Ever wondered why your motorcycle sometimes doesn’t seem to respond as it should when changing gears – even though you’ve pulled in your clutch?

Or perhaps you’ve heard a loud “VROOOOM” noise that’s enough to wake the dead coming from the engine, but the bike just won’t move? 

If so, you might be dealing with a clutch issue. 

In this post, we’ll explore 5 of the most common clutch problems you might face – including the “slipping clutch” and what it means.

Something You Should Know First, Though…

Even though the clutch is part of your motorcycle’s transmission, we’re only going to focus on issues that are directly related to the clutch and anything that links it to the transmission.

So, therefore, issues with the transmission itself will not be covered here.

And while we’re on the topic of transmissions, we’re not going to cover issues related to CVT transmissions at all.

That’s a whole different transmission type and a whole different topic altogether.

Not totally sure what the clutch does and how it works? This article will explain the basics.

Issue #1 – A “Slipping” Clutch

You may have the expression “slipping clutch” before. But what does it mean?

Picture this – one day, you’re about to accelerate from a stop. As you pick up speed, you switch into second gear like normal.

And that’s when it happens.

Your RPM gauge goes to 8000 RPMs in a split second and a loud “VROOOOM” emerges from the engine.

But this is all noise and no action – despite the loud noise, your motorcycle’s not accelerating like it should.

You’ve just experienced a “slipping clutch” in action – that is, a clutch that does not engage, even when it should.

Now on to the next question.

What causes a “slipping clutch?”

Inside the clutch itself are several plates – let’s call them “clutch plates,” because that’s what they’re called.

Every time you pull in the clutch lever, these clutch plates separate so that power between the engine and the rear wheel is disconnected.

The whole process should be smooth, but much like how your brake pads wear down with use, so do the clutch plates.

As they wear out, the clutch plates have difficulty transferring the engine’s full torque to propel the motorcycle.

And that’s what causes the “slipping clutch” thing.

Over time, this “slipping clutch” gets progressively worse until you have to replace it.

Issue #2 – Clutch Won’t Fully Disengage

Think of this problem as a “slipping clutch,” but in reverse. It might engage when you pull in the clutch lever, but once that lever is released, the clutch plates aren’t released like they should.

This means that there’s some connection between the engine and rear wheel – even when you’re not in gear.

If this happens, it can cause everything from jerky movements when you’re trying to shift gears, or the rear wheel to drag along.

What causes the clutch to not disengage fully?

In addition to the clutch plates, a motorcycle clutch has several small springs inside it. It’s these springs that press the clutch plates and make it possible to release the clutch.

So think about this – what would happen if one or several of those springs were to grow weak?

That’s correct – weakened clutch springs mean that the clutch won’t release fully. But that’s not everything that can prevent full clutch disengagement.

If dirt or some other contaminant should get inside your clutch, it too can cause issues disengaging it.

You might also have a problem with the tension for your clutch cable. And speaking of which… 

Issue #3 – A Snapped Clutch Cable

Unless you’re on an underbone motorcycle, the clutch won’t activate on its own when you need to change gears. On most motorcycles, this is done with the clutch handle and a clutch cable.

This clutch wire runs from the clutch handle at the top, all the way down to the transmission case at the bottom.

When you squeeze the clutch lever, it pulls a strong steel cable that connects to the clutch mechanism inside the transmission.

Without the clutch cable, there would be no point in having a clutch handle.

Knowing that you can probably imagine what would happen if you squeeze in your clutch one day, and a part of the cable just goes “twang!

That’s right – there goes your ability to disconnect the engine to change gears.

No matter how many times you squeeze in your clutch handle, it’s no good. You’re going to need a new clutch cable.

What would make my clutch wire go “twang?”

The clutch cable is made from strong stuff. However, with time, vibration and bending stresses can work this cable and that’s what can cause it to go “twang!” (or at least unexpectedly snap).

Fortunately, having this happen to you at the worst possible moment is preventable.

Remember to inspect the clutch cable regularly, and look for any chafing or cracks. If you find any, it’s time to replace the cable.

Issue #4 – Low Hydraulic Fluid Level (On Hydraulic Clutch Bikes)

Most motorcycles use a cable-operated clutch – from 50cc dirt bikes to heavy-duty cruisers.

The keyword there, of course, is “most.”

There are a few high-end models that use a hydraulic clutch actuated by a special fluid rather than a cable.

The main advantage of having this type of clutch system is that it requires less pressure when you apply the clutch.

But a hydraulic clutch system means you’ll need hydraulic fluid – and what’s more, that fluid level must be inspected as regularly as you’d check the levels for your engine oil and brake fluid.

I think you can figure out where I’m going with this – low hydraulic clutch fluid means that your hydraulic clutch motorcycle won’t work as well.

And it’s easy to figure out what causes the problem – low fluid allows air into the lines, compromising clutch performance by preventing full disengagement or a “slipping clutch”.

Check and top up fluid levels regularly according to manufacturer guidelines.

Issue #5 – Excessive or Insufficient Clutch Lever Play

You’ll hear “play” being used a lot – mostly in a bad context. For example, if you have “play in the steering” or “play in the ball bearings” you’re in trouble.

But context matters – there are certain things you need a bit of play in, such as in the clutch lever.

You want just the right amount of slack, or “play”, in the clutch lever before it engages the clutch mechanism fully.

Too much slack means that the clutch won’t engage properly, which, in turn, leads to increased clutch wear and tear.

At the other end of the scale, if you don’t have enough clutch lever play, the clutch won’t disengage properly – even though your clutch lever is released (and the cable is in one piece).

What causes too much/too little clutch lever play?

There are plenty of reasons why your clutch lever play is too much or too little – one of which we’ve already covered.

Remember the snapped clutch cable?

Well, if your clutch cable has snapped (or even worn out), that can also mean you have too much clutch lever play as well.

It’s a 2-for-1 problem – but fortunately, it’s also a 2-for-1 solution. Simply replace your clutch cable and both of these problems should go away.

But the root cause of the problem could also be that the clutch is not adjusted properly.