Why Is My Motorcycle Clicking When I Try To Start It?

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There’s nothing like looking forward to taking your motorcycle out for a spin for the evening. You go out to your motorcycle, put in the key, and try to start it only to hear those annoying and dreaded clicking noises instead of the rumbling of the engine.

Those clicking noises can ruin someone’s day pretty quickly. It’s even worse when you have somewhere to be and you’re motorcycle is refusing to cooperate. Knowing what to do can be difficult in this situation.

Why is my motorcycle clicking when I try to start it? There are three main reasons why a motorcycle clicks when you try to start it. The first and most common reason is because of a dead battery. The second reason could be due to a bad starter. The third most common but less likely reason the motorcycle is clicking could be due to a seized engine.

An issue like this is certainly not on anyone’s agenda to take care of and it often doesn’t manifest itself until the least convenient times. I have ran into this problem many times myself through the motorcycles I’ve owned these past few years. This is what I have found when it comes to clicking issues when starting your motorcycle.

Why Your Motorcycle Is Clicking When You Try To Start It

Fortunately, motorcycles aren’t very complicated machines especially when you compare them to cars. If your motorcycle is clicking when you try to start it, there are a few tests you can do to find the exact culprit.

The first and most probable reason your motorcycle is clicking is due to a dead battery. Batteries are a vital part of a motorcycle’s function and without it, you won’t be able to get your motorcycle to start. A motorcycle isn’t very fun if you can’t get it started.

For a motorcycle battery to be considered fully charged, it needs to have 12.6 volts. 12.4 volts is considered 75% charged, 12.2 is considered 50% charged and so on. You need to have at least 12.2 volts, or a 50% charge, to get the motorcycle started. If it’s any lower than that, you likely won’t be able to get it started at all, thus you hear the clicking sound.

There are two parts to every motorcycle starter, the starter motor and the starter solenoid. The solenoid is a little magnet and when you turn the key, it shoots out a small gear that the magnet polarizes. Essentially, this gear starts turning which in turn starts rotating the flywheel in the engine.

When you turn the key and the battery is dead, you hear the magnet trying to magnetize the gear which is what makes the clicking sound. If the battery doesn’t give enough power, that magnet doesn’t have enough power to turn the flywheel of the engine.

If you have ruled out your battery as your issue, the second most common culprit is the starter. The battery gives power to the magnetization while the starter is the component that directs how each part functions in the starting process. The starter is what assists the magnet in the polarizing process.

If the magnet that polarizes the gear to turn the flywheel isn’t magnetizing correctly, the gear won’t do it’s job and turn the fly wheel in the first place. This in turn will makes that clicking sound.

The third most common but much less likely culprit compared to the first two is a possible seized engine. When an engine seizes, the components inside the engine lock up to the point where the crankshaft is unable to turn the bearings. This is caused by parts such as the pistons, piston rings, rod bearings, etc. become too hot and essentially weld together.

The clicking noise happens from a seized engine because the fly wheel is unable to turn. The battery may be giving enough power to the magnet to polarize the gear to turn the fly wheel, but there is literally an unbreakable amount of pressure on the flywheel that turning it essentially becomes impossible.

How To Fix A Clicking Motorcycle When Trying To Start It

Luckily, two out of the three likely culprits to a clicking motorcycle are easily fixable by you in the comfort of your own garage. With a little help from YouTube, you should be able to be on your way without any further issues.

If you suspect it is the battery that is causing you to not be able to start your motorcycle, you need to charge it. Charging a motorcycle battery can take anywhere between 8 – 20 hours. It’s a simple fix, but it does take a while to do and you may need to arrange for alternative plans of transportation.

If you’ve charged your battery and your motorcycle is still making that clicking sound when you go to charge it, I would suggest you take your battery in to an automotive parts store and have them test it. Even if you test the voltage on a battery and it says 12.6 volts (a full charge), that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s enough current in the battery to get the motorcycle started.

Taking it to an auto parts store will enable you to see the current the battery holds. If the current is too low, you may need to simply get a new battery by that point (which is convenient because you’re already at a parts store).

