Stalling Your Motorcycle: Will it Cause Damage?

If you are new to motorcycle riding you may have stalled the engine a couple of times as you get used to releasing the clutch and rolling on the throttle. Don’t worry, this is totally normal and the best of riders stalled their bikes when they started out and sometimes still do when they switch to a different motorcycle. But does it cause any damage to the motorcycle?

If you stall a motorcycle it will not cause damage, except if you drop the bike. Repeatedly stalling a motorcycle places additional load on some peripheral components like the chain and sprockets which may cause premature wear over time. Stalling a motorcycle can be a safety risk, especially in traffic.

Stalling the motorcycle will most likely not cause any damage to your motorcycle, but repeatedly stalling it over a long period of time is not ideal. It is totally normal to stall when you learn to ride, but there are many reasons why it is important to practice proper clutch control and to learn how to prevent the bike from stalling.

Will Stalling Damage My Motorcycle?

Before you pull away with your motorcycle, you hold the clutch lever in to separate the rotation from the engine output shaft from the transmission input shaft. The clutch plates are spinning very close together, but not close enough so that they drive each other. When you start releasing the clutch, the plates start rubbing against each other and the friction between them cause the power from the engine to be transferred to the gearbox.

If you let go of the clutch too quickly without rolling on enough gas, the engine speed drops too low as it tries to push the weight of the bike forward through the clutch and drive line. When it drops below a certain point the engine is working too hard to overcome the friction of the motorcycle wheels on the ground and it cuts out.

The sudden release of the clutch and resulting sudden application of drive to the drive train, may jerk the bike forward with force if you are not applying the front brake. This could leave you behind as your bike takes off without you, and it could damage your bike as it falls over onto its side.

This jerk will tug on the front sprocket, which in turns pulls the chain and the rear sprocket. While these components are manufactured in order to withstand the power transfer of the engine, force is meant to be applied smoothly rather than a violent tug.

Stalling the bike won’t break any of these parts and many bikes are stalled hundreds of times in their lives without a chain or sprocket failing, but repeatedly stalling a motorcycle may cause these components (clutch, chain and sprockets) to wear prematurely.

Motorcycle clutch plates
Stalling frequently won’t damage your bike, but may wear come components prematurely

The real danger of stalling a motorcycle is the damage that can occur if you lose control of the bike and it falls over. If you are in traffic, the forward jerk could launch the bike into the vehicle in front of you, or you risk being rear-ended by an absentminded motorist behind you that pulls away too quickly. Dropping a motorcycle on tarmac, especially a modern motorcycle with shiny plastic fairings, can cause expensive cosmetic damage.

To avoid damage to your motorcycle when you are starting out, practice your clutch control in an open area, free of traffic. If the bike is very tall, it may help riding on level grass in case the motorcycle falls over.

Large adventure bikes are especially prone to falling over due to their high seats and long travel suspension. New riders of these bikes often topple over as they lose balance when the bike stalls. That is why many adventure bikes are fitted with crash bars.

What to Do if Your Motorcycle Stalls in Traffic

Riding a motorcycle in traffic is inherently dangerous. The best advice is to avoid stalling in the first place, but due to things outside your control it can happen to anyone.

Stalling when pulling away

If your bike stalls when you are trying to pull away from a standstill, make sure there is no-one behind you. If there is oncoming traffic, push the bike out of the road as quickly as possible, trying to avoid losing balance and falling over. If you are stuck in traffic and the vehicle behind you is still stationary, start your bike and try again. If you keep stalling the engine, get out of the road and rethink your plan of action.

If you are still learning and is struggling with clutch control, read on. If you know how to pull away smoothly, your bike may be experiencing mechanical issues that need sorting out. Stalling could be caused by a number of issues, including

  • a dirty fuel filter or carburetor,
  • a clogged air filter,
  • a vacuum leak, or
  • a clogged cap gas vent

If your bike stalls due to a mechanical problem you need to figure out what the cause is. Make sure you are well out of the way of oncoming traffic when you inspect the bike. Depending on what the problem is, you may be able to get home.

If the bike repeatedly stalls and you are very far from your destination, you may be better off phoning someone to come and get you with a trailer or a truck.

Stalling While Riding

If you stall the bike while riding, it is most likely due to a mechanical issue, except if you were riding at walking pace in a high gear without pulling in the clutch. If you did stall it by accident, keep your balance and pull in the clutch immediately to prevent the rear wheel from locking up. If it is safe to stop, do so after you’ve looked in your rear-view mirror to check for traffic.

