Cold Start-up and Integrated Transmissions

In a recent issue of “Cycle World” magazine, Paul Dean discussed the problem of sticky
clutch plates in motorcycles with integrated transmissions and clutches. As Mr. Dean
pointed out, damage to shift forks and gears can occur if you do not first “free up” and
unstick the steel clutch plates from the fiber ones before engaging first gear the first time
after starting a cold engine. This is especially true if you repeat this bad technique
habitually as the damage is usually cumulative.

The simplest way to solve the sticky clutch problem that I know of is to:


  • Start the cold engine in neutral and let it run a few minutes (this also lets the oil
    circulate throughout the engine before you put it under load).
  • Pull the clutch lever all the way to the handlebar.
  • “Blip” the throttle two or three times while the clutch plates are not under spring
  • Let the engine idle back down to about 1,500 RPM and move the shift lever
    “quickly” but gently in the direction of 1st gear. (Note: Unless you want bent shift
    forks never at any time “stomp” on the shift lever.)

Do it right and service to your drive components should be restricted to chains,
sprockets, and occasionally clutch plates. Do it wrong and you face premature engine
teardown and case splitting.

I’m not sure, but I think Mr. Honda invented integrated clutches and transmissions which I
believe are among the best things that ever happened to motorcycles. Motorcycles like
Harley’s and some BMW’s that have separate transmissions may not have the sticky
clutch plate problem, but among other things, they are unnecessarily complex and add
weight and size to the engine. They are also much more difficult to overhaul and repair.

I’ll never forget an experience I had with an air head Beemer I owned in the 1980’s.
Rainwater somehow ran down a cable and into the transmission causing water related
damage. If it hadn’t been for ace Beemer mechanic Scott Wexman and his special tools,
the tranny rebuild would have cost me a fortune – and though Scott was good to me,
parts and labor still cost me a bundle. The shock of the experience got me away from
motorcycles with separate transmissions forever.

I have logged approximately 231,000 miles on KLR’s and 180,000 on DR’s. In all of those
more than 400,000 multisurface miles I have never had a transmission or clutch failure.
Come to think of it, with nearly a million total miles on mostly motorcycles with integrated
transmission and clutches, I have yet to suffer a failure of any drive component.

Be good to your drive components and they’ll serve you well.