Why Does My Motorcycle Clunk When I Shift Into First Gear?

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By John Burns

Dear MOby,

My new-to-me 2000 R1 clunks really hard when I drop it into first gear in the morning, and it only gets worse after it’s warm. It’s also kind of juddery all the time when I’m leaving from a stop. What’s the problem? The odometer says 18,000 miles.

Not Feeling Fresh
San Diego


Dear Fresh,

Sounds like it might be time for a new clutch, but let’s eliminate a few other possibilities first. Make sure the clutch cable is correctly adjusted so that the clutch is disengaging all the way when you pull in the lever. With the oil warm and the clutch pulled in with the bike in first or second gear, the bike should be easyish to push on level ground.

If your cable adjustment is good, have you changed your oil lately? Sometimes it’s as simple as fresh oil of the proper grade your R1 manual asks for, and don’t just look at the 10W-whatever, look at the letters too; oils labelled MA and MB mean they will work with your R1’s wet clutch. Also, there are tons of people online who claim some of the more expensive motorcycle-specific oils really improve their bike’s shifting.

If none of that helps, you probably just need a new clutch, which in fact means replacing the stack of alternating fiber and steel plates which, when pressed together, transmit power to your rear wheel. They are a wear item, and some riders and usages definitely wear them out faster than others.

Lots of people get away with just replacing the fiber plates (#9 above), and replacing the steel ones (#10) every other clutch job. You can do that if you’re certain the steels are perfectly flat (place them on a piece of glass or granite to ensure they are precisely flat) and if they’re not burnt up/discolored, …read more

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