze a frozen motorcycle ignition? If you are dealing with a frozen motorcycle ignition switch, try using a homemade remedy made of water and rubbing alcohol. De-icer sprays also work as well as using a hair dryer or carefully using a lighter. See my other article here for more information about a frozen motorcycle ignition.

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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