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What to do if your bike won’t start

What to do if your bike won’t start

When your motorcycle won’t start, figuring out what the problem is can be a frustrating time – especially when that red mist descends over your eyes and the sweat beads accumulate on your forehead cause you just wanna ride!

Don’t throw the toys out of the pram just yet but instead have a crack at trouble shooting as you may just solve the problem quickly or at least know what the problem is which is half the battle. Follow the following steps from the start and you may be on the road in no time.

12 Point Procedure checking why your motorcycle won’t start

1. Confirm that the battery is in good condition. 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 poor/dead battery include dim running lights, a clicking sound when you turn the key, a short burst/crank of the starter, followed by nothing. You should then visually inspect the battery, check the voltage, and load test the battery.

– Check for a broken terminal or loose terminal bolt/nut
– Examining the battery for leaking fluid
– Check for bumps, bulges, or cracks in the battery casing

If everything looks ok, next is checking the voltage and perform a load test with a digital voltmeter, leaving it attached to the motorcycle. The voltage reading should consistently be more than 12 volts. And then perform a load test with the ignition turned on then attempt to start the bike.  If the reading does not drop below 10 volts then your battery is most likely OK and your motorcycle likely has another problem (or a few problems).

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 four categories: electric, fuel, compression, or spark.

2. Is there fuel in the tank? Keep in mind that fuel gauges can play up open the filler cap and gently jiggle the bike side to side to check for a slosh of fuel.

3. Check the fuel pump. Next check if the fuel pump primes when you toggle the kill switch/fuel pump switch. If you don’t hear your fuel pump prime, then check the electrical connector is in firmly, and also check the fuel pump fuse under your seat most likely.

If your bike has a carburettor, check that your fuel tap is in the on position and fuel is flowing to the carby. If it was off…turn on and wait til the count of ten so that the fuel bowl fills then try to start the bike.

Also check you have engaged the choke properly based on how your bike normally / previously starts.

4. Engage the Clutch. Many bikes must have the clutch in before they will start—even when you’re in neutral. And even experienced riders can have a brain lapse and forget this important point.

5. Ensure your bike is in neutral.  Depending on the motorcycle, you might need to not only engage the clutch but also have the transmission in neutral to get started.

6. 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.

7. Is the kill Switch off? Perhaps someone or one of the kids has been messing with you!

8. Check for loose wires or connectors. Common issues would be the fuel pump connector, battery terminals, and even loose relays or fuses (most relays and fuses would be under your seat or side panels

9. Check for blown fuses & relays. A main fuse box is usually under the seat or side panel so get in there and visually check the fuses have  complete circuit/wire joining the two metal blades/connector points. Hold them up to the light and you should be able to see if there is a break. If you are unsure then replace the fuse with the correct amperage new fuse. Some spares are usually in the fuse box. We recommend buying yourself a full set or two of fuses to have on hand as it is a common issue in bikes and vehicles in general.

If fuses continue to blow after you replace them, you likely have a more serious electrical issue somewhere in the bike’s wiring = time to call your mechanic or auto electrician.

Relays will make a clicking noise if they are working (though not always). For example with the ignition on place your finger on a fuel pump relay when flicking on the kill switch. If you don’t feel and hear a ‘click’ then it probably has failed or has a loose connection. Remove it then push back in and test again to rule out a loose connection.

Up to this point there have been several easy checks, but now it get’s a bit trickier…

10. Check the Spark Plugs. First check the leads are on the top of the plug firmly. If you jiggle the cap gently and it pops off then that could be your problem – a loose connection. If they seem good then next step in this area is to remove a spark plug and check if it’s wet. If it is then wipe it dry with a clean lint free rag, and replace it tightening firmly but not over tight to see if the bike will start. With many bikes this could be a tricky or time consuming job and you may need to remove the fuel tank. This may be the time to take it in to your bike mechanic but hopefully not.

11. Figure out if the Fuel Control Valve/Petcock is gummed up or clogged.  The petcock is a fuel control valve that controls fuel delivery i.e Off-On-Reserve. Dirt accumulation or even a rusty inner tank or old rubber fuel lines can clog the petcock.

Also ask yourself “how long has this fuel been in there?”. Reason being is that modern unleaded fuels have a much shorter ‘use by’ date and can gum up fuel lines, fuel screens, injectors, and carburettors within a handful of months of not riding.

12. Have you serviced the bike or cleaned it since your last ride? You may have serviced your bike and forgotten to put on an electrical connector or battery leads. Or washed your bike with a pressure washer that has blown off a lead or got water under the seat that has in turn blown a fuse – maybe?

Common issues are also people using a vinyl bike cover.  Cheap ones are terrible as they do not breathe and trap salty air. With a bike under there for weeks or months the electrical systems and wiring can corrode. Switches and electrical connections corroding is a very common issue.

What Not to Do When Your Motorcycle Won’t Start

> Don’t jump the battery with a car. In many cases, jump-starting the battery on your bike might not be a smart way to go. If your motorcycle has an ECU you could end up frying it by spiking the voltage through a jump start.

Do not jump start your bike with a car as the amps from a vehicle will most likely fry your ECU and blow fuses etc. Even melt your wiring which will turn in to a big auto electrician job = costly!

> Don’t buy cheap replacement engine or electrical parts. If you run through every basic troubleshooting step and still can’t get your bike to start, you probably need a mechanic to get you back on the road again.

> Don’t void your warranty. Ensure you are not voiding the warranty by doing mechanical repairs yourself – if you are not a qualified mechanic think twice when tackling ‘mechanic’ work.


In summary, our advice is to keep a cool head and systematically go through this list from the start as many issues are a simple at home fix. If in doubt check if you have roadside assistance and organise your bike to be picked up and dropped off to your local motorcycle mechanic. Or check if they do a bike pick up service.

If you are reading this because you need help and you are local to Salt Creek Motorcycles call us or book in a service here.

Use coupon code WELCOME10 for 10% off your first order.


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