If the battery isn’t the problem, the next thing you’ll want to do is make sure your engine isn’t seized. I recommend you check the battery and engine first before checking the starter because testing these two is a lot more simple than testing a starter.

If you have a kick starter engine, a good way to tell if the engine is seized is the fact that the kick pedal will not move at all because the components inside the engine are stuck in place. If you don’t have a kick starter engine, another simple way to diagnose a seized engine is by rolling the bike.

You’ll need to put the motorcycle in the highest gear (usually 4th or 5th gear) and roll it forward. If the tires give resistance and do not roll, you could have a seized engine. If they do roll, your engine is fine. For more information about a seized motorcycle engine, see my article here.

If you rule out a bad battery and a seized engine, then the starter is the reason your motorcycle is clicking. There are ways to fix a motorcycle starter but that should be a task for people who know what they’re doing. I simply recommend you get a new starter and your issue should be solved.

What Causes A These Problems In The First Place?

Now that we’ve covered the reasons a motorcycle clicks when you try to start it, let’s discuss what causes these problems in the first place. Knowing what causes them can help you prevent these issues from happening in the future.

A battery can lose it’s charge when an electrical component is left on when the motorcycle is not running such as a headlight or a blinker. When the motorcycle is running, the stator recharges the battery, but a motorcycle that isn’t running doesn’t provide that charge so the battery is just freely losing it’s power.

There’s also a phenomenon called parasitic drain. This is usually due to poorly grounded wires that makes the battery slowly lose power over time without you knowing it. In addition, if you don’t properly winterize your motorcycle, the battery can potentially freeze and lose most of it’s capabilities. Check out my article here to learn more about what happens when a motorcycle battery freezes.

A motorcycle starter goes bad usually because of age. Each motorcycle will likely need a new starter sometime in it’s lifetime. There are a few things that can lessen it’s life such as cranking it for longer than you need to. That can cause electrical connections to overheat and melt.

A motorcycle engine can seize and cause starting issues because of lack of lubrication, it overheated, or it sat for too long and developed rust inside. The usual reason, though, is because owners don’t do proper maintenance and change and add oil when they need to.

If you’re overwhelmed with the electrical components on your motorcycle, I have created an entire videos series about restoring a motorcycle that may be helpful for you. Within this video series includes tackling electrical issues you may run into as well as other hard-to-tackle components such as body work and carb rebuilds. Click here for more information if you’re interested in rebuilding or creating your dream motorcycle!

How To Prevent These Issues That Cause Clicking

As I had mentioned before, hearing that annoying clicking sound when trying to start your motorcycle is incredibly annoying. Here are some ways you can prevent that from happening.

Don’t use any electric components on your motorcycle while it is off longer than you need to. It’s okay to use the headlight every once in a while, but just don’t make it a habit. Also make sure to connect your battery to a battery tender if it’s going to be a while until your next ride. This is especially helpful during the winterizing process. Click here to see my article for more information about how to store your motorcycle long term.

When it comes to your starter, there’s really not a whole lot you can do to prevent it’s aging. Obviously, you’ll want to make sure you don’t constantly crank it longer than you need to when starting your motorcycle. That’ll make it go out sooner than normal.

Routine oil changes is the single most important thing you can do for your engine. Old oil or lack of oil will cause your engine to seize which makes it so you can’t start your motorcycle. Stay on top of your oil changes and make sure to use the right kind of oil specific to your motorcycle.

Related Questions

What if my motorcycle doesn’t make any noise when I try to start it? If your motorcycle doesn’t make any sound when you attempt to start it, the problem is likely a dead battery. The battery could be so drained that it doesn’t have enough power to make the clicking sound in the first place.

How long does it take for gas to go bad in a motorcycle?  Unstabilized gas in a motorcycle can start going bad in about 30 days. The exposure to oxygen eventually changes the chemistry of gas which can lead to gum and varnish deposits. Gas should not be used if it has been sitting for longer than 6 months. Stabilized gas should not be used after 6-12 months. See my article here for more information.

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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