Motorcycle Won’t Shift Gears? Here Is What You Need To Do

Motorcycle gear not shifting

You are facing trouble in shifting gears in your motorcycle and are not sure how to go about it.

Or, you often hear a clicking noise whenever you are changing the gears. The gear change is either not smooth or the gear does not shift properly at all.

Well then. Let’s find out what are the main causes and the remedies for that.

If your gear is not shifting either up or down, then there is a problem with one of these four things:

  • Clutch – Not enough slack or too much slack in the cable.
  • Oil/lubrication – The oil level is low or you have used a deteriorated quality oil.
  • Chain – chain slack and chain sprocket issues
  • Transmission Gear – Seized Transmission, a foreign object stuck in the gear assembly.

Let’s check each of these problems one by one.

#1. Incorrect Clutch freeplay

Do you usually ride in heavy traffic daily?

Do you change the gears at extreme frequency?

If yes, then too many gear shifts would have put a strain on – the clutch, the clutch wire, and the clutch assembly.

Motorcycle Clutch

One of the first things to make sure is that your clutch cable is not too hard-pressed while changing gears.

Unless there has been external damage, in the case of hard changing of gears, the most usual and common reason is clutch slack problems.

Frequent gear change and hence the frequent use of the clutch makes the clutch free-play to increase.

The loosened cable might have resulted in the clutch not being fully engaged even if the gear is completely engaged.

In other words, your transmission is working perfectly fine, but, the clutch cable is causing problems while shifting the gears.

Okay, I got it. The clutch slack is the problem. What is the solution then?

How to fix

The solution is to adjust the clutch cable free-play.

You need to ensure that the clutch cable has enough slack.

Neither too tight nor too loose.

Motorcycle clutch and left side of the handlebar

A simple thumb rule is to maintain the clutch slack at about 2mm to 3mm.

Check the specifications in your bike’s user manual before making this adjustment.

If you do not have any company specifications, try adjusting for 2mm to 3mm.

Check whether the motorcycle works fine, if you feel it is still too tight or loosened, adjust accordingly.

#2. Oil level and quality problems

The next possible reason why you are facing problems in gear shifting might be because of the engine oil.

Either the oil level is low or the oil you are using is of deteriorated quality.

Drained engine oil

Most motorcycles use wet clutches that operate well only when bathed with engine oil.

The lubrication is important. Extremely so.

That’s why, the type of oil used for lubrication matters so much.

If either the oil levels are low or if it is of poor quality, then you must change it.

How to fix

Well, first we need to ask ourselves when was the last time the oil was changed in the motorcycle?

Here is a simple thumb rule for the frequency of oil change:

Type of OilFrequency of Oil Change
Mineral Oil2000 miles
Semi-Synthetic Oil5000 miles
Synthetic Oil8000 miles

So, if it has been longer than the recommended oil change frequency, you must change the oil.

Another approach.

Check the current engine oil level and the oil quality.

To check the oil level, take out the oil gauge and notice the wet mark.

Checking engine oil from the dipstick

If the wet mark lies between the ‘full’ and ‘low’ marks in the gauge, then the oil level is good.

If it is falling below the ‘low’ mark, then you need to top up or replace the oil.

Next, check the oil quality.

Take the dipstick gauge and notice the oil color, smell, and stickiness.

Here is what the oil color tells about its condition:

Engine Oil ColorWhat It Means
Amber or yellowishOil is new
Brown or lighterOil is in good condition
Black or darkerOil is in bad condition
Green or white tingesCoolant is mixed with engine oil

Make sure the oil is brown or lighter in color.

Engine oil color chart

Next, smell the oil.

There should be no burnt smell coming from the engine oil.

Next, touch the oil with your fingers. The oil should not be sticky in condition for it to be of good quality and in working condition.

If any of the above tests fail, you must replace the oil.

#3. Chain slack and sprocket issues

The two main concerns with the chain are chain slack and chain sprocket issues.

Motorcycle chain - no lubrication

These two are the possible culprits causing gear change issues in the motorcycle.

For sprocket issues, it mostly stems from having the sprockets and the front sprocket area dirty.

Sprocket and front sprocket area of motorcycle filled with dirt

As for chain slack, the chain might have loosened.

Also, if the chain is dirty and not lubricated well – it needs to be addressed as well.

One big indicator of chain problems is noise.

If there is huge noise coming from the chain drive, then you can be sure the chain is the cause for gear shifting problems.

So how to go about it?

Here are the steps.

How to fix

First, check if the chain drive is dirty.

If yes, clean the chain.

You can use as simple as a WD-40 to clean the chain.

A guy using WD-40 to spray it on the motorcycle chain

Second, clean the sprockets and front sprocket area.

If they are clean, you can move forward skipping this step.

Third, adjust the chain slack.

You can refer to our detailed guide on measuring and adjusting the chain slack on a motorcycle.

A guy measuring chain slack of a loosened motorcycle chain

For the optimum slack levels refer to the owners manual

Recommended Chain slack on motorcycle user manual

If not, use a thumb rule of 0.8 to 1.2 inches (20 to 30 mm) for chain slack (only as a last resort).

Fourth and last, lubricate the chain drive.

Use a high-quality chain lubricant.

And spray it on the chain drive generously.

A guy lubing the motorcycle chain

Make sure all the links and rollers are covered with the lube.

Roll the chain drive a few times to spray it evenly across the chain teeth.

#4. Transmission gear problems

Problems in transmission gears can also cause issues in gear changing in your motorcycle.

Motorcycle Gear Transmission - constant mesh

There might be problems arising from the transmission gear and shift shafts.

Here are the major transmission gear problems causing the motorcycle unable to shift gears:

  • seized transmission gear
  • a foreign object stuck between the gears
  • incorrect assembly of transmission gears
  • bent shift shafts

How to fix

Fixing transmission gear problems is not beginner friendly.

The expertise and the labor required are quite high and intense.

So, if you suspect any of the above transmission gear problems exists, take your motorcycle to the service shop or the dealer as soon as possible.

Summing Up

Let’s recap. Here are the reasons that are creating issues in your motorcycle while changing the gears.

  • Clutch – loosened clutch cable
  • Oil/lubrication – low oil levels, deteriorated oil quality
  • Chain – chain slack and chain sprocket issues
  • Transmission Gear – seized transmission, a foreign object stuck in the gear, incorrect assembly.

Irrespective of the diagnosis, it is better for you to take your motorcycle to the mechanic and get it checked.

Helpful read: motorcycle gear shifting tips

Preventive Measures

Apart from understanding the reasons for gear-shifting problems, we should also be aware of the steps we need to take to prevent the same problem from arising again.

A rider's foot on motorcycle gear shifter

Here are the preventive measures that can be taken to prevent facing issues in changing the gears of our motorcycle.

  • Do not press hard on the gear levers while changing the gears up or down. The bikes of today have smoother clutches that help in releasing the gear smoothly.
  • Release the clutch smoothly rather than a sudden release. This will facilitate smoother engagement of the gear rather than a blunt one which might cause issues in the Transmission Gear.
  • Change the engine oil regularly. The recommended frequency for oil change is – 2000 miles for mineral oil; 5000 miles for semi-synthetic oil; and 8000 miles for synthetic oil.
  • Use good quality oil. If the viscosity of the oil is not right, the lubrication is not right for the motorcycle.
  • Get your motorcycle serviced frequently.