If there are cars behind you and you can’t get out of the way, start the bike with the clutch in and gear down to the appropriate gear and pull away again. You will have to match the gear you choose with the road speed to prevent stalling again (if the gear is too high) or a very sudden jerk (if the gear is too low).

If the bike’s engine cut out due to another fault, safely move off the road get out of the way of oncoming traffic. You will have to trouble-shoot as before. If you manage to restart the bike, you need decide whether you want to continue riding or call for assistance.

What to Do to Never Stall Again

If you are still learning to control the clutch and pull away slowly, here are some tips on how to never stall your motorcycle again. Just remember, we all went through this when we started out. It might feel frustrating in the beginning, but with some practice it will become second nature and you will not even think about it anymore.

The most common reasons for beginner riders to stall their bike are letting go of the clutch too quickly and/or not giving enough gas.

Many new riders tend to overthink it. They fixate on the engine speed (rpm) by looking down at the tachometer to try and get the engine to rev at a specific rpm. Look up in the direction you are heading and forget about the engine speed.

Follow the steps below to never stall your bike again:

Step 1: Start the bike and get ready

After starting your motorcycle’s engine in neutral with both feet on the ground, pull the clutch all the way in and select first gear. Put your left leg back on the floor and shift your weight to the left to hold the rear brake with your right foot so your right hand only has to focus on the throttle.

Step 2: Release the clutch until it starts to bite

This is where many new riders overthink it and try to focus too much on the amount of throttle and the timing of releasing the clutch. At the start, just release the clutch slowly until it starts to bite. You will notice that there is very little resistance initially and at some point you will feel the friction through your hand. This is the clutch plates starting to engage. You will need to let go of the rear brake at this point, otherwise you will stall the engine.

Practice until you find the point at which the clutch starts to bite

On a powerful motorcycle, like a big adventure bike, you don’t need any throttle input to get the bike rolling forward on a flat, hard surface. Practice this until you are used to the point at which the bike starts moving. On a less powerful motorcycle, or on an incline, you will have to start feeding in the throttle once the clutch starts to engage.

TIP: Using lightweight riding gloves will make it much easier to get a feel for the biting point of the clutch. I like these’s inexpensive breathable bike groves available on Amazon.

Step 3: Roll on the throttle (gently)

As the clutch starts to bite you need to start feeding in some throttle. Don’t look down at the rev counter and don’t be too aggressive. Just keep rolling on the power and slowly release the clutch as the bike starts to move slowly. If you are pulling away on an incline, you will need more throttle to overcome the weight of the bike wanting to roll back. The same applies to a heavily laden motorcycle.

As you start moving, you will feel the point at which the throttle has a much more noticeable impact on the moving speed of the bike. At this point you can let go of the clutch completely.

If winding on the throttle does nothing to move the bike forward, the clutch is still disengaged and you need to let a bit more. Letting go of the clutch while revving the engine very high will make the bike jump forward or lift the front wheel if you are aggressive enough.

Practice slow, smooth inputs until it becomes second nature and you will be just fine.

Final Thoughts

Take it easy with both the clutch and the throttle and keep practicing to find the spot where the bike feels like it is about to move. You will very soon be pulling away without thinking about it.

NOTE: If you over-cook it on the throttle or dump the clutch too quickly, just grab the clutch. This will immediately cut the power and prevent the bike from running off without you.

Throughout this process, look up ahead and not down at your controls. They will always be there where they were when you got onto the bike.

Make Sure You are Protected

Beginner riders often skimp on protective riding gear as it can be quite expensive. Most motorcycle accidents happen during the first few months of riding, and a study published in the Journal of Trauma showed 56% of injuries happen to lower extremities (ankles and legs). Bike boots are therefore a must.

A helmet is a no-brainer, and so is a jacket. The hands are also high up on the list of injuries, due to the natural reflex to catch yourself when you fall. While I always recommend getting the best gear you can afford, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive. Below is a list of some good value gear available on Amazon that I recommend:

Helmet: HJC i70 (Street) or HJC DS-X1 (Dual sport)*
Boots: Fly Racing Maverik
Jacket: Alpinestars T-Faster Air
Gloves: Alpinestars SP-8 v2

* To find out whether you should get a full faced street helmet or a dual sport, check out this post.

Francois Steyn

I've been riding motorcycles since I was in school and have traveled thousands of miles on various bikes through more than 10 countries. For more info, check out my about page:

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