Motorcycles may not be able to talk, but they can communicate with you. When your bike makes different noises, if you listen carefully, you may be able to understand what they mean. Knowing your motorcycle, the different noises it makes, and understanding them will help you address the possible problem.
When you hear odd ticking, pinging, grinding, hissing, or other sounds you don’t normally hear, you should pay attention to them. Ticking could be an exhaust leak, or a valve problem, while hissing could mean battery trouble or overheating. Grinding sounds could be brakes or serious engine trouble.
The important thing to remember is when you hear odd noises, you should stop when it’s safe and try to figure out where the noise is coming from. Don’t worry if you don’t know what these sounds mean because here, we are going to let you know. We’ll also go over possible fixes and what can be done to repair them.
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Why is my Motorcycle Making a Weird Noise?
Some motorcycles are loud and you may not hear the warning signs, while others are more sedate which allows you to notice strange noises quicker and easier. Older motorcycles are more likely to have strange noises associated with them compared to a brand-new machine.
Either way, any motorcycle—old or new—can make disconcerting noises at any time. One of the things you need to figure out when you hear these sounds is why it’s suddenly making this strange noise.
Sometimes the noise is from a loose part knocking against something else. It could be something as simple as a loose kickstand tapping against the side, or a shaky saddle bag.
When the sounds are internal and coming from the engine compartment, from the exhaust, or they originate in the transmission you’ll likely need to make some repairs pretty soon. These noises can indicate excessive wear, a chain that needs to be tightened or replaced, or a hole in the exhaust.
When you first start your motorcycle, you may hear some abnormal ticking or rattling. This can be a normal experience as the motor oil hasn’t had time to warm up and start lubricating all the moving parts yet.
When the engine is turned off the oil eventually falls back into the oil pan to cool off and rest until it’s called upon again. As long as the noises you’re hearing go away in a few seconds to a minute, it’s nothing to worry about.
If you hear a tapping or pinging that doesn’t go away after the engine has warmed up, you should get it checked out. If you hear something such as grinding inside the engine compartment, you should shut it off immediately and have it checked before running it anymore. Grinding could be an indication of a major problem.
So, what other sounds should you really be concerned with? What sounds are okay to keep riding, and what sounds need immediate attention?
Can I Continue Riding While My Motorcycle is Making Noise?
Generally, soft sounds like tapping, chuffing, or slight pinging are okay to keep riding on, but you should get them checked as soon as possible. If you start up your motorcycle in anticipation of cruising through the mountain pass and you hear a tapping noise, you should postpone the trip because it could get worse and cause more damage.
On the other hand, if you’re out in the middle of a cruise and you start hearing the noises mentioned above, you should try and get it home or to a mechanic.
A hissing sound on the other hand may need immediate attention, especially when combined with steam or moisture leaking somewhere. That indicates a coolant, radiator, or hose leak, and driving while that continues could cause the motor to overheat. An engine that gets too hot can seize up and leave you stranded.
Anytime you hear a snap, bang, or loud pop, you should pull over as soon as it’s safe. These sounds indicate the possibility of a major problem. It could be a belt that broke, a snapped chain, or something internal that has broken.
I had a timing belt break on me when I was headed to work one day. Everything was fine as it hummed along the road until I heard a major pop, followed by what sounded like a cavalry of horses’ hooves stamping under the hood. Amazingly the car still was running, but I pulled over and had to get it towed and repaired.
If I had continued to run the car, I could have caused major damage to the valves, pistons, or the camshaft.
When your motorcycle makes loud internal noises, pops, bangs, or grinding, you should stop riding it and have it checked before going any farther.
Now let’s go into detail about what the different noises can indicate.
The 5 Sounds and What They Mean
A ticking noise may be difficult to track down unless you have a mechanic’s stethoscope. This device is pretty inexpensive ($15 to $30) but it will allow you to find where these annoying and ominous sounds are coming from.
Ticking may indicate a low oil level or a sticking valve. It may also be indicative of a primary chain drive that needs adjustment, a tappet that needs fine-tuning, or a loose cam chain.
Grinding noises, depending on where they come from, can be the worst sound anyone hears when it comes to motor vehicles. If the grinding is coming from the front or rear tires, there may not be that much to worry about. It means you have worn brakes that need to be replaced, or you have a bearing that needs attention.
Grinding bearings do need immediate attention as they can cause the wheel to lock up or become loose, both of which can lead to a crash. Brakes that grind need to be replaced when you get home, and bearings need to be greased or replaced as soon as possible.
A grinding in the engine or transmission compartment needs to be shut off and addressed immediately. This is most likely a stripped gear in the transmission or a bad bearing in the engine. Both should be repaired by a qualified mechanic.
