What Is A False Neutral On A Motorcycle? (Explained)

If you’re interested in motorcycles, you may have heard the term “false neutral” before. If you’re also new to motorcycles, you might be wondering what false neutral on a motorcycle means.

A false neutral on a motorcycle is when you experience the effects of a transmission in neutral in a place where it should not be in neutral. On most motorcycles, neutral is between 1st and 2nd gear, so any neutral feeling outside of that would be considered a false neutral.

So, what causes a false neutral? How do you avoid them? Below, I’ll answer these questions, some other commonly asked questions, as well as go a bit more in-depth on what false neutrals are.

What Is A False Neutral On A Motorcycle?

A false neutral on a motorcycle is basically just an incomplete shift. This type of shift happens most commonly when upshifting among the higher gears of the transmission. Basically, you try to shift the bike, but it doesn’t shift all the way, so the transmission is caught between two gears.

This effectively leaves the bike in an unstable neutral. This unstable neutral can be corrected by pulling in the clutch and re-shifting to the intended gear. This can make a pretty harsh sound at times, but it should usually correct the false neutral and get you back on your way.

What Causes A False Neutral On A Motorcycle?

There are a few different reasons that false neutrals can happen while riding. The first reason a false neutral can occur is simply by rider mistake.

Rider Error

Probably the most common cause of false neutral issues is rider error. If you don’t move the shifter with enough force, it may not complete the shift and may end up causing a false neutral to occur within the transmission.

This is usually not too difficult a problem to solve, you simply have to shift a little more aggressively. Shifts should not be overly hard, but to be effective they must not be too tentative either. Firm and decisive shifting should help avoid false neutral issues.

Mechanical Issues

If the error is not on the part of the rider, it is on the part of the bike. While false neutral issues commonly stem from rider mistakes, mechanical issues absolutely do happen. If you correct any riding issues and the false neutral issue is still happening, there are a few things that can cause it.

It is doubtful that the issue will lie in anything but the transmission. If you are having consistent false neutral issues, likely a transmission rebuild will be in your future. Transmission rebuilds can be expensive or difficult or both, so try to be very sure that the issue is coming from there before attempting to fix it.

How Do You Stop False Neutrals?

If you can’t stop false neutrals by changing your riding habits, they’re likely indicative of a larger mechanical issue. If your bike has seen enough miles, the gear dogs could be worn, or the forks in the transmission bent. There’s not a lot you can do besides rebuilding your transmission.

Changing the oil in your bike can sometimes help with transmission issues. Because most motorcycles operate with only one oil that is used for the engine, clutch, and transmission, that oil tends to get dirty, and dirty oil can lead to transmission issues.

Depending on the bike and the situation, an oil change may not always help a false neutral issue. Changing your oil is a necessary piece of maintenance though, and won’t damage anything, so it’s worth a try.

Repairing Transmissions

If changing your oil and changing your riding habits doesn’t fix your false neutral issue, you will probably need a transmission rebuild. If you’ve got a lot of mechanical experience, this is something you could do yourself, but for many riders, especially those newer to riding and fixing bikes, it may be too difficult and not worth the trouble.

The cost of having a transmission rebuild done at a shop can vary quite a bit, but it will rarely be cheap. Beyond paying for the machining or new parts required, you’ll be paying for a lot of labor as well. On the cheap end, I’d expect maybe $600-$1000, but it can be as expensive as $2000-$3000.

Costs will depend on the shop, the type of bike, the price of replacement parts, and the extent of the damage within the transmission. In general, smaller bikes that are more common will probably be cheaper to fix, while larger or more rare bikes will cost more.

If you decide to rebuild the transmission yourself, you can save a lot of money. I’d imagine the total cost would look more like $200-500, but again, this can vary a lot. Depending on what you spent on the bike and how much you care about it, this may or may not be worth it. Many people acquire motorcycles for under $2000, so spending more money on a transmission rebuild may not make sense.

Replacing The Whole Engine

Another option to be considered is replacing the whole motor. Motorcycle transmissions are a part of the motor, and you can often pick up replacement motors for reasonable prices. In many cases, replacing a motor is a lot easier than rebuilding a transmission.

The other advantage of replacing the whole motor is that you can extend the life of the bike. If you pick up a good condition motor without a whole lot of miles on it, it could last longer than the current motor on your bike. Depending on the number of miles on your old engine, it may not have much life left.

There would be little more disheartening than spending a bunch of time and money rebuilding your transmission only to have your motor die shortly after. All that you invested in fixing the transmission would not be worth it anymore. For this reason, as well as the potentially lower cost and easier difficulty of the job, replacing the whole engine may be the right move.

Different Bikes, Different Transmissions

In some transmissions, experiencing a false neutral is much more common than in others. Different motorcycle transmissions are just built differently. Some are built better than others. Some bikes may just require more foot force to shift properly.

Many new Ducati riders, for example, report dealing with a lot of false neutral issues. Many veteran Ducati riders suggest simply shifting with a firmer foot. Ducati is just one example, but all transmissions are made a little bit differently and may require slightly different operation practices.

In general, different bikes will just require slightly different riding habits. If you’re experiencing a certain issue consistently with your bike, it’s possible you may just need to change the way you ride or look for a bike that better suits the way you want to ride.

Why Always Shifting With Your Clutch Isn’t Always The Best

If you’re having issues with false neutrals, it’s possible you’re not shifting in the most efficient way. Many motorcycles have transmissions that prefer to be shifted without the clutch after 2nd gear or so, especially going into the higher gears. It is possible to overuse the clutch and miss shifts because of that.

Most motorcycle transmissions are sequential, meaning one gear comes right after another. These sequential transmissions are often made to be shifted without a clutch and doing so can be much smoother. I’ve ridden a number of bikes where using the clutch to shift up into the highest gears feels a bit clunky and wrong.

Clutchless shifting is usually easier to do in the higher gears. Definitely don’t try to shift out of neutral without the clutch, as that will only yield grinding. Most motorcycle transmissions should have no issues shifting without the clutch between gears, but you still need the clutch for going in and out of neutral.

Beyond the pragmatic aspects and the potential of avoiding false neutral issues, clutchless shifting can also be really fun. If you get good at it, it’s the fastest way to shift your motorcycle, and it’s a lot of fun to be able to move around gears without having to use your clutch.

Are False Neutrals Dangerous?

False neutral issues can be dangerous, but they usually aren’t too bad. False neutrals are either a result of rider error or can come from transmission issues, but they aren’t that dangerous. The biggest issue they can cause safety-wise is not having power when you expect it.

This can be dangerous depending on the situation, if you need to be able to power out of a compromising situation and you can’t, that can be dangerous. That’s the biggest real danger you can expect from this type of issue, and it’s not on the same level as losing brakes or something like that.

Final Thoughts

False neutrals on a motorcycle are when the bike goes into neutral at a time you don’t expect it to. False neutrals can certainly happen, and usually aren’t a big issue, but at times they can indicate a more serious transmission issue you’ll have to deal with some time down the road.

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