Most likely, a hissing sound is steam escaping from a damaged coolant hose or the radiator. It could also be the sickening sound of a tire losing air. If you see steam coming out anywhere, you need to stop and let the engine cool off, unless there is a service station very nearby.
You’ll have to fix the leak before going far because the coolant will just continue to escape which will cause the engine to overheat and eventually seize up.
This may be an indication of detonation or spark knock. It’s most noticeable when you turn off the motorcycle but it continues to run for a few seconds after.
Spark knock can damage the pistons, bearings, or cylinder heads and is often associated with high-compression engines that run on lower-octane fuels. To prevent this, run on the recommended octane rating.
If that doesn’t fix the problem, you should bring the bike to the mechanic. The timing may be off, or it could be caused by another internal issue.
A snapping/slapping sound can be either a short from the ignition or spark plug or a problem with the cam chain.
An ignition problem that makes the snapping sound can be fixed by replacing the spark plugs and wires as they are probably arching somewhere.
If you’re noticing the noise coming from the engine you may have a loose cam chain. Over time they will stretch and the tensioner can’t compensate. It needs to be replaced before it comes loose and “skips a tooth.”
Skipping a tooth can lead to major issues like broken valves or pistons. Speaking of such, let’s discuss what can happen if you don’t fix these noises swiftly enough.
What Can Happen When You Don’t Address Noises
Any strange noise you hear coming from your motorcycle needs to be investigated. Some strange noises (like engine backfires) may not be anything more than a cosmetic issue such as a loose fender or mirror. Then again, there are times when these noises could mean major repairs.
Ignoring the weird noises your motorcycle is making is akin to ignoring that small sore that just won’t go away. Right now it’s not bothering you. It just looks a little weird, but it doesn’t get in the way of everyday life.
But if you let that sore go and ignore it for a long time, much like ignoring the odd motorcycle noise it can get much worse and require surgery. Or in the case of the motorcycle, a possible engine overhaul or worse.
Strange noises are indicators that most likely, something is going wrong. If you don’t heed the warning you could end up with major, and very expensive repairs.
That slight tapping may require nothing more than a slight adjustment. But if it’s ignored for hundreds of miles, that adjustment may lead to a broken valve and piston damage. If you’re lucky that will only require an engine rebuild, but it could also require a new engine entirely.
Listen to your bike and pay attention to it. It will usually let you know what it needs as long as you know the language it’s speaking. Does every noise require a mechanic? Let’s see when you should take your bike to the professionals.
When You Should Bring Your Motorcycle to a Professional
This depends on your mechanical experience, and what the problem is. A busted coolant hose, spark plugs and wires, a drive chain that needs tightening, or a loose screw can easily be repaired with little to no mechanical experience.
Internal issues such as a loose cam chain, stuck valve, and bearing issues, will most likely require the professional hands and tools of an experienced mechanic. Even if you know how to get to these internal parts, chances are you won’t have all the tools to fix it.
These tools can cost more than the repair itself sometimes, and if you’re not turning wrenches for a living, it doesn’t make sense to purchase some of these tools.
If you know exactly what you’re doing, then you can do it yourself. If you’re unsure, or you can’t figure out what is making the strange noise, do yourself a favor and take the bike to a pro.
Often, proper maintenance can prevent a lot of issues.
The Importance of Preventative Maintenance
Regular maintenance can often prevent a lot of major problems. While the best maintenance record in the world won’t stave off every single mechanical issue, it can save some headaches. Keeping your fluids changed regularly and topped off will prevent most issues, especially knowing when to change your motor oil.
When you’re doing proper maintenance, you’re inspecting your bike. This may help you see many minor problems that could become major issues if they weren’t caught early. You may find a loose bearing or a coolant hose that hasn’t busted yet but has a small crack in it.
You can get these things fixed before they leave you stranded on the side of the road. Preventative maintenance can’t solve every potential issue, but it can save you from most problems.
When you hear strange noises coming from your motorcycle, be sure to listen to them and get them fixed as soon as you can. Hissing could be air or coolant leaking somewhere that will eventually leave you stranded. Pinging, snapping, and ticking noises most likely lead to engine or transmission problems that need to be fixed very soon.
If you hear any type of grinding, you should stop as soon as possible to find out if it’s from the brakes, bearings, or an internal engine issue. While your brakes can be repaired a little later, bearing grinding needs to be addressed very soon, and engine grinding should be remedied immediately.
I’m William Guzenski, ASE certified master automobile technician & automotive expert. I love to attend race events and car shows throughout the country. I also loves to travel 40-foot motorhome, exploring abandoned mines and ghost towns. I’m currently building another car for Bonneville Salt Flats and will be campaigning a drag car at